Faith's Kitchen Renovation: The Confusing Journey of Buying Kitchen Appliances

Renovation Diary: Faith's Budget Luxe Kitchen

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Last we checked in with my kitchen renovation, we were wrestling IKEA cabinets and installing them with (ahem) sex bolts. (See all the posts about my kitchen renovation so far here.) Now I'd like to take a step back and talk about a process that should be sexy but is actually fraught with confusion, uncertainty, and a lack of resources: Buying kitchen appliances.

Read on to see how we navigated the overwhelming process of buying appliances, and to see what we picked out. I'll talk about how buying a range top can actually save you money, as well as our one amazing Craigslist find!

A note! Thank you to all of you who emailed asking WHERE THE HECK ARE THE REST OF YOUR RENOVATION POSTS?? I'm so sorry it's taking me so long to get to the big reveal. My camera had an accident and is in the shop. I hope to get it back, and to finish off my photos and the rest of this series, in the next couple of weeks. Thanks for your patience; I totally appreciate your interest!

Appliance Shopping: It's Like Poking Around in the Dark

Last summer, at the beginning of our renovation, I found myself in a pickle. On the one hand, I had an exciting situation: I needed an entire set of new appliances. We had sold the old dishwasher and gas range to the folks who bought the house's old kitchen cabinets. So we were starting from scratch, and that was a little thrilling.

But let's be honest: I had no idea where to start. Buying appliances is challenging, overwhelming, and expensive.

I often said during the appliance buying process it's ironic that people will read copious reviews and do so much market research on small electronics and other household items like mixers, radios, and speakers, agonizing over the final decision. And yet some of those same people will spend thousands of dollars on a high-end range after they've done little more than twiddle the knobs in the showroom. There are no good websites to read reviews and compare/contrast different appliances, and you usually can't try out an appliance for a month before deciding whether you want to keep it, more's the pity.

So how do you invest in a new appliance? How do you really know whether an appliance is right for you? You go on word of mouth, reputation, and price, which explains why many appliance manufacturers put so much into marketing. And then you take the leap and hope it all works out. Can a stove or a dishwasher ever be anything more than a really expensive yet somewhat arbitrary purchase?

Those were some of the things running through my mind over and over as we began our appliance hunt, searching for not just one new appliance, but five.

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Delivering the appliances — an exciting day.

The Budget

I like to think of myself as a frugal person who makes judiciously expensive purchases when warranted and justified. I knew that kitchen appliances wouldn't be cheap, unless we scavenged on Craigslist and bought used, probably unmatching, appliances. This seemed a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach, since used appliances usually don't come with warranties; and when going to all the trouble and expense of building a new kitchen, it seems only right to kit it out with well-working (and beautiful) appliances that would, I hoped, last for many years.

Our approach to the budget was to research what appliances generally cost, and to see if we could pinpoint good options at the lower end of the scale. Adding it all up,  we felt it was realistic to spend about $6000 total on our refrigerator, oven, stovetop, dishwasher, and hood. This sounds like a lot of money, and it was! But after talking to other friends going through similar renovations, I felt reassured that it was a reasonable investment for quality appliances.

Today I'll walk through each appliance and our decision process, and explain what we ended up with, and how. 

Later this summer I will revisit and review each of these appliances to share how they are working out, after six months of use.

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The stove in its crate.

The Stove

Ah the stove, the heart and hearth. I have met many cooks who daydream over stoves. Their fantasies range from the old-fashioned AGA, to the professional quality Wolf, to the sleek induction cooktop. But I didn't moon over stoves, especially macho beefed-up ranges. I wanted my stove to have capacity and power (boiling a pot of water in under 5 minutes is delightful!). But I am not a restaurant chef, and I don't turn out 120 covers a night. I didn't want a stovetop that looked like it belonged in a restaurant kitchen.

So while I didn't have an ideal in mind when I began shopping, I did know that I wouldn't be spending the $3000 to $5000 for a professional-style Wolf, Viking, or BlueStar — for reasons of both aesthetics and price.

I knew that I wanted gas (which is just what I'm most comfortable with), and I quickly decided that I wanted a range top, which fit my primary criteria: That my stove be easy to clean. A range top slides in, with countertop on either side, instead of getting dropped into a countertop cut-out. The range tops I liked had the knobs on the front of the stove, instead of on the surface — safely far away from splatters and spills. After the laborious cleaning of the knobs on my old drop-in stovetop in my rental, I was ready for something different.

