Home chefs put professional-grade ranges on the back burner

By Derek Donovan
Saturday, February 20, 2010

When you're choosing a range for your dream kitchen, bigger -- and more expensive -- isn't always better.

If you've watched a renovation show on HGTV or flipped through design magazines, you've seen endless reiterations of the same look: Dark granite countertops, clean lines of cabinetry and the ubiquitous six-burner "professional-style" gas range. The heavy grates, chunky front-mounted knobs and stark stainless-steel range exteriors evoke the no-nonsense, high-volume bustle of a restaurant kitchen.

In reality, while the luxury appliances in retail showrooms are modeled on the looks of their siblings in commercial kitchens, they have been modified for home use. Most offer insulated ovens, electronic controls and devices such as timers that are not found in the original models.

These styles are not cheap, with 36-inch home models from manufacturers such as Viking, Wolf and Dacor starting at about $6,000. Ranges with double full-size ovens and up to eight burners reach into five figures.

According to some experts, these luxury appliances are in many cases overkill.

"We've tested a lot of those ranges," said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports. "They really haven't performed better than ranges that cost a fraction of the price. We're testing for boiling, simmer, broiling, baking -- the things people really use these ranges for. We haven't really found they are worth the extra money just for their cooking prowess."

Steve Swayne, a regional technology leader for Whirlpool, said shoppers tend to fall into two camps. "You have the people who want the look, that heavy feel and higher-output burners" available on a pro-style range. "And you have the general population, the home enthusiasts who like cooking and don't need something big and massive to feed their family. It's not a showpiece."

Swayne points out that actual commercial models, with their high-output burners, are designed for a different style of cooking.

"Restaurant ranges are meant for attended cooking. The sous chef sits there, where his whole purpose is to watch after the four saute pans he has going.

"The home cook has something in the oven, the phone may be ringing, and there may be children running around. . . . The home enthusiast relies more on 'Hey, there's a really low setting, and I can leave it alone for a while.' "

Value may now be outweighing style as buyers' top priority.

"The huge stainless range was definitely a big trend," said Michael Robinson, director of communication at Factory Direct Appliance. "In years past, we dealt strictly with home building and getting new appliances to furnish them. Now our business is more remodels, and when you go to a 36-inch range, it's not a small step up. It's a big step up. Now it's about dollar value, and money just isn't there the way it was before the recession."

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