Cooking with gas…ads and sponcon in remodeling “reality” shows. 

20 min read How did gas (and granite and stainless steel) come to seem like our only finish options? Blame it on the sponcon.

Certain elements seem to make it into every renovation. Think gas stoves, stainless steel finishes, professional grade appliances, countertop materials like granite and marble, luxury vinyl flooring. 

Want the most reliably biased remodeling advice around? Head for HGTV. In fact, pick up or turn on any mainstream piece of home and garden media. Now, try to separate expert advice from paid content. What you’ll find is a strong push toward well funded trends that dominate the industry.

Are these the best choices? Unlikely. Are they the best choices for you? Maybe. 

They are unlikely to be the best choices because “best choices” don’t really exist. It’s certainly possible to find a high quality induction stove in any number of materials. And you sure can buy a stinker of stainless steel a gas range. Plus, regardless of quality, a gas range may not be a great fit for you depending on the kind of cooking you do. 

Do you love marble and dream of entertaining around a huge island with a marble waterfall counter? You will likely love that surface enough to invest everything it takes to maintain it. So, go for it! 

But more often lots of money, not superior taste, is behind the recommendations on your favorite renno reality shows. And understanding that is key to trusting YOUR taste and your life as the basis for the decisions that will create YOUR perfect remodel.

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • How gas (and granite and stainless steel) came to seem like our only options.
  • The question to ask every time someone shares THE solution for your remodel.
  • Tips for bucking trends and designing a timeless remodel. 

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And you can always…

Read the Full Episode Transcript

One of the most reliably biased sources for remodeling advice has got to be Home and Garden Television, product placement sponsored content paid ads. The money flowing into these shows isn’t just in the specific commercial spots between segments. It’s built right into the content itself. So today I want to talk to you about how we can go about sussing out the why behind the advice we get from so much of our home improvement media, and how you can use your judgment of who is telling me this and why do they want me to believe it in order to make good choices, personal choices, the right choices for you in your home, as you navigate your home improvement journey. 

Hey there. Welcome back to mid mod remodel. This is a show about updating MCM homes helping you match mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host della Hansmann. Architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast, you’re listening to Episode 1602. Before we go too deeply into today’s topic, several pieces of news one by popular demand, the mid-century kitchen clinic is back. This is going to be the third year in a row I have delivered it live and it will be happening. Well not in January this year. But on the first Saturday in February. That’s February 3, at 11 am central. 

We will be delivering a two-hour live workshop on mid-century kitchen upgrades. So I’ll be walking you through a mini version of the master plan process. Dream asking yourself what really matters to you about your kitchen, discover helping you identify what you need to know about your kitchen to start talking to people clearly and making good choices distill. Figuring out what the style the overarching language of your kitchen materiality is going to be. Draft, I will share with you dozens of examples of tricky mid-century kitchen layouts that I’ve helped people adjust and develop. We’ll talk about the process of pulling it all together into a mini master plan you can use to guide a kitchen remodel confidently and successfully. 

So the early bird prices and engage in effect for this right now sign up now to save your spot for this live clinic. I can’t wait to see you there. And if you already don’t have it. Also, be sure to grab our kitchen freebie. Last year, I put together a free guide that touches on the five essential elements, you must get right for a mid-century kitchen that looks good and works for you. Think about this as the last remodel your mid-century kitchen will ever need to bring it up to code to bring it up to a modern layout. But to do so in such a timeless way that you don’t need to remodel it again in 10 years, and neither does anybody else. That’s a pretty powerful statement. But I stand by it. If you use the principles of a mid mod kitchen update, you can get them in this guide, you will be setting yourself off on the right step. 

And then the third thing I wanted to tell you oh by the way, get that at mid mod dash midwest.com/kitchen and sign up with a clinic at mid mod dash midwest.com/clinic clinic or just go to the show notes, get the transcript of this episode, get all those handy links at mid mod dash midwest.com/ 1602 last item of business, we’ve been introducing a new format into the show you may have noticed last week, you may notice that this week, we’re adding a couple of mini segments to the end, a little pep talk and a little step one step, something you can do to make an instant improvement in your home without calling contractors without bringing in a lot of drywall dust. 