And then, it happened. Somehow, somewhere, I saw a photo of an Italian Bertazzoni range top. After that, it was all over. My heart was taken. I fell for its clean design and how it looked like it belonged in a home kitchen, not a restaurant. I loved the knobs that point one way and make it easy to see just where the heat is at. And, most importantly, the price for a range top was the lowest I could find.

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The Stove Details
• Bertazzoni CB36500X Rangetop, 5 Burners, 36" Wide
• Total Range Top Cost: $1769

Bertazzoni stoves come from Italy. Their prices are controlled by the manufacturer so they will always be the same, wherever you buy one, unless you find a floor model on sale.

A range top is generally more expensive than a drop-in stove, but here's an interesting note about that. If you are installing new countertops, you will usually need to pay for the material that is cut out for the stove. So if your stove is about 6 square feet, then you will be paying for the 6 square feet of material cut out of the countertop to make a space for your stove.

However, if you get a slide-in range top, the counter simply begins and ends at the stove edges, and you don't pay for any extra material. For me, this cost savings on the countertop meant that a Bertazzoni range top and drop-in effectively cost the same.

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The hood during installation. You can see the vent hole cut, but no ductwork or cover up yet.

The Hood

A kitchen hood is on the one hand extremely visible, and on the other hand not the most interesting appliance to shop for. I was hoping to save some money here and get a hood that was only a few hundred dollars. But our architect stepped in and warned us about inexpensive hoods. He had had a bad experience with a stylish yet cheap hood that was very difficult to install and didn't work well.

A hood's main function is to suck out cooking vapors and smells, and to keep the cooking area cool. A hood's power should be calibrated to your stove and the size of your space. For me, this meant that I needed a hood that circulated about 600 cubic feet per minute (CFM). 

We wanted a very sleek, modern style of hood, as unobtrusive as possible. Our appliance store rep offered a Zephyr; it was being discontinued and so was on sale. We liked its clean look, and it had all the power we needed. Done. 

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The Hood Details 


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Our amazing Craigslist find, waiting in the living room. It sat there for over four months! 

The Oven

I knew from the start that I wanted to split up the range and oven. I have never found it sensible to have the oven under the stove. All that heat in one place! I like having the oven in a separate part of the kitchen. So, a wall oven was called for, but a single or a double? At first I was going to be modest and just get a single wall oven; would I really use two on a regular basis? Then I woke up early one morning and had a flash of sense: "Wait. What am I thinking. Of course I want/need a double oven." (Which is true — since buying one it has been almost constantly in use! I couldn't have catered my brother's wedding without it...) 

The oven I liked most was one that I had seen in action in Lilian's kitchen tour (see the oven here). It's a Fisher & Paykel, with a gorgeous blue interior, great knobs (which I prefer over a digital touchpad) and the ability to go as low as 80° — so good for dehydrating food, warming plates, and proofing bread. 

But when I looked it up I found that not only was that oven discontinued, even at close-out prices it was nearly $4000! No way. Sadly I moved on, and settled on a double oven from IKEA for $1500. This was the cheapest thing we could find; double ovens were unexpectedly expensive. 

But then, the miracle. 

Remember how I said I wasn't going to look for appliances on Craigslist? Well, I idly searched on "Fisher Paykel" one evening and to my shock, a Fisher & Paykel oven popped up. I looked closer, and to my everlasting surprise, it was the exact oven I wanted. Fisher & Paykel is not the most common brand choice in Ohio kitchens, so this was truly a surprise. The couple selling the oven had bought it on sale, but then moved shortly afterwards to a smaller kitchen. They were selling all their old appliances. To close the deal, they even had an extended warranty for the oven. 

My husband and I borrowed a van, found our checkbook, and bought it the next  night, after bargaining them down to about $1000. I couldn't believe my luck; in the middle of a long, draining renovation process, it was a moment of delight and encouragement! That wonderful oven sat in our living room through the whole renovation process, draped in a tarp, waiting for its moment. 

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The Oven Details


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The dishwasher without its panel.

The Dishwasher

The dishwasher was the easiest appliance decision. In fact, it was the only appliance I had all picked out before even beginning my kitchen renovation. I knew that I wanted a Miele dishwasher, which I had heard great things about on GardenWeb and in other online discussions. After living with a truly terrible dishwasher for years, I was excited to get something that actually worked.

