Bite Sized Kitchen

As Rachael Ray constructs 30- minute meals, she steps over to the notice-me-pale yellow ’50s-era refrigerator, and reaches in for ingredients. She turns her attention back to the fired-up range, tossing vegetables over the heat. But it’s not her technique or bill of fare that has some tuning in.

As Rachael Ray constructs 30-minute meals, she steps over to the notice-me-pale yellow ’50s-era refrigerator, and reaches in for ingredients. She turns her attention back to the fired-up range, tossing vegetables over the heat. But it’s not her technique or bill of fare that has some tuning in.

By Jennifer Shapira

Courtesy of Elmira Stove Works
Courtesy of Elmira Stove Works

“I don’t watch ‘Rachael Ray’ for the menus,” says Barbara Smith. “I watch to see what kind of refrigerator she has, if it’s orange or turquoise. All her kitchens are multicolored—yellow and orange—and visually appealing.”

Ray may have cornered the market on retro-style kitchens, bringing that look into our homes weeknights at the dinner hour—excellent timing. President and owner of Bars and Booths in Charles Town, W.Va., Smith says retro-style appliances have become much more en vogue in recent years. The company not only restores antique appliances and builds classic diner reproductions, but it is also is a dealer of 1950s-style appliances from both Ontario-based Elmira Stove Works and Colorado’s Big Chill.

“People love to show off their retro kitchens because not everyone has one,” says Smith. The look offers an exciting color scheme, she says, yet it also evokes nostalgia. To Smith, those feelings are: “happy, peaceful, warm and fuzzy.”

Cut to 6 o’clock when the neighborhood kids would run home for dinner, Mom in her apron serving the roast, Dad folding the paper, the nuclear family gathering around the table.

“The ‘50s were a wonderful era of happy home life,” says Smith, adding, “a lot of people are in love with the appliances and in love with the ‘50s.”

So it makes perfect sense that the appliance colors delight the eye, and to the ear the names sound like frozen treats: Buttercup Yellow, Pink Lemonade, Cherry Red, Robin’s Egg Blue, Mint Green, and Quicksilver.

Courtesy of Elmira Stove Works
Courtesy of Elmira Stove Works

Express Yourself
From ranges to refrigerators to dishwashers, many homeowners are seeking pastel or bright-colored alternatives to stainless steel. Though mixing vivid appliances with stainless steel is common, those who choose a fire-engine-red refrigerator, or even a slick black model with its minimalist chrome details is going for a statement, says Tony Dowling, business development manager at Elmira Stove Works, manufacturer of the Northstar line.

“I think people are getting tired of the same old, same old,” says Dowling. “What we’ve seen a lot of over the years is white appliances. Now what we’ve seen is certainly an abundance of stainless steel. And there’s a certain segment of the population that says, ‘You know what? I really want something different.’”

And a big chunk of that population is forking over the funds for red refrigerators, Dowling says of Northstar’s top-selling color. Robin’s Egg Blue and Buttercup Yellow are closely tied for second place. The Northstar line includes two large refrigerator sizes, and a more compact, 11-cubic-foot version that Dowling says is a popular sell in New York apartments or in cottages where putting in a full-size fridge is not an option.

While small might be convenient at times, no one goes for the retro look because the size is right; they select it for the high-gloss, wow factor. It’s about expressing your individuality, says Dowling.

Courtesy of Bars and Booths
Courtesy of Bars and Booths

In Living Color
Falls Church resident Rae Arduini agrees. Her friends consider her Robin’s Egg Blue Northstar refrigerator to be the “jewel” of her condominium. How the fridge found a home in this cucumber-cool condo is what kitchen love stories are made of. At the time of her home’s complete redo, Arduini’s fridge had broken, so she was in the market for a smaller-scale, slick new model.

Arlington-based interior designer Dolly Howarth found inspiration in a turquoise rug that lay on Arduini’s living room floor prior to the redecoration. It is one of Arduini’s favorite shades, and as luck would have it, the Northstar was a dead-on match. Howarth tracked down the 29-inch cool-blue baby, and nestled it right into her neutral but chic galley kitchen.

When Arduini saw it, it was love at first sight. Now considered her home’s focal point, it sits adjacent to a pop-art portrait of Audrey Hepburn in Arduini’s flexible dining area-slash-office space. All cool blues and icy tones, touches of red make for colorful splashes in this stylish space.

“It’s small-scale,” says Howarth of the statement refrigerator. And it set a sleek, modern, retro tone for the rest of the condo, she says, while adding “a little bit of art deco glamour.”

Understanding Small Spaces
Brian McGarry, an Alexandria-based designer and small-kitchen enthusiast, knows first-hand about living in tight quarters. “I live in a 16-foot duplex, so I understand small spaces,” he says.

Operating in a diminutive kitchen doesn’t have to be a compromise. It’s a matter of maximizing creativity, design and movement. And now, more than ever, appliance manufacturers are producing lines for smaller dwellings. It is possible to have all the form, function and style of a gourmet kitchen, but on a much smaller scale.

McGarry recalls a kitchen he recently completed for a high-rise condo in Washington, D.C.’s, Penn Quarter. The woman’s kitchen also included the apartment’s living space. McGarry placed an integrated refrigerator and freezer in the kitchen’s island, rendering it completely out of the line of vision. “A stand-up refrigerator would have broken up that space terribly,” he says. In addition, a sleek 18-inch cabinet-front dishwasher fits into the footprint. The blue-green 1-by-1-inch mosaic tile backsplash adds punch, and sculptural drawer pulls add a touch of whimsy.

