Ravenous for Retro

Check out the chrome, the colors, the boxy lines…were DonnaReed alive and well, you might expect to find her planted in one of thesekitchens admonishing, mind your manners, drink your milk, marry a doctor!

A handful of appliance manufacturers are proving thatnostalgia sells. Paco Underhill, the founder and managing director ofEnvirosell, a New York based research and consulting firm with office aroundthe world, says it’s because the baby boomer generation is now deciding howthey want to live the last third of their lives, and vintage products bringmemories of childhood. “We’re feathering our nests and those of us who are overfifty don’t need another suit or tie,” he explained. “But when I use my newWurlitzer blender, it brings back memories of making my first milkshake—even ifit is in stainless steel and has digital controls.”

Though the “new vintage” appliances have that emotionalappeal, the regress is only skin deep. A peek into the grandly proportionedrefrigerators reveals the features and roominess we’ve come to demand. Vintageranges come with sealed gas burners, cast electric elements or electronicsmoothtops. There are even matching microwave ovens—which did not exist whenmany of these styles were the rage (the first microwave—produced in 1947—stoodfive and a half feet tall, weighed over 75 pounds, and cost around $5,000).Panel kits for dishwashers, which didn’t exist in built-in form until 1969, arealso in some manufacturers’ lineups.

Elmira Stove Works, a Canadian company, produces bothvintage and retro lines, which include microwaves, ranges, hoods, refrigeratorsand dishwasher panel kits. The company’s Cook’s Delight series, modeled afterantiques, reflects the elegance of 19th-century France and VictorianEngland. To design your own range—and calculate how much your creation willcost—you can log onto www.elmirastoveworks.com, go to the antique section andchoose the features you want. The Web site will update your design (and price)with each choice you make. Elmira’s Northstar line is classic retro on theoutside and twenty-first century tech on the inside. Ranges come intime-warping colors like Robin’s Egg Blue, Buttercup Yellow and Flamingo Pink.

The Classic Collection, manufactured by HeartlandAppliances, Inc., another Canadian company, is styled after the 1925 OvalCookstove. The company’s built-in double ovens, ranges, woodburning cookstovesand refrigerators have porcelain finishes and nickel-plated trim.

Big Chill, based in Boulder, Colorado, launched itsrefrigerators—designed to look like a 1950s “icebox,” in 2001. “Ourrefrigerator is like a stylish ’57 Chevy Bel Air, only the fins are missing,”said Orion Creamer, co-founder of the company with Thom Vernon. “This may looklike your mama’s icebox, but the Big Chill has today’s functionality,efficiency and durability. The only thing we left off was the chisel; nodefrosting required!”

If you have your heart set onEuropean, Aga is synonymous with timeless style. The company is nowmanufacturing a range in the US, and, though the Aga Legacy is less substantialthan its British counterpart, the price is much easier to swallow. “It takessix guys to move the original Aga, which has to be shipped in from England; oneguy with a dolly can move the Legacy range, shipping is much less and you stillget the Aga look,” explained Christine Eunice of Mays Munroe, Inc., inTallahassee, who said that Aga sales are strong in the state. One reason it’slighter is that it’s crafted of enameled steel whereas its predecessors arecast iron.

If it’s a true antique you want, look to Vintage Stoves byStevan Thomas in Hutchinson, Kansas. Thomas’ inventory of antique stoves isimpressive. Wedgewood’s, O’Keefe & Merritt’s, Western-Holly Continental’s,and Gaffers & Sattler’s are available in an array of colors. “We have over300 unrestored stoves in inventory,” said Thomas. “Our fully restored stovesare now cooking in parts as far west as Alaska; as far east as Connecticut,Pennsylvania and New York; and all parts in between.”

Are retro and vintage growing trends in the kitchen? “Ithink the demand will continue,” explained Eunice. “People are beginning towant something different than stainless steel. When you put a massive claretrange in a kitchen, it really has impact. Going vintage or retro is aboutcreating personality in a home, and that trend is definitely continuing.”

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