Built to last
July 6, 2006 6:10 AM   Subscribe

"The best selling stoves and refrigerators at Jowers Appliances these days aren't sleek models with computerized controls. What folks can't get enough of are the stoves and refrigerators that the store would have sold when it opened more than 50 years ago." Welcome to the world of vintage appliances! Stove/range porn (SFW): O'Keefe & Merritt, Wedgewood, Western Holly. How about doing your own old stove restoration? Need some guidance? Want to see what your vintage stove might be worth? It might surprise you!
posted by spock (56 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
See also: Built to Last: Why Retro Fridges Are Hot Among Appliance Buffs
posted by spock at 6:11 AM on July 6, 2006


Never underestimate the pull of the past. Last winter I bought myself a cherry wood sewing box, and I realized that I really bought it, not because it was a useful and desirable, lovely object in itself, but because it was similar to one my grandmother Swan had.
posted by orange swan at 6:34 AM on July 6, 2006


Built to last, indeed. That and simplicity of operation. I suspect a good part of this popularity is a bit of a backlash to the hi-tek gadgetry dumped into appliances these days. People just want a box that keeps the damn food cold...not a multi-processor, web-connected device that orders milk when you are low.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:37 AM on July 6, 2006


I missed out on a free vintage stove a few weeks ago, with a double oven and a built-in deep-fryer.

I was pissed.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:39 AM on July 6, 2006


The 1948 Roper is just lovely - thanks for the links! I lived in a house once with a 1922 gas stove - it was unrestored, though, and the oven only had one temperature (very, very frustrating). At the time (we were renting), I thought it would have made a great conversation piece, with nasturtiums growing out of it - but as a stove, it made a great planter. It probably wouldn't have taken much to make it great. Sigh.
posted by goo at 6:42 AM on July 6, 2006


I drove from Baltimore to Albany, NY and back in one mad day to pick up a Hotpoint from Monitortop who I can't recommend more highly. It's the best kitchen appliance I ever purchased - works great, looks great, and it wasn't even that costly about $900 (pictured above is a slightly older model).
posted by stbalbach at 6:43 AM on July 6, 2006


Older stoves and appliances are just so much prettier than the typical ones made today. I remember visiting a friend of my aunt's whose house still had all of the appliances from the 50's and 60's. Her oven was this amazing shade of light green, with double glass doors to the oven. I vaguely remember a name or model written on it...something about "Princess". What I remember most is that (1) It had been taken such good care of, it could pass for new, and (2) I was insanely jealous. When I get my own house, I must have vintage appliances. Must!
posted by tastybrains at 6:48 AM on July 6, 2006


The stoves all look like modern professional stoves but with pretty enameled finishes, so I get why they'd be popular (although I'd still prefer stainless steel).

The refrigerators, on the other hand, I don't get at all. Right now I've got your standard frost-free apartment rental fridge, and I find its shelf layout and door shelves to be annoyingly small and poorly arranged, and I long for a nice bottom-freezer or side-by-side that's designed for the way people tend to use their fridges these days (a lot fewer big platters, a lot more bottles and jars). How can people stand those old, dark, tiny things? And how can people buy a fridge that you have to defrost in 2006?

(And what must their electricity bill look like?)
posted by mendel at 6:51 AM on July 6, 2006


Electric stoves are the SUXX0RS. The house we just bought came with one of those infernal ceramic top (burnerless) ranges. We HATE it. Pots spin when you stir them. It takes forever to heat up. It always looks bad. Plus nobody that is serious about cooking is going to put up with the temperature control latency of an electric. We were looking at new gas ranges, but I think we're going to go VINTAGE for some aesthetics/personality.
posted by spock at 6:56 AM on July 6, 2006


If you can't find the originals, there is also a big movement in new "retro look" appliances.
posted by spock at 6:59 AM on July 6, 2006


I dig old gas stoves, or at least stoves that have decent burners, fine regulators and good temp control. There's a lot to be said for the functionality of really nice sturdy gas stove.