Choosing appliances that match counter depth is another key to good design. “I liken the refrigerators when they stick out to flood pants,” says McGarry. “They just look bad.”

McGarry is also a firm believer in European-style frameless cabinets. The look is generally sleeker and more modern, and “the advantage of space is tremendous,” he says. Frames on cabinets and drawers can add inches where space and storage is crucial.

“What I look out for when I design a kitchen is to protect the cook,” he says. The cook needs access to the sink, a prep area and a cooking space. On the other side of the sink is the dishwasher and a cabinet where all the plates and silverware can get put away, he says. “And if you can do that, the kitchen functions.”

Small Footprints
As the population ages, a number of couples who may have raised families in the Northern Virginia suburbs are looking to downsize. Some empty nesters are moving into condos in the more urban areas of Arlington and Alexandria.

“People who have lived in the Washington area, and specifically in D.C., moved out to the suburbs when they had children and are familiar with the urban life and would like to go back in,” says Rhonda Grisham, an interior designer at Kleppinger Design in Fairfax. Grisham says some clients currently rent their apartments in anticipation of one day moving back.

Such a move is appealing for all the obvious reasons, she says: There’s no grass to mow, there’s often covered parking, and Metro, shops and restaurants are located steps away. It’s a more European lifestyle, one in which you can’t necessarily stock the fridge and freezer for months at a time.

Empty nesters may no longer need kitchens with double ovens, large eat-in areas, or Sub-Zero fridges. They, and single dwellers, can make do with small-scale appliances, tighter work spaces and flexible seating. Creative choices, such as space-saving refrigerators and mini dishwashers, are reflected in the personalized, easy flow of their modestly- sized kitchens.

Little by Little
“Kitchens are tiny in D.C.,” says Sandy Jones, account manager at M and M Appliances in Northwest Washington. “There’s no other way around it.”

The company has been working with homeowners for years to place smaller-scale appliances in kitchens throughout the Washington area. However, the market for such high-end appliances has really flourished, offering so many more options for fully loaded kitchens.

There’s no such thing as compromising, says McGarry. Petite kitchens may mean making space-saving choices or use of imagination, but there’s no need to sacrifice quality or style.

“I find it easy to cook in the small kitchen because everything is close at hand,” says Northwest D.C. resident Florence Gallagher. She worked with Grisham to remodel her 1964 condo kitchen, putting in all stainless-steel appliances, including a counter-depth Fisher Paykel refrigerator, with a bottom freezer that has pull-out drawers.

“My new kitchen appears larger than my old one, even though I have more counter space and cabinets and an 18-inch dishwasher,” says Gallagher of her U-shaped space. “My kitchen has a very sleek look to it.”

In a well-designed kitchen, high-end or modest, everything is simply in its place.

“Good design is balance,” says McGarry.

“The balance of size, shape movement, color and texture—with some fun thrown in.”

From industrial-look stainless steel to retro, candy-colored appliances, fun has as much importance as design in today’s modern kitchen. And a backdrop that’s easy on the eyes doesn’t hurt.

Now, isn’t that why we tune into “Rachael Ray”?

Retro Dealers
Elmira Stove Works (Northstar)
285 Union St., Elmira, Ontario, Canada N3B 3P1
519-669-1281; Toll Free: 800-295-8498

Bars and Booths
200 W. Washington St., Charles Town, WV 25414
304-728-0547; Toll Free: 800-507-7632,;

Big Chill
P.O. Box 892, Boulder, CO 80306

150 E. 58th St., New York, NY 10155
212-265-5378; Toll Free: 800-736-7634;

Local Designers
Brian J. McGarry
Alexandria designer

Dolly Howarth
Howarth Designs LLC
3577-A S. Stafford St., Arlington, VA 22206

Rhonda Grisham
Designer, Kleppinger Design Group
2809-A Merrilee Drive, Fairfax, VA 22031

Q&A with Zony Mannon
Specialist in the appliance department at Lowe’s Home Improvement in Alexandria

Have you seen an increase in demand for smaller appliances?
Absolutely. For the last year and a half we’ve been selling a lot more compact-size appliances as opposed to some full-size ones. A lot of the manufacturers are making them so they’re a little bit more compact.

What is the impact on homeowners who are seeking space-saving appliances?
If you’re working with a smaller kitchen, a galley kitchen or something like that, there are a couple options for sizing for refrigeration, and also for cooking products. A lot of people are doing what they call a smaller-size refrigerator which is around 14 to 10 cubic feet. They are Energy Star-rated, so it saves you a lot of energy, and at the same time doesn’t take up the width that a normal refrigerator does, which is about 32 to 36 inches.

What other changes in the kitchen are you noticing?
What people do now is get the microwave cooking combination, which means you have an over-the-range microwave, which also works as a convection oven. So instead of only microwaving, you can actually bake in it.

What are some appliances that homeowners are using to save space in their kitchens?
For a small kitchen you could do a 20- or 24-inch stove—gas or electric. Also, under-the-counter fridges. Some refrigerator models have freezers on top and refrigerators on the bottom. There are also versions that add on a lot more height, and that’s how you get more space. It’s going to be narrower but taller so you can fit more stuff in there. Another space saver: 18-inch dishwashers. Those are both Energy Star-rated and smaller than the traditional dishwasher, which is 24 inches wide. That definitely helps you save space in a small kitchen area, especially for condos around Arlington and Old Town.

(September 2010)