Continued interest in 20th-century home design, including mid-century modern architecture, has ignited a related trend: retro-styled kitchen appliances. While Kitchen Aid's classic mixer was once the retro appliance du jour, today retro interpretations of everything from ranges and refrigerators to dishwashers and microwaves are available.
"The trend began a little over 15 years ago," says Gary Cowell, appliance manager of Comeaux Furniture & Appliances. "Chrysler Corporation's PT Cruiser was perhaps one of the most prominent indications that a major trend, or at that time what might have been seen as a fad, was unfolding. The trend grew strongly for about five to seven years, plateaued a bit for a few years, and now is growing faster than ever."
According to Cowell, most retro kitchen appliances are based on styles from the 1940s, '50s, '60s and '70s — with particular emphasis on the '50s and '60s.
"Many products are reminiscent of something you might have seen back in that era, as opposed to being replicas, so they're not as tightly tied to a specific time period," Cowell says. "They look great in modern, contemporary or Arts and Crafts kitchens, log or stone homes, etcetera."
While fashions often cycle back into vogue after a few decades, today's retro appliances look back more than 50 years and appeal largely to older millennials and members of Generation X.
"The core of the market is 30 to 50 years old," Cowell says. "I think the older generation that actually lived through that era doesn't really want to go back there. The styling isn't all that special to them, and they may recall the drudgery of cleaning the oven and defrosting the fridge, as opposed to the fresh colors and nice lines which the younger generations like."
In contrast to the stainless trend that has prevailed in recent years, retro colors run the gamut from white, to pastels like light blue, pink and mint, to vivid hues like red and orange. At Comeaux, candy red, buttercup yellow, robin's egg blue, white and bisque are the best-selling colors.
Elmira and Big Chill are among the brands capitalizing on homeowners' fascination with bygone eras. Elmira Stove Works' Northstar line of ranges, refrigerators, keg fridges,hoods, backsplashes, dishwasher panels and microwaves has a 1950s feel coupled with contemporary performance features and options like 15,000 BTU gas "superburners," 2500-watt high-speed radiant elements, true convection ovens and a two-cubic-foot warmer. Big Chill has a retro line of high-tech refrigerators, stoves, hoods, microwaves and dishwasher panels available in seven colors. According to its website (www.bigchill.com), celebrity customers include Rachael Ray, Drew Barrymore and Scarlett Johansson.
At Nordic Kitchens and Baths, owner/designer Randall Shaw reports renewed interest in antique European styling rather than retro American styling from the Atomic Age. "The trend we're seeing is more of the French and Italian style ranges — more of an antique look from the early 1900s," Shaw says. Nordic carries La Cornue, a brand of French ranges.
La Cornue makes high-end ranges with professional French culinary school features, including a unique vaulted oven and a "French top," which looks like a griddle. According to Shaw, these ranges work well in "contemporary transitional kitchens" that combine old and new.
Last January, Viking introduced Tuscany, a new line of Italian Provencal ranges. Known for its professional and commercial-type home appliances, Viking's new line is part of the same antique-look-meets-professional-chef genre, and is suited to kitchens with a blend of Old World and contemporary references.
Shaw says many La Cornue and Tuscany appliances feature another kitchen trend – contrasting accent trims. La Cornue's Chateau model has brass trim against a stainless steel body, and Tuscany's 36" W. Range has a polished chrome trim framing a stainless steel, white, black or dark blue body.