5 Reasons Designers Are Ditching Stainless Steel Fridges for This Popular Trend

Interior designer Courtnay Tartt Elias designed this kitchen around a paneled fridge decorated with a blue and white tropical design

Photo by Claudia Casbarian / Design by Courtnay Tartt Elias

One of the super specific features that’s long been on my dream home wish list? A retro-looking refrigerator in the bright color of my choosing—because even though I’m by no means a cook and don’t spend a ton of time in the kitchen, I can’t get over how stylish and fun these types of appliances look. But if bright colors aren’t for you, that’s ok. I’ve also seen an influx of appliances that are camouflaged to match kitchen cabinets and am loving that look, too. One thing overall is abundantly clear: designers are also ready to say goodbye to stainless steel refrigerators and embrace retro or paneled options ASAP—read on to learn why!

  • 01 of 05

    They’re More Sleek

    Camouflaged refrigerator

    Photo by Sara Tramp / Design by Emily Henderson Design

    Have you ever looked through photos of a kitchen and wondered for a moment where exactly the refrigerator was located, only to realize that it was designed to blend in seamlessly with the pantry and other cabinetry present? I know I have! This style is a designer fave. “I personally love to use panel-covered appliances in kitchens for a more streamlined look,” designer Courtney Sempliner explained in an email. “Stainless steel has a professional and chef-kitchen feel that does work well in some homes, but for a more finished and polished aesthetic, one should consider panelling their appliances.” 

  • 02 of 05

    They’re Less Smudge-Prone

    cleaning fingerprints off of stainless steel

    The Spruce / Kori Livingston

    Stainless steel: It can look fancy but is oh-so-prone to showing wear and tear. Even those of us who solely own stainless steel trash cans know how susceptible the material is to, well, anything. “The slightest touch can leave behind a smudge, and both children and adults struggle to leave the surface clear,” Kristiana Laugen, home expert at Handy, noted in an email. “Just by gripping the handle to open the door, a trail of noticeable marks is left behind.” 

    And cleaning such an appliance isn’t necessarily a simple task, Laugen added. “Battling these smudges often requires the help of specialized stainless steel cleaning products to prevent any streaks. While they do leave the surface sparkling, they tend to be more expensive than traditional cleaning products.” 

  • 03 of 05

    They’re Happier Looking

    Courtnay Tartt Elias painted the fridge in her home and added mirrors to the cabinets

    Photo by Claudia Casbarian / Design by Courtnay Tartt Elias

    Sempliner added that in addition to being difficult to keep clean, stainless steel “generally provides a more industrial style.” And this can pose challenges if you’re itching to move in another direction—maybe you’re actually a vintage fanatic at heart or love the eclectic look. “It's hard to design around a bold shiny metal appliance when the overall sentiment of the kitchen is in a different direction,” designer Louis Duncan-He explained in an email. Plus, a shiny silver fridge may quickly clash with more unique hardware choices. “With more and more people opting for brass, oil rubbed bronze, and matte black hardware options, it is helpful to have appliance options that aren’t just stainless steel,” designer Julia Newman noted. 

    So if industrial isn’t your thing, aim to take the paneled or retro approach. After all, Sempliner added, “When appliances are paneled, or selected in a color and/or in a more residential or retro style, the entire room transforms into a more inviting, relaxed, and warm space.” 

  • 04 of 05

    They Evoke Nostalgia

    Retro refrigerator

    Photo by Sara Tramp / Design by Velinda Hellen for EHD

    As Laugen added, “nostalgia is a huge trend across industries.” And yes, it may even make its way into your kitchen. “We’re seeing a ton of film and TV reboots being made, fashion trends from the 90’s making a comeback, and the same is happening with appliances,” Laugen noted. “People are gravitating towards retro style appliances like refrigerators, coffee makers, ovens, and more, that give them a connection to the past.” Next time you’re watching one of your favorite blast from the past TV shows, pay extra close attention to the kitchen setup! 

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    They Make a Major Impact, Even in a Small Space

    retro oven

    Dazey Den

    Adding a retro fridge can transform a so-so instant in a big way, no construction crew required. “Without having to remodel your entire kitchen, simply adding an eclectic retro appliance can completely shift the focal point of the room,” Laugen said. “By incorporating contrast with a vibrant color or unique style, the retro appliance captures the attention of guests.” 

    Designer Diana Rose noted in an email that “retro appliances surely help any kitchen come to life and tell a story.” How so? “They add a certain vintage character that is hard to achieve with cabinet designs,” she explained. “These appliances are also widely used in smaller kitchens where you can't get too creative with cabinetry, due to limited wall space.” 

    a close-up look at Courtnay Tartt Elias's painting work on her fridge at home

    Photo by Claudia Casbarian / Design by Courtnay Tartt Elias

    Paneled fridges don’t have to be plain, either. “Having appliances that ‘mold' with a room gives the space a more integrated feel and is  even a way to give the kitchen more personality,” explained Courtnay Tartt Elias, who recently painted the refrigerator in her own home. “I am notoriously fond of using color, so I'll often have a little fun with color palettes or textures on appliances!”