‘Retro’ is a pretty wide genre these days, and the more time goes on, the more things can obviously be considered ‘retro.’
For those of us born in the 80s (like this fine blogger), retro is vinyl records and 60s clothing, leather jackets and, at a push, Pacman. But for the kids of the 90s and early 00s, retro means CD players and Pokémon cards. Don’t dwell on that thought for too long. It’ll just depress you.
We love retro things because of the memories they hold. Retro harks back to when we were younger and didn’t have the stresses and responsibilities of adulthood. But there’s another reason retro is so popular. It’s because back in the day, products were built to last longer.
Your Mom Knows
If you go over to your parents’ house and take a look in your mom’s kitchen cupboards, you’ll likely find either a blender, or a kettle, or a food processor that she was gifted on her wedding day, way before you were even a glint in your daddy’s eye. Plug it in, and it still works like a dream.
Today, there’s a real market for truly vintage items, even electrical ones, because they were made from better quality parts and last for decades. They were very expensive to purchase because it was expected that they’d last for so long there was a chance you’d never need to buy a replacement.
With modern appliances being cheap to produce, they’re a lot cheaper to buy, but they’re not built to last more than a few years. White goods aren’t even worth fixing much of the time, because the cost of a new item is almost as much as buying a brand new one.
What About Vintage Fridges?
We’ve had refrigerators in our kitchens since the 1920s. Before that time, food was usually put in the coolest part of the house, such as the larder, and when the iceman came along, you could buy a block of ice and put it in the larder with your food to keep it cool. When the ice melted, you’d buy another block.
It All Changed at the Turn of the 20th Century
There was a sudden leap in refrigeration technology around 1913, and different inventors began to experiment with different techniques until General Electric patented the “Monitor-Top” design, named after the USS Monitor as the fridge resembled the gun turret. The more you know. Thanks, Wikipedia.
Only the most affluent homes had the early refrigerators. You might be stunned to hear that owning a refrigerator back in the 1920s and 1930s would set you back the equivalent of $7,000 in today’s money.
And yet, the technology was surprisingly similar to how it is today: by using evaporating gases to move heat from inside the fridge to outside, keeping the inside cool.
A huge difference between then and now, other than the eye-watering price, is that back in the early days of refrigeration technology a century ago, the gases used were often at the very least harmful, and even toxic if they leaked.
The 1950s was when fridges started to look really cool. Now, we have to accept that it was sort of a ploy to keep women in the kitchen. What’s going to make the little woman happy? Buy her a sexy fridge to give her something nice to look at while she’s making dinner.
But boy, were those fridges beautiful. And in recent years, they’ve been making one heck of a comeback, and we’re here for it.
Technology Has Advanced
Of course, we’ve become more demanding as a society, and these days we want our items to do more than they were programmed to 50 or 60 years ago. Also, it goes without saying that we want them to be safe!
The best retro refrigerator is one that blends the look of the classic, vintage design, the high-quality components that were built to last a lifetime, and the modern-day extras that we can’t do without.
Why Are Retro Fridges So Popular?
Even the weirdest fashions come around again eventually, but what’s special about retro fridges instead of any other kind of appliance is that They. Look. So. Darn. Cool. And that’s without the intended pun.
Nobody’s rushing out to buy retro dishwashers or washing machines. You’ll probably never find a manufacturer who’s designing 1950s television sets because nobody wants them unless they’re set designers. But we love a good retro refrigerator.
And there’s a certain type of retro refrigerator that everyone wants, too. Specifically, it’s the 1950s, ‘Smeg-style’ model. We’ll take a look at a few in this article, and you’ll see the appeal for yourself, but this iconic look is simply timeless.
After all, the 70s and 80s are absolutely considered retro these days and yet nobody’s looking for those huge, ugly white fridges of the 1980s that would hold so much stuff most of it would be rotting away at the back before someone decided to give it a good clean.
Maybe it’s because the 1950s in the USA was a time of huge potential and excitement. The country was fresh out of the second world war in half a century, and there was good reason to celebrate. The economy was booming, the suburbs were becoming affordable, the music was awesome, and the fashion was on point.
Aside from how good they look, a well-made retro refrigerator will last you for years. They’re more expensive not only because they’re considered a luxury item but because they’re made to higher specifications, with better quality items inside.
The best retro refrigerator is a work of art. It’s the round edges and the bright colors. It’s the iconic chrome handles. It makes you want to put on a Buddy Holly record and boogie-woogie your way across the kitchen.
Put a Retro Fridge in Your Den
Even if you’d rather have a modern double-fridge in your kitchen, there’s no reason you can’t put a retro refrigerator in your den or home bar. This is where you get to be your most relaxed, your most creative. You’re most vintage.
