Cool, modern and sophisticated, stainless steel is making its mark in today’s design world. Here’s how to balance the metal with warmth and softness

When I was purchasing stainless steel shelves for a client recently, I suddenly realized what an obsession this metal has become. Designers and homeowners are putting it everywhere — in lighting, in furniture and especially in kitchens.

Stainless steel can make a space feel cool, modern and sophisticated. But be careful, because too much also can make a space feel cold. An easy solution is to juxtapose this metal with warmer elements, and the easiest way to do this is with wood grain.


If you’re opting for a stylish, sleek look, then keep your wood grain sleek as well, with cleaner lines, not a lot of fuss and no knots or heavy grains. If you want an urban look, stainless steel can easily be paired with reclaimed, rough-sawn wood and even distressed wood with the bolts left in them. For a more traditional direction, combine your modern appliances and fixtures with traditional wood pieces — especially ones with turned and curved legs — and you’ll have a fabulous look.

Many island homeowners want an updated kitchen with stainless appliances, but a relaxed island feel. An unbeatable combination to achieve this is cool stainless steel, the warmth of wood and an organic form.

This can be a tropical plant in a ceramic pot, a fresh-cut leaf in a glass vase or drift-wood candlesticks on the counter. The result is clean, modern and fresh — a combination that can work in any room.

So the stainless steel trend? Don’t worry, it won’t be going away any time soon. With that in mind, I have a final tip for you to keep your investment looking its best, courtesy of my mom.

Nowadays everyone’s going cuckoo for coconuts, right? There’s coconut water, coconut sugar and coconut oil. If you don’t have the last item already, you’d be wise to get some, as coconut oil works wonders on stainless steel. Instead of polishing your stainless refrigerator, cooktop and dishwasher with store-bought polishes, simply get a dry paper towel or cloth, put a teaspoon of coconut oil on it and polish.


You won’t believe how easily those fingerprints disappear. Not only does coconut oil work magic on restoring luster, it also seems to prevent prints from coming back. If you think doing this will leave an oily film, you’re wrong. You need not wipe off with soapy water afterwards, because your surfaces will feel smooth, clean and not greasy.

So bring on the stainless steel. It’s beautiful, sleek, and now it’s even easy to clean — provided there’s coconut oil in your pantry!

Photos: Justin Dotson

Cathy Lee is a home style expert, speaker, president and designer of Cathy Lee Style. Her redesigns of residential and business spaces have been featured in local and national publications and on HGTV. reStyle Hawaii, her new-concept furniture and home accents store, is open daily at 420 Keawe St. in Kakaako. For more info and inspiring photos of design projects, visit