So if you find these two elements useful, they’ll show up at the end after the body of the content that I’m going to talk about today. I’d love to hear about it from you. And I’d love to hear what else you might like to hear. Maybe some history lessons, maybe some tidbits about specific materials. So let me know drop a DM on Instagram, or fill in the survey, there’s a link to our user survey our listener survey on the show notes page as well. And we would love to hear from you about what you’d like to hear about in 2024 on the mid mod remodel podcast. 

Okay, without further ado, let’s talk about how we are being maneuvered manipulated, pushed advertised to in so much of our home improvement media and how to, we can’t really stop that, but how to suss it out and recognize it for what it is. So we can take that so-called advice with a large grain of salt as we go forward. So let’s get into our topic of sponsored content and how it affects the kitchens, the whole mid-century home updates we plan. Now I was raised by a scientist and a journalist. So when someone tells me something, I like to see the background research, I might want to try to do an experiment and try for myself. I certainly want to know the sources for what people tell me. The part of me that always carries my dad around is on the hunt for a little later on a test and see if that fact works out empirically. And the part of me that was raised by my mother always wants to know who is telling me this and why do they want me to believe it. 

During a remodel, getting good information, impartial information out of people (who are probably trying to sell you something) and from the internet (which is definitely trying to sell you something) can feel completely overwhelming. But one of the most reliably biased sources for remodeling fact has got to be the entirety of Home and Garden media. In this environment, product placement, spam con paid ads, the money flowing into these shows and magazines and into social media, by the way, isn’t just going to specific, specific commercial or ad spots between segments and articles. It’s built right into the content itself. And unlike your favorite Instagram influencer, who will probably say hashtag ad when they tell you about a product they like the Home and Garden TV shows don’t have to do that. 

Now these ideas they’re selling you things are baked right into the concepts they treat as foundational to what is good design. For example, how many times have you heard the term professional grade thrown around when talking about a kitchen update? By the way, it’s funny how that doesn’t seem to work in bathrooms. We all know we don’t want to take an efficient high turnout productive workman-like approach to our morning ablutions. Although I suppose the spa bath would be the bathroom equivalent. But still, we’re always tempted by the lure of a professional-grade kitchen. When I was a teenager, it was all about the subzero fridge and the Wolf range. Those still exist, certainly. 

But it’s worth asking, what is the professional output that these supposedly professional kitchens are really going to be tasked with family dinner, maybe a dinner party, or maybe just dinner for one. So why the double oven and the six-burner range? Okay, more on that later. But let’s dig a little deeper into the way our desires are tuned by the assumption and the straight up pressure of the wealth of paid advertisement that backs up some of our most pervasive remodeling advice media to get into the aspects of what is paid for, let’s think about the sponsoring that happens behind all of HGTV, I sometimes wonder about some of the things they’re promoting. 

Do they have a deal with big luxury vinyl tile, for example? Why is that everywhere? Honestly, I think they probably do. I can’t imagine that they’ve had a big deal with big subway tile for the last 10 years. But they sure do love to put it into every building, not just the 1930s era cottage where it’s actually appropriate. 

I want to think about though, a light example or really have the object, the obsession right now with marble countertops that has a translated effect from the granite that was popular 10 to 15 years ago. Granite, I’ll grant you is at least sturdy and durable. You can put hot things on it. My parents put granite into their kitchen remodel of a 19 teens home they had updated in the early 2000s. And credit where credit’s due, I think they did a pretty good job of listening to the house. 

And were lucky with the Current fashion trends and kitchens at that moment, they were reasonably well aligned with their house and their own tastes. So the lightly detailed oak cabinets with glass doors, the moderately open to the dining room. structural change helped take the kitchen from literal servants room to update it. But in area era family space. They did put in a granite countertop though because of course they did. It was I think 2006 They were almost required by law to do it. And let me tell you that thing was work. 

