Burning Passion
From toasters to stoves, antique appliances are red hot


Your period house may grace a historic district of Raleigh, such as Oakwood, Boylan Heights or Five Points. It may make a grand statement in Durham’s neighborhoods, such as Forest Hills or Hope Valley. It may charm in Chapel Hill. So, it figures you’d want a large dose of authenticity in the kitchen.

You can also love vintage no matter where your home is in the Triangle and no matter what its age, and you might fill it with golden-oldies just because you appreciate them.

Even antique appliances.

Sure, sleek, stainless steel ranges that take center stage and designer refrigerators that hide behind custom cabinetry are still popular. But for some Triangle women, antique appliances are all the rage.

Craving for nostalgia

Appliances that have sailed past the half-century mark may remind you of swilling instant coffee, talking around the kitchen table and baking pies from scratch (even if you never did any of those things).

A growing number of connoisseurs in the Triangle, tired of throwaways and longing to return to a simpler era, are fascinated by the playful colors and built-to-last sturdiness of the genuine articles from years ago. These aficionados are thrilled to show off a mature icebox’s kitschy features or discuss the intricacies of an old-codger stove.

Not everyone’s looking for a kitchen that’s frozen in time, but many — often inspired by TV’s cooking-show sets — want at least a taste of the retro look mixed with their modern culinary gear.

Kitchen classics

Both diehard fans and casual enthusiasts benefit from businesses and organizations, even museums, that are dedicated to the seasoned showstoppers.

Take electric toasters. Since 1908, when General Electric introduced the first one, toasters have morphed into many forms to reach the same goal: crisping a slice of bread.

Stainless steel toaster, circa 1930At the World’s Largest Small Electric Appliance Museum, in Missouri, you can see them all, thanks to Richard Larrison, who owns it. He has put a lot of the collection online, and he told Carolina Woman that he’s working hard to get the rest of it posted.
buy machines that make snow cones and slushees.

Larrison classifies veteran toasters by how they do the job. There are “swingers” and “walk-throughs,” “tippers” and “flippers,” “droppers” and “floppers,” “pinchers” and “perchers,” “flatbeds” and, of course, “pop-ups.”

Toasters are just one claim to fame for the museum, which holds the United States’ most diverse group of 20th century electric appliances.

Larrison’s zest for geezer devices doesn’t end with the museum, a reporter found. Bread is browned at the Larrison home in a 1960s Sunbeam (automatic-up, automatic-down) toaster. Java is brewed with a Universal percolator from the same time, a choice made after the family’s up-to-date coffeemaker broke.


Fridge fanciers

There’s a big group of admirers of old-fangled appliances, and they think fridges are cool. In their vocabulary, there’s no room for “frost-free,” “ice dispenser,” “subzero freezing” and “moisture-controlled crisping.” They speak in reverent tones about beloved fridges, such as the Philco (1938 to 1960s), Kelvinator (1916 to 1960s), Coldspot (1928 to 1976) and Frigidaire as well as the Westinghouse that opened with a slot-machine handle and closed with a thunk.Big Chill

The attraction? These golden-agers may not be spring chickens, but they are handsome. Their insulated steel doors are typically quieter and more durable than today’s models. Since the old-timers often are smaller and lack energy-guzzling extras, they can be less expensive to operate.

The modern refrigerator has a lifespan of 14 to 19 years, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, a Washington-based trade group. In comparison, each part — from the tiniest screw to the thick steel casing — of the General Electric Montor Top, which was manufactured from 1927 to 1937, was meant to work for at least 25 years.


The cost of history

Alas, both heirloom and new-but-looks-old products can be pricey. Esteemed toasters that are completely redone can sell from $25 up to $7,000. Elmira Stove Works in Canada offers fresh, vintage-look refrigerators up to $6,000 and ranges up to $8,000.

The Monitor Top, with its distinctive top-mounted cylindrical motor, is the most sought-after of the bygone refrigerators. Demand for the fridge, one of the industry’s earliest and biggest mass-produced hits, has more than doubled over the past few years and so have prices. Before the craze, a fully refurbished, single-door Monitor Top could be found for about $1,250. Now, the price tag’s about $4,000.

You can buy the real things through small companies as well as groups, including a national one called the Old Appliance Club, which also provides an online community to share tips, tricks and stories. Those who’re nuts about everything from a 1920s toaster to a 1960s harvest-gold fridge have found one another through the Old Appliance Club. Recently, a 1950s Hotpoint fridge was being offered at no charge to a good family who wanted to work hard restoring it. Like several of these groups, it is connected with a specific company in the field.



Here are more indicators that these flashes from the past are here to stay:

• Websites and catalogs are brimming with items that invite comparisons to their time-honored predecessors. Williams-Sonoma features the industrial-retro Dualit toaster in chrome. Hamilton-Beach sells a 1950s-look milkshake mixer in chrome. There are sites to buy machines that make snow cones and slushees.

• Hollywood stars, such as Scarlett Johansson, satisfy their appetite for colorful appliances by ordering customized, souped-up models.

• Some firms, such as Roseland Icebox Co. of Christiansburg, Va., make refrigerators that look like turn-of-the-last-century wooden ice boxes.

• Specialty companies are ringing up booming sales of new stoves and refrigerators with ‘50s swagger and shades, such as candy red, flamingo pink and buttercup yellow.

Retro Online
Epicureans of antique appliances can find dealers, clubs, magazines and museums to feed their obsession. Here’s a sample.

Big Chill
Elmira Stove Works
The Old Appliance Club
Refrigeration Research Museum
Roseland Icebox Co.
Toaster Central
The Toaster Museum Foundation