Stainless countertop in older style/period kitchen

theresseDecember 31, 2011

Hi Everyone -

I was just responding to another thread about stainless countertops and I thought that after a lot of research and thinking about it and now experience, I'd share my oh-so-valuable opinions (ahem) about putting stainless in a kitchen that has a period look - in my case craftsman look I guess. It's a different look and not many will be doing searches for this but for those that do (as I had searched wildly and came up with almost nothing at the time), it'll be here. :)

There's a LOT HERE so forgive me for going into so much detail please!!

- if you have it done by a fabricator and one that will stand behind their product, it's not cheap and will usually cost about as much - sometimes less - as a good quality wood countertop. I got it because I was always so drawn to the zinc in old craftsman houses e.g. butlers' pantries - and wanted to bring that look about, as well as do something unexpected yet somehow still acceptable in an old house. Oddly enough I think if I had a modern house, I'd never do stainless. Just had to do something a little different and extra courageous for some crazy reason! I often wonder how in-love I'd be with the soapstone I'd planned on going with. I have no doubt that I'd be really in love!! I wish my kitchen could have permitted both. I also didn't go with soapstone cause in the N.W. it would never have been installed back in the day (again, we're pretending my countertop is zinc - haha). I also wanted wood but was afraid we'd get it all gross around the sink and that I'd be fussing about and worrying about it too much. I still long for that wood though, just as I do the soapstone! My compromise is having a wood island top (and I already had fir floors) and I have black accents to bring in that nice contrasty look soapstone would have provided.

- What's so important if you're going for the period look with stainless, IMO, is that you make the countertop hight thinner. Thicker stainless looks more modern. Zinc contertops tended to be thinner back in the day from what I recall via photos. Not a lot - just a little.

- What's also really important and isn't easy to pull off, is that you pay more if need be and get a fabricator that is willing to more or less guarantee you get a silky smooth finish (one that is so smooth because the belts used in making it were well worn as opposed to newer belts). The samples shown at some of the fabricators I visited showed subtle lines in the metal which gives a more modern, gritty, darker look and they couldn't promise I wouldn't get that so I left. The velvety smooth, reflective, almost liquid appearance of the stainless I prefer needs to be gotten for sure, in order for the scratches to melt away as well as to give the room that peaceful, light, almost nickel feel that stainless can indeed pull off if it's smooth and shiny enough. Even after years of lots and lots of scratches, which I know after years of experience with our previous island's surface. Gets better with age in fact. This is the most important point I have to make (well that and a heavy-enough gauge) if you don't want a depressing cold feel. With a good stainless finish, at times it looks almost white! My first countertop was GORGEOUS but they goofed off on the overhang. Their replacement wasn't as nice but it's good enough, glossiness-wise.

- You have to invest in the hardest stainless that can be reasonably bought and it won't dent, and that's 14 gauge. Ours has been challenged by extremely heavy objects and we've been shocked to see no dents after a few big potential disasters! The typical stuff on islands is 18 and most people upgrade to 16 so we took it a step further. Our 18 gauge island top dented a few times, a little. I expected a major price increase but for some reason, no! And obviously you want to make sure it has a good solid surface right underneath to help prevent that denting as well.

- In a period home, stainless needs lots of warmth around it to contrast with and keep it feeling warm and cozy (these are all just my own opinions here!). So either wood floors or a wood island, etc. Maybe cream paint instead of white. And warmer, redder or chocolatey wood goes better IMO than maple (though maple's fine) - it just helps with the golden feel somehow. I think stainless also looks better if surrounded by natural elements from the Earth like marble too (especially marble that's got some tan thrown in for that warmth, like calacatta if I'm spelling that right). And maybe this is just me but I think when it comes to a period-ish kitchen with a stainless counter, the less stainless elsewhere the better. It's been a real challenge to avoid too much stainless but it's the only way I could pull off the look. So our fridge is the only other appliance that's stainless and it's on the opposite wall so you don't really see it when looking at the countertop. The stove and hood are white. Stove is nothing special at ALL but I hope to upgrade to a vintage stove (haha - upgrade?!) someday and when I do it will be either white, cream or maybe blue or red (vintage style at least). Same with the hood (would like to someday get an even nicer but still not-stainless hood someday)...and our dishwasher's integrated so just looks like a cabinet. Also, our kitchen is smaller and North facing. If we had a super huge, bright kitchen, I'm not sure how much I'd like stainless. It might be that I would, but the kitchen that inspired mine didn't seem to be a very bright kitchen either and I loved it in hers, and love it in mine. Here's the kitchen that inspired me re. the stainless with marble in an old house (although I went with marble 2x6 tile and could never ever afford such a gorgeous stove as she got!!):

