Basics: Ideal for small kitchens, ranges pair a cooktop and oven in a single unit. But don't think that a range is necessarily a budget item. The pricetag for high-powered, professional-style ranges can soar into the thousands of dollars. In fact, as you shop you'll find a wide array of options. Energy efficiency, heat source, color, and style vary widely, so be sure to think carefully about your budget, cooking style, aesthetic concerns, and available energy sources before you buy. Today's ranges are powered by electricity, gas, or - because some cooks prefer using a gas cooktop and an electric oven - a combination of the two. Convection ovens are increasingly common, and all but the most basic models are self-cleaning. Most ranges are 30 inches wide, but can come in 24-, 36-, 48-, and even 60-inch models.
Options: Ranges come in four standard configurations: freestanding, high/low, slide-in, and drop-in. Your taste and your kitchen's layout will dictate your choice.
What's hot: Dual-fuel models (those combining a gas cooktop with an electric oven) are becoming more readily available, as are ovens with convection capability. Kenmore recently introduced a range with two ovens beneath the cooktop; one full-sized, and a second, smaller oven for heating up frozen foods, side dishes, and the like. Super-powerful professional-style ranges continue their popularity, as well, offering features like six high-Btu (British thermal units) burners, two or more ovens, and stylish stainless-steel bodies.
Basics: Cooktops offer great design flexibility, as they may be installed in a counter above cabinetry, in a peninsula, or in an island. Most cooktops are 27 to 36 inches wide, 18 to 22 inches deep, and available with two to six burners. Generally speaking, cooktops are available in white, black, biscuit, almond, and stainless steel. Smooth-top versions may offer textured appearances that blend with contemporary countertops. Plan to include a ventilation system above the cooktop, or choose a model with a built-in downdraft ventilation unit.
Options: When it comes to heat sources, today's cooktops offer a wide array of options.
What's hot: A number of manufacturers offer extra-wide cooktops with interchangeable modular components, such as grills, griddles, wok rings, and steamers, as well as the standard gas or electric burners.
Basics: If you do opt for a cooktop - or if you'd like to supplement the oven in your range - built-in ovens are a flexible option. Most are 24, 27, or 30 inches wide, and all but budget models are self-cleaning. Placement is up to you: You might opt to install one oven above your cooktop, or bank two together in an adjacent wall. One popular combination is to locate a full-capacity double wall oven for baking in the main work center, then install a microwave for easy meals and quick reheating. Most wall ovens are electric, although gas units are available.
Options: As you shop, you'll have to choose between conventional, convection, and microwave ovens. Keep in mind, however, that some manufacturers offer units that can switch between these three functions.
What's hot: The latest ovens on the market employ new speed-cooking technology to prepare foods in record times. A roasted chicken may take just 20 minutes, for example. The technologies differ by manufacturer.
Basics: Today's refrigerators have it all: sleek styling, large-capacity interiors, a wide range of organizational features, and even water filtration systems. As you shop, compare interior elements. Look for pullout, adjustable shelves, deep in-the-door bins, tilt-out storage bins, racks for cans of soda, and split shelves to accommodate large beverage containers. Through-the-door ice and water dispensers, humidity-controlled crispers, and glass shelves are standard on most mid- and upper-priced models.
Options: You'll have to choose between side-by-side models - good for kitchens without much clearance around the refrigerator doors - units with top-mounted freezers, and those with a bottom-mounted freezer, an option that keeps fresh food at eye level and frozen items out of the way. There are also three basic types of refrigerator: freestanding; built-in; and built-in style.
What's cool: Refrigerated drawers that blend into your cabinetry are available. Also popular are wine refrigerators and stand-alone icemaker units.
For the most part, other than a few brief sojourns into avocado, brown, and harvest gold, appliances in the past came in a pretty limited range of hues: white, black, and almond. Today, however, homeowners have a comparable rainbow of choices. Though not technically a color, stainless steel has dominated the world of kitchen design for the past several years and shows no sign of fading - even mainstream manufacturers like Kenmore offer high-end, stainless-steel machines. Manufacturers like KitchenAid have followed Viking's lead in introducing appliances in rich shades of cobalt, taxicab yellow, and cherry red. And don't overlook biscuit: This soft, creamy alternative to almond has taken hold with consumers tired of black and white but not quite ready for Technicolor.