We bought the most basic model, and opted for the version that could be paneled. This doesn't cost any extra; it's just a model with a contraption on the front that lets you hook a cabinet panel on, instead of having a shiny stainless steel or white finish. (I always thought that paneling must be extra-difficult and expensive, but it was no big deal at all.)

Like I said, I will do fuller reviews of all these appliances later this summer, but a sneak peek: We love our dishwasher. I have always thought it was best to invest more money into the most complicated appliance; everything else in the kitchen is relatively straightforward compared to the dishwasher. This one was expensive, but it saves so much time and does such a good job, I wish we would have bought two. (I am only partially joking; you should see the dishes after I've tested six recipes in a row!) I especially love the silverware rack, a shallow tray above the two dish racks. 

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The Dishwasher Details

Miele is a German company known for high-quality appliances; their dishwashers get especially good reviews. Like some other imported brands, Miele prices stay the same no matter where you buy them. Unless you find a used or discounted floor model, there isn't a lot of point to shopping around for a deal.

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I really appreciate the sleek, squared-off handles on the fridge. It just looks less bulky. 

The Refrigerator

The refrigerator comes with a funny, somewhat ironic story. I really wanted to have the fridge set back, so that it didn't jut out further than the cabinets. (The depth of the fridge, to me, is one of the most awkward and annoying aspects of many kitchens; it really can get in the way!) I even flirted with the idea of a small under-counter fridge, but it wasn't practical for me in my profession of recipe developer and writer. Plus, extra-small refrigerators tend to be extra-expensive. (Isn't that irritating?)

We were able, however, to design our kitchen addition so that the addition itself was offset slightly from the rest of the house, creating a pocket for the fridge to be set into. (You can see it on the plans here.) So we could buy any size fridge but it would still be set back and flush with the countertops. 

After all that planning, though, we still went and bought a counter-depth fridge! This is a Fisher & Paykel counter-depth refrigerator, which at about $1500 is one of the more economical counter-depth fridges on the market. (It still wouldn't have been totally flush with the countertop; only a truly built-in fridge is, and those start at stratospheric prices. I think that built-in refrigerator manufacturing just may be run by the Mafia; the pricing makes no sense to me.) 

I was looking for a refrigerator that had the freezer on the bottom. I especially wanted one with a freezer door, instead of drawers. This is hard to find; most bottom-freezers have one big wire drawer. I don't like this configuration; I find it hard to navigate and store what I need.

At the appliance store I found (and loved) a Fisher-Paykel that had a small footprint, and everything else I wanted. It was free of an ice-maker and a water dispenser, both features that are more prone to breakage, and ones that we wanted to avoid. I appreciated the way the fridge was laid out, and the way that the freezer had a door, then sliding trays that were easier to organize.

The fridge was a little more expensive than we had budgeted (I was trying to find one for under $1000) but after some consideration we decided to go for it. This refrigerator usually goes for about $1500, but we were able to buy a floor model for less. I really wanted a glossy white refrigerator, but we decided to stick with stainless steel since that was still less expensive.

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The Refrigerator Details


The Final Bill

After all those choices, the final cost, before tax and delivery, came to just under $6000. Tax and delivery added about $500. So, $6500 total, for a full kitchen's worth of appliances. 

What we didn't buy: A microwave (we have a teeny one that sits in the pantry), or a garbage disposal for the sink (we will compost instead). 

Have you ever bought a full kitchen's worth of appliances? How does your experience compare to this? Was it more expensive for you? Less? What kinds of things did you prioritize? Any tips or hints you can share? 

Resources

Here are a couple resources that were the most helpful to us in the appliance shopping process. 

  • GardenWeb Forums - This site, if you don't know it already, is a great forum of people in the midst of renovating. You have to hunt and search for posts that apply to you (there's no organized menu or gallery of appliances) but for anecdotal advice, you can't beat GardenWeb's helpfulness and depth. 

  • The Appliance Loft in Cincinnati, Ohio - This is where we bought most of our appliances (except for the oven, obviously). They were very helpful and gave us a good package deal on the appliances, including selling us a floor model fridge. I enjoyed working with them and would definitely recommend them. 

(Images: Faith Durand; appliance manufacturers)

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