I think I would love her stainless counters even more if her hood weren't stainless, gorgeous as it is. Such weird little rules I have!!! : - /

- re. low or high-maintenance, it depends on how you look at it and what else you're doing around it. See about cleaning, below. Some put hot pans on it and many say it's okay to do so but I haven't done that yet myself. If I were doing that, I'd say it would have to be a very good countertop option! So far no spills have hurt it and left-on tomato sauce hasn't been an issue in the slightest. With a heavy enough gauge as we have, it can take a lot of abuse. Still no dents after 1.5 years and a crazy wild family and a few accidents with heavy things. It will scratch, though not badly, with normal use, and you'd have to be okay with getting that patina look over time (and this will be really hardly noticeable at all if you get the right, smooth finish to begin with - like glass). In our case, we have a wall-mounted faucet and no dispensers so cleaning behind the sink is effortless. If we didn't have it this way, it might be higher-maintenance, I don't know! Probably no more than other materials.

- re. cleaning and the talk of stainless being hard to clean which I've read in the past: yes and no. Stainless isn't hard to clean at all - in fact it's very easy to clean (things come off easily). For anything stuck on, I use a non-abrasive sponge that has the look of being abrasive (you know, the non-green-colored ones) and it comes right out. My gripe however is that if you're trying to keep it like new which we all tend to do even if we know better, you might want to go with the grain if you have a rougher sponge for general cleaning, or else like I said, get a stainless counter that's extremely smooth and glossy to begin with in which case the grain just won't be noticeable. That part might be seen as a pain to some. People with wood countertops probably experience the same thing. Even though I'm not anal about scratches, i find myself going with the grain for some reason - just postponing the total broken-in "patina" look I guess! ;) I don't like the look of stainless that's been deliberately scratched up prior to being installed. I don't think it looks the same as when it gets done naturally (looks too modern). My only other gripe about cleaning is that if you want to shiny polished look you have to take a dry towel after getting it cleaned/wet and quickly wipe it down in big circular motions with the dry towel before it dries from just the air (or even after it's dried will work, cause there's usually a hint of residual powder if you use Bar Keeper's Friend like I do, and wiping it with a dry towel takes that away). For one long typical countertop e.g. 12' (as opposed to a whole room) it takes me about 10 seconds if I'm being pickier and half that if just a quick wipe down. A lot of the time I don't bother at all but when I'm having company and showing off, I'll give it a quick buff to make it more reflective under the pretty under-cab lights. A lot of other countertop surfaces don't require this so if this is something a home-owner would hate to do, it's probably not worth getting stainless unless they never really care if it doesn't have that ultra buffed, extra shiny look.

Ok there you have it! It's all in one place now, everything I've ever wanted to say and answer (when there have been inquiries) about having a stainless countertop - particularly in an older home. Not easy to pull off if you care about things not feeling too cold or modern but possible with a little creativity! And even then, it's definitely not the look for everyone! Thanks for reading! :) Those of you who also have stainless countertops, please feel free to share your experiences!

p.s. For those of you wondering, I never did get my kitchen painted aside from the lower cabs but plan on starting in the next few weeks, hopefully! That's the only thing left that never got done except for refinishing the wood floors which I'm not worrying about anytime soon.

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seriously theresse... all that (and I dont' have stainless counters) and no pics? I want to see pics of your space with your counters... please?

