Thursday, February 27, 2014

Stove the Fourth. Your response required.

I want to start out by saying that this is not okay, and I know that it's not okay. 

You should not do what I have done. 

I don't know exactly what I did that I shouldn't have done, mind you, but I am certain that you should not do it.  And that I should not have.  And I will try very hard not to do it again. 

In case you have not memorized every word I have written about houses (and also read between the lines, because sometimes I forget to clarify things I think I have explained), when we moved into our place it had a gas stove from the 1970s that was ugly and whose oven did not work (though the broiler did).  We survived several months of not getting to eat frozen pizza or lasagna (except the small boxes) and I broiled more than usual, which I'm sure improved my cooking skills and imagination.  I was not troubled by the stove.  I concluded, on the positive side, that it meant I could have a gas stove; and, on the negative side, that I was going to need to replace a stove.  I had never replaced a stove (let alone a gas stove) before, but the average American household seems to do so about every six months, and I'm more than usually resourceful, so I was untroubled. 

This was Stove the First:

You will observe that the 1970s stove matched the 1970s cabinets, which I would like to stress were even uglier up close than they appear here. 

I decided that the thing to anchor my (planned) historically-semi-appropriate vintage kitchen renovation was a vintage stove.  This mania was probably touched off by what I like to call The Stove, which I first saw on a This Old House online feature before I had ever paid any attention to vintage stoves - so, yes, it must have started the mania.  It looked like this:

I think we can all agree that it is the most beautiful stove in the history of stoves.  (I am not interested in any silly comments about Vikings, and La Cornue makes some very nice products, but they do not measure up.  I would say Aga has some close runners-up.)  However, copper Chambers Model C stoves are few and far between (not many were even made).  Those that do exist tend to be (a) very far away from me (b) in significant disrepair and (c) quite expensive - and, yes, I do mean that they are all of those things.  Of course I looked - exhaustively.  So eventually I began examining other Chambers stoves.  All of them are very handsome.  I thought a white one might also be OK (though I really liked the colored ones - which, again, are more expensive).  Then I started pondering oven size.  I decided that if I were going to get a mid-century stove, which tend to have smaller ovens, I would need a double-oven model, for practicality's sake.  Because practicality was obviously driving the bus at this point. 

In further pursuit of my thorough-going program of practicality, I decided that I should buy a vintage stove that was in working condition, so that I would have to iron out only minor snags (slightly clogged burners, cleaning, that sort of thing), and not take on entire new areas of endeavor, such as, "How does a vintage gas stove oven burner ignite, anyway?" 

By that point I was shopping for what we might call a specialty item, and it was going to take me some time to find it.  Because, of course, I also insist upon bargains (were money no object, I could simply buy a refurbished vintage stove in immaculate working order and have it shipped halfway across the country, for $5000-$10,000 total.  Given that I was planning to remodel the kitchen myself, it seems self-evident that this was not in the budget).  I followed my usual meticulous craigslisting habits, and gained what I considered a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the local market for vintage stoves.  When I saw a 1952 Wedgewood double-oven variety for sale a mere two hours from my house for $600, I concluded it was the one.  First, I bargained the seller down to $500 (what I had concluded was a very good price for a working or mostly-working double-oven vintage stove), and then I went to get the stove. 

My first really large error - and it's fair to say that by this point in the narration, there had been several - was assuming that the seller was telling any semblance of the truth when he said that when he bought the stove, several years previously, it had been working.  It is, of course, possible that this is true, but even if so, it is of relatively little relevance to me.  He told me that he had planned to use the stove as a source of scrap parts for the other (presumably nicer) Wedgewood stove he was refinishing, although he turned out not to need any parts.  Even assuming he was entirely honest (which would be foolhardy), what if he took out some small but essential part and totally forgot about it?  That wouldn't be that hard to do.  So I brought home a 400-pound monster of a stove that I had never seen working, didn't know how to fix, and didn't know how to install.  I caught a break when my plumbers agreed to move and install it for free, and by the way disposed of the old one for me without even asking (those guys are pretty awesome), but that is really where my problems began. 

I remain proud that I was able to get the four top burners, the griddle, and the oven pilot lights working.  A lot of cleaning and polishing were needed just for that.  But getting the ovens' main burners to light, though really just the last step of the journey, proved more than I could do.  I recognize this is a bad advertisement for Stove the Second (which is still for sale!), but I started the process with zero knowledge and there are plenty of people out there who understand these things better.  I am convinced that somebody in the area could get that thing into good working order with relatively little trouble.  I just poured enough blood, sweat, and tears (literally, in all cases) into it to know that that person isn't me.  Which is tragic, because Stove the Second is a beauty:

In that picture, it is hooked up the gas in my kitchen.  In between episodes of shutting off the gas, pulling up the top plate, and taking apart the interior gas lines to see whether there was something blocking gas flow to the oven burners, we used it to cook plenty of food, including a brunch for 12 in one case.  (Though we never got around to using that awesome griddle.)  So I can attest that it performs quite well. 

I didn't give up on Stove the Second until I had reached the point of total exhaustion with the project.  By then, although (as noted) we had been using it for some time, I was not in the mood for a leisurely process of looking for a replacement.  I wanted a fully-functioning stove immediately.  I began combing craigslist, but wasn't 100% sold on anything I found.  The very next weekend, on a trip to my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, I noticed a stove.  It was on sale, and, because it was missing two burner caps (without which the burners do not function - but they are inexpensive to replace), it was just $170.  Knowing I wouldn't be able to hook it up to a gas line to test it before purchasing it, and having had my fill of stove repairs for a lifetime, I cornered a ReStore volunteer and demanded to know whether it worked.  The canny volunteer would make no representations, noting only that I was entitled to bring it back for a full refund within 7 days.  (This sounded a lot better at the time than it turned out to be, as I shall explain.) 

But I pressed on.  "Yes, but when you take them, do you accept ones that aren't working?  Do you ask whether they're working?  What were you told about this one?"  The employee stated that, yes, they make sure to take only fully-functioning appliances.  I decided that I would have to accept this (how else would I secure to myself the great discounts available from second-hand appliance purchases that everyone else is always bragging about on the internet?).  I got the stove home, and even into my house (with the entirely cheerless help of my husband, who had by this point sacrificed more of his free time and well-being in the pursuit of stoves than he had any desire to).  And then my troubles began in earnest.  It took me three days to get a plumber to show up and hook up the stove; most of my calls to local plumbers to inquire about this service were not answered at all.  And the lowest quote I got for the hook-up fee was $225.  This meant that, even if the stove turned out not to be working, it would be totally infeasible for me to return it to the store.  It would cost me less to simply throw it away. 

But I didn't throw it away.  No, I built cabinets around it, giving it pride of place as Stove the Third:

(There it is, in the middle of the kitchen renovation process.)  During the ensuing months, I slowly amassed some necessary replacement parts, including the two missing burner caps and an oven light bulb.  (I was confused when, even after the replacement of the bulb and a run of the self-cleaning cycle, I could not see through the window in the door.  I ultimately realized that there was a very significant amount of grime on the inside of the door glass.)  I also figured out that the ignitor and burner ring on the right front burner were broken, and purchased a replacement ignitor.  