That was the summer I spent crashing at home between college and heading off to grad school. And my parents were in a dinner party moment. So we cleaned up for company multiple times a weekend. And every time they had guests, we had to polish the granite countertop and it took some incredibly specific cleaning products and a huge amount of elbow grease about 30 minutes of work every single time to get it to non weirdly cloudy sponge marks. 

Marble, on the other hand, is a porous high maintenance surface. Now we could get into the geology of this. But the takeaway is basically that marble is vulnerable to staining agents like wine, juice and oil. It also scratches. It’s not as heat resistant as we think it is. So why are we using it? Well, honestly, it’s a huge money making industry. And it’s concentrated in a few places more than half of the marble we use comes from Marilee from just four countries in the world, none of them the US so it’s being shipped overseas to get here. And whenever there’s a concentration of something coming from one particular place, you can imagine that there is some lobbying industry within that country that conglomeration of countries that are pushing this object into our minds. 

Now, that doesn’t have to mean it’s bad if you like marble, go ahead and have a marble countertop in your kitchen. But don’t take the advice of someone else who’s pushing marble on you because they sell marble or because they’re being paid, or leaned on to recommend marble. 

Here’s another example to dig into stainless steel appliances. Now. This is an interesting one. I’m not anti stainless steel as a metal, but it ties in so closely with that concept of a professional-grade kitchen or a referent. They’re too big because a lot of people are not putting in a Wolf range, they’re just putting in a $400, Home Depot stainless steel range unit. It might not be of any particular quality whatsoever. But the idea that it has a stainless front makes you think of the professional-grade kitchens you see on television. The history of stainless steel is that it was a very practical materials used in factory settings, it’s easy to clean, it’s easy to see that it’s clean, it takes the harsh cleaning agents that are used to sterilize a surface over and over again. And as we’ve gone through fads in our kitchen history over time, whenever we feel like we want to be into a more professional or more industrial approach to kitchens, we lean towards the stainless steel. 

In the 1930s, there was a little bit of a lean that way when we got into the idea of the worker efficient kitchen, the woman as a worker in her home. And then as we started to personalize homes more as we started to think about the homemaker as a playful, joyful kind of child in her home. Then we got back into the colorful kitchens and the cheerful kitchens and the planned obsolescence of now your colored cheerful kitchen is out of date and you need new colors and new chairs. 

But we came back around to stainless steel, maybe as early as the 1990s. And this sort of cold practical Workman, like really popped back with a little bit of a dip in the early 2010s into popularity, having intact entire stainless steel cabinets and appliances was a look for a while in the early 2000s. That went along with a sort of a harsh practical modernism. And we’ve never really lost the idea that those appliances can be stainless and again, the grade of the professional cooks you’re seeing on TV, but I’ll be saying this again and again, throughout the episode, the fact that somebody wants to pay money to make you think that something they sell is good, does not mean the thing they sell is better than other things for you. 

And so a lot of the really visible recommendations and literal recommendations of things we see on television, like stainless steel kitchens to be professional, or my next my big. My signature topic here. cooking with gas to be professional, is who’s telling me this, and why do they want me to believe it? Now, chefs use gas in professional-grade kitchens, we see it in front of our eyes in a lot of HGTV, remodels, that does not mean it’s the best option for really even them necessarily, it’s what they like. They’re being encouraged to do a certain thing by corporate sponsors. And it certainly doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for us in our individual homes. But nearly every single home improvement show is going to show you a freshly remodeled kitchen with a gas cooktop and oven. 

And that’s because they are paid to do so. And they have been paid to do so since there was cooking gas cooking shows and home improvement sponsored content. My family are people that like to use catchphrases as well. So a lot of calls from old advertising campaigns turned up in my parents’ language. And I’ve absorbed some of them with awareness and some without, but I’ve always used the phrase, now we’re cooking with gas to indicate that now we’re really going to get things going transformations are about to happen. This is what we want to be doing. But when you Google, quote, now we’re cooking with gas, unquote, you let two things right up top. 

