Bad Design: Viking Stove Knobs

A high-end Viking stove’s oven knobs are obscured by a metal bar, making the user kneel on the floor to determine whether the oven is baking or broiling.

When Hyman complained about this design defect to Viking, he found the customer service rep indifferent. She also refused to let him speak to her supervisor

Hyman’s letter, inside. We can read his oven knobs just fine: seething. — BEN POPKEN

Hyman writes:

    “Dear Consumerist,

    Long after (too long to cancel the purchase) I bought an expensive Viking range, I discovered an annoying design defect. The two knobs that control the oven are set at a higher level than the 6 knobs that control the stove top. As a result of this, the tops of the oven knobs are obscured by the right-angled metal bar across the top of the front of the range. (The bar is there to shield some wiring which extends across at the very top of the angle in the bar.) This necessitates the need to kneel on the floor to read the oven dials for temperature and mode (bake, broil etc.) determination. The knobs of interest are the second ones in from either end in the attached photo. This is but another example of a design that was never used by the designer.

    The solution to the problem is quite simple and inexpensive. It involves the cutting out of an ellipse in the vertical portion of the metal bar just above each of the two oven dials, without compromising either function or safety. When presented to the customer disservice representative at Viking, she went through the motion of trying to help, but in the final analysis was obstructive with evasive answers and denials. She made it quite clear the the problem was mine and that Viking would do nothing.

    One more time, as in millions of times in the past, the lone consumer is screwed by a major corporation. Thanks to Consumerist, however, the customer no longer need be lonely.

    Let the Viking rep ( know what you think. She just might let her supervisor (whom she would not let me speak to) know of all the generated negative publicity. This might be just what it will take to prod Viking into action. It is not the cost of the “repair” that is irk-some, but rather the attitude of the company, that made the mistake in the first place.

    I look forward to the day that I can write a follow-up email to Consumerist thanking them for this new weapon. It is a sling shot in the hands of David.

    Hyman R.”


Edit Your Comment

  1. DeeJayQueue says:

    Did you buy the thing sight-unseen? Those things are not cheap. I’d make sure that before I laid down the bucks for one that I was able to use it properly. It’s kind of like buying a BMW and then calling to complain because the gas and brake pedals aren’t where you’d like them to be. Granted, in this case they’d be in the glove box but that’s the kind of thing you find out when you test drive it.

    OTOH, you’d think that such an expensive range would have undergone more QA testing to iron out some of these details.

  2. thrillhouse says:

    I feel your pain. I see this crap all the time. Tho one correction: Its likely that the offending bar was added in engineering and design/usability people had no knowledge of it or ability to change it. Design cycles on these products are actually quite lengthy and its unlikely that something like that would not have been caught in prototype.

    Unfortunate tho, as you would come to expect more from higher-end appliances. But please don’t diss design.

  3. Drinker Nisti says:

    Any appliance as expensive as that Viking stove should operate like a dream and turn any home cook into Iron Chef. I feel Hyman’s pain, but this also seems like the sort of defect that would be obvious in the showroom.

  4. Mike_ says:

    I don’t like where the “TV/Video” button is on my TV remote control. It always takes me forever to find it. How inconvenient! I think I’ll complain to Toshiba, and demand that they send me a custom remote control. And if they refuse, I’ll get vindictive and ask Consumerist readers to harass the employee who wasn’t able to help me.

  5. Kornkob says:

    blah blah blah— design vs engineering. From the consumer’s perspective the difference between design and engineering is negligible. Much like software and the differnece between what the publisher does and what the develoepr does (often times QA of software is the publisher’s job– not development).

    It doesn’t matter to the consumer that a particuler problem can be attributed to a specific part of the product development process. From the consumer’s perspective it is either a flaw in how the product was made (manufacutirng flaw– wasn’t built to specs) or it was a problem with the design (product made to spec but has inherient flaw).

    In this case we are assuming (based on his interaction with Customer Service) that it is not a manufacturing flaw thus the problem is a design problem.

  6. cudthecrud says:

    This is something I doubt any of you would have noticed in picking out or buying the appliance without taking it home for a test drive first. It is less like the gas pedal being in the glove box and more like the hi-beam light knob being in the glove box.
    I have a dremel and I am not scared to use it.

  7. Magister says:

    Yeah, as cudthecrud suggests, just Dremel your notch..

  8. juniper says:

    Surely using a Dremel took on your Viking Appliance will negate the warranty. Don’t negate the warranty until you are sure they can’t/won’t help you.

