do not buy Kenmore Elite ranges: a cautionary tale

I would rather use Hewn & Hammered to steer people toward good products, but sometimes that goes hand-in-hand with recommending against those that are substandard. And this is one of those times.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to radically remodel our kitchen, tearing everything down to the boards and replacing all appliances with shiny new versions, all well-reviewed in consumer magazines and on similar websites. What we didn't realize is that those websites and magazines can only review the use of an item, and not how it will degrade over time.

We purchased a 36" Kenmore Elite black-and-steel finish range, and were (and are) happy with its operation and, to a lesser extent, its design, which seems slightly faulty, at least in materials choice. The materials it is built with tend toward the cheap, the flimsy, and – most unfortunately – the short-lived.

Within months of installation, the knobs on the stove started to come apart. At first, we thought perhaps it was just a layer of shrinkwrap that had been left on, but after consulting with a number of appliance salespeople, Sears service folks and even an industrial designer, we realized it was something else: the stove knobs are coated with a fake chrome plastic wrap, glued on, which is not heat-resistant - and the oven door seam leaks quite a bit of heat, which (as a non-oven-designer) I would guess that it probably should not. Not only is the finish almost completely gone on some of the knobs, but the knob itself is made out of a plastic that is degrading quite quickly as well, with significant cracking and the beginning of deformation.

We contacted Sears about what seemed to be a design flaw, and was told that while other people (one Sears rep admitted many other people) had complained about this, they saw it more as a consumer problem and not an issue that was theirs to remedy; they would charge me approximately $60 per knob if I wanted to replace them. Unfortunately, the replacements they offered are identical to the original knobs, and would degrade within a few years as well, making this cost repeat every three or four years for as long as we wanted the stove to look halfway decent.

I'm still looking for replacement knobs that match the stove, but luckily most of the cheap knockoffs on the market are made of better materials than the original knobs, so I'm certain I'll find something. My word of warning: if you buy a Kenmore Elite range, replace the knobs with the $15-for-5 set you can buy on Amazon, if you see some you like, and don't expect good customer service from Sears, who will do everything they can in their endless contortions to avoid the fact that they make a substandard product and refuse to fix or replace the affected parts.

Shame on you, Sears! I am hereby removing the Sears ad that I previously had in my sidebar, and ending my advertising relationship with a company whose product I can no longer endorse – and who refuses every opportunity to make whole their guarantee, presented upon purchase, of providing me an appropriately working and non-defective stove in exchange for my hard-earned money.

Update 1: a Sears representative asked me to remove this article. I believe they were expecting me to capitulate in exchange for a small discount on new knobs, which of course would fall apart as well. I will not. Since that time, the hinges on the oven door have worn out and had to be replaced. The screws that are intended to hold the new hinges in place are no longer available, either.

Update 2: I have now received more than 11 emails from other owners of Sears/Kenmore-brand ovens with similarly-eroded knobs. Most are less than 2 years old. I have also been approached by an ex-Sears installer, who tells me that the issue is most likely the door seal, and that it's so variable that Sears won't bother sending anyone to fix it even if we caught it immediately.

Greentea Design: spectacular custom kitchens

Toronto-based Greentea Design has a special place in my heart: not only do they design, build and sell some of the most beautiful kitchen cabinetry available anywhere - in beautiful Japanese-influenced styles that are a perfect match for any Mission or Craftsman home - but they also carry a range of both antique and contemporary reclaimed-wood furniture, some in historic Craftsman and Japanese designs and others in more contemporary shapes. And the prices, even including the (very professional and speedy) shipping from Canada are surprisingly low, making them competitive with any of the larger semi-custom cabinet makers out there, even while using better materials like a clear coat for kitchen cabinets and sturdier building techniques..