The first one is cooking with gas.org, which is a website about why cooking with gas is so great. And quoting a number of well known chefs around the country who claim to like cooking with gas at the bottom of the page, hashtag cooking with gas, you can see that this website is sponsored by the American Gas Association. Now, there’s nothing wrong with an association telling people why to use their product. But the second hit you’ll get on Google when you look up cooking with gas is a site that’s going to explain to you that the origin of cooking with gas is an advertising slogan from the 1930s when gas industry executives were trying to get people to stop cooking with electricity. 

Now, the 1930s weren’t that far off an era when people were cooking in their homes with wood. They wanted to modernize and the question was which direction would they go to gas or electric heat sources for their homes for their cooking sources for another other things? I have to give a lot of credit to whatever marketing agency, Mad Men era dude came up with. Now we’re cooking with gas, he really nailed it. It’s a catchphrase in my mind. And it does actually make me feel warmer towards gas ranges. 

However, where’s that coming from? We have this feeling that gas is the better source that we should perhaps we could perhaps use other types but gases really, it’s not just what the pros use, but it feels more in control. You might feel myself included. Many people do feel that it’s easier to know what you’re doing with a gas stove. You turn the knob, you hear the click, perhaps you bend over and look at the level of the flames and you feel like you can identify the level of heat that’s going to hit your pants and cook your food very precisely. 

When I say you, I mean one and by one. I mean me I do this. But here’s the thing. It’s possible It is not so much the precision of gas generally, but our own self knowledge about how we have learned our own gas stoves. And this came up to me as I was thinking about this episode in advance, and traveling around during the holidays, I ended up using the stove at my sister’s house at my mother’s house at my best friend’s house. And at the Airbnb where we stayed over New Year’s Eve. And in each place, there was a gas stove, go figure. And in each gas stove situation, I found myself being a little bit stressed by the level of heat being thrown by the flames under each burner. 

This reminded me of a study that came out a while ago about cats in the house. Bear with me, I have a point here. They figured that the way cats meow is a specific language that the cat owner can interpret, an owner can accurately assess whether their cat is asking for food, or play, or heat or water or a number of other things. But another cat owner cannot interpret the language of another person’s cat. So basically, cats don’t have a universal language of mouse, they develop a language co along with right along with their owner, to communicate what they need to do. 

And I think we’ve kind of been learning the language of our own gas stoves. We know what the level of gas flame that creates the heat result we want is and what numbers are not just on the dial mean in terms of that flame in terms of heat. But if that’s true, if we’ve all precisely taught ourselves, the meaning of the flames and numbers on our own gas stove, couldn’t we just as easily teach ourselves the settings on an induction cooktop? 

Alright, that’s all I have to say about that. But I will say this gas natural gas is bad for the environment. And by having it in our homes we are locked into you can only get the gas for your furnace unit, you can only get the gas into the flames on your stove, from the natural gas company, or local municipal Association. If you use electric sources for heat for hot water for cooking on your stove, you have the ability to get that electric power from anywhere that it can be produced. Now, it might still be coal, it might still be a terrible source. But you could perhaps supplement with your own solar panels. You can pressure him as a municipality to get their power from Better, better sources. We have more flexibility when we use electricity, rather than we use gas. 

And unfortunately, and I say this as someone who has a gas stove in their house, and also a gas powered furnace and hot water heater, none of which I love when we get our heat from gas. And I’m thinking about it right now in this particularly frigid Wisconsin week. We are participating in a system of getting our gas from our local gas utilities and our utilities technically, our public good their monopolies usually, but they’re supposed to be using their power for the greater good of society. They do however, generally pay a lot of dues and to guess who the American Gas Association which is constantly running those ads to keep us all remodeling our kitchens with gas stoves are you local utilities can’t legally spend our ratepayers’ money on specific types of lobbying. They use their shareholder money for that instead. But they do give a lot of money to organizations like the American Gas Association. So what can you do about it?

It says got you all head up, you can use your guests range and oven less by opting for specialized supplemental appliances like a hot plate for pancakes and electric kettle for your tea and coffee water. You can eventually switch over to induction or electric, you can do an on demand hot water system that’s powered with electric you can think about alternative sources for your electricity, like solar power panels on your roof, or solar thermal heat throughout your house. But in general, what I want you to take away from this whole episode is not that your gas stove is a problem. Maybe. 

