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Ravenous for Retro

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

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

Though the “new vintage” appliances have that emotional appeal, the regress is only skin deep. A peek into the grandly proportioned refrigerators reveals the features and roominess we’ve come to demand. Vintage ranges come with sealed gas burners, cast electric elements or electronic smoothtops. There are even matching microwave ovens—which did not exist when many of these styles were the rage (the first microwave—produced in 1947—stood five 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, are also in some manufacturers’ lineups.

Elmira Stove Works, a Canadian company, produces both vintage and retro lines, which include microwaves, ranges, hoods, refrigerators and dishwasher panel kits. The company’s Cook’s Delight series, modeled after antiques, reflects the elegance of 19th-century France and Victorian England. To design your own range—and calculate how much your creation will cost—you can log onto, go to the antique section and choose 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 the outside and twenty-first century tech on the inside. Ranges come in time-warping colors like Robin’s Egg Blue, Buttercup Yellow and Flamingo Pink.
The Classic Collection, manufactured by Heartland Appliances, Inc., another Canadian company, is styled after the 1925 Oval Cookstove. The company’s built-in double ovens, ranges, woodburning cookstoves and refrigerators have porcelain finishes and nickel-plated trim.

Big Chill, based in Boulder, Colorado, launched its refrigerators—designed to look like a 1950s “icebox,” in 2001. “Our refrigerator 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 look like your mama’s icebox, but the Big Chill has today’s functionality, efficiency and durability. The only thing we left off was the chisel; no defrosting required!”

If you have your heart set on European, Aga is synonymous with timeless style. The company is now manufacturing a range in the US, and, though the Aga Legacy is less substantial than its British counterpart, the price is much easier to swallow. “It takes six guys to move the original Aga, which has to be shipped in from England; one guy with a dolly can move the Legacy range, shipping is much less and you still get the Aga look,” explained Christine Eunice of Mays Munroe, Inc., in Tallahassee, who said that Aga sales are strong in the state. One reason it’s lighter is that it’s crafted of enameled steel whereas its predecessors are cast iron.

If it’s a true antique you want, look to Vintage Stoves by Stevan Thomas in Hutchinson, Kansas. Thomas’ inventory of antique stoves is impressive. Wedgewood’s, O’Keefe & Merritt’s, Western-Holly Continental’s, and Gaffers & Sattler’s are available in an array of colors. “We have over 300 unrestored stoves in inventory,” said Thomas. “Our fully restored stoves are 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? “I think the demand will continue,” explained Eunice. “People are beginning to want something different than stainless steel. When you put a massive claret range in a kitchen, it really has impact. Going vintage or retro is about creating personality in a home, and that trend is definitely continuing.”