Want a colorful kitchen? Forget stainless steel and go for bold hardware

I don’t remember the first refrigerator my family owned, but I do remember the refrigerator my mother bought when she renovated our Massachusetts home in 1988. It was a sleek black glass unit, unlike the fancy cherry wood kitchen cabinets and white tile floors and countertops.

Back then, the black glass refrigerator was a jaw-dropping kind of device. But a little over a decade later, when I started looking for apartments of my own, black was replaced by stainless steel. My first single apartment in Queens featured a frustrated glossy white refrigerator and a rickety white set. So, naturally, when I moved into a two-bedroom room in 2012 that includes a GE Monogram with French doors and a Samsung range, I felt as if I had arrived.

Although stainless steel appliances have been the norm in luxury middle-class home ownership for the past two decades, a new trend started by Café – the comprehensive line of luxury appliances from GE – Ilve, Samsung, Smeg and others is slowly advancing. Kitchens are beginning to reflect whimsy and personal flair with appliances colored in shades like bright blue and lemon yellow.

“White has been the primary device available for many years,” says Albert Fuerte, CEO of the e-commerce platform, Hardware Connection. “When stainless steel hardware came out, that was a big difference.”

Now brands are evolving again, Forte says, realizing that homeowners spend a lot of time in the kitchen and want to customize the space. So, they offer custom colors, devices, and options that allow consumers to express their creativity. “You have beautiful, cool hardware that works great, but also different options for customization to suit your needs,” he says.

Personalization was previously reserved for the highest tier of luxury consumers, a hardware market led by those buying items over $10,000 apiece. But truly personalized products, available in finishes beyond stainless steel or standard black and white, are now within reach of a segment of buyers defined as the middle class.

(Those on the market for $3,000-$5,000 refrigerators, for example, or single- and dual-fuel oven sets range from $4,000 to $12,000.) These are the buyers who like what they like, and what they like is a little pop.

Wayne Davis, Café’s senior brand manager, says the transition toward color in hardware has been a slow but steady path. Consumers have fallen in love with colorful devices from a distance for several years, but they’ve also known that they are quite expensive.

“When they went to the store, their budget would only allow them to have stainless steel as an excellent option,” he says. “So, we saw an opportunity to say: Well, how can we take what happens in luxury and make it into what we call ‘mass premium’?”

For Café, the result is appliances—combines, ovens, dishwashers, and refrigerators—in matte white, matte black and stainless steel that has customizable options for brushed black, bronze, copper and stainless steel appliances. Davis says the matte black and white hardware has been met with enthusiasm.

He attributes some of this stylistic change to the pandemic. “Because we were all stuck at home, we spend a lot of time in our space,” he says. “…we were all saying, ‘What can I do to make this space more for me?’” “Changing the color of the kit, dishwasher, or refrigerator was a personal business, and that feeling lasted,” he says.

Options are now more open than ever, says Jenna Sims, owner and principal designer of Jenna Sims Designs in Atlanta. “We love colour. We never shy away from an opportunity,” she says. Working with a lifelike device can sometimes be tricky, Sims says, but one way to get past the exaggeration is to make careful choices. “Pick one to be the main event,” she says. “I see steel as a kind of jeans in an outfit. It exists for a purpose. If you want a standout device, you need everything else to bow out a bit.”

A standout item could be a lemon yellow Bertazzoni set, covered in car paint (the same appliance Sims would install in an ’80s-inspired kitchen); matte black cafe dishwasher with bronze appliances; Ilve Majestic II dual-fuel assembly and Majestic bonnet in Emerald Green; Or the Samsung Bespoke Fridge, which features a limited-edition winter design in blue and white.

Nothing is off limits, Sims says. Homeowners don’t have to worry about whether or not the styles will change, assuming that the color or style they gravitate toward is something they’ve loved for a long time and matches the overall look of their home.

“If you look at something and go, ‘Oh my God, this works for me because I’ve always loved green my whole life,’ OK, then, I’m going to love this green fireplace because I’ve always loved it,” she says. However, she cautions against buying something just because you saw it everywhere and found it momentarily attractive.

Sims also suggests designing the kitchen to meet your functional needs. Focus on choosing hardware first rather than cabinets or backsplash first and hardware second. Homeowners can match cabinets to appliances or opt out of appliances in a backsplash—decisions that can be made after selecting appliance colors. “Let it take its time,” she says of the device. “Just enjoy it.”

For those looking to combine colors but prefer to remain cautious, some appliances, like vintage Forté refrigerators, come in more neutral hues (like mint green, cream, and sky blue) that blend into the kitchen palette. Smeg’s Portofino line is available in white and black, as well as olive green, red, orange, yellow, and, of course, stainless steel. Ilve’s popular blue-gray option pairs easily with different shades of granite and marble.

But homeowners shouldn’t be afraid to make bold choices. Like stainless steel, which also remains a timeless choice for those who continue to love its reliability, color hardware is not a one-off. So reach for your entire can of chalk if desired. “The color is here to stay,” Fuerte says.

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