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 8:10PM
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Haha sorry - I was just looking to see if I could find updated pics which I meant to include (though note I did include links to the kitchen that inspired me!!) and there are a few but they're not much different from other old pics of mine scattered throughout the forum...however at least there's the addition of a small drip rail and new pull-out breadboard! ;) Also the mistakes the past contractor had made are corrected but no one's going to notice them in the pics I doubt. Ok here's one - hope it works (has been a while since I did this!):

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 8:15PM
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What's funny about that pic is that it looks like I have an apricot ceiling which I don't (it's the same avocado beige type color as I have on the walls, pre-painting of course) but it dawned on me that that would be kinda cool - having instead of a white ceiling or even a light-light blue ceiling like many do these days - to have a rich apricot color on the ceiling an no where else! Is that too weird a thought?! Oops - went off-topic there! ;)

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 8:21PM
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Another (wish I'd shot these during the day so people could see how nice stainless can look in the light):

I'm standing on the little kitchen stairs in the corner of the room which leads through a door to the mini-landing of the main stairs...that's why it's such an odd angle!

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 8:27PM
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Here's an old one shot during the day though it's before a lot of other stuff got done. Clearly I need my floors sanded!!

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 8:30PM
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I love the color of your lower fact I really really love your kitchen. It looks like a great place to work in! And yes, your stainless counters do look luxorious. Almost glasslike.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 9:15PM
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Remodelfla - you're so sweet but the kitchen is actually dreadful to work in cause that's the only countertop, the stove stands alone with no landing space on either side (door on one side, kitchen stairs leading to the main stairs on the other) and the island's really tiny (24x24") AND the room is small and dark!! 12' x 11' I think is what it is. I also have 3 little boys underfoot so man do I envy those w/ some real space! However it's an improvement aesthetically for sure compared to how that strip looked before. Yikes - I won't even show you (you'll have to dig if you get curious enough)! Heehee.

The color's BM's Fieldstone Gray and I'm contemplating putting it everywhere except walls/ceiling though it'll darken the place even more. But sometimes you have to just go with it (if it's a dark kitchen, go dark instead of pretending it's something it isn't, you know?)! When we win the lottery, we'll knock down the wall between the mudroom w/ half-bath and the kitchen, expanding the room and leading to the back yard. Meanwhile, we'll just continue pretending we're rabbits in our little rabbit hole! ;)

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 10:38PM
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Wow, what a lot of helpful information! The old zinc look you mention -- would that be like the countertops I've heard referred to as German hammered silver?

So do I have this right?
For an older home where you want an evolved-over-time look
I would need:
1. 14 gauge
2. what thickness?
3. A fabricator with an old, worn belt

I remember old silver-looking counters that had like ripples or dimples from being dented. It looked good because they weren't crushed dents with edges, like a smashed bumper, but more like dimples or scoops, like you would get if you sanded a ding out of soapstone. But you say I should get a really hard surface under the steel?

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 11:41PM
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Small, dark, no counter space, tiny island - who cares?! It is absolutely gorgeous. I remember when you first started this project and I was so excited to see how it would turn out (we also own a "character" home). Glad I saw this thread with the final results. I wouldn't change a thing (well, I'd give you 100 more square feet and long counters and maybe paint the ceiling apricot :-) Great job.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2012 at 12:17AM
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Wow - I would trade my 3' x 8' island for your ceiling height & cabinets in a heartbeat. We just need to find some reality show to fund moving the houses from one coast to the other ;)

Seriously, that is beautiful and I expected it to look colder & less inviting than it does. I love those counters. They are gorgeous, you did a great job getting all the details right!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2012 at 12:47AM
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I recently looked at a circa-1950 house with the original kitchen intact with its stainless-steel countertops (including integral sink) and metal cabinets. I wouldn't change a thing. Despite being 60 years old, nothing looked dated. It didn't even look retro. In both style and condition, it looked like it could be new, except that hardly anyone builds cabinets that solidly anymore.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2012 at 3:47AM
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It seems like it will be a challenge for me to find a fabricator with an old, worn belt. So I am considering an antiqued finish, as in the link below.

Can you (or anybody else who is willing to share) give me your thoughts on it?

Also, can you tell me about scratching?

Thanks so much in advance.