With a retro fridge, some old-school tunes playing on a vintage jukebox, and a cold glass of beer sweating on the countertop, you’ll be living your grandpappy’s dream. If only there were someone in the kitchen who’d fix you a sandwich…
Which One Should You Pick?
And now for the fun part: looking at a sample of some beautiful retro-style refrigerators made for a modern buyer.
These are my personal top 6 picks. They range from the more expensive to the less expensive, but they’ll all look amazing in your kitchen or den. Here we go.
#1 – The Smeg FAB28URRD3
- Height: 60.25 inches
- Width: 24 inches
- Capacity: 10 cubic feet
I’m kicking off with this one because it’s my personal favorite and one that I have in my own home bar.
I chose the traditional cream color because it fits perfectly with the rest of my color scheme, but this baby comes in a whole range of colors and they’re all beautiful. From eye-popping red, to a smooth baby blue, to an All-American style design draped with the flag of the world’s best country and everything in between.
Now, it’s not the biggest refrigerator in the world and it won’t be first on your list if you’ve got a big family with plenty of hungry mouths to feed. If that’s what you’re looking for, then the vintage style might not be for you anyway.
This Smeg FAB28 will grace any kitchen, large or small, but it’s perfect for apartments because of its size. It just looks so good in the kitchen or den; you might even decide to get a larger refrigerator for the garage so that you can put the Smeg in the kitchen so everyone can see it.
Smeg are known for their sleek, retro design that does all the talking for it, so you’re not going to find that this is fridge with all the bells and whistles. There’s no ice maker. There’s no door alarm. This model doesn’t self-defrost. There’s no water dispenser.
But that’s not why you’re after a vintage refrigerator. You’re looking for that old-timey feel with the satisfying snap handles and that element of luxury that you just don’t get with any other style of refrigerator. And to be honest, even if the rest of your kitchen isn’t too hot, it’ll still look a thousand times better with a Smeg refrigerator in it.
It’s a little pricey but again, you know what you’re getting into when you’re looking for a Smeg product. It’ll last you for years, just like the original 50s models your granny probably still has today. And it’s been given an Energy Star so you can always argue that it’ll save you money in the long term.
#2 – The Galanz GLR12TBKEFR Refrigerator, Dual Door Fridge Freezer
- Height: 64.5 inches
- Width: 24 inches
- Capacity: 12 cubic feet
If you love the retro design but there’s just no way you’re going to fork out the kind of money a Smeg product would require, then the Galanz GLR12 is a fabulous alternative that’ll be kinder to your pocket by about 75% in comparison.
It’s the same compact width as the Smeg but it’s a little taller, and it has almost a quarter extra capacity in comparison, too, so you could argue you’re getting even more for your money in when looking at both models side by side.
This is due to the extra height being taken up by a separate freezer section, with its own door, as opposed to the small icebox that sits inside the fridge of the Smeg.
The Galanz really does have the 1950s retro feel but the extras of the modern appliance that we’ve come to enjoy, including an adjustable thermostat and very bright lighting inside. It’s another high-efficiency, low-consumption refrigerator, too, which will keep your bills low and appease worries you may have about its environmental impact.
It doesn’t come in anywhere near the range of colors and designs that the Smeg does but the colors it does boast are still gorgeous, from a glossy black to a blue that I have to admit is even brighter and more satisfying than the Smeg.
For the kind of price that you’ll pay for this fridge, it’ll not only look fabulous in your home kitchen, but you’ll be able to afford another one for the office, and everyone there will realize how cool you are, if they didn’t already know.
#3 – The Chambers MRB19207WR
- Height: 57 inches
- Width: 21.6 inches
- Capacity: 7 cubic feet
We’re staying in the budget range for this item, too, with the Chambers MRB.
The design is a little different in that the refrigerator is on the top and the freezer on the bottom, but it still has the rounded edges and the sleek finish of the vintage design, so it’s still a popular choice for the retro fridge lover.
It’s slimmer and shorter than some designs and for that reason it only has a capacity of 7 cubic feet. For me, this wouldn’t be big enough but for a single person living in an apartment, it’s more than ample.
I was particularly impressed by the size of the freezer drawers in the bottom compartment. All too often I see three small drawers packed into the freezer section and this makes no sense to me when all you can fit in the drawer will be some popsicles and a frozen pizza or two.
Instead, the guys at Chambers put in two drawers, one larger and one smaller, so you can fit some larger items in the freezer with plenty of room to spare.
An impressive feature is how quiet it is. I couldn’t hear a thing when it was switched on and a lot of customers have noticed the same. Now, it’s not got an Energy Star rating but it’s still in the A+++ energy class.
Great buy for the retro look on a slimmer budget.
