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Chrome, Sweet Chrome

Appliances From the '40s and '50s Are Being Resurrected for Those Who Want a Stove That Looks as Good as It Cooks


Lots of people relate these old things to '57 Chevys," says Emmett Julian at Sav-On Appliances, caressing the contours of one of the dozens of vintage stoves filling his store. "There's lots of shiny chrome and nice angles."

The old saying "You are what you eat" is less true in today's world than "You are what you own." All areas of our lives reflect who we are, and personal style isn't limited to cars and clothes, but can include all the things with which we choose to surround ourselves. There's no need to tolerate mediocrity or ugliness anywhere in the home--even if we must sometimes accept it in the world around us.

With kitchens often the focus of our homes--what party doesn't end up in that room?--a 30-inch, $300 stove from Sears that's more plastic than metal doesn't cut it, both from culinary and aesthetic points of view. Look at television's coolest couple, "Mad About You's" Buchmans: They have a gleaming chrome-and-porcelain vintage stove in their make-believe kitchen.

Julian has been resurrecting stoves and other appliances for more than 15 years at Sav-On in Burbank, following a stint in the sewing machine business. He carries units dating from before the turn of the century, but focuses primarily on stoves from the 1940s and '50s, because "they're some of the best-looking ever made," and because it's easier to find parts and repair them--if they need it. "They're well built, like tanks," he says.

The popularity of these vintage models is more than just another case of boomer nostalgia. "They cook better," Julian insists. "A new stove will reach a temperature and its thermostat shuts it off, so the temperature drops way down before coming back on. The old ones don't shut off. The flame just gets smaller, so they hold truer, more consistent temperatures."

While the store practically overflows with shiny, sparkling-like-new vintage stoves, the backyard holds dozens in various states of disrepair. Some Julian will repair and clean up for sale; others may be cannibalized for parts. "They're amazing, they last forever," Julian says, looking over the yard full of appliances.

He runs ads and attends auctions to keep a steady flow of the old units coming in to the store. Like other rusting old hulks being restored to their former power and glory in doctors' offices around town, these aging stoves go under the knife before making their entrance.

Sav-On boasts nearly three dozen models in stock, and prices range from less than $500 to $1,500; manufacturers include O'Keefe & Merritt, Wedgewood, Chambers and Gaffers & Sattler. Julian takes enormous pride in his work, running his hands lovingly over his merchandise. Thesesturdy old beauties came out of the factories in an impressive variety of colors--pink, red, yellow, black, white and a yellowish green.

Most people, Julian says, prefer white and opt for a chrome top over porcelain, but some customers clamor for the wilder colors. He'll re-chrome the top for an extra fee, and it's definitely worth the money, making the stove look like it's been sitting in storage, unused, since it was manufactured decades ago.

Julian has a green O'Keefe & Merritt out on loan to Ikea in Burbank, where they built a whole model kitchen, including custom matching cupboards, around it. "We get a lot of business from that one," Julian says. He also rents to film and television studios; similar stoves are now popping up on television in addition to the fine vintage model on "Mad About You." Old fridges are also becoming popular, not so much because of their workings as to match the longed for stoves.

Typically, Julian says, a woman will come into the store and look around, then return later with her spouse to make the purchase. "The guy says, 'Fifteen hundred dollars for a used stove?' But the guys," Julian says, "are almost always happy once they see what they're getting."

You can find similar vintage models, restored to varying degrees, at many places around town, including Antique Stove Heaven in L.A., which stocks more than 150 stoves, including O'Keefe & Merritt, Western Holly and other makes, from the turn of the century through the '50s. Dell Williams says the eight-burner Magic Chefs from the '20s, once found in movie stars' homes, are his hottest model--and for just $12,000, you can have one in your home too.

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