These days, ranges come in three basic types: freestanding, slide-in and front-control. To add a bit of confusion, a front-control range is not just a range with controls at the front of the unit. Indeed, most slide-in and some freestanding ranges also have controls at the front, as do most front-control ranges. The front-control range is the new kid on the block and represents a hybrid of the other two range types. It's often called a hybrid range. To help you answer the question of whether front controls—or a front-control range—are right for you, let's look at what all this terminology means.
A freestanding range is a standard range with finished sides and a console—also called a backsplash—at the back that rises above the cooking surface. It's called freestanding because it has feet and finished sides, so it can stand on its own and doesn't need a countertop for support or cabinets to hide its sides. Controls on a freestanding range may be at the front of the cooktop area or on the console at the back.
Slide-in ranges fit between two cabinets and have a lip along the sides of the cooking surface that overlaps and rests on the countertop. The overlapping lip eliminates the gap between the countertop and range that you get with a freestanding unit. Slide-in ranges do not have a console at the back, giving them the clean look of a built-in, or drop-in, cooktop. They are typically installed during new construction or remodels because the cabinet and countertop opening must be custom-sized for the range.
A similar style to a slide-in is the drop-in range. This also has a lip that rests on the countertop, and it has no console. The difference is that a slide-in range extends to the floor and has a drawer below the oven, while drop-in stops above the floor and space below are usually filled by a cabinet drawer.
Manufacturers came up with front-control ranges to offer the best of both worlds. Like a freestanding range, a front-control range has finished sides. Like a slide-in range, a front-control has no console. Because it's freestanding, a front-control range is a good replacement option for an old freestanding range; you can swap the ranges without having to modify the cabinets or countertop. At the same time, the lack of a console gives homeowners the sleeker look of a slide-in that has become the current style standard.
How to Choose
To be clear, now we're talking about controls at the front of the range vs. controls at the back. Because they have no console, slide-in and front-control ranges must have controls at the front or along the side of the cooking surface. That leaves only some freestanding ranges that still have controls at the back. Is there any reason why you don't want controls at the front? Only one: They potentially give small children easier access to the knobs. Keep in mind that manufacturers anticipated this and made sure the knobs have a push-and-turn design, which also prevents anyone from inadvertently bumping a knob and turning it on. However, some kids are more determined than others; if that's what you have, perhaps you'd be more comfortable with a freestanding range with controls at the back.