5/3/2019

What’s The Deal With Black Stainless Steel?

It seems like black is the new, well, black, at least when it comes to a hot trend in kitchen appliance design.

Black stainless steel now sells well to a mass audience, as a growing legion of consumers are attracted to the sleek, bold look that this finish gives refrigerators, ovens, cooktops and hoods, microwaves, dishwashers, and washer/dryers. While traditional stainless steel remains king, multiple manufacturers now offer black stainless steel options for all major kitchen appliances as well as washers and dryers, and some say that finish accounts for 30% of their sales of total packages, when consumers are re-doing the whole kitchen at once.

Consumer tastes can be mercurial, but after decades of going from white to black to various shades of green, brown and yellow, to stainless steel, it seems like the leading edge has gone back to black, and it might be there for a while. While stainless continues to be the leading choice for most buyers, there are some compelling selling points for the new popularity of the old color choice, including both upkeep and aesthetics.

Battle of the Steels: Black Stainless vs. Stainless
Black stainless steel tends to be much more smudge- and fingerprint-proof than typical stainless steel finishes. Manufacturers and retailers alike often lead their marketing with that “fingerprint-resistant” message. But remember, the black is almost always simply a coating. That means it’s not mixed into the steel itself, and it can scratch, revealing the shiny stainless steel underneath.

One of the issues about traditional, silver-looking stainless steel is the tendency to show smudges, including fingerprints. Manufacturers are well aware of that and working to adjust. Already, the Frigidaire Gallery and Professional lines offer a patented finish that provides a smudge-proof solution. That’s not as much of an issue for black stainless steel. And besides good looks, that smudge resistance is a major selling point. However, scratches can be an issue, and because it’s a coating applied as a sheet by many makers, it can also peel at the edges if not well made. That said, those scratches can be repaired. Expect your manufacturers to be able to provide a sample of a specific hue and sealant. Then treat the scratch like you would the same thing on a car. Sand, clean, and then use a soft cloth to apply the finish to the scratch.

An Old Color That Empowers New Looks
Black stainless has that appealing metallic look, so it matches most cabinet styles and other design considerations. Whatever works with stainless steel will likely work with black. It’s available in different finishes, too, in various levels of gloss and matte appearances, and shades ranging from a hint of deep blue to midnight black.

Kitchen designers say black appliances provide a dramatic yet subtle look, a very different impact than the silver, industrial look of traditional stainless steel finishes. That’s especially true when mixed with other metallic elements and/or bold colors surrounding those core fixtures like the fridge, oven, range and dishwasher. And because of that impact, black stainless steel has a particular appeal to customers interested in an entire package of appliances, instead of replacing just one item. That’s particularly true of homeowners wanting an update to transitional or modern styles. Black goes with a lot of colors, of course, and its timeless appeal combines with a metal finish to make that statement many of these buyers are seeking.

Manufacturers Are Coming Aboard
Most of today’s leading appliance manufacturers offer major kitchen appliances in black stainless steel, including Frigidaire, GE, Samsung, Haier, Sharp and SMEG, covering the needed range in prices and features to accommodate a diverse retail clientele. That finish doesn’t stop with the larger appliances, either. Danby, for instance, offers its own black stainless steel options, including small refrigerators, and Faber has rolled out that finish in its high-end range hoods. That design idea also extends around the rest of the kitchen. Moen, for example, now sells black stainless steel faucet fixtures.

The Bottom Line
Stainless steel appliances emerged in the early 1990s and became uber popular for good reason: they’re durable and can go with nearly every cabinet design and color. Consumers quickly gravitated to them for their practical and aesthetic appeal after decades of being offered primarily various shades of tan and brown, and then white. Now, every color imaginable is available.

Stainless steel, black or the traditional silver look, costs much less. And black is definitely back, but, to emphasize, there are some considerations with the finish that makes it happen.

You may want to advise customers to be aware of the possibility of scratching. The surfaces are tough, but it can happen. Heavy users, and homes with active children, might find regular stainless steel a better option if they’re concerned about that issue. Smudges are easier to make disappear.

Bottom line: stainless steel in the traditional silver shade is still king, but black stainless steel has clearly grown beyond niche status and should be considered a must-have offering for retailers who want to accommodate design trends that drive consumer tastes.

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