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Distinguishing the Kitchen

Shaun Tolson

Whether you’re a virtuoso over the range or someone who only saunters through for a morning cup of coffee, your kitchen has the ability to say a lot about you. Take a look around. Is it a reflection of your taste and style? If not, the finer elements of design and decor can rejuvenate your kitchen, whether your goal is to cook, to gather, or to impress.

A crucial component of a kitchen’s style is the range hood, though too often it’s perceived as an item of necessity, chosen simply for its ability to serve a function. However, a range hood can—and should—be an integral element of a kitchen’s decor and design. Some may stand out

and serve as the focal point, while others are designed to blend in with their surroundings. In either case, there are many craftsmen out there eager to create a customized range hood that can realize your vision and reinvent your kitchen—however you choose to define it.

Crafted & Creative

When Frank Paone, the vice president and cofounder of Abbaka (www.abbaka.com), a range hood manufacturer based in northern California, meets with prospective customers, he is never surprised to learn that what attracts those customers are his company’s unique designs. Despite creative appearances, however, he says the unseen components of the work are the difference-makers. “It’s the engineering behind the aesthetics that continues to seal the deal,” he says. “The aesthetics and performance of every hood that we build is of equal importance.”

At the core of that performance is a motor that is defined by a reverse curve and cupped blades that can move a lot of air without a lot of noise. For those looking for a completely silent hood, however, Abbaka has designed a remote fan system, which repositions the motor to the end of the ventilation system, most commonly located on the roof. Abbaka’s engineering expertise has manifested itself in other ways, as well. Considering that many newly designed kitchens incorporate high ceilings and range tops positioned in the middle of the room, Paone says it’s not uncommon to face situations where lengthy chimneys must be cleverly routed around the ridge beam, a structure that supports the entire roof.

When it comes to aesthetic designs, Abbaka also is capable of thinking outside the box. The company has sandblasted pinstripes into a stainless steel hood, for example. But perhaps more impressively, by puncturing tiny holes into the body of an island hood (with ventilation chimneys set into the sides and not on top) the company was able to transform a half-barrel-shaped design into a dual-functioning planetarium.

Ranging in price from $5,000 to $27,000, and weighing anywhere from 125 to 800 pounds, an Abbaka hood can be almost any size and shape that a customer desires. “Many folks are looking for a very unique situation and using professional cooking equipment,” Paone says. “Years back, I would say about 20 percent of our production was custom, original, one-of-a-kind designs. Today, about every other single project that we’re involved in has some aspect of a custom design to it, if not off-the-charts custom.”

An Old World Approach

When the late Helmut Goetz, founder of RangeCraft (www.rangecraft.com), brought his enterprise to the United States in the early 1990s, the master coppersmith, who had learned the trade through old-fashioned German techniques, brought three decades of range-hood craftsmanship with him. Goetz’s handmade manufacturing process has gradually given way to computer-aided machinery over the years, though many of the steps that produce a distinctive finished product—the welding, riveting, polishing, and bending—are still executed by hand. “He wanted to perfect it by bringing in machines,” RangeCraft manager Angelo Tridente says of Goetz’s willingness to let modern technology improve the quality of his work.

Today, the company offers more than 25 standard designs that can be created from various exotic metals, including copper, brass, zinc, and stainless or blackened steel. Each of those designs can be personalized to a specific customer’s tastes, including the addition of crown molding, scrollwork, banding, or the removal of such detailing to create a more simplistic look. But the company also welcomes requests for completely one-of-a-kind creations. Tridente recalls a recent job where a request for a large, oval hood required the construction of a wooden frame around which the metal could be molded. “We had to literally beat it into shape,” he says of the steps to heat, knead, and hammer copper into a form that Tridente can best describe as “an oblong bubble.”

Most of the company’s commissions require between four and six weeks to complete, though more intricate and specialized projects, like the oval one, sometimes can take twice as long. A RangeCraft hood, which also can be powder-coated and painted to match a home’s cooktop or other appliances, can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000 depending on the design, dimensions, and materials. But as the company’s motto—“any design, any finish, any metal, any color”—suggests, there are no limitations. “It’s endless, really,” Tridente says.

An Artist’s Touch

Similar to RangeCraft’s story, Utah-based Signature Hood Design (www.signaturehooddesign.com) has a company history rooted in the old-world techniques that brought an artist’s touch to the metalworking industry. The company’s president, Rich Marker, grew up in the trade and constantly is reminded of the type of work that his grandfather once produced. It’s that personal connection in the third-generation, family-run business that keeps Marker focused on the details, the craftsmanship, and the understanding that each range hood built must remain a labor of love. “Over the years, we figured out that if we can make people feel safe and really secure about a high-quality product that they like, we’re going to have a super-satisfied customer,” he says.

Taking an average of eight weeks to complete, a Signature Hood Design creation ranges in price from $2,000 to $8,000, although the company has made some hoods that have cost more. Integral to the process are true-to-life renderings of a prospective design, which, according to Marker, allow customers to fine-tune a custom hood before fabrication begins. The fabrication method, as at most other metalworking establishments, does include some advanced machinery for basic cutting and metal-forming. But the necessary work done to produce the marbled, patina, or other finishes are all completed by hand. “That’s where the craft of fabrication is alive and well,” Marker says. “They never come out exactly the same; they’re always a little bit different and unique. No machine is going to do that. You have to have someone with experience. It really requires an artist’s touch.”

Etched In Stone

Copper, brass, stainless steel. Those are the materials most commonly associated with designer range hoods. Limestone, by contrast, is not. But when Alex Zamani, president of Marvelous Marble Design Inc. (www.marvelousmarbledesign.com), established his company almost a decade ago, he did so with the intent of carving beautiful, decorative range hoods out of hulking slabs of polished sedimentary rock. In the beginning, the company worked exclusively with natural limestone, though it made for an inefficient production cycle and failed to drum up much business. Over the course of the first few years, Marvelous Marble Design made only five limestone hoods—an unimpressive total that was impacted by three factors: price ($6,000 to $20,000), lengthy production times (14 to 16 weeks), and an immense, final weight (as much as 1,500 pounds).

To troubleshoot that problem, Zamani and his team began experimenting with alternative materials and discovered a proprietary mix of natural limestone powder with epoxies, adhesives and other additives. The finished product—made from cast limestone formed in a silicone rubber mold that can be made to accommodate any custom design—includes a half-inch layer of natural limestone (thanks to the powder), but is much lighter and more versatile than a solid limestone hood. “It takes a few months to get the right formula and finishes,” Zamani says. “We have a standard but we do experiments, too. Light or darker, smooth or more antique. There are a lot of techniques.”

Zamani says it is not uncommon for his company to take on commissions for hoods as large as 65 inches wide, and in those circumstances, a cast limestone option is the most logical choice. A hood of that size would weigh between 200 and 300 pounds in cast limestone, whereas if it were carved from solid limestone, which the company still can do upon request, the hood would amble in at 1,500 pounds. Ninety-five percent of Marvelous Marble Design customers go the cast limestone route, because, as Zamani explains, significant support structures must be constructed to hold a hood of that magnitude. Only those building a home from the ground up are likely to request a hand-carved natural limestone hood. But Zamani is quick to point out that a limestone hood—cast or otherwise—can be built to fit the specifications of any home. “Some high-end houses have castle-like dimensions with high ceilings in the kitchen,” he says, “and we can [build hoods to] accommodate that.”

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