However:

And, because they're often smaller and lack energy-guzzling features, such as automatic defrosters and ice makers, they can be cheaper to run.

This is bullshit. OK, perhaps a much smaller retro but not antique fridge with a tiny freezer or no freezer at all might be marginally cheaper to run than some triplewide suburban monster with a restraunt-sized icemaker and a water chiller, but not when compared to a well made modern one of comparable size and features.

Some allowances should be made for the energy savings of recycling a used product, but likewise allowances need to be deducted for any energy and materials costs involved in restoring it. Not to mention decreased efficiencies in everything from the insulation and door seal to the compresser and condenser coils.

In short, thanks a ton energy wasters.
posted by loquacious at 7:02 AM on July 6, 2006


We have an early 60s Frigidaire Flair Imperial range and oven. Here's a newer version. Apparently, these are becoming hip to have, mainly because the side-by-side ovens with the gull-wing doors are SO COOL. I wish I had the time to clean it up and get things working again (e.g. the clock), but it still runs pretty well.

We also had a 1963 GM fridge, but it had all sorts of problems, so we got rid of it and bought a new fridge. Old fridge was 14 cu ft, new fridge was 19 cu ft -- and was an inch narrower. And it's much lighter -- the old fridge weighed over 200 lbs.
posted by dw at 7:04 AM on July 6, 2006


Does this mean there's a chance one of you MeFi'ers wants the old Roper Stove in my basement?
posted by timsteil at 7:04 AM on July 6, 2006


Probably so, timstell. Where are you located? Email me (in profile).
posted by spock at 7:06 AM on July 6, 2006


great after all these years of making appliances more energy efficient people want to go back to throwing hundreds of dollars in electricity and gas out the window just so the thing can look cool. Why not have brand new technology stuffed inside an old school looking stove or fridge.
posted by stilgar at 7:06 AM on July 6, 2006


I viewed a house for sale that had a Fridgidaire Flair stove, as seen in Samantha's kitchen on Bewitched. The thing is amazing- the burners hide away like a drawer, the dual ovens are all glass on the front. Would be neat to see this design revived, though it's obviously full suited to a mid-century galley kitchen.
posted by bendybendy at 7:08 AM on July 6, 2006


Just tossed out an old Hotpoint from my parents cellar this spring. It had a latch door handle and the freezer was just a little rectangular box in the upper left hand corner that was always a glacier inside. The condition of the power cord was starting to concern me, and who knows how much juice it was sucking, but the compressor was still quietly pumping away after 50+ years. I doubt you can buy any appliance today that will last that long.
posted by reidfleming at 7:08 AM on July 6, 2006


I'd rather have a Rayburn. They require their own chimney.
posted by jack_mo at 7:24 AM on July 6, 2006


While I'll agree the claim that the older models use less electricity is suspect, I can't help feeling shortchanged with appliance life cycles these days. Everything is outsourced to the penny, the parts and labor are garbage and so is the final product. The problem is the price tag really hasn't changed that much... it'd be interesting to look at, but I very much doubt it's cheaper to buy a brand new ultra-chintz Maytag with a 5 year lifespan than it was to buy one 20 years ago that may still be running. I've talked to a few couples who picked up used appliance sets from the big brand names after they got married, and those lasted through the raising of their children. Now their "new" appliances break down or need major repairs every three fucking years.
posted by prostyle at 7:25 AM on July 6, 2006


Is there a accepted line that separates the merely old from antiques?

I wonder what common everyday object that was introduced in the 80's will become the new hot antique of 2040?
posted by GuyZero at 7:25 AM on July 6, 2006


You'll have to take my Sumbeam Vista toaster from my cold dead fingers.
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:33 AM on July 6, 2006


And, because they're often smaller and lack energy-guzzling features, such as automatic defrosters and ice makers, they can be cheaper to run.

