DEAR DESIGNER: We are purchasing a home. It has a very nice kitchen, but the stovetop sits in the middle island and doesn't have an exhaust hood. My husband started looking at practical ones. And all I can think of is this ugly thing hanging straight down in the middle of the kitchen. I don't think I even want one; the people who have lived there have made do for 10 years without one. So I think I'll just not burn anything, and we'll be OK! What do you think? - Barb
DEAR BARB: A big exhaust hood placed over your kitchen island can be either a focal point or a huge distraction, depending on the style you've chosen. Either way, it will block any view you have and that alone can make a room feel smaller.
You can have an exhaust fan that is not an eyesore. There is a retractable counter exhaust fan, called a downdraft, that is placed behind the cooktop. It rises when you want to use it and retracts down into the cabinet behind the cooktop, leaving the metal top flush with the counter.
For aesthetic reasons, a downdraft is best purchased at the same time as your cooktop because its size and choice of metal is coordinated. If that isn't an option, aftermarket downdrafts are readily available and can be added to your current counter, near your cooktop.
Downdrafts work well with most traditional cooktops. But it's good to know that while using a gas heat, the downdraft may pull the flame away from the pan, causing longer cook times. To combat this, be sure your downdraft has a hefty fan and a high rise.
Thermador invented the first retractable downdraft and offers the highest rise (14 inches) on the market today. This rises above the tallest pan to catch the steam. An added benefit to most downdrafts is below the vents: an "easy-to-clean" splash guard.
The blower is sold separately from the downdraft. Larger blowers may eliminate odor and smoke more quickly, but may also be louder. If you mount the blower to your house's exterior, it will help with the noise, but I've read reviews that say you get better pull when the motor is close to the vents. Before deciding, more research on that matter would be well worth your time.
Thermador offers a recirculating option. Of course, drawing smoke and odors out of the room would be the best option, but sometimes that can be cost-prohibitive when dealing with an already-built-out kitchen. If you don't have the option of running exhaust pipes, the recirculating fan makes adding a downdraft possible in the toughest of scenarios.
As with many things in life, we pay for convenience, luxury and beauty. Downdrafts aren't cheap. They cost as much, if not more, than most midrange hood ventilation systems. When considering cost, consider there will be a charge for cutting your countertop, adding in the ventilation system (if not using the recirculating type) and for the fan itself. A downdraft is not the place to skimp on quality. Buy well and it will pay off every day you use it.
Cindy Payne is a certified interior designer with more than 25 years of experience, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, as well as a licensed contractor. Email questions to her at deardesigner@ projectdesigninteriors.com or send them to her at Project Design Interiors, 2620 S. Maryland Parkway, Suite 189, Las Vegas, NV 89109. She can be reached online at www.projectdesigninteriors.com.