This purchase could be considered proof positive of my alleged antiques fetish. To me, though, it is a symbol of patience rewarded.
I ordered my then-to-be-restored 1948 Kelvinator from Antique Appliances in January 2013; the “6-8 weeks” of restoration work was scheduled to begin in December of last year. At the end of this past June, I learned that the custom color painting had been completed (matched to a piece of vintage pottery I’d sent), but my refrigerator was still in pieces–not yet reassembled. In early August, I was notified that the restoration was finally complete! I could hardly believe my ears. The picture above is one of the ones I was sent at that time, taken in the shop with the chrome trim on the feet not yet replaced.
This past week (September, but who’s counting?), the refrigerator was finally delivered, plugged in, and stood in my kitchen doing the job it was hired for.
Interestingly, response to the project has split along gender lines. In my unscientific sample, men have a lot of respect for the restoration, pronouncing it “really cool.” I learned from them that this refrigerator is basically a stationary vintage car (check out all the chrome!) that keeps stuff cold. Women–unless they are also old-house people–tend to be considerably less voluble. I think they probably want to say I’m crazy and should have gone to Home Depot, but are too polite. Some allow that Grandma had one like that. Others question what I’ll do if something goes wrong. (I have kept my former refrigerator as a backup, and 13+ years as an old house owner have taught me how to find people who can fix things the old-fashioned way.) They look at me in disbelief when I explain that many of the refrigerators of this age that have survived still run, and on a very simple mechanism. (“Built to last” is a concept most people have forgotten.) Refrigerators manufactured today have an average life expectancy of 14 years, and this one has got that beat. (Hey, it’s even got 20 years on me.)
Everyone wants to know what I’m doing about ice! Clearly it’s not being delivered straight to the cup through the front of this refrigerator. The answer is that I don’t really like ice, and only have it in my drinks when I’m at restaurants. I keep an ice tray in my chest freezer, and use it to clean my DisposAll when I don’t have any lemons or limes in the house. So–no ice problem, and no need for the chilly metal ice trays of my early childhood.
It would definitely have been possible to match restored refrigeration exactly to the original 1920s period of my house. But I’m not a purist, and to me, the Deco-influenced refrigerators and stoves of the late 1940s and early 1950s look just the way appliances should–and far more beautiful than any modern expanse of stainless steel and plastic. But I am most charmed, as a collector of vintage glass, by this refrigerator’s virtually pristine interior. Ridged glass shelves (the ridges are on the underside), the shadow lettering I remember seeing as a child, Deco ridges and stepped effects.
The restorers did a great job. I was probably most impressed by something not shown in these “after” pictures. There’s a defrosting drain at the center of the base of the freezer, and below that another piece, a narrow, oblong plastic defrosting cup with a stepped exterior. In the picture above, you can see it had quite a large hole in it. Looking at the outside of it now, you can’t tell it was ever repaired. Only inside is there any evidence of the restoration. The person who worked on it did an absolutely beautiful job–one I waited almost two years to see. I can’t say I enjoyed the wait, but I do appreciate the results.
I foresaw when I bought my house–a 1927 English-cottage-style bungalow–that I would need a whole new level of patience, and promised myself I’d have it. It has indeed been absolutely necessary, and not just for awaiting this refrigerator with forbearance.
I grew up in a house of about the same age, and I don’t remember any major inconveniences occurring. Probably in the 1970s, a 1920s house just wasn’t old enough yet for major systems to fail. In my house, I’ve been without hot water for a total of three weeks, first while having the hot water heater replaced, dealing with minor water damage (the old heater was sitting directly on the floor with no pan or drainage whatsoever), and bringing it up to code, and then replacing my gas line and bringing the entire house’s gas system up to code. (It took me several additional years to get the gas company to finally identify and fix the gas leak in the alley behind my house, which I’m sure was the reason I could smell natural gas in the first place.) The three weeks provided ample Little House on the Prairie moments as I boiled water for washing dishes and other household tasks.
I’m washing dishes by hand once again as just a few days before my refrigerator was delivered, my valiant 1982 dishwasher decisively retired. It had been groaning as it worked lately, and so I was planning to replace it in the next few months. The time to do that, however, is clearly now.
I find the refrigerator has raised the aesthetic bar for appliances at my house. I found a vintage-look brand, Big Chill, that I think will blend well. They offer a custom color palette, so I’ll be able to get a close match. And the nearly two-year wait for my refrigerator should help put the approximately five-week lead time in perspective–lightning-fast by comparison! Just another opportunity to exercise my old-house patience … and eventually, have it rewarded.