Sunfrost fridges, they make 5 models, but only one without a coin slot Staber washing machines , and if I visit my local store, a Vulcan stove

Old is fine (hell I'm vintage), but modern quality when you can find it is good to. Now, go back to your Apple ][+es all of you!
posted by rough ashlar at 7:34 AM on July 6, 2006


Is there a accepted line that separates the merely old from antiques?

The usual number is 100 years, though for most states a mere 25 will get you an antique car license plate.

100 years is the number used for the Antiques Road Show. Apparently things that aren't antiques are "collectible."
posted by jedicus at 7:37 AM on July 6, 2006


Following spock's link: why can't we have more fridges like these? Cool retro on the outside (in COLOUR!) with all the modern conveniences (and modern energy-saving features) on the inside. Should've gone with a bit more garish chrome and a bigger uglier pull handle (bonus points if it's spring-loaded for a faux-latch effect).

Holy DeSotos! At $4000 a pop (likewise for the ranges) I should hope they throw in a set of matching ice cube trays (or cake cooling racks).
posted by hangashore at 7:43 AM on July 6, 2006


Some of the old stoves are desirable (Chambers are cool), but aesthetics aside, I prefer a new one.

I was recently living in a house with a 40s-era Maytag. It had a long-dead built-in rotisserie. Despite being 40" wide, it had a tiny main oven that needed to be lit with a match. Always-on pilot lights that kept the kitchen 5°F hotter than any other room, a million nooks and crannies that were all-but impossible to clean.

Pilotless ignition, convection ovens, electronic temperature control, and simpler designs really can make life a little better.
posted by adamrice at 7:43 AM on July 6, 2006


My long dead grandfather used to repair appliances (Refrigerators, washing machines etc.) for a company called Norge. He always said to skip the models with all the extra bells and whistles. It was just one more thing to go wrong.

I still believe that he was right. Simple is best.
posted by bim at 7:57 AM on July 6, 2006




I find it funny that a lot of the same people that post about how SUV's are wasteful are now talking about how great old stoves and oven are.

You all realize that the reason no one builds them like that anymore is because they worked poorly, right? They waste enormous amounts of fuel, lose a lost of heat, and are made of materials that probably aren't very safe.

Oh well, form over function I guess. And to the point about high tech gadgetry, you can buy very basic non-electronic gas or electric stoves from GE, Whirlpool, etc and they are quite inexpensive to boot.

Also, I'm reminded of the book Trading Up that made the point that the reason most people buy professional grade stoves and cookware is not because they are gourmet cooks, but because doing so helps them to imagine that they could be gourmet chefs if they wanted.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:18 AM on July 6, 2006


Just tossed out an old Hotpoint from my parents cellar this spring. It had a latch door handle and the freezer was just a little rectangular box in the upper left hand corner that was always a glacier inside. The condition of the power cord was starting to concern me, and who knows how much juice it was sucking, but the compressor was still quietly pumping away after 50+ years. I doubt you can buy any appliance today that will last that long.
posted by reidfleming at 10:08 AM EST on July 6 [+fave]


We'd have to wait 50+ years to find out, but i'm inclined to believe that they will. I've seen refrigerators from the notoriously crappy late 70's era that are still running, and cars from the mid 80's still going strong. The reason things like compressors and motors break is low precision in manufacturing that results in a slight amount of wearing that builds up over time to a failure. Now that manufacturing is orders of magnitude more precise, that tiny amount of wearing is greatly reduced.

What usualy breaks on devices are the buttons, because they are usually made of cheap plastic that doesn't stand up to the typical user's if-I-press-it-harder-it-will-work-better approach.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:23 AM on July 6, 2006


New retro fridges: Big Chill
posted by spock at 8:50 AM on July 6, 2006


people buy professional grade stoves and cookware is not because they are gourmet cooks, but because doing so helps them to imagine that they could be gourmet chefs if they wanted.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:18 AM PST on July 6


Well I got a vulcan because I could not find a simple, non-digital stove that would work if it lacked a power cord.

Most of the stoves I saw would not light if there was no AC power. Or they had a microprocessor.

