Home: Vintage Chambers Stove
For as long as I’ve been a homeowner, I have dreamed of having a vintage kitchen. We are veritable ‘old house’ people; of the many homes we’ve bought, the newest one was built in the 1940s. As we renovate, we try to honor the original style of the home with our design choices, but there are some rooms where this isn’t terribly practical and the kitchen is one. For the entirety of our marriage, we’ve moved around for my job every few years, which meant that every renovation was done with another buyer in mind. Sadly,
it never made sense
pragmatic Noah wouldn’t agree to installing a 70-year-old stove just to have to sell to someone else, because "not everyone is as... unique" as me. He was right, but it didn't stop me from asking. Repeatedly.
Fast forward to our newest home: the house in the area where we went to college, fell in love, and got married. The house nestled on a park in a gorgeous, historic neighborhood within walking distance of all of the coolest restaurants in town. Fast forward to a new job that won't move us, and school-aged kiddos whom we want to have a place to call home. I hesitate to call this a 'forever' home, because I truly love moving around and we may still do that at some point, but it IS a forever home in the sense that I plan to NEVER sell this house- someone will have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands.
As we began remodeling our kitchen, I knew my moment had come. The stove-shaped hole in my heart was about to be filled. Initially, Noah was on board, but barely. He has grown accustomed to my hair-brained ideas, and lovingly finds it in his heart to accept them in most cases, but he could best be described as a neutral by-stander. As we began to research stoves, however, he grew more and more excited. Our concerns melted away. Here were the big things we were worried about:
Concern #1: Lifespan
This one is pretty obvious- we are about to shell out hundreds of dollars, and design our cabinet layout around the dimensions of, a 70-year-old appliance. Intuitively, this seems like a bad idea. However, we learned that stoves now are built to be thrown out and replaced with alarming frequency, while stoves built in the mid-1900s are essentially never truly irreparable. They were built to be repaired, and still today you can find the parts needed to fix problems as they arise. We even found a local guy who specializes in fixing up old stoves- I was surprised to learn there is enough demand to employ him full-time. I knew I wasn't the only crazy stove person.
Concern #2: Use
Another basic concern was whether these stoves are practical to use. This seems to really boil down to personal preference and how you use your stove. Because I don't cook, this was not a concern at all for me; Noah did the bulk of the research here.
If, for example, you cook on huge trays, you might need a newer stove. The stove cavity, while perfectly adequate to accomodate standard pans (and yes, even a turkey), is significantly smaller than today's stoves. If you need 6 burners, you may find yourself limited on selection (though I think some do exist). Ours only has 3 burners plus a griddle and deep well pot. If you like having lots of modern options (timers, auto shut-off, whatever else stoves can do- idk tbh), then this won't fit the bill. But if, like us, you roast veggies or bake chicken about 3 times a week and just need something that gets hot and... cooks... normal things... an old stove can do that. Do we have to light the burners and stove with a lighter each time we want to cook? Yes. Does it beep when it's pre-heated? No. Did we have to buy a separate timer? Yes. But these are things that we see as added charm. If you see them as annyoing, vintage stoves aren't for you.
On the plus side, the built in griddle and deep well pot are features that many of today's stoves don't offer. Full disclosure: we haven't used the pot, but apparently, you can heat up the stove, TURN IT OFF, and it is so well insulated hat it will stay hot and keep something like oatmeal cooking all night. Again, not a cook, but I think it's akin to a crock pot. These puppies are also super energy efficient; in fact, the tag line for Chambers was 'cook with the gas off.'
Finally, Noah learned that modern stoves, while they allow you to set the temperature to the degree, actually provide a sense of false precision. Stoves, even new ones, actually moderate temperature in broader intervals. Your oven is set to 350? It will heat up to 370, shut the gas off, cool to 330, turn the gas back on, etc. Temperature really oscillates around the temperature that you set rather than holding there. For thousands of years, people cooked on open flames- you really don’t need to control the temperature as precisely as we tend to think. Noah found this very helpful article that explains it well. By the time we finished researching, we (Noah) were excited about learning to be ‘one’ with our food and started to view cooking as more of an art than a science.
Concern #3: Cost
This has been a dream for so long for me that I wasn’t overly concerned about the cost. I also naively assumed they would be fairly inexpensive, because I figured the demand was low. Turns out I was right and wrong. You can certainly pay thousands of dollars for fully refurbished, recoated, essentially brand new stoves, plus hundreds in shipping costs (these puppies are HEAVY). You can also find them sitting on the curb on big trash day if you’re living right. We went somewhere in the middle, scouring craigslist and local buy-sell-trade groups for stoves in good conditions. Most of these were in the $300-$600 range with a few outliers on either side.
Concern #4: Picking a Stove
Our ‘stove guy’ gave us the helpful tip that the most expensive part to fix on an old stove is actually the enamel, because you really can’t touch up spots- you have to have the entire stove re-coated. The second most expensive part to fix is the valve that tells the stove how to regulate the gas (more gas needed to warm it up, less gas as it reaches the set temp, etc.).
The enamel was very easy to assess; the valve was tricky because most craigslist sellers had these sitting in garages or storage units with no way to hook up to gas and test. In the end, we found a gorgeous baby blue stove on Craigslist for $400
and I didn't care if any part of it worked because it was so beautiful with great looking enamel (just a few small spots that add to the character) and a valve that we later learned doesn't work worth a darn. Oh well. Because it retains heat fairly well, once we get it to the set temperature we just turn it way down and it stays pretty warm. We may shell out $400 for a new valve one day (Stove Guy assures us we could swap it ourselves), but that will probably wait until I take up a career in baking never.