I don't remember the first refrigerator my family owned, but I distinctly recall the one my mother bought when she renovated our Massachusetts home in 1988. It was a sleek black glass unit, a contrast to the kitchen's luxurious cherry wood cabinets and white tile floors and countertops.
Back then, a black glass refrigerator was the kind of appliance that dropped jaws. But a little over a decade later, when I started looking for apartments of my own, black had been replaced by stainless steel. My first solo apartment in Queens offered a depressing, glossy white fridge and rickety white range. So naturally, when I moved into a two-bedroom in 2012 that boasted a GE Monogram with French doors and a Samsung range, it felt as if I had arrived.
Although stainless-steel appliances have been the standard in mid-tier luxury homeownership for the past two decades, a new trend, ushered in by Café — GE's mass premium appliance line — Ilve, Samsung, Smeg and others, is slowly cresting. Kitchens are beginning to reflect whimsy and personal taste with colorful appliances in shades such as bright blue and lemon yellow.
"White was the primary appliance out there for many, many years," says Albert Fouerti, chief executive of the e-commerce platform Appliances Connection. "When stainless-steel appliances came out, that was a major differentiation." Now, Fouerti says, brands are evolving again, recognizing that homeowners spend a lot of time in the kitchen and want to customize the space. So they are offering colors, hardware and bespoke options that allow consumers to express their creativity. "You have beautiful, great-looking, great-working appliances, but also different options of customization that fit your needs," he says.
Customization used to be reserved for the highest tier of luxury consumers, an appliance market driven by those purchasing items in excess of $10,000 apiece. But truly personalized products, available in finishes that extend beyond stainless or the standard black and white, are now accessible to a cross section of buyers who are defined as mid-tier. (Those in the market for refrigerators between $3,000 and $5,000, for example, or for single- and dual-fuel stove-oven combinations that range from $4,000 to $12,000.) These are buyers who like what they like, and what they like is a little pop.
The move toward color in appliances, says Wayne Davis, senior brand director for Café, has been a slow but steady tack. Consumers have been falling in love with colorful appliances from a distance for several years, but they have also known them to be cost-prohibitive. "When they would go to the store, their budget really only allowed them to have stainless as their premium choice," he says. "And so, we saw an opportunity to say: Well, how can we take what's going on in luxury and bring it into what we call 'mass premium'?"
For Café, the result has been a line of appliances — ranges, ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators — available in matte white, matte black and stainless steel that has customizable options for brushed black, bronze, copper and stainless-steel hardware. Davis says the black and white matte appliances, in particular, have been met with enthusiasm.
He attributes some of this stylistic change to the coronavirus pandemic. "Because we were all stuck at home, we're spending a lot more time in our space," he says. "We all were saying: 'What can I do to make this space more mine?'" Changing the color of a range, dishwasher or refrigerator was an act that felt personal, and that feeling has continued, he says.
The options are now more open than ever, says Gina Sims, owner and principal designer of Gina Sims Designs in Atlanta. "We love color. We never shy away from an opportunity," she says. Working with a vibrant appliance, Sims says, can be tricky at times, but one way to bypass overkill is to make careful choices. "Select one to be the main event," she suggests. "I do see stainless as kind of being jeans in an outfit. It exists for a purpose. If you want a statement appliance, you need everything else to kind of bow out a little bit."
That signature item could be a lemon yellow Bertazzoni range, coated in automotive paint (the same appliance that Sims is installing in a 1980s-inspired kitchen); a matte black Café dishwasher with bronze hardware; an Ilve Majestic II dual fuel range and Majestic hood in emerald green; or a Samsung Bespoke refrigerator featuring a limited-edition blue-and-white winter design.
Nothing is out of bounds, Sims says. Homeowners should not be concerned about whether styles will change, assuming the color or style they're drawn to is something that they've loved for a long time and that is in tune with the overall look of their home. "If you look at something and go, 'Oh my gosh, this is so me, because I've always loved green my entire life,' well, then, I'm gonna love that green stove, because I've always loved it," she says. However, she cautions against purchasing something simply because you've seen it everywhere and find it momentarily appealing.
Sims also suggests tailoring the kitchen to meet your functional needs. Focus on choosing appliances first, rather than cabinetry or backsplash first and appliances second. Homeowners can match cabinetry to the appliances or pull from the appliances in the backsplash — decisions that can be made after the appliance colors are determined. "Let it have its moment," she says of the appliance. "Just have fun with it."
For those who are looking to integrate color but prefer to remain cautious, some appliances, such as Forté's retro-style refrigerators, come in more neutral tones (think mint green, cream and sky blue) that blend into a kitchen's palette. Smeg's Portofino line is available in white and black, as well as olive green, red, orange, yellow and, of course, stainless steel. Ilve's popular blue-gray option marries easily with different shades of granite and marble.
But homeowners should not be afraid of making bold choices. Like stainless steel, which also remains an eternal choice for those who continue to love its reliability, colorful appliances are not a one-off. So reach for the whole box of crayons, if your heart desires. "Color is here to stay," Fouerti says.