While many of their signature pieces - step tansu and other room-defining wood furniture items - are gorgeous, it's that line of kitchen cabinets that I keep coming back to. Sold as custom kitchen sets or as individual stock pieces, the grain of the wood, beautiful (and exclusive to Greentea) hand-forged hardware and trim detail is both Asian and Craftsman at the same time, with enough character to be beautiful and enough attention to design to be eminently useful. Their Loft Kitchen custom design, above, is a combination of the various Mizuya cabinets, including an island and a full range of wall cabinets and accessories; other past custom kitchens have included the simplified Asian Bistro, minimalist Zen Modern, and Chalet Chic, which was tailored for a more open, airy space. Of course, each piece is available by itself as well - all the islands, hutches, wall and base cabinets and pantries you could possibly need are available piecemeal should you wish to design your own kitchen, amd all can be installed in a fixed position or left free-standing (for a movable island, for example). The custom design services offered are impressive - Greentea's staff of furniture and room designers are more than happy to assist with your own custom project or do the work for you; their staff worked extensively with Kim Johnson, owner of a 100-year-old home in Ottawa, on her recent remodel, and the results were very impressive; Kim blogged the entire process on her website, Design to Inspire.

I'm very happy to have a piece of theirs up in my own modern Craftsman kitchen, and I hope to have a few photographs of it soon; a smaller version of the Dana cabinet (pictured above; mine is a similar to what sits above the glass cabinets on the right and left of this unit) completes the rear wall of that recently-remodeled room in my 1925 Mission Revival bungalow in Sacramento, California, and it's a perfect complement for the bamboo floors, stone countertops and glass tile backsplash that round out the project. Some day, I'd like to own one of their step tansus, which I have always maintained are the perfect bridge between an austere Asian design style and the earthy workmanship of the Craftsman aesthetic. And they're running a special "Stepping Into Summer" promotion right now, with 20% discounts on these unique pieces, including the Elm Burl step tansu, shown below.

Owner Dale Storer has worked hard to make sure that Greentea's products complement a wide range of architectural styles, though, and much of their more contemporary designs would look at home whether in a traditional Japanese home, a Craftsman bungalow, or a modern high-tech apartment. The Lattice TV Stand, pictured below, hides components behind a latticed sliding door that still allows remote controls to function, and is just as good a match for an urban loft as it is for a 90-year-old brown-shingle Craftsman bungalow. Every one of these pieces is made from reclaimed wood, and all come in a variety of finishes with different types of hardware available as well. Mike Ramsey writes that the reclaimed wood usually comes from "aging rural structures that are being taken down to make way for Asia's rapidly expanding urban centers. The Maru tables are the best example since they're turned into tables directly from being reclaimed. The original supports are cut into legs who have correspondingly sized holes cut in the base of the slabs of floor."

Their antiques stock, some of which is on hand at their Toronto showroom, is also worth checking out; I'm partial to the large selection of all sorts of Japanese tansu, but they also carry plenty of Chinese and Korean pieces as well.

I'm not so used to giving such praise to a business - as regular readers know, I'm pretty stingy with compliments and generous with criticism, which is certainly a fault. However, after dealing with this company myself and going gaga over their website, I just wanted to make sure you were all as familiar with them as I've become. After seeing so many (primarily) Japanese antiques blend so well with the large shingled Craftsman homes of California, but noticing the absence of same elsewhere in the country, I thought perhaps most people didn't realize that the two styles matched so well.

If you're in or near Toronto, definitely check out the Greentea showroom; otherwise, spend a few minutes browsing their website, or call them at 1.866.426.7286 to talk with someone about your kitchen design or furniture needs.

I've made a small Flickr album for photos of their work; I'll soon add a good shot of the Dana cabinet in my own kitchen; those of you who already have Greentea cabinets, please do send me your photos, and I'll add them as well!

Lighting at Willow Glen

Willowglenretailstore_2 The good folks at Willow Glen have narrowed their focus on the thing they do best - period reproduction lighting. Just like their retail store, their online shop is jam-packed with pretty pieces by Cherry Tree, Tiffany, Quoizel, Mica Lamp Co., Kichler and other manufacturers of attractive, well-made lamps and other lighting fixtures. Their prices are excellent and the staff knowledgeable and always helpful.

