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If you're shopping for a stylish refrigerator, you don't need piles of cold, hard cash. Some midpriced models flaunt the shiny stainless-steel finish and sleek Lines of expensive built-ins, Here are some of the latest trends:
Stainless takes off. Stainless steel is the biggest news in fridge design. More manufacturers are offering refrigerators that mimic the Sub-Zero pro-style look without the Humvee-sized price tag. You'll still pay a premium for stainless--about $150 to $300 more than for a comparable white model--but prices start at a fairly modest $650 or so. Rising demand for steel could push the cost up this fall though, according to manufacturers.
Stainless lookalikes with a convincing vinyl-coated metal finish sell for about $150 more than white models. Unlike real stainless, which requires constant wiping and polishing, the lookalikes resist smudges. They also hold magnets. But they may not be an exact match for other stainless appliances in your kitchen.
New designs mean more choice. If you prefer the trim profile of a built-in to the bulk of a stand-alone, there's a relatively new choice that can save you big bucks. Cabinet-depth refrigerators that are only a few inches deeper than your countertops start at $1,500--less than half the cost of built-ins. Most major brands now include cabinet-depth models.
Another new design to consider: armoire-style French-door refrigerators with side-by-side doors above a bottom freezer. Amana, Jenn-Air, Kenmore, LG, and Maytag offer this type of fridge. We tested the Kenmore Elite Trio 7350 recently and found it to be excellent and spacious. It's being phased out, but Sears has introduced two new models, the 7550 and 7551 (each $1,700). We'll test more French-door models for future reports.
High-end features go mainstream. More fridges have water dispensers and water filters. Extra-bright halogen lighting and wine racks are also showing up in midpriced models. A number of brands have digital temperature readouts, humidity controls, and removable door bins. On some GE, LG, and Samsung fridges, you can adjust the temperature of a drawer to "express chill" of thaw items. Some Frigidaire and Maytag models have elevator shelves that can be moved up or down, without removing the food, using a crank.
Space and energy efficiency aren't always what they seem. When it comes to space, manufacturer specs can be misleading. The claimed capacity lists the raw space, but much of that is taken up by lights, fixtures, and unusable nooks. One model we tested, the Jenn-Air built-in side-by-side, advertised 26 cubic feet, but we measured just 14.5 cubic …