Is black the new stainless? 

With its modern look and smudge-proof surface, black stainless steel is giving traditional stainless a run for its money

When Warners’ Stellian first put out the first black stainless steel appliances by LG and Samsung on the selling floor about two years ago, customers were quick to jump on the trend.

“It started selling almost immediately,” said Brian Holicky, the company’s general manager and lead buyer and merchandiser.

Over the past decade, stainless steel has reigned as the king of the kitchen, but black stainless steel is the newest trend for appliances. What major appliance manufacturers are calling “black stainless” is essentially traditional stainless steel coated in a sleek, dark finish, although in a few cases, brands are having the stainless steel specially made in black.

Consumers are flocking to black stainless for more than just its chic, bold appearance. Traditional stainless steel requires constant upkeep due to fingerprints and scratches. Black stainless steel, on the other hand, is smudge-proof and scratch-resistant.

“Because black stainless is fingerprint resistant, it appealed to clients right away,” Holicky said. “Anyone who owns stainless steel knows fingerprints are an issue and require constant cleaning.”

Since then, the family-owned, Minnesota-based kitchen and home appliance store, which has nine locations across the state, has added black stainless steel appliances by brands including Frigidaire, GE and Whirlpool to its inventory. Items available in the statement-making shade include refrigerators, dishwashers, built-in microwaves and ranges.

Christine Hoene, an interior designer at Edina-based firm Design Innovations, favors LG and Samsung’s offerings in the black stainless category. Both brands incorporate unique technology, features and functionality into their designs, which are also big draws for her clients.

“They give you so much more than just the great finish,” she said. “The LG fridge, for example, has apps that link to your phone showing you a live feed of what you have in your refrigerator. The Samsung refrigerator has a sleek, contemporary design that you don’t see with other refrigerators. And recently, KitchenAid has come out with a matte version of the black stainless, which has been very desirable for my clients.”

A move toward darker hues in kitchens

Black stainless is part of a general trend toward darker hues coming into kitchen, according to Bjorn Freudenthal, director of client experience for Puustelli USA, a Finland-based kitchen design company that recently opened its first U.S. showroom in Minneapolis.

“It’s a natural progression of what’s trending in interiors,” Freudenthal said. “Black has been trending in the European markets for the past few years. Now, customers are picking it up from blogs and design literature and they’re starting to ask questions.”

Tiffany Hanken, president and lead designer at Minneapolis-based firm Tiffany Hanken Design, has worked with black stainless appliances from Kitchen Aid, Samsung and LG for various residential design projects. Hanken recently completed a design for a client’s newly built garage condo in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and filled the kitchen with black stainless appliances.

“We wanted to give the space a modern, edgy feel and thought the black stainless was a perfect fit,” she said. “The look is not for everyone, but the people who are drawn to it love it. It has a subtle elegance that is understated and practical for everyday living.”

A long way to go

Despite the excitement surrounding black stainless, it has a long way to go before it catches up to traditional stainless. According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), shipments of stainless appliances grew by about 26 percent between the years 2010 and 2015.

As for the black stainless finishes being touted by the likes of KitchenAid, LG, and Samsung, AHAM reported that those models don’t yet command a large enough market share to be broken out of the overall stainless category.

But according to Holicky, black stainless is giving its predecessor a run for its money.

“Stainless is still our best seller, but black has replaced a good portion of sales,” Holicky said. “At the lower end it’s almost all stainless, but there’s more sales for black stainless the higher-end you go up.”

The average price point for a black stainless package is higher than regular stainless. A four-piece, free-standing kitchen averages between $2,999 and $3,999 and can cost as much as $6,000, although some packages are available for as low as $1,799. Black stainless costs between $50 to $100 more per piece than traditional stainless.

“The black stainless client is more interested in the design and look of it,” said Holicky, adding, “Those clients are more willing to stretch their budgets.”

“I don’t see the look replacing regular stainless,” Hanken said. “I think there’s a place in the market for both looks especially because they both bring a different feel to a kitchen. Style and the design of a kitchen plays a big role on which finish you choose.”

Here to stay?

Despite the benefits of black stainless, there’s one drawback that those with a high-traffic kitchen should consider: It can scratch. Fortunately, scratching is rare and fixable. If necessary, consumers can reach out to the manufacturer to get a sample of the specific hue and sealant to repair the area, which is similar to fixing a scratch on a car.

Another question for shoppers considering spending thousands of dollars in new appliances is whether it will be a decision they’ll regret in a few years as tastes and trends shift.

“I absolutely think the look is here to stay,” Hanken said. “I think it is a timeless look if the space is right for it and that it will be a solid investment.”

Holicky agreed.

“As the economy improves, consumers are not as worried about things becoming outdated,” he said. “They tend to spend more money on style than functionality. When the economy isn’t great, they’re more worried about whether it will be outdated and they play it safe. Right now with the economy being strong, it’ll stick around.”

And for those who are hesitant to make the plunge for a complete set: Just replace one key piece. As the mixing of finishes becomes more popular, Hoene said that she’s more frequently replaced just the refrigerator in the black stainless, leaving the remaining appliances in the traditional stainless steel.

Do black stainless appliances have the staying power to dethrone stainless? It’s hard to say for sure, but one thing is clear: Consumers are ready for the next thing.