Stainless countertop in older style/period kitchen
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.