Over the next few months, we are going to be remodeling our kitchen. Or, as I now like to think of it, “restoring” the kitchen.
As I’ve mentioned before, our home was built in 1945. Before we bought it, everything was gutted and replaced with “new things” (i.e.- cheapest things from Home Depot) in order to make it look shiny and new to sell. It looked like almost every other rental I had lived in (except awful poorly laid and grouted tile counters instead of awful laminate, which after having these tile counters, its amazing to to think laminate was better. Anyways…). While it is all still relatively new, its not functional for someone who uses the kitchen so much (there is only ONE ceiling boob light, NO stacks of drawers, I could go on…) and there is nothing special about it.
The past few months have been spent going over details and planning for an upcoming remodel. We’ve secured an equity line, our awesome contractor has taken lots of measurements, I’ve gotten bids, mapped out the floor plan, spent hours on online for inspirations, blah bitty blah blah…. After spending probably too many afternoons at the local appliance place, we were dead set on getting a 6-burner Wolf. We based our budget around it, and planned all the surrounding cabinets and counters around it. It was going to be the “one big thing” of the kitchen. While our current stove isn’t bad, there is nothing special about it. Its the cheapest gas stove that they sell at Home Depot. The crappy “vent/microwave” that sits above it makes it so that I can’t fit my canning pot on the back burner, highly inconvenient when I’m trying to process jam or tomatoes. A 36″ range would be large enough for both my canning pots (get this- AT THE SAME TIME!), and the commercial ranges are significantly simpler and have less technology (ie- have less stuff to go wrong) than the lower priced 5-burners and new standard stoves.
But then, the other weekend, I was pursuing cragislist, and saw a listing for an O’Keefe & Merritt stove.
My heart literally started to beat faster. Suddenly I realized that I didn’t want to just replace the cheap Home Depot crap with other new shiny things, I really want to restore character back to the house. While the mid-century modern aesthetic isn’t my style, I’d love to achieve a vintage/farmhouse/eclectic vibe. I want to create a warm, beautiful and hardworking kitchen. And the heart of the kitchen is always the stove. I got that feeling of nervousness and giddy glee that only happens when you want something REALLY REALLY bad but there is a chance it won’t happen. This stove looked like it was in good condition, the ad claimed that it was in working order. I made the dear husband pause the movie we were watching and word vomited all the reasons why this stove would be amazing and should I email and see if its still available.
The reason I was so excited is because I LOVE vintage stoves. Over half of the kitchens on my Pinterest have a vintage stove in them. Classic to the style of the 50′s, with clean white enameled porcelain and shiny chrome, I think they are just beautiful. If your not familiar with vintage stoves- here is a quick run down of why they are awesome: There is no electronic circuitry to break or replace, something almost unheard of these days in modern appliances. The stove doesn’t need to have electricity to run. If the power goes out, you can still use both the stove and the oven. The functions are basic- you can take apart pretty much every single part with just a screwdriver to clean or repair it. You can adjust the burners down so that you can get an uber low simmer, and the ovens are double walled and keep consistent heat. Along with most other things made “back in the day”, they are well built and made to last. To this day, these stoves are still considered one of the best quality ranges.
O’Keefe & Merritt’s were built in Los Angeles until the company was bought in the early 70′s, so they are relatively easy to find in my part of the world. The 40′s and 50′s look similar to the classic cars of the time- with rounded corners and the chrome stylings. The ones from the 60′s changed with the style times and got a bit more boxy. There are quite a few places that sell them refinished and working- but at a price that rivals the Wolf or Viking ranges. They pop-up on craigslist now and then, but almost always need work. Needless to say, these stoves are a beast and they are a bitch to move. Long before we owned a house, I’d casually check craigslist and we had looked at one before, but it was missing parts and there only way to get it out of the house was though the living room, down back stairs, and though the back yard. Obviously, we didn’t take that one.
Old stoves like this hold a soft spot in my heart because I had one growing up. While I’m probably romanticizing my childhood in my head, I’m very nostalgic for how I grew up. Until I was 18 and moved into the dorms at UCSC, I lived in an A-frame redwood house, that my grandpa built from redwood my dad fell and bartered to have milled. We had no electricity or other city services, and all our appliances where old ones that had been converted to run propane. Water was pumped once a week by a generator into a tank and gravity feed down into the house. The O’Keefe & Merritt stood right next to a 1950′s Servel refrigerator. Every morning for school I would come downstairs and get ready by candle while Mom made toast in the toast pan that perpetually sat on the back burner. Every evening, my mom would make dinner and have it ready for me and dad by 6:00. On this stove, I learned how to bake cookies, make spaghetti carbanara and could cook up a mean pot of rice. Looking back, I view my childhood as rural and simple (although I know that it was difficult for my mom), and now I strive for more simplicity in my life. I feel that having a stove like in my own home helps replicates my childhood home.
When the guy contacted me back the next morning and said it was available, I was ecstatic. After a more detailed conversation, it turns out that the oven would light, but not stay on. The burners, including the griddle, all worked great. There was only 4 stairs to move it down. Matt went to go look at the condition while I was at home and did some furious research on repairs and found someone in the area who worked on vintage stove. My dad did miscellaneous repairs to ours, so I called him to ask if he ever had to fix the oven. He said no, but reminded me that it was easy to fix the problems he had. The appliance guy who specializes in vintage stoves called me back and wouldn’t give me a price over the phone but said it “didn’t sound to bad”. My mom called me and reminded me that she hated ours because the oven wasn’t big enough for when she cooked the Thanksgiving meal. Matt and I had long conversation about our baking lifestyle and if the smaller oven, the main drawback to these old stoves and apparently my mom’s pet peeve, would work for us.
We decided to get it. I called up our friend Rick to recruit some help to move it. With a rented appliance dolly, Rick’s motorcycle ramps, assorted tie-downs and come-alongs, they managed to get it from the original house, on the back of the truck, and into our house. I’m pretty much useless when it comes to heavy things, so did a great job of being the cheerleader.
The appliance guy was able to come out last weekend, so we temporarily pulled our current stove out, hooked up the O’Keefe & Merritt. Mark, from Grift’s Appliances, hooked it up to the gas then took things apart, tested things, and adjusted things. The hinge on the oven door was broken so he used miscellaneous metal bits to repair that. There was nothing wrong with oven, the pilot just had to be pivoted to be aligned with the gas pipe. Mark showed us how to adjust the air flow for the stove burners, and how to take apart everything to be cleaned. He also took apart the knobs and oiled the bits that regulate the gas flow. He told us that the knobs we had were actually Westwood, and that the bottom oven plate was from a different model- because parts are hard to find, pieced together parts is something that is common on old stoves. Reminds me of my dad’s old trucks that he’s rebuilt- and one more reason to not throw anything away! He was here for over an hour, charged us only $120, then gave us his cell phone and email in case we had other questions on how to do something later. He said he probably wouldn’t see is for 10 years or so.
For now, the stove is just hanging out in the kitchen next to the kitchen table. While we remodel, it will get pushed into the living room until it can be installed into its permanent place and be the star of my kitchen. Now at a total of $620, plus some beer and gas money, we are well below our original stove budget. Besides, I never was comfortable with spending 30% of our equity line on a new stove!