Architectural Salvage: Pasadena, CA

The folks at Pasadena Architectural Salvage are about a lot more than building materials an architectural woodwork. They also have a large selection of furniture, from rescued built-ins to a wide range of American and English Arts & Crafts pieces, in addition the usual stock of doors, lighting, hardware, stained glass, mill- and plasterwork, and even bits and pieces of ceramic and metal A&C ephemera. The owners are especially familiar with the movement (how could you not be, living in a city like Pasadena?), being regularly involved with Pasadena Heritage's Craftsman Weekend events.

Architectural Salvage: Sprouts Farm

Last year, Nikki and Steve Wooster-Goodwin pooled their efforts and opened Sprouts Farm, New Hampshire's pre-eminent architectural salvage firm. Located in Lancaster, Sprouts Farm's enormous barn contains such must-have-them gems as:

  • a whole bunch of clawfoot bathtubs
  • previously built-in cabinetry and shelving
  • pottery crocks, all the way to 30 gallon monsters
  • potbelly wood stoves and coal stoves
  • pedestal & apron-front sinks
  • glass insulators of all types and colors
  • enormous piles of books
  • blue and other decorative glass
  • a wide selection of vintage hardware, including doorknobs, hinges and pulls
  • glass lamp shades in too many types and sizes to list
  • floor grates, vents and registers in iron and brass
  • a constantly-changing stock of furniture
  • an extensive range of interior & exterior doors
  • more china than you could shake a half-dozen sticks at
  • one of the largest stocks of ceramic, wood and metal scottie dogs anywhere

Obviously, should you be anywhere nearby, it would be in your best interest to visit Nikki & Steve. Until you get there, you can take the virtual tour and just pretend. And of course, as always, tell them you read about their shop here on Hewn & Hammered.

Bungalow Basics in Snohomish Closing Soon

Sad news from Sheila Mulligan at Bungalow Basics in Snohomish WA:

After three and a half years of enjoying my business, sadly the time has come to shut the doors of Bungalow Basics. Since January I have been trying to outlast an economy that just doesn't get better and I can't do it any more financially or emotionally.

After closing 8/7 - 8/11 to reprice and rearrange things, I will open Saturday, 8/12, at 11 am for the Going Out of Business sale. Prices will be reduced up to 40% on everything, including display pieces and store equipment, except for this year's release of vases from Ephraim Pottery. Those will not be on sale.

As you know, my displays are mission furniture. It's the perfect time pick up a sofa table or other accent piece. If you call the shop for sale specifics, we'll help you as best we can but might be quite busy. Please be patient.

Antique pieces will be priced fairly, as will the Harvest House pieces I've been using as displays. I will ask that you leave the displays in the shop until what's on them is gone so I have surfaces for merchandise.

Starting 8/12 the shop will be open daily 11 am - 5 pm. Starting mid September I will be closed two days a week, probably Tuesday and Wednesday, as I will no longer have an employee.

Berman Gallery

The Berman Gallery, in Rose Valley PA, carries a pretty strong inventory of A&C items - home furnishings, Navajo rugs and other textiles complementary to the Craftsman style, tile, Jarvie and Roycroft items, vases and decorative ceramic items and plenty more (including a nice stock of rockers and settles). Rose Valley is just west of Philadelphia, and their shop is certainly worth visiting should you find yourself in or near Philly any time soon.

Greene House in Phoenix

This is still confusing me. Sam Fox, a seemingly-misguided but otherwise quite succesful restauranteur in Phoenix, has opened the Greene House at that city's Kierland Commons mall. The restaurant serves food somehow influenced by the Craftsman ideal, and I would hope & expect that the interior lives up to its name. Due to its location in a mall, however nice that mall may be, I have doubts that it could possibly be anything that wouldn't bemuse the Greenes themselves. Certainly the food is not something that the brothers would have had access to - green papaya chilled pink snapper, curried pistachios with goat cheese and beets, and mini Kobe beef sliders weren't very popular in Pasadena in the '20s, I don't think, although perhaps they would have been, had they been available.

