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Metallic Memories Revived in Kitchens

Kitchen designers are always looking for an edge in materials or designs in the quest to capture the homeowner's imagination. In the latest revival of 1950s chic, that edge is made of shiny, stainless steel. Be prepared to pay more for steel than for traditional materials, says The Washington Post, thousands more if you go for a total steel makeover with counters, cabinets or appliances.

Old is new in the current steel fad. Stainless steel counter tops were common in the post-war, baby boom kitchens of the 40s and 50s. Always durable and shiny in a restaurant setting, steel has again started to appear in the home, especially in appliances. That same durability and resistance to moisture and heat make steel counter tops and cabinets attractive to homeowners. It's a high-quality material that looks great when blended with natural materials like stone and wood, according to designers.

Gauge (or thickness) of the steel and finish are the two traits to look for. Your steel counter top should be at least 14 or 16- gauge (about 1/16 inches thick) backed by a 3/4 inch plywood substrate. Fabricators can really get creative with finishes, from highly-polished "mirror" to scratchier "engine-turned." High-gloss or satin finishes may be more susceptible to scratching. Explore the appearance, texture and scratch- resistance with your designer. Steel really shows the fingerprints. It requires careful attention using a non-abrasive cleaner such as a commercial glass cleaner. But it will reward your efforts by staying beautiful for years.

On the cost side, stainless steel will add hundreds to your material costs for counter tops and cabinets. The price is around $125 to $150 per linear foot for counter tops. Remember to factor in custom design and fabrication costs on top of that. A sink will cost you $300 to $400 more. Cabinet manufacturers offer pre-fabricated, stainless designs. At the high end is the Tecnica line from Snaidero, an Italian manufacturer, recently priced in Northern Virginia at $1,300 for a three-drawer, under- the-counter cabinet measuring 24 inches wide and 34 1/2 inches high. Add $500 for stainless steel sides. Many metal fabricators only do commercial kitchens and not homes. But check with your local kitchen design company. They may have suppliers such as Premier Custom-built of New Holland, Pennsylvania which offers an 18 inch-wide by 42 inch-high steel cabinet for $713, for example.