Vintage Refrigerator

restored vintage fridge

Does your fridge make you smile?  Does it have personality?  Is your fridge inviting?  Am I describing an appliance?  Yes, I am!  A delicious buttery yellow refrigerator.  Buckle up and grab a beverage because vintage appliances is one of my favorite subjects!

You see, long ago, I had a vintage fridge.  A single door GE fridge with an aqua interior and gold Lazy Susan adjustable shelves.  I bought it for $25 at a used appliance store when I lived in Florida.

And I got lucky.  I bought it without really knowing how to shop for one and thankfully nothing was wrong with it.  It was an awesome looking fridge in my tiny cottage kitchen.  The downside was the freezer had to be defrosted.  A lot!  I’ve since learned that in humid climates they ice up quicker.  This one iced up to the point of only holding ice trays.

So, I ended up buying a new fridge, never thinking to just buy a freezer.  Duh!  And, when I got married and moved, I had to leave it behind.  I wanted to take it, but our house had no garage.  This is a decision I have always regretted.

That was 2003.  Fast forward to last year.  My “free” fridge was on the blink.  It froze food where it shouldn’t and didn’t freeze where it should.  I wanted a vintage fridge to match my 1951 Chambers stove (simply the BEST purchase I’ve ever made!)  but of course my husband was not down with this idea.

So, I started doing the research on all types of refrigerators.  While they do make vintage-inspired appliances, they are way out of my reach.  I mean, used car kind of prices.  No way in hell I’m paying that much for new.  Especially since they now come with a nice little extra called planned obsolescence.  (Have you ever wondered why you have to buy new every 10 years but the one in Grandmas’ basement has been humming along for your whole life?)

Gorgeous buttery yellow!

Then I thought, why not buy new and paint it?  But they’re ugly and nothing special.  And if I painted it, I guess that would void any warranty.  Now an authentic fridge, why not?  I already owned one so I know what to expect.  Sort of. So I read up.  Starting with the Chambers website.  (chamberstoves.net  It’s a must view!)  Members are forever looking for other vintage appliances to complement their stoves and they post their experiences.  And I get sucked into wanting everything they’re talking about!

Then I researched what to look for.  I didn’t want to buy a dud.  I’d never hear the end of it, plus I wanted to be armed with info to fend off any negatives that people would have to say. (and I heard a lot!)  After listening to everyone tell me what a stupid idea this was and how my electric bill will go through the roof, I got the low down.

I’ve found, in several places, that a fridge made pre-mid 1950’s are actually more energy efficient!  They have no constant fan associated with auto defrost.  That also makes them quieter as well!  Bonus!  In fact, I read that the GE 1927 Monitor Top is more efficient than today’s’ fridge! (and of course, I want a Monitor Top now!)
Additionally, it’s best to buy a fridge from the 1930’s to mid 50’s, avoiding 1946-7.  Supposedly,  scrap metal was primarily used post World War II.

When going to look at a vintage fridge, first make sure it works.  Ask the seller to run it at least 24 hours prior to looking at it and have them make a tray of ice.  Bring a thermometer to check the temp and piece of paper.  Shut the door on the paper to check the seal of the gaskets.  Check for cracks in the interior and on the gaskets themselves.  Make sure there are no foul odors.  Also, make sure it has all of its parts or you know where to get them.  Feel around for leaks, check the coils and ask when the last time the fridge was running.

Now, I’m locked and loaded and ready to hunt!  It’s the fun part!  I love looking for elusive items!  Craigslist and eBay were my go-to spots.  I also use searchtempest.com because you can type in what you’re looking for and a radius of how far to search.  It pulls up multiple listings if you’re lucky.

vintage unrestored fridge
The fridge in its home. Originally came with the house when it was new!

After looking at so many brands, years and styles, it is so easy to get overwhelmed!  All of them have some feature that’s amazing or the styling is beautiful.  You just have to decide exactly what you’re looking for.  And even that’s bound to change when you see so many different types!

I was able to narrow it down to three.  The first was a 1952 Philco Automatic.  The next was a 1954 Phico Y-handle and the third was a 1953 Kelvinator Foodarama.

I loved everything about the ’52 Philco and I found one in White River Junction, Vermont.  It was actually located right near where we used to live in NH and it was mint!  And $150!  But arranging the shipping, convincing my husband-too overwhelming to do.  So I chickened out.

The ’54 Philco is so unique!  It’s a left hand open or right, depending on which way you turn the handle. How awesome is that?  Apparently very awesome since they go for a fortune and everyone seems to want one.  They are reminiscent of an old auto.  The handle reminds me of a hood ornament!
The Foodarama.  Sigh!  It was the first side-by-side with such unique features!  It has a breakfast bar!  It opens up and holds eggs, bacon and has 2 juice containers!  There is also a Saran Wrap holder, an unchilled banana basket, pull out shelves and cooling tubes attached right to the freezer shelves!