Ever tried to cook something in a power outage?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:00 AM on July 6, 2006


If I lived somewhere that it made sense, I would have an Aga in a heartbeat . . .but the southern US ain't the place.

Finland, maybe. Nice and toasty year round!
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:18 AM on July 6, 2006


You're gonna need some period furniture to go with those appliances. How about a matching step-stool just like my mom's?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:47 AM on July 6, 2006


Most of the stoves I saw would not light if there was no AC power.

Can't you just light the burners with a kitchen match?
posted by vorfeed at 9:49 AM on July 6, 2006


I picked up a 1950's General Electric fridge off Craigs List for 50 bux. Had it charged with freon, drilled a couple holes in the front, added a few taps and a C02 tank and I've got he coolest keg fridge on the block. Problem is there's always beer in it ...
posted by crunchyk9 at 9:57 AM on July 6, 2006


We saved over $50 bucks a month (California) when we got rid of our old refrigerator. Case closed.
posted by 2sheets at 10:03 AM on July 6, 2006


Pasta I had the same concerns you had re: legacy technology versus new, but the way I read the article it seemed to suggest that they put modern parts on the inside, used R12, etcetera.
posted by cavalier at 10:22 AM on July 6, 2006


I hesitate to buy new appliances now for the reasons some of you have listed above -- less reliable, unnecessary bells and whistles, etc. And they seem to be built more cheaply than the older ones, too...

Our washer/dryer set is 5 years old (bought new) and the dryer just blew a belt. When my parents' fave old school repair guy checked it out, he found that the belt's roller wasn't even a roller but a weird, half-assed piece of sharp metal. And this was a good, brand-name dryer! He replaced it with the old-style part and all's well.

I'd take an old school gas stove over a new piece of crap any day. (The same repair guy, by the way, said he hasn't seen a wall oven and range like ours since he started in the business...in the 1970s!)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:06 AM on July 6, 2006


Put me firmly in the camp of "retro design, modern guts". I tend to think that that's going to be the next "revolution" in interior design: direct regression to the popular exterior designs of the past while incorporating the best internals of the current era.

I'm all for it. I'd love to see a 1970's Ford pickup with a fuel-cell engine, especially if they can find a way to fake the engine's sound. And when/if we buy a house, I'm now considering a Big Chill thanks to spock.

Then again, I'm an idealist romantic, and despite knowing better actually long for the arrival of Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age (w|a).
posted by scrump at 11:11 AM on July 6, 2006


You'll have to take my Sumbeam Vista toaster from my cold dead fingers.

Oh man, I have two of those sitting side my side in my kitchen just as, you know, decoration. Neither one of them work, but they look fabulous.
posted by jokeefe at 11:13 AM on July 6, 2006


...perhaps a much smaller retro but not antique fridge with a tiny freezer or no freezer at all might be marginally cheaper to run than some triplewide suburban monster with a restraunt-sized icemaker and a water chiller...

I second your skepticism. In fact, I'm even more skeptical. Federal mandate requires refrigerators sold in the last 5 years or so to be very, very efficient, and they are. Even a "triplewide suburban monster" requires only a fraction of the power of the average '80s model, and many models on the market today are even better, exceeding the requirements.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:13 AM on July 6, 2006


The funny thing is that people probably buy the vintage ones on the basis that they're special and not like everyone else's, when they're the best-selling appliances in the store.
posted by clevershark at 11:22 AM on July 6, 2006


I don't know about major appliances, but I love my dial-timer microwave!
posted by Chuckles at 11:38 AM on July 6, 2006


My first house came with an O'keefe and Merritt "DeVille" model stove that was all orginal and needed no restoration. I bought the house from the original owner and she took good care of it. It was an excellent stove and I wish I still had it. When I sold the house I was broke, so I sold it to my neighbor for 500 bucks. A friend of mine who is a chef loved baking in it because since it was so massive it kept the temperature more even. It had all kinds of cool features, like a thermostat on the right rear burner. It was a beautiful and very functional. A joy to use, and quite the conversation piece.
posted by Eekacat at 1:39 PM on July 6, 2006


You'll have to take my Sunbeam Vista toaster from my cold dead fingers.

