When Refrigerators Go Retro

From hot pink to orange—trio of companies bring back stylish mid-century appliances
When Refrigerators Go Retro
Mid-century modern is in—and so is the retro craze to revive so much from the 1950s, refrigerators no exception. Meet the three main producers of the retro fridge today, each with their own stylish interpretation: Big Chill (pictured here), Elmira Stove Works, and Smeg.
When Refrigerators Go Retro
Some of Big Chill's retro colors.
When Refrigerators Go Retro
Big Chill in Beach Blue.

For some people, refrigeration is the most important modern convenience, especially because it can be done so stylishly. For others it's merely utilitarian—like the great mid-century philosopher Spike Milligan when he said, "I have the body of an 18-year-old. I keep it in the fridge."

And then there are those like Orion Creamer—if indeed there actually is anyone else who feels as Creamer does about Homer Simpson's (and funnies man Dagwood Bumstead before him) favorite appliance.

"I just always thought they were more a piece of art than anything else," said Creamer, co-founder of Big Chill, one of three main producers of retro refrigerators. "When I was in college, I used to collect refrigerator doors and hang them on the walls."

Creamer was studying art and industrial design when his uncle Thom Vernon encountered a problem trying to outfit a beach house in vintage style. When it came time to buy a suitable refrigerator, Creamer recalls, "Nothing existed at the time."

The rest is history, albeit an improbable one.

"It's not often when you're in college that your aunt and uncle come to you and want to start a business," he conceded of the founding in 2001 of Big Chill in Boulder, Colorado.

Vernon and his wife had a woman's sportswear company called Fresh Produce, so they had specific ideas about what they thought would look fashionable. Their proposal sent Creamer scurrying—to the junkyard, which he admits is "probably my favorite thing in the world to do."

"Our color comes from fashion. The style comes from all over the place," he said of foraging through discarded appliances in search of the right look for their new product. "We kind of broke it down: 'We want this kind of handle; we want some indent; we want this type of logo that they used back in the day.' There were a handful of refrigerators that we liked part of."

And the company name? Creamer said ruefully that Big Chill has become "somewhat shortsighted" since the company's expansion into other appliances but, "Both my aunt and uncle always loved that movie."

As appreciation for mid-century modern design has grown in the 2000s, the company's line of four models in 200 different colors has struck a chord with consumers. Meanwhile, two older appliance companies noticed it too: Elmira Stove Works in Canada and Smeg in Italy.