Maybe it is but that you have the ability to ask who was telling me this and why do they want me to believe it as many times as you need to through the process of your remodel? If you’re looking for the antidote? What can you do if everyone in the remodeling spaces trying to sell you their thing? How can you possibly know what the right choices are what you really need? Let me then take off my mid-century advice hat briefly and regress into a former version of myself. My first job in architecture was for a lovely little company that focused on sustainable design methodologies. My boss at the time had come up with a way to use branching shapes of trees as timber frame structures. So we created these gorgeous Hobbit house looking sod roof timber frame, straw bale, passive solar houses, little works of art that were intended to use as few resources as possible and allow their owners to be as sustainable as possible and use locally sourced materials as much as possible. I loved that job. I get to work at a laptop desk facing a wall of reclaimed leaded glass windows and a little little cabin heated by woodstove. It was great. It was beautiful. It was thrilling. It was frustrating. It was very one-off and not able to scale to a mass produce store to everybody can have this kind of a way. 

But one of the things I did working there was every year we would attend the Midwest Renewable Energy Association fair up near Stevens Point, and have a booth and give some lectures on making sustainable choices for your home in general and how you could think about a straw bale timber frame, whole tree home for yourself. Now as an architect who is there to connect and find future design clients, but not to sell any actual products, I was able to kind of sit step back and take an interesting look at the other vendors who were at the fair. And there were people there pitching, solar panel technology, pellet stove, heat systems, geothermal heating arrangements, solar hot water, Solar Electric, many more efficient ways to use conventional heat systems, heating and cooling sources for power and water and the whole house. 

And I found it fascinating, but frustrating because it seems like each of the purveyors of these specific alternative technology felt the need to focus on the narrative that their technology was the only right technology for the future. I think it came from the pressure of all conventional heat systems and cooling systems and power systems feeling so big, that they had to just swing around wildly and wipe everybody else off the board. But while each of them could make an argument, while there was the most least embodied energy, or the cheapest or the fastest payoff, enthusiastic homeowners would talk to a bunch of these people walk around meeting conversations trying to learn what was right for them personally. And because each person they spoke to was so convinced that only their system was the right one, they would get really frustrated, the homeowners would become really overwhelmed. 

And they would feel like they couldn’t know what was right. And they couldn’t even really trust anyone they were speaking to very alarming for them. I would always advise people that there were pros and cons for each of these systems. They have different price points, different sizes, different uses for scale, different locations, some houses were better suited for solar technology, some better for geothermal. Spoiler alert, basically, no homes are well suited for geothermal, it works best at a big scale. So for like a corporate campus or a school, that’s beside the point. What I ended up telling people over and over again, was that they could take a breath, no one was necessarily trying to manipulate them. These particular product vendors were just enthusiastic about their own product. But in the end, the homeowner would need to use their own judgment to evaluate what would be the best technologies for them, rather than taking each salesperson at their word, that that technology was the best for everyone in every circumstance. 

So to come back to our topic, when you’re wondering whether you need stainless steel appliances in your kitchen, whether you need a gas stove, you probably don’t, and how to decide what to think when so much of the remodeling space is filled with spam sponsored content. I think that ultimately it’s going to come down to remembering to prioritize for yourself. Think about your dream phase, think about your distill phase. Don’t let anyone talk you into choosing a material or product because they say it’s the right material or product for all circumstances. 

When in doubt, return to your why return to what you want your home to feel like return to your style guide as much as possible. And as you circle back to dream and to still ask yourself again and again, what matters most to you about your kitchen. While you’re doing this in the first place. What is the feeling you want to evoke from your new space? So we’ve been rattling on about a lot of pressures in the world. I hope this episode hasn’t left you feeling pressured. What I would like is for you to feel empowered to ask again the question that my mother always leads with as a journalist, who was telling me this, and why do they want me to believe it? And at the end of the day, you want to know most what you want, what you need, and why. And that’s when you’ll feel good about the choices you’ve made for your home. 

