10 May 2010

Sensible Style:: The 7 Most Overrated Kitchen Products

You see them everywhere! On HGTV, newsstand magazines and model homes. These are the must-have kitchen products du jour. Some, like stainless steel appliances, have shown lasting appeal.

Most of the others come and go, dating your home in the process. Why do some last? Because they embody Sensible Style. In other words, they work well and look great. The ones that fade away most often look good for a while, but ultimately their lack of practicality or comfort or durability or even just their sheer overexposure doom them to passing status.

Here are seven, in my opinion, of the most overrated kitchen products today. Feel free to add to the list by commenting below. Have I slammed one of your favorites? Give it your best defense.

Like a rock

Polished granite became the must-have countertop material for high-end homes a number of years ago. In the height of the housing boom a few years back, homeowners were throwing away perfectly good alternates to get them and builders wouldn't dare put anything else in. Ultimately, many clients, particularly those with active young children, found that they disliked the daily and periodic maintenance, worried about the porosity and mostly overblown radon risks, and even found from time to time that their much-vaunted heat resistance and durability was overstated when they scorched a pot ring next to the stove or chipped the edge with a heavy skillet.

Hard surface, hard to live with, too

Losing your marbles

Travertine floors also gained wide popularity among high-end projects during the recent housing boom. They epitomized a luxury kitchen for many builders and homeowners. You could say they gained traction among this group, except that they offer absolutely no traction at all. They are a broken hip waiting to happen, in my opinion. Kitchens are notoriously wet areas and slick marble only gets slicker with water on it. Travertine is also extremely hard underfoot, creating leg, foot, hip and back discomfort for the homeowner who actually likes to use her kitchen, not just look at it. Finally, as a natural stone, travertine needs to be kept sealed or will easily stain - not the ideal choice for a heavily-used work space.

Save it for the entry hall!
Photo credit: ServiceMagic.com


Another stone-cold trend has been the tumbled marble backsplash. They showed up especially often in Tuscan-style kitchens, designers and homeowners both equating Italianate design with Italianate material. Here's what Kitchen and Residential Design blog editor Paul Anater says about tumbled marble: "[It's] made from marble and travertine that's not of sufficient quality to be used without the tumbled finish. In other words, it's made from the reject pile... People think of it as being some kind of classy addition to their homes but it's anything but. It's a spongy, soft material that sucks up whatever liquid gets near it. That's why it makes a good coaster but a really lousy back splash."

High style from the marble reject pile
Photo credit: SouthernLiving.com

Faux pro

Another trendy look has been, and still is, the pro-style gas range. They're clunky, heavy, hard to maintain and extremely expensive, to boot. For most folks, they're the equivalent of swapping your minivan for a Humvee. You just don't need that kind of fire power. You also don't need to be spending your time cleaning those heavy grates soiled by 15,000 BTUs of burnt-on food.

How much firepower do you need for your frozen dinner?
Photo credit: Thermador.com

French Miss

One of the most popular refrigerator configurations of recent years is the French Door fridge. The built-in versions look great when paneled to resemble an armoire. French Doors also work great for catering trays, given their double-wide fresh food section. Other than those two very specific instances, I can see no real raison d'etre for this refrigerator style. They look dreadfully off-kilter with the popular through-the-door water dispenser convenience. They also force you to bend in half or do deep knee bends to see or remove anything in the freezer. Give me a side-by-side any day of the week!

The French can keep this style!
Photo credit: Whirlpool

Spouting nonsense

I have to admit a personal design bias against those towering restaurant-style faucets that look like a construction rig wrapped in a slinky. Do you really have pots so large as to require industrial scope cleaning? They work in restaurants because restaurant kitchens are all about function, not form. Form is for the dining room, not the kitchen staff. Presumably, form was a strong consideration when you were planning your kitchen. This trend can't end soon enough, as far as I'm concerned.

Construction zone meets toy box?
Photo credit: Jado USA

Over it!

I'm not sure who invented the over-the-range microwave, but it probably seemed like a good space-saver at the time. Doubly good is the OTR microwave with built-in convection oven, which gives the homeowner a double oven without the space requirements of a standard model. Granted, too, OTR microwaves are sometimes the only solution for a super-small kitchen. They just have some fatal flaws, in my opinion. One, their vent fans are noisy and underpowered. Two, mounting an oven over a cooktop can mean a risky reach across a hot burner or pot. Three, they're dangerous for children or the height-challenged, owing to flaw number two. Four, they rob you of a prime focal point opportunity in your kitchen.

A not so hot idea?
Photo credit: GE Appliances


  1. Jamie: While I agree with a few of your "over it" suggestions, and have written ad nauseum about tumbled marble: http://www.kitchendetailsanddesign.com/?p=950 and lament ugly tile in general.....I have to disagree with a couple!!

    I think the french door refrig beats a side by side any day! Now, I have kids so that may make a difference as we eat lots of pizza! I also entertain quite a bit and need large ref space for platters. So, have to say I think this choice depends upon the client.
    And, even though I bash granite with the best of them, I still think it is a good choice for some jobs...esp black and "super white" which is a great alternative for marble in a kitchen. I disagree with the daily maintenance too..in all my years, I have never had anyone call me back and ask how to seal granite. Ever. And, I have had it in many of my own homes with no problems...I am just tired of it too!

    The range...well, I have a Wolf 30 in dual fuel..and have to say I love it. Do I need it?? Nope. You are right on that one and I do throw appliances under the bus these days when budget is tight!

    Totally agree with you on microwaves over the range too but sometimes, in some smaller projects, that is just where it needs to go....but I mount it higher. I like the microwave drawers personally.

    As with all good design, the individual client must be considered and their specific lifestyles and life stage, I think, when considering the material choices!