  9. Phil says:

    If the solution is “quite simple and inexpensive,” do it yourself, or support your local machinist.

    Oh, and while you’re at it, quitcherbitchin’!

  10. Myron says:

    What did Hyman want Viking to do? Take back the stove? Dispatch a metal worker to start cutting up the stove per Hyman’s specifications?

    There was recently a write up about Viking in the WSJ. One great thing about the company is that they manufacture in the US, employing close to 1,000 in Mississippi. One not so great thing about Viking is that their reliability, according to Consumer Reports, is much lower than what you can buy at Sears for a fraction of the cost.

    I think for 95% of their customers, buying a Viking is just conspicuous consumption, like buying a Rolex or a Ferrari. Sorry, I don’t have much sympathy.

  11. Falconfire says:

    Wow what moron designed that whole range! all of those knobs are in horrable spots.

  12. MeOhMy says:

    Easy as the fix may be, you should not have to mod your $5000 stove for something as basic as knob visibility.

    That said, I think it’s a bit dramatic to say you have to “kneel on the floor” just to read the knobs. I’m sure you can lean down a bit or take a step back.

    Although I would expect better customer service…that’s suprising.

  13. Ben Popken says:

    Who are you, Larry the Cable Guy? Banned.

  14. Kornkob says:

    *shrug* the placement of the knobs is similar to what I recall from the grills and stovetops I used in commercial kitchens. In fact, on most of the commercial kitchen units, you had to step back from the grill and bend at the waist to see the setting. Most of the kitchen staff learned to set the temp by look (how high is the flame) and feel (knowing where the knob has to face to get the desired temp). It’s was a fine design for us— especially if we had a pan fire, I wouldn’t want the controls anywhere near the cooking surfaces.

    But what is good designed for a commercial kitchen isn’t all that great for home units. For instance, I’d never put that stove in my kitchen because I’d want the knobs out fo the reach of the various nieces and nephews that visit.

  15. Ben Popken says:

    I can’t find Phil in the database so consider yourself saved. For the future, telling people to, “quitcherbitchin'” when they have valid complaints is less preferable than, “get your Dremel.”

  16. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    My parents have a Viking cooktop, and it hasn’t turned me into an Iron Chef yet… No problems with the knob placement, but on the photo posted, they seem like they’re inset further than the ones on my parents’ stove. On theirs, a couple of the knobs were extremely loose-fitting and pulled off the front very easily. I fixed that by shimming the metal control under the knobs with a piece of masking tape.

  17. dwarf74 says:

    So, um… What did he want the CSR to do, exactly?

    He complained, she listened to his complaint and in theory documented it.

    If enough customers have the same complaint, the design can be changed on later models, but honestly – how, exactly, was a phone rep supposed to help for something like this other than documenting his complaint? Unless he ordered this stove custom-built, he’s being pretty damn unreasonable.

  18. Myron says:

    These appliances are meant to look and act like a commercial range. I think you’ll find in a restaurant kitchen, all the markings on such an appliance have long since been scubbed off. The cooks know what the control is doing by the orientation of the knob itself. To make up an example, when the Bake/Broil knob handle is vertical, the oven is on Bake and when its horizontal the oven is on Broil. As far as the range controls go, a cook would just turn the knob until the flame looked right. Or more likely a burner is always full on or full off.

  19. donnaworry says:

    I’m tall, and I have to duck to see under my range hood, but Viking has been totally unresponsive to my request to cut a hole in the stainless steel so that I can see the back burners without bending over.

    Put visible reference marks on the obscured knobs, and use the stove until you become familiar with it. Sticker. Liquid paper dot. Glitter pen. Antique appliance knob restoration artist.

  20. Triteon says:

    The solution to your problem was simpler and even more inexpensive– stand in front of your range before buying it. That the CSR wouldn’t let you speak to a supervisor was wrong, as is your thought they should do something to “fix” the range.

  21. I’m with Triteon and the others on this one, you can’t expect Viking to redesign from ground up, or come out and machine your range…

    Then again…perhaps a better investment might have been a $500 Kenmore and a personal chef…then you wouldn’t even have to use the thing.

  22. AcidReign says:

    …..That’s not as bad a defect as Maytag’s Performa line that vents the oven heat right into the little led-touch panel controller. If you have the oven on at, say, 350 for an hour, the pad gets too hot to touch. You have to cut it off or adjust it with the back end of a spoon.

    …..I keep expecting the touchpad to fail, but so far it hasn’t. It is kinda warped, after a few years of use. On the other hand, it is a working gas stove for about 1/5 the cost of a Viking. I’d have been enraged, too, at that price!