Before we wrap up the episode, here are your weekly words of encouragement. I want you to remember that the masterplan method works at any scale. Now of course, it’s ideal when you can sit back with no time pressure or financial pressure and plan out your entire vision for a home update from start to finish choosing every material in advance, but real life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes you have to make a snap decision about a product or a single room in your house or just get started somewhere. 

Fortunately, you can still use a micro version of the master plan process in literally five minutes or an hour or a weekend to simplify your decision-making process and feel confident. Just dream by asking yourself why what matters what you want the outcome of having this new object or choice or room update in your house to be discovered by asking what’s important about the house right now how it needs to be improved. What are the mechanical distance textural, the longevity implications of this choice, distill by figuring out how this piece or room or space is going to plug into your bigger vision for the look of the house, that part gets easier. The more often you do it, the more you have a full vision for how you want the house to look overall. But you can start by making good choices about one object and expand from there. Then draft by considering the pros and cons of several options and finally, develop into one competent decision that you can move forward with and roll back into your bigger masterplan thinking as you go forward. You’ve got this my friend. 

So here comes your weekly quick fix or level one project idea. This one is perfect for long winter nights and short winter days. And I know I actually know that you need to find another lamp for your house. Because this is going to be a way to bring more light into your house without calling an electrician or having to worry about moving insulation around in your attic to get more canned lights or some sort of ceiling wired lights. How do I know that you need another light for your mid-century home? Well, that’s because mid-century homes are notoriously devoid of built in wired in lights. That’s for a couple of reasons. The first is practical mid-century houses were built in a hurry electricians are highly trained professionals and they were at a premium. 

So it was just the simplest possible thing to make sure that there was one central light in the middle of each bedroom, one in the hallway, one in the center of the kitchen, maybe with a bonus, ugly but practical fluorescent light over the sink and the stove. That’s pretty much it for wired and lights and a mid-century house mid-century living rooms often had no wired ends switchable light at all. But also, people were really excited to buy their own lamps. 

And they designed and loved a host of types of lamps in the mid-century era from floor lamps to table lamps designed for all types of different tasks and purposes. Pendant Lights that could be swagged across the room and hung down or floor-to-ceiling pole lamps. So go find one of these still existing still functional lamps. Take yourself out to your local flea market antique mall and go hunting for table lamps with lovely barrel shades. Not necessarily in good shape, you could always replace them with a modern one with task lamps that will fill your living room to create space to define areas to create cozy light in the evenings. 

And for bonus points, mid-century lamps have very simple electrical systems. You might want to take your new lamp your new old lamp to a specialist and have it rewired or it might work perfectly well just as it is. And I highly recommend you switch out its existing light bulbs for new dimmable LEDs and add a wired end or a plugin extension cord dimmer to take them from bright light right after 6 pm to cozy evening light that simmers you down at the end of the day, you will not regret this. You can have a fun mid-century feeling of going around turning on all those lamps and turning them off at the end of the night or you can just put them into smart plugs and control them from your phone. That’s absolutely allowed. 

I can’t recommend enough getting a new lamp. I recently found a perfect tension pole lamp from my living room that I truly believe is the ghost or possibly the actual lamp that was once in my living room and was removed by a terrible mistake. So I want you to have this feeling as well as start scanning for your next new mid-century lamp. And if you already have one or several, go get another you can’t have too many.

So to find the transcript of this episode and links to the resources I mentioned that kitchen guide if you don’t have it yet you need it you can grab that directly at mid mile dash midwest.com/kitchen but also get the larger resources some of the links to articles about cooking with gas and stainless steel and this transcript of this episode at mid mod dash midwest.com/ 1602. 

Plus, don’t forget to sign up for the kitchen clinic the early bird prices in effect right now and I would love to spend a couple of hours with you on a Saturday, the first Saturday in February talking through the why the how the what of your mid-century kitchen upgrade so you can make great choices no matter what kind of sponsored content is coming your way. See you there.