    Good post and great for generating some discussion!!~~~Cheryl

  2. I have granite countertops and use a cleaner/sealer occasionally as I wipe the counters, (which has to be done anyway). The upkeep is no worse than anything else. All your arguments could easily be used for many materials. I tell my clients all the time that every appliance and material has it's pros and cons.

  3. If I'm a kitchen designer, all of the above are the items that I should sell except over the range microwave. Those are profitable !!! By the way in general I agree with you. Especially I hate over the range microwave. That is TOO DANGEROUS to USE!!!

  4. I can't say I disagree with many of your points. That said, I live in a VERY conservative market where we are usually about 5-10 yrs behind- so polished granite and glass mosaic tile is just starting to take off!
    Seriously, if I see another magazine spread featuring a mausoleum white marble kitchen so absurdly large you'd need to wear a heart rate monitor to prepare a meal I'll lose it.

    So what IS the next great thing for countertop material? I figure I've got some time to mentally prepare for the transition since the guys in the fab shop that I work with still look at the Caesarstone like it's voodoo.

  5. Having redone our kitchen a year ago and been faced with arguing with the contractor about each of those things, I totally agree. I caved on the granite counter tops but stuck to my guns on the flooring, backsplash, stove, etc. Love my side-by-side refrigerator. I think you missed stainless steel appliances; I'm also totally over those.

  6. Great post Jamie - can't agree on everything, but I'd be happy if I never saw another over the range microwave again! I still think granite has its place - I've mostly been doing honed these last several years. So many clients get excited at the stone yard in a way they never do over man-made quartz. It is funny how the less people cook the more they seem to "need" restaurant style appliances, isn't it!

  7. I would agree with you on most counts too, but have to agree with Cheryl on the French-door fridge. They originally came out decades before but didn't last long due to issues with the door's gaskets failing. Since technology has apparently solved that problem they have become more popular than ever --particularly since they can now come in counter depth and built in models. This allows for less door swing taking up space in the aisle. From an aesthetic standpoint, I like that the seam between the doors lines up with the cabinet doors above --something that has always bugged me with side-by-side models. As for the bottom freezer, I like that idea over a side-by-side and a top mount freezer because it's just plain practical (wider storage for things like pizzas) and as an energy saving feature(heat rises, cold falls).

    Stainless may be a trend, but I don't see it fading anytime soon. If anything, I'm guessing we're going to see more metal finish options like Jenn-Air's oiled bronze.

  8. I was wondering if pot-fillers were going to make your short list or am I way off-base singling out that coveted item? They seem very self-indulgent, ostentatious, and obtrusive. And they usually show up in kitchens that see very little actual food prep. And so, they irk me. But I will get over it and in the meantime, your target list is spot-on. Love the travertine discussion!

  9. Amen! I cannot imagine spending the money for granite and then not being able to put a hot lid on it! And as for cleaning the greasy grates of a commercial gas range forget that too! I do love my over the range microwave. But then I am tall and have no little ones about. Other items that defy common sense in my opinion are the farmhouse sink and open shelves. What next? A return to outhouses? After all they would be authentic and quaint.

  10. I am in the process of renovating my kitchen and it seems that you have helped me with your post. Thanks a lot.

  11. as a postscript: Rich....yes pot fillers should be on the list too! I use them merely as decoration in the backsplash if the splash is more solid in design! But, once in a while I do use the one I have...and my daughter uses it when she cooks her Kraft mac and cheese! In my defense..I sell the things so that is why I have one..also it gives my husband something to laugh about...cheryl

  12. Since my interest is stone and tile, I'll stick to commenting on that subject.

    Travertine was used extensively because it was cheap, builders could say all natural stone, up the asking price and walk away. With any natural stone you have to take a look at your lifestyle, travertine and polished marble probably won't work with a family with small children and dogs. Spilled coke, pee, orange juice and vinegar will etch the surface of the stone and pet claws will dig out the fills in travertine. When the fills pop they leave holes in the stone that will just collect dirt. Go with a porcelain that looks like stone and will look as good in 10 years as it does the day your put it down.

    Tumbled marble and travertine back splashes are just done, they were perfect in the late 90's for Tuscan and country kitchens... you date your renovation before it's even finished.

    Not all granites are really granite. Before you spend several thousand dollars on counter tops take them for a test drive. Get a big enough sample that you can spill all kinds of liquids on it, put a hot pan on it, find out what it takes to clean it.

    I believe that every decision you make in a kitchen should be an educated one but many designers and consumers look at color first, stone second and suitability rarely gets a nod. I've seen kitchen designers want to use onyx on floors or counters which just amazes me due to the fact it scratches so easily. A lot of money is spent on stone, please learn about it before costly mistakes are made.

  13. Excellent Posts

    I am consumer in process of rebuilding home.
    Liked granite but considering Glass counter tops.

    OTC convection micro worked- I'm short but no "burn" problems but does not need to be part of newer larger kitchen. Agree that fan was puny. Was considering travertine large blocks but will rethink due to excellent points made by posters.

    Totally agree with draw backs of french door fridge. Was strongly considering FD built in until test drove built in models. That plastic center bar will likely be trouble down the road. Will go with 36" bottom freezer with single top door and great set of hinges (Miele).

    Any comments on convection steamers?

  14. Great comments, everyone. Thanks! Trent, I like steam ovens but as they don't perform all the functions a microwave does, it's sometimes hard to find space to put one in. See my post on the Viking Steam Oven for a rave review on that appliance:


  15. We have a little kitchen area that we are remodeling and you have given some great ideas. Thanks

  16. Always appreciate hearing that! Thanks a mil, Eco Select Windows.


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