Here is a link that might be useful: antique matte finish on stainless

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 2:42PM
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Really lovely. REALLY. Wow.

I'm clipping this post to show DH - we've hit an impasse on countertop material and SS has always been on my shortlist. "Too shiny, too modern" sez he. Well, now I have photographic evidence to the contrary!

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 3:02PM
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theresse, your kitchen has always been one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing it again!

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 7:09PM
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Theresse, how did you find your fabricator? Was it through a kitchen design service? I've called a few local sheet metal fabricators to see how much it would cost, and all of them but one acted like I was nuts (lol). The one who didn't think it was crazy said he couldn't weld in a sink or do the proper edging for a curved (not rectangular) undermount sink, so it would have to be topmount. Which could be fine, but when I emailed him measurements I never heard back.

Your countertops are beautiful --

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 8:20PM
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OP, your countertop looks fabulous and quite appropriate to the rest of the kitchen. Congratulations on a job well done.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 6:12PM
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I have to admit I've been inspired by this thread for a few months now, and it pushed me into ss countertops in my 1920's galley kitchen. I just got a quote back from the vendor, however, and it works out to around 120/sq foot! Is that insane?!? Wondering if anyone else can provide evidence for or against that cost. That's the same quote I got on calacutta gold marble! I feel a little like I'm at square one all over again...

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 11:12AM
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I realize this is an old thread, but if the OP looks in could you tell me why you chose NOT to go with zinc even though it was your inspiration? That's what I want but I haven't found out the negatives.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 1:00PM
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I'm so glad this thread was brought back up again. I missed it the first time around and the 2nd time around because I was really sick (yes, twice in less than 2 months. Actually, I've been sick 3 times in 4 months. It's been a bad winter, health-wise).

Theresse, thanks so much for all the info, especially about the finish, gauge and cleaning. I love zinc counters, too, but have been deterred because it's a softer metal and more prone to dings and could possibly suffer damage from very hot pot (there you go, alex9179. You can find more with a google search for "zinc counters cons"). It's also more expensive.

Love, love, love that home and kitchen you linked to. Weren't they a GWer? I know I've seen that kitchen before but I can't remember if someone else referenced it or if the owner used to hang out here. Anyhoo, I turned those urls into links to make it easier for others to see what inspired you.

Theresse's inspiration kitchen, 1st photo

Theresse's inspiration kitchen, 2nd photo

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 2:03PM
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I just really really really like that kitchen.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 2:16PM
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Theresse -- What a great kitchen! LOVE those countertops :-) I haven't seen if you're all finished, but it looks fantastic so far from these pics...

Also, thanks for sharing all the wonderful info on ss counters.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 1:03AM
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Circus Peanut

Alex, re. zinc: from what I learned while researching the various metals for countertops, zinc has the tendency to patinate very quickly and, because it's a micro-thin layer on top of steel, it can wear through fairly quickly and then rust (which is different from patination and Not Good in a kitchen context). However, there are coatings you can use to protect the zinc after it's aged to your satisfaction. Have you looked at the videos and information on zinc counters at They've got a lot of good details & insights.

Zinc is more industrial looking than stainless or pewter:

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 9:34AM
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One thing that I never see mentioned is that Monel counters/sinks were all the rage in the 20s and 30s, like this:

Monel is a nickel/copper alloy. The tones probably differ, but I think stainless steel provides a fair imitation of Monel.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 10:18AM
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Circus Peanut

Mmmm, I love monel. It was also called "German silver" if I recall correctly? (Or is that a different alloy?)

My favorite German silver sink is the one with the classic slink in it:

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 10:26AM
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Oh, circus, that is cool! Forget function -- that form is worth it!

According to "the source of all knowledge" (Wikipedia ;-), German silver is typically 60% copper, 20% nickel, 20% zinc. Monel is something like 2/3 nickel, 1/3 copper, plus traces of iron.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 10:41AM
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theresse (or anyone else) would you mind telling me the brand / model of your sink fixture? I am looking for that exact kind, wall-mounted, with lever handles and a pulldown sprayer!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 10:27AM
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