There’s a new finish in the kitchen. Called Black Stainless, it’s a darker shade of stainless steel that claims to be more fingerprint resistant on home appliances.
Unlike other fad finishes, however, this one may just take off—largely because it has widespread industry support beyond a single brand. KitchenAid, Samsung, and LG have been selling black stainless appliances for over a year, while Kenmore just joined the party with an all-new suite.
The market for black stainless is expanding: LG currently sells a dozen black stainless appliances, and just added a more affordable fridge. KitchenAid recently expanded its lineup to include existing dishwasher models, undercounter wine cellars, freestanding and undercounter beverage centers, refrigerators, and standalone ice makers.
Indeed, the growth of the finish across multiple brands may offer the credibility that buyers need to know black stainless is here to stay. Appliances last a long time, and fad finishes can hurt resale value.
There is also documented consumer demand for a unique new finish that's just as durable as stainless, and black stainless fits that bill. It isn’t a paint or a finish—it’s a chemical treatment that’s applied to stainless steel, so buyers get the same rust-proof benefits as a traditional stainless finish.
Black stainless can also be mixed and matched with traditional stainless steel, so switching over doesn’t have to be part of buying a whole new suite of appliances. It’s resistant to fingerprints and offers a more modern look.
Samsung took a particularly interesting tack when it introduced its version of the finish. Instead of selling black stainless as a less-expensive alternative to traditional stainless steel—much as GE did with its Slate finish—Samsung actually boosted the price of black stainless above traditional stainless, positioning it as a premium finish. According to folks we’ve spoken with at Samsung, that’s made all the difference in sales.
Indeed, an online poll from Houzz shows that around 2/3rds of respondents would consider black stainless the next time they remodel.
However, news about the new finish is not all positive. According to AHAM, an appliance industry trade group, sales numbers for black stainless aren’t even significant enough to track—not surprising, considering that the finish is only available on a tenth as many appliances as traditional stainless.
Steve Sheinkopf over at the Yale Appliance blog points out a few good reasons to hold back from buying black stainless. Most have to do with personal taste, but it’s important to remember that when you’re buying a new finish, you’re betting on its continued support. Otherwise, you may not be able to get a matching look when you replace your dishwasher in a decade.
Consumers in online forums have mentioned issues finding complementary accessories—including sinks and door pulls. There are also very few options for matching range hoods. Some customers choose to mix and match traditional stainless, while others choose this new black stainless range hood from Samsung.
There's also the issue of individual variations in finishes. For instance, KitchenAid's black stainless is a darker, more matte finish than Samsung's brushed finish, or LG's more mirror-like look. That means you're out of luck if you want all your appliances to match, but you don't want a suite that's all from the same brand.
In the end, black stainless is growing in popularity, but it's far from ubiquitous. That may be an important reason why customers are sticking with better-known finishes. Over the past five years, traditional stainless has continued to grow in popularity. When it comes to a major purchase, sometimes the traditional choice is also the safe one.