    …..Gas hot water and stove are great things to have when the power goes out. Hot food in the dark is a good morale-booster.

  23. SexCpotatoes says:

    I wonder what the life on these things is (the overpriced Vikings)… considering how I’ve read that new stoves/ovens are designed to break, or at least only last 10 years before they die. Which pisses off customers more, because who has $500 to drop every decade on an oven. Anyway, I still have a 30-40 year old stove, it’s gotta be from the 60’s I think because it’s brown, and my parents never replaced it, and they bought the house in 1974. I doubt it was brand new then either. Oh, and it matches my 1970s commercial microwave too.

  24. Solo says:

    The high end component, in this case, is mainly built in the price you pay. A stove is a stove, and a $4,000 stove will not cook food 10x faster, or give 10x more flavor to your food than a $400 stove. Of course, spending more money on a object tends to involve more emotional attachment for the buyer.

    But I agree, it’s shiny and it will turn the neighbour’s face green with envy. Until they try to figure out if it’s off or set to 500 degrees.

    You’d think Viking would take a little more care at designing their stoves (it’s not like it’s a new product after all)

    Next time, you’re better off getting a Kenmore, and with the money you save, a few cans of metallic rustoleum paint.

  25. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    The high end component may not be obvious in the usability of the stove, but it’s easy to see that the heft of the components in the Viking is much greater than that of a Kenmore.

  26. dwarf74 says:

    Is Hyman registered here? I’d still like to hear what he wanted or expected the representative to do…

  27. Sudonum says:

    It may be possible to get some different (longer/deeper–don’t go there!) knobs from Viking. Could one of those fine employees from Greenwood, MS installed the wrong knobs or valve?

  28. anjamu says:

    I’m subletting an apartment with a Viking, so I went into my kitchen to see if I had the same problem. My oven knob is also set higher than the five other knobs (4 stove, 1 grill) with the metal bar on top.

    If I took a picture from the same angle as the letter-writer, it might look like this, although his is slightly more problematic than mine. But if you stand about a foot back from the knobs, at least on mine, it’s completely visible.

    It honestly never would have occurred to me to complain about something like this.

  29. RumorsDaily says:

    Viking should just make a set of replacement knobs that stick out a little bit further. It wouldn’t cost them much, and would make unhappy customers happy .

  30. etinterrapax says:

    My first reaction, honestly, was that this is the first person I’ve ever encountered who had a Viking stove who actually cooked. Sincerely. And it seems to me that if you cook, you’d want to stand in front of it somewhere and test these things. That aside, though, I would also be interested to hear what kind of solution Hyman wanted for the problem. That changes things. New knobs, replacement stove, pat on shoulder and sympathetic “there, there”? If I’d spent that much on the stove, I’d probably want some pretense of the latter, myself, but customer service is probably clogged with people whose stove knobs don’t actually turn on the stove or something.

  31. anjamu: “It honestly never would have occurred to me to complain about something like this.”

    Our kitchen is so tiny that if we had this problem, we wouldn’t be able to back up the foot and a half to see the knobs. Which we now know to calculate for, but when we first moved in we had a few kitchen-appliance issues that we didn’t realize we needed to calculate space for. Like, if the fridge is open, you can’t get into the kitchen. Now I would have the fridge door hung on the other side of the fridge, but I didn’t know that the first week we moved in and needed a fridge! Something that’s not a problem in one kitchen could be dire in another.

    etinterrapax: “And it seems to me that if you cook, you’d want to stand in front of it somewhere and test these things.”

    I don’t really think this is the kind of thing you’d necessarily notice, though, while looking in the store. I bet he will never AGAIN buy a stove with hard-to-read knobs, but in the store you’re usually looking at size — will it fit the space? can I open it all the way? will it fit two turkeys side by side? — and major features. You don’t realize things like, “damn, my refridgerator’s top door-bins open really weirdly and are guaranteed to break in the first week because of it.”

    I’ll never AGAIN buy a fridge with door bins hinged that particular way, but I never would have thought to even LOOK at that unless I had a problem with it.

  32. MeOhMy says:

    EyebrowsMcgee: “Now I would have the fridge door hung on the other side of the fridge, but I didn’t know that the first week we moved in and needed a fridge!”

    You can reverse the door on many (if not all) refrigerators. Have you ever checked into it?

    SexCPotatoes: “…who has $500 to drop every decade on an oven.”