Yes, I love mine dearly, in spite of the fact that it once threw my across the kitchen when it shorted out and I picked it up. I point it out to guests, and would name it, if I was that sort. I just rewired my kitchen and had to spend an hour (and a loaf of bread) re-calibrating the beast for these new-fangled copper wires.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:42 PM on July 6, 2006


I scored an 40's era O'Keefe & Merrit from an old landlord for $300, and I would never, ever consider getting rid of it. I learned my cooking skillz on restaurant stoves and I've never seen anything else residential that can crank the BTUs like my baby!

Add in that the thing is a frickin' tank and that on the rare occasions when I get motivated to fix it up a bit, it's trivially easy to work on.

The only problem is that when I move, it takes me (a large, moderately muscular guy) and my construction buddy all of our power to roll the thing along on a dolly.
posted by smeger at 3:08 PM on July 6, 2006


And the wifelet is also a big fan of Spock's refrigerator linked above, as you can see from our wedding registry. :)
posted by smeger at 3:10 PM on July 6, 2006


You'll have to take my Sumbeam Vista toaster from my cold dead fingers.

So, cyanide or a blow to the head?

Our four-slice toaster is a POS. The spring won't stay down always. Your options are very lightly toasted or charcoal. No bagel setting. Too narrow for homemade waffles. I'd love to replace it, but I'm not sure with what. And those old toasters got hot, hot, hot.

The one wedding gift that has lasted is the electric kettle. Sadly, it's not common to American homes, and when I bought it there weren't a lot on the market here. But I had one when I lived in the UK and can't live without it now.
posted by dw at 3:33 PM on July 6, 2006


"the electric kettle. Sadly, it's not common to American homes"

Huh? How do they boil water then?
posted by wilful at 4:11 PM on July 6, 2006


"How do they boil water then?"

In the microwave, duh.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:48 PM on July 6, 2006


On the stove. In a regular kettle.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:53 PM on July 6, 2006


Yuck, that's positively medieval.

Oh. Never mind.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:11 PM on July 6, 2006


Sunbeam Hotshot. It boils up to two cups of water, but it's not very Retro. Sorry.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:14 PM on July 6, 2006


These are the weirdest. They heat by inducing eddy currents in your cookware with oscillating electromagnetic fields. They're cold to the touch but anything metal placed on them becomes red hot in seconds.
posted by Astragalus at 9:19 PM on July 6, 2006


After seeing my parents have to buy 2 stoves in less than 4 years because something went wrong and it was cheaper to buy than repair, I can completely understand buying the older stuff.

The stove orginally in their house was 20+years old, Mom bought a new one, solely because of how old it was. She regrets dumping the old one.

The stovetop here is about 2 years old. The burners don't sit right, the oven temperature is never right, it drives me nuts.

And how can people buy a fridge that you have to defrost in 2006?

If you buy in quantity to keep for sometime it's better to get a freezer you have to defrost. Food quality stays better longer, when their isn't the defrost mode in a freezer.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:35 PM on July 6, 2006


scrump said: "Put me firmly in the camp of "retro design, modern guts". I tend to think that that's going to be the next "revolution" in interior design: direct regression to the popular exterior designs of the past while incorporating the best internals of the current era."

For a while now there's been a whole movement about exactly that in the hot rod field. Probably the best example is So Cal Speed Shop's New Traditionalists(tm) line of parts.

For example, you can buy everything off-the-shelf to make a steel-body '32 Ford hot rod that looks just like something out of 50's. Then put in a modern motor, breaks, and transmission, all covered by a veneer of 50's looking parts and then you have a really awesome car. A few years ago, you could put one together for about $30,000. Just like the stoves and fridges, they aren't exactly a "refined" in terms of modern convenience, but they are fun as hell.
posted by webnrrd2k at 2:05 PM on July 7, 2006


"breaks" is probably right.
posted by spock at 4:11 PM on July 7, 2006


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