February 28, 2010 in Features

Range of options

Bigger, more expensive aren’t necessarily best when choosing a range for your dream kitchen
Derek Donovan I Kansas City Star
Associated Press photo

As far as popularity goes, stainless steel ranges may have lost some luster.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Choosing wisely

Some tips for shopping for a new range:

Spend smartly. You can get more now in the average size range, says Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman of Consumer Reports: “In a 30-inch, you can get five burners instead of four. … It’s really a matter of finding the features you’re going to use.”

Stainless might look cool, but it can be difficult to keep clean. “If you’re a person who doesn’t mind a smudge or two but wants a very good showpiece and are willing to clean it up, then I think stainless is great,” says Steve Swayne of Whirlpool Corp. “If you have six kids and want a great look and don’t have the time to keep your kitchen clean, you might want to look at something different.”

Remember one size doesn’t fit all. Many kitchens can’t accommodate larger, commercial-style appliances without major alterations to existing cabinetry, countertops, exhaust, electrical and gas services. Some may even require extra bracing to floor joists.

Consider new technology. Consumer Reports is impressed with the new generation of induction cooktops, which work by magnetically heating the cooking vessel, not the element itself. They boil water very quickly and hold temperatures precisely. However, they don’t work with all cookware and may demand upgraded electrical service.

When you’re choosing a range for your dream kitchen, bigger – and more expensive – isn’t always better. If you’ve watched a renovation show on HGTV or flipped through design magazines over the past few years, you’ve seen endless reiterations of the same look. Dark granite countertops, clean lines of cabinetry and the ubiquitous six-burner “professional-style” gas range are all the rage.

The heavy grates, chunky front-mounted knobs and stark stainless steel exteriors evoke the no-nonsense, high-volume bustle of a restaurant kitchen.

But while they’re modeled on the looks of their siblings in commercial kitchens, these luxury ranges have been modified for home use. Most offer insulated ovens, electronic controls and devices such as timers that are not found in the restaurant models.

These additions push the price up considerably, with 36-inch home models from manufacturers such as Viking, Wolf and Dacor starting around $6,000 or more. Ranges with double full-size ovens and up to eight burners reach into five figures.

According to some experts, these luxury appliances are far from a necessity. And in many cases, they’re overkill.

“We’ve tested a lot of those ranges,” says Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports. “They really haven’t performed better than ranges that cost a fraction of the price.

“We’re testing for boiling, simmer, broiling, baking – the things people really use these ranges for. We haven’t really found they are worth the extra money just for their cooking prowess.”

Steve Swayne, Whirlpool’s regional technology leader for North America, points out that actual commercial models, with their high-output burners, are designed for a different style of cooking.

“Restaurant ranges are meant for attended cooking,” he says. “The sous chef sits there, where his whole purpose is to watch after the four saute pans he has going.

“The home cook has something in the oven, the phone may be ringing, and there may be children running around. … The home enthusiast relies more on, ‘Hey, there’s a really low setting and I can leave it alone for a while.’ ”

Michael Robinson, director of communication at Kansas City’s Factory Direct Appliance, says his company is selling more ranges that fit the standard 30-inch hole that has dominated the market for decades.

“The huge stainless range was definitely a big trend,” says Robinson, but “now it’s about dollar value, and money just isn’t there the way it was before the recession.”

He says stainless still is the most popular color, noting that new products such as the GE Cafe line are copying the professional look on a smaller scale.

Some kitchen-design professionals think stainless appliances are already looking a bit passe.

“You want to avoid things that will be dated in your remodeling, so you don’t want a range that screams ‘recession casualty,’ ” says Consumer Reports’ Kuperszmid Lehrman. “Those pro-style ranges can be the Hummers of the kitchen.”

Adds Geri Higgins, president of Portfolio Kitchen & Home in Kansas City: “If you’re talking progressive design, the all-stainless look is already gone.”

Higgins says her company tries to assess a client’s needs instead of copying a look directly from a movie or magazine.

“We have many clients from all different perspectives and price points who would like the ambience of working on a professional range,” she says.

There are many ways to cater to home cooks’ needs, Higgins says. To save money, for example, there are professional cooktops without the ovens underneath.

“There is a product from Italy called Bertazzoni that functions fabulously, and the price point is in the $2,000 range,” she says. “It’s important to do your homework and see the range of products out there to get the most bang for the buck.”

Chefs who spend their days in front of 30,000-Btu burners and commercial ventilation systems often approach home cooking entirely differently from their work.

Michael Foust, executive chef and owner of the Farmhouse in the River Market in Kansas City, cooks on a restaurant range in his home. The 20-year-old model from a used restaurant supply company “doesn’t have any gadgets or gizmos,” he says.

His parents sometimes cook on his range, but they can’t always get the desired results from its heavy firepower.

“I like such high heats, and I use thicker pans, but that equipment isn’t really out there for the home cook, so you wouldn’t really need something like that,” Higgins says.

High-output burners demand much more powerful exhaust hoods than what is found in conventional residential construction. Some of the stronger models can even pose a ventilation hazard, possibly causing dangerous backflow from your furnace or fireplace in tightly sealed homes.

Experts recommend consulting a qualified heating, ventilating and air-conditioning professional before installing a high-powered range hood.

Foust thinks homeowners should see their appliances as tools to be used, not the visual centerpiece of the kitchen.

“If you’re pulling apart 800 parts to clean afterward, you aren’t having fun cooking,” he says, adding: “Stay away from stainless; stay away from white. Go with darker colors that don’t show the wear and tear.”

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