    This is an amusing argument that I hear fairly often with respect to major appliances from people I know. $500 for something that lasts 10+ years is a pittance. The best part is these same people griping that they can’t afford to spend $500 to replace their 20-year-old fridge managed to come up with the money to replace their aging 2 year old PC without any complaints!

  33. rwyuan says:

    Troy: “…The best part is these same people … managed to come up with the money to replace their aging 2 year old PC without any complaints.”

    Why do you think that these same people can’t afford to spend $500 to replace 20 year old appliances?


  34. YaleBloor says:

    Per my involvement in the appliance industry via new construction & remodeling…I would add the following, design factors in this model & other Viking stoves are there to differentiate between stove & cook top operation..Viking is one of the most requested products we use in kitchen design, Wolf and Kitchen Aid make comparable products with different controls features, maybe a savvy consumer should have researched the product prior to buying,,,,,,,

  35. Chris Gibson says:

    Wow – you have to drop to your knees to read the dial, not just bend over to look in (like the same thing you do to look at food that’s cooking in the oven)? Man, getting stuff actually in and out of the oven must involve you sitting on the floor in the lotus position to access the food.

    So, perhaps you have a back problem, rather than just a terrible need to whine. But, before dropping KiloBucks on a stove (and, as many here have already pointed out), did it ever occur to you to actually, you know, look at one?

    I suggest that if simply bending at the waist to look at the numbers is not acceptable, it’s time to man-up and do one of the mods mentioned above (my personal fav is adding visible reference marks on the dial).

  36. FLConsumer says:

    Solo, I actually disagree… A good high-end stove (I’m thinking induction stoves) CAN cook faster, has more precise control, and, in competent hands, can make the food taste better. That said, I wouldn’t consider this Viking stove to be in that group.

    I put in an induction cooktop at my new place and absolutely love it. Very little heat put off into the room, near-instantaneous heat adjustments, beats cooking with gas. That said, I didn’t buy the most expensive nor the flashiest stove either.

    I also echo the other comments in here about “commercial” ranges. Chances are the Viking in question is a consumer model, not a true commercial appliance. Commercial/industrial-grade kitchen equipment is noisy, heavy, and usally is built to take a beating rather than offering the best cooking experience. I’d NEVER want a true commercial fridge in my house (even in the garage) as they’re far too noisy. As far as stoves go, I can’t think of the last time I saw a professional chef LOOK at the controls of a stove. They just reached, grabbed, and adjusted (the stove). I’m not an expert chef by any means, but even with my induction cooktop, I adjust the power up & down by watching the food rather than what the digital readouts show.

  37. Hunt says:

    I have a Viking stove built around 2004 that looks like it is similar enough to be the same model but it is wider because it has two ovens. What I would like to say is that I am 5’10” tall and when I stand and touch the knob I have no trouble seeing the settings on the knobs. Even in the above picture I can see the marks. I’m not sure what Hyman is having trouble with. My wife is an avid cook and she loves her stove.

  38. DaveSF says:

    My Viking Gas Range (ca 1994) experience has been miserable. Firstly several of the top gas burners don’t light – I must use a lighter wand to ignite the gas! The technician says the factory spec is for the gas to ignite by the 7th electronic spark. How charming for a $5,000 appliance to have such a loose specification. And still not meet it. Guests are amazed when I pull out a $2 lighter to light the burners!

    Secondly, the knob markings are obstructed (I realized that when I bought it) however the real design crime is the stainless steel pull-out crumb tray handle directly below the knobs. Imagine a handle that sears your flesh if you grab hold of it while the oven is on. No joke – there are my fingerprints seared onto the ss because the handle is not insulated from the heat of the oven. I wonder if children have been hurt because of this design. This looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    Thirdly, the oven takes at least 20 minutes to stabilize at temperature. And it’s fun to watch the oven literally explode the gas that collects within before the burner ignites with a rumble unless the door actually pops open form the blast. How could such an expensive appliance that looks so industrial perform so poorly?

    Lastly, there’s the impressive gas burners. Wow all those BTU’s providing ‘professional’ cooking in the home. But let me tell you that those gas burners are the worst I’ve used because they are a big diameter circle with zero flame in the center. Imagine sauteing (in All-Clad) and having a relatively cold center to your skillet? That’s exactly what happens because there’s no flame in the center.

    I cannot imagine how such a poorly thought out appliance can have such staying power and command such a high price! It just goes to show you that nothing succeeds like excessive advertising and PR.

    And yes, when guests say “I love your stove. How do you like it?” they receive an earful.