The post-war era of the 50’s was all about leisure and comfort.  Kitchens were becoming more than utilitarian and the demand for efficiency and time-saving standards were all the rage.  Women wanted cheerful and well-deocrated spaces.  Kitchens took a turn to becoming more of a multi-use area.
People wanted color and decorative qualities to match the rest of the house.  Blue, yellow, pink, mint green and aqua were all popular colors.  Built-in kitchens became the demand as it increased efficiency and gave more prep space.

1951 GE Combination Refrigerator
Original ad

Before then, entertaining near the kitchen was a faux pas.  Kitchens were relegated to the back of the house.  Now women wanted to show off their latest time-saving wonders!  (take a look at any appliance ad from that era and look at the women hugging their appliances!  And I totally get it!)  The 50’s was a very innovative time.  Wall ovens and dishwashers were invented during this time.

With time-saving a priority, there was more time for leisure.  People had more money to spend as well.  With this came the need for leisure accessories.  Picnic ware, home bar sets, Bridge sets, and BBQ items were purchased.  Appliance manufacturers had to vie for loyalty with women since there was more money to spend and an emphasis on lightening the workload in the kitchen.

This brings us to all the little goodies that came with the fridge.  Hall China Co. out of Liverpool, Ohio made storage containers, butter dishes, fridge-to-oven casseroles and water pitchers.  These were offered with Westinghouse, GE, Hotpoint, Sears and Montgomery Wards. These pieces of art deco artistry are in high demand.  The line was started in the 1930’s and there are several designs.  The most desirable of these are the stand alone pieces that were not  made for specific appliances.

At this time, modern refrigeration was only a couple of decades old.  These were truly awesome devices!  So with your new fridge, you received a booklet complete with a smiling housewife on the cover!  These pages revealed all the magical things it could do!  It also gave tips on storage, how long food would last and recipes.  These can be found on Etsy and eBay for $2.00-10.00.

refrigerator manual
The manual to my fridge

But I digress.  Back to the search.  Last November I found THE ONE!  It was in a small town on the Ohio-Indiana line about 2.5 hours away.  This gentleman was selling it for his nephew.  It came with the house he had bought and it had been in continual use as the main fridge since 1951.  Yes!  1951! This particular one was a GE Combination Fridge.

The interior was complete except for one folding bottle holder.  Adjustable Lazy Susan shelves, blue enamel crispers, and a meat tray.  It also had a butter conditioner!  The butter storage has a metal door and it’s own temp control knob.  This lets you adjust the temp so butter is semi-soft and spreadable!  Genius!

The freezer was blue.  It has a little section for ice, an ice cream holder, and two concentrated juice holders!  Stunning!  He wanted $400 and I offered 3.  He said there was someone else interested at  his price, so I gave my number to him.  I also let him know that I wanted this as my primary fridge and wanted to restore it as it was the same year as my stove.  He said he’d let me know and I continued to search.

vintage fridge
Inside. Perfection!

Well, a day later he called and said the guy no-showed and the fridge was mine.  For $300!  We made arrangements to drive down that Saturday and I got to break the news to my husband.  I measured my Explorer and saw that it would fit.  I grabbed an old blanket and we headed out for a drive on a very warm November Saturday.

When we got there, you could see some dirt and food spills on the exterior.  There were minor scratches, a tiny bit of surface rust but no dents.  It was in perfect working order!  Ice in the freezer and nothing was broken and no smells!  He helped us load it and tie the back down. (I didn’t take in to account the slope in the ceiling! Oops!)  He gave us the name of a great restaurant and some antique stores in Decatur, IN.  We had a great lunch and filled the rest of the car with antiques!

We put it in the garage and let it sit upright for 24 hours before plugging it in, so the fluids could redistribute, and it ran!  I cleaned it and sanded down the scratches and the minor rust.  Then it was off to the auto body shop!  And of course, there was freezing rain the night before and of course, it was raining that day!  But moving a fridge is never smooth sailing so it really didnt’ matter. Later that December afternoon and $150 later, we brought her home!

So, why all this work for an old fridge?  Well, people, myself included, love the distinctive, soft-rounded edges.  Authentic vintages fridges are built to last.  Parts can be found and there’s nothing uber fancy that costs a fortune to replace.

People love to tell their old fridge stories, ahem, as evidenced by this long-winded post!  I can almost imagine the ladies back in the day showing off all their new appliances!!  Chips, weird colors just add to the story.  Are they smaller?  Yes, but the aesthetics outweigh the quirks and you just learn to adjust.

Yes, they do need to be defrosted, but it’s been 11 months and I still haven’t needed to, yet.  Living in Ohio, it’s not as humid, so it’s not icing up as fast.

Restored vintage fridge
The day we brought her to her new forever home!

If you feel like taking the plunge, old fridges are easy to find.  People have them in their basements to use in canning kitchens or they bought a house and that behemoth was there and they’re really not sure what to do with it!  Some give them away if you’re willing to move them and others go for several thousand dollars.

Do your research.  Consult an expert if you must. Start out using it as a second fridge in the garage to test it out.  I haven’t regretted my decison and it makes me smile several times a day!  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see if I can find a GE Monitor Top for my garage!!!

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