A friend of mine, who recently went into business for himself as
a contractor, called and asked if I would take a look at a client’s
home and give him some ideas as he began a major kitchen remodel.
Located in a spectacular neighborhood, the home was beautiful but
badly in need of an upgrade.
When I arrived, the old kitchen had just been stripped to the
bare studs. I walked through the home, reviewed the preliminary
drawings and offered a variety of suggestions. My most important
recommendation was that an experienced kitchen designer be
Then I made a recommendation that surprised my friend and his
client. I suggested that they install a freestanding range rather
than a cooktop and separate built-in oven.
My opinion on this is based on two decades of experience dealing
with countertop installations in thousands of kitchens; one of the
main issues I’ve faced again and again is how countertops interface
with cooking appliances in real-world kitchens.
I know that this view goes against today’s conventional wisdom
in kitchen design that favors built-ins in many situations. Of
course, there may be good reasons to go with built-ins on a
specific project. However, I’d like to make the case in this column
that the good old-fashioned freestanding range is, in my opinion,
the best choice most of the time in most kitchens.
Consider the issue of countertop layout and pricing. A typical
U-shaped kitchen often has the range or cooktop in the middle leg
of the floor plan.
If a cooktop is chosen, there will be a single, large U-shaped
countertop. Most likely, the corner seams will need to be assembled
in the home at the time of installation. The middle leg of the
countertop will be long, awkward and heavy. The cost of the
countertop will be based on the total linear footage of the entire
“U,” with additional charges possible for the cooktop cutout and
for installation difficulty.
If a freestanding range is installed instead of a cooktop, the
countertop instead becomes two smaller L-shaped tops. Together,
they will cost significantly less than the U-shaped top because
their combined linear footage will be
2-1/2 to 3 feet less. It may well be that the corner seams can
be shop assembled, and it’s certain that the components will be
much easier to transport and install. Fewer installers may be
needed, and the installation will go more quickly, with less chance
of damage. The same general principles apply to most other
When I was a countertop salesman, homeowners many times
expressed surprise that they were being charged the full price for
the footage of the countertop where a cooktop was to be installed.
This always amused me, since of course the countertop must be
fabricated and installed in that area, even if an enormous hole is
cut in it and not much countertop is left there.
Now, consider the cost of the cabinets. Most of the time,
cooktops and built-in ovens are installed in separate cabinets. The
cabinet count is two greater than if a freestanding range was
selected, although there will be some extra storage available
beneath the cooktop. Even if the oven is installed beneath the
cooktop, one extra cabinet enclosure is needed, but no extra
storage at all is gained.
Consider also the costs involved in installing the appliances. A
freestanding range is easy to install. Simply plug it in, secure
the gas connection if applicable, slide it into position, level it,
install an anti-tip device and you’re done. Usually, this takes
only a few minutes.
Cooktops require an accurate cutout in the countertop, which
often must be properly reinforced and insulated to prevent heat
damage to the countertop. In most cases, a skilled countertop
installer must do this work. Cooktops often require installation of
awkward clips to secure them in position. Built-in ovens must go
into an enclosure with an opening of the correct size and shape.
These ovens are heavy and can be very awkward to maneuver into
position. The whole process is exacting and time-consuming.
Then there’s the potential for heat damage to the countertop.
The weight of the cooktop rests directly on the countertop. In many
cases, the cooktop is clipped or clamped to the countertop. In
contrast, the floor supports the weight of a freestanding range,
and it is normally isolated from the countertop by a small air gap.
It is, therefore, inevitable that there is far greater heat
transfer from a cooktop into the countertop than from a
freestanding range into the countertop. Countertop heat damage is
vastly more common with cooktops than with freestanding ranges. I
deal with such problems several times a week. They are a
significant source of consumer dissatisfaction with kitchen
looking ahead Consider, too, the possibility of future appliance
replacement. A surprisingly large percentage of consumers are
dissatisfied with their appliance selection, and consider a change
after only a few years. Or the appliance may need to be replaced
due to failure, and the consumer may wish to try a different unit,
hoping that it will prove more reliable.
It’s usually very simple to replace a freestanding range. In
general, any 30″ range will fit into a 30″ range space, and any 36″
range will fit into a 36″ space. There are dozens of models
available, without worrying about fit.
In contrast, there are immense variations in the cutout sizes
for cooktops and ovens, and these dimensions can be critical.
Dimension problems may make use of a given appliance impractical,
or may create additional expense for cabinet or countertop
Consumers often experience sticker shock when pricing a
top-of-the-line freestanding range. When making the final decision,
though, it is necessary to look at all of the costs associated with
the alternative of built-in cooking appliances. When you add the
costs of a good cooktop and built-in oven, plus the additional
countertop, cabinet and installation expenses, that fancy range can
end up looking like a real bargain.