I can't criticise the food - in fact, I don't have any reason to think that it's anything but excellent (even given the mall location), but I can criticise the logo. A late '90s modernist typeface and a logotype more reminiscent of a poor understanding of late-period Frank Lloyd Wright stained-glass design and Seccessionist typography is not necessarily the best signifier for a restaurant offering a paean to Greene & Greene. I'm a graphic designer and I would never, ever expect a client to accept something as shoddy as that, but again, this is no reflection on the food.

Bungalow Basics

BungalowbasicssnohomishSheila Mulligan owns a 1903 four-square in Snohomish, WA (home of many great Craftsman houses) as well as a shop specializing in Arts & Crafts furnishings and accessories, including plenty of stock for the "immediate gratification" buyer. Bungalow Basics doesn't offer on-line sales, but Sheila would be happy to take orders by telephone. If you are ever in the area, please do stop by; their stock of textiles (including a large number of rugs of all sizes), furniture, prints, books, light fixtures, art glass, framed and unframed tile, ceramics and metalware is absolutely first-rate and certainly worthy of a visit. She will also be receiving a bunch of new releases from Ephraim Faience in August, and I think you'll agree that her prices are excellent.

+ Bungalow Basics: 912B First St., Snohomish WA 98290
+ tel 360.568.6770

Nest and Company

Nestdining1Just opened on September 18, 2004, Javier and Debbie Santiago's Nest & Co. shop in Montclair NJ is a treasure trove of home furnishings: they carry furniture, art pottery, miac lamps, embroidered textiles, hand silk-screened wallpaper, ceramic tiles and copperware. In addition to their stock on hand, Nest offers full interior design services.

Javier and Debbie decided to go into business after not being able to find adequate furnishings in their area after their bought their own bungalow five years ago. They integrated their love of A&C interiors with their own backgrounds in graphic arts and Javier's experience with woodworking and home renovation, and the idea for Nest was born.

Nest & Company
15 South Fullerton Ave. (at Bloomfield Ave.)
Montclair, NJ 07042
tel 973.509.9488

catalog & mail-order hardware

2004catalogThere are a number of fantastic paper resources out there for anyone renovating their craftsman home. One of the most complete resources is the Van Dykes Restorers free catalog, which sells everything from Victorian gingerbread to oak and brass registers and every kind of stripping and finishing product known to humankind. They also carry kits for building a wide variety of furniture items.

At the top of the list as far as quality goes is Rejuvenation Hardware, which sells all sorts of fixtures and hardware (especially lighting!) out of their shop in Portland. They also do a thriving mail-order business.

The folks of the Craftsman Homes Connection, who seem to do most of their business online now, have a very attractive and jam-packed catalog, with an emphasis on decorative hardware and accessories. 21st-Century Arts & Crafts

cherylwilliamsBuilding on the Arts & Craft movement of an earlier time, is a treasure trove of current artists working in metalwork, ceramics, printmaking, painting, fiber, glass, wood, lighting, furniture and tableware.

The Arts & Crafts masters of yesteryear would have enthusiastically approved of The Guild's Philosophy: In a nutshell, we believe that when you live with art that you love, and it's made by a gifted artist with skill and care, it adds something rich and sweet to your life, every day.

Continue reading " 21st-Century Arts & Crafts" »

Omega Too

medici5Omega Too sells "everything you need to make your house look old." I've bought a number of items from them, including lighting (they have an immense stock of period shades, specifically very small glass pieces in the nouveau and A&C styles) and a bunch of nickel-finish bath fixtures and our medicine cabinet. I've been saving up for one of their gorgeous front doors, complete with stained-glass panels by the tremendously-talented Ted Ellison. Omega's sister company, Ohmega Salvage, is the premier architectural salvage shop in the Bay Area. Everything from stained glass and doors to furniture to decorative wood- and stonework can be found in their voluminous inventory. You can easily spend a half day between the two Ohmega salvage yards and Ohmega Too's shop, just down the street.