#4 – The Chambers MRS33009SB
- Height: 59.4 inches
- Width: 24 inches
- Capacity: 10 cubic feet
Speaking of Chambers, this is more like it. Not that I didn’t like the other Chambers model, but personally I prefer a single door for the retro style. Call me fussy, but I like things the way I like them.
It’s quite a compact size but still packs some decent capacity inside, and this is mostly due to it being a single-door unit, with a freezer at the top located inside the main refrigerator.
But there are other things about it that make it the perfect retro fridge: automatic defrost, transparent door bins instead of frosted, and a transparent crisper at the bottom.
Seems like a small thing but there’s often nothing more annoying that allowing all your fresh fruit or salads to start rotting in the crisper because you forgot they were there, simply because you couldn’t see them.
There’s plenty of room both in the door and in the refrigerator itself, and the outside comes in either black or blue. Both versions are well finished and will look great in a kitchen as well as being almost half the price of a similarly featured Smeg.
Obvious things like customizable glass shelving and a full antibacterial inside lining just add to the appeal. This is a great fridge.
#5 – The Frigidaire EFR756 2 Door Apartment Size Retro Refrigerator
- Height: 58 inches
- Width: 22.75 inches
- Capacity: 7.5 cubic feet
The Frigidaire EFR756 is probably the best value for money and comes in at practically a quarter of a Smeg but still delivers the retro look.
I was a little disappointed with the lack of space inside; this is the problem with having a separate freezer section because the panel that separates the two sections will always eat into your space.
That being said, for some people the freezer is a vital component of their refrigeration needs and I’m not knocking it per se, only bringing your attention to the smaller interior size, so you might have trouble fitting everything that you need inside.
As far as the look goes, it’s a stunning, vivid red and combined with the chrome handles, straight away plunges you back to the 1950s. You almost believe you could open the door and magically find a cream soda or bottle of sarsaparilla in there.
Perfect for the home bar, especially with that gorgeous cherry-red color which catches the eye and will absolutely get you compliments. I love that it comes on casters, making it so much easier to move around the kitchen.
It’s not as solidly built as the everlasting Smeg, but you can’t expect the same amount of heft for a quarter of the price.
Another thing to be warned about: the packaging it comes in. I had no problem with the model I tested but several reviewers have commented that the refrigerator’s packaging is not up to standard, meaning that a lot of units are arriving in homes with dents and scuffs.
Frigidaire’s customer service is excellent, though, and it seems they’re listening to customers and fixing the issue.
The thermostat’s easy to use, and although it’s not self-defrosting there’s very little ice build-up to concern you. Overall, a very good retro fridge.
#6 – The Smeg FAB32URWH3
- Height: 78 inches
- Width: 23.6 inches
- Capacity: 12.5 cubic feet
We started off with a Smeg, and we’re closing with a Smeg. And what a beauty it is.
Yes, I prefer the single door and yes, this one has two because there’s a bottom freezer, but Smeg have compensated for the freezer by making this beast an extra 18 inches taller than its compatriot from our first item review.
It has everything you’d want from a vintage Smeg design: the rounded edges, the vintage handles, the heft (211 pounds. That’s nearly 100 kilos, or about the weight of a Giant Panda if you like to use wild animals for your weight references.
But this model as opposed to the first one gives you more modern bang for your buck. There’s the multiflow cooling system, the automatic defrosting, and the super-quiet mechanism all still contained within an Energy-Star rated machine.
Because of its extra height you may need to check that it’ll fit in your kitchen before you buy, but as far as the width goes it’s one of the slimmest fridges on this list. Once again it comes in a range of beautiful colors and visitors to your kitchen will without doubt make a beeline for it.
What I love about Smeg refrigerators is that they complement a whole range of products. It’s tempting to get the fridge and then see the matching dishwasher, before your eye’s also caught by the matching cooker hood.
Your chequebook might not thank you, but just remember that the first fridges were worth $7,000 of today’s cash and for that you could kit out your whole kitchen in Smeg merchandise.
You’ll never hear me saying anything bad about Smeg fridges, save for the curse words that slide out when I’m trying to move one around the kitchen. Once they’re in, they’re retro-tastic and you’ll find yourself going into the kitchen and just staring at its beauty.
Made Up Your Mind?
It might be your bank account that dictates the kind of retro refrigerator you end up with but there really is a design to suit every pocket.
We used to think of fridges as luxury items and then in the 1950s they began to be accessible for all. Now we seem to have come full circle as once again these fridges aren’t just functional but really do carry and air of finesse and luxury about them.
You might not personally remember much of the 1950s but there’s little doubt that a retro fridge will hark back to a simpler, more hopeful time. Plus, it looks better than anything else that’ll keep your food and drinks cool.
I say go for it. Wholeheartedly. You won’t be sorry.