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Kitsch 'n' Ware : Funky, Old Appliances Are Back in Vogue

August 17, 1991|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bob and Lori Foy's Costa Mesa kitchen looks hopelessly out of date, and that's the way they like it.

It's stocked with funky '50s appliances and utensils: sleek chrome toasters and bread holders, an old-fashioned blender, chrome sugar and creamers in geometric shapes, a yellow tea serving cart and colorful fiesta ware.

"I was born in the '50s and I remember my folks had this stuff," says Bob Foy. "I like the bright colors and the chrome."

Like the Foys, many home decorators are giving new life to old kitchen appliances and utensils. Toasters, shake machines, blenders, waffle irons, stoves and gizmos from kitchens past are being dusted off and polished, repaired and refinished.

A scavenger hunt of Orange County's many antique shops and malls, especially those in Old Towne Orange, can turn up anything from a '20s refrigerator (with the motor apparatus straddled on top like a giant saucer) to '50s stoves with Art Deco curves and lines.

Many appreciate old appliances for their unique design. Some use them just for show, turning them into planters or storage containers throughout the home.

Others find the old appliances useful and put them back to work.

"These are better stoves than what they make now," says a woman in her 50s, patting a shiny white enamel and chrome Wedgewood 1950s gas range selling for $995 in the window of the Orange Circle Antique Mall.

Like vintage autos, pre-'60s stoves are often gleaming chrome beauties. Many people are so enamored with the old stoves, they're willing to make the trek to Antique Stove Heaven in Los Angeles, where 35 to 40 of the shining stoves are on display in the showroom--and more in back.

The shop restores stoves dating from the early 1910s to the 1950s. Customers can have the stoves custom painted and their metal parts refinished in chrome or brass so they look like new.

"We paint stoves in two-tone and three-tone colors instead of mundane white ones," says Winsor Williams, owner of the stove shop.

All of the stoves sold work--better than new ones, says Williams.

"After you've had a new stove that breaks after two years, you get a great appreciation for mama's old stove," he says.

"Most of our stoves are 30 to 40 years old. For a stove to be around that long after it's been used three times a day all of those years, it has to be well-made. It has a lot of iron, a lot of steel."

Smaller appliances are also prized for their workmanship and style.

Dixie Mitchell, antique dealer at Someplace in Time in Orange, has found antique waffle irons that look like works of art compared to today's contraptions. One 1930s chrome waffle iron (available for $65) in her shop features a small enamel painting of a parrot on its lid. Mitchell uses a similar waffle iron in her kitchen.

"They don't make appliances like that now--and it works," she says. "I have an old toaster from the '50s that I use every day. I like it much better than the new ones."

Early appliances often had a durability that's been lost in today's market of planned obsolescence. They're usually made of chrome or steel where modern manufacturers have decided that plastic will suffice.

"As many times as it's been used and handled, it's still in great condition," Mitchell says. "Someone has cared for that item."

Other kitchen gadgets--graters, sifters, strainers, pie pans, muffin tins, canisters and beaters--are plentiful at local antique stores. Instead of stuffing them into cupboards, people hang them on walls or set them on countertops.

Mitchell finds antique utensils blend in well with the decor of her modern kitchen.

"You can mix the old with the new. There's no limit," she says. "You don't have to stick with one style."

The Foys, however, prefer collecting housewares from the '50s. Their hobby has turned into a small business; they now sell vintage appliances, bar ware and other '50s finds at the Orange Circle Antique Mall.

"The ones buying this stuff are the younger people in their 30s" for whom items like chrome toasters are a novelty, says Bob Foy.

Ardie Wirth Harwood owns the Old Towne Antique Mall in Orange, which has old kitchen utensils and appliances, including '50s blenders and several antique stoves. She's outfitted her kitchen entirely in antiques dating primarily from the 1920s.

"I don't have anything new" in sight, she says. Those modern conveniences she can't do without, such as an electric can opener, are hidden in cupboards or antique bread boxes.

"I collect lots of things--the graters, the beaters, the rolling pins--anything they used yesterday that's cute today. I like things from the '20s because they used such bright colors. And everything's usable."

Janine Seyhoun of Costa Mesa has taken her devotion to antique kitchen wares one step farther. She cooks only with antique utensils.

"I don't use modern appliances," she says.

She also relies solely on antique cookbooks for recipes.

"I just wonder what it's like to eat food people ate prior to World War I," she says. "Most of today's food is fast. It's all of these premixed foods. Older cookbooks call for everything to be fresh.

"It's just a feeling you get if you like old stuff."

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