April 4, 2010

'Pro-style' range rarely needed at home

By DEREK DONOVAN McClatchy Newspapers

When you're choosing a range for your dream kitchen, bigger – and more expensive – isn't always better.

click image to enlarge

Brenda Knehans checks out a six-burner, 36-inch Bertazzoni range. The commercial-style home appliance retails for $4,699, though a more standard size from the line can be found for around $2,000.

McClatchy Newspapers

CHOOSING WISELY

• Prioritize your needs. "I would like to have five burners, or a burner in the middle that would turn into a griddle or a grill," shopper Sharon Riley said. "And definitely gas."

• Spend smartly. You can get more now in the average range, said 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," said 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.

If you've watched a renovation show on HGTV or flipped through design magazines at your local home improvement mega-mart 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 range exteriors evoke the no-nonsense, high-volume bustle of a restaurant kitchen.

Or at least that's the romance. In reality, the luxury appliances in retail showrooms are modeled on the looks of their siblings in commercial kitchens, but they have been modified for home use. Most offer insulated ovens, electronic controls and devices such as timers that are not found in the original 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," said 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, regional technology leader for North America cooking for Whirlpool Corp., said shoppers tend to fall into two camps. "You have the people who want the look, that heavy feel and higher output burners available on a pro-style range.

"And you have the general population, the home enthusiasts who like cooking and don't need something big and massive to feed their family. It's not a showpiece."

'HUMMERS OF THE KITCHEN'

Swayne points out actual commercial models, with their high-output burners, are designed for a different style of cooking.

"The pro-style equipment takes after what they put in restaurants," he said. "Restaurant ranges are meant for attended cooking. 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."'

Katie Rager, marketing manager for Nebraska Furniture Mart, also recognizes home cooks often have different requirements.

"We have an actual department in our store for luxury appliances, so if customers come in with that request, we ask what it is you want to get out of your kitchen in looks and functionally? What are you going to be cooking? Are you a baker? How often are you going to use it?

"The huge stainless range was definitely a big trend," said Michael Robinson, director of communication at Factory Direct Appliance. "In years past, we dealt strictly with home building and getting new appliances to furnish them. Now our business is more remodels, and when you go to a 36-inch range, it's not a small step up – it's a big step up. Now it's about dollar value, and money just isn't there the way it was before the recession."

He says his company is selling more ranges that fit the standard 30-inch hole that has dominated the market for decades. "Stainless is still the most popular color out there," he said, noting new products such as the GE Cafe line are copying the professional look on a smaller scale.

"A lot of people wanted the big ones strictly for show," he said. "A lot of home cooks don't use a 48- or 36-inch range when they can get by with a 30-inch range just fine.

"That high end has shriveled up quite a bit."

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,' " Kuperszmid Lehrman said. "Those pro-style ranges can be the Hummers of the kitchen."

"If you're talking progressive design, the all-stainless look is already gone," said Geri Higgins, president of Portfolio Kitchen & Home.

She said 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."

There are many ways to cater to home cooks' needs, she said. 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.

"It's important to do your homework and see the range of products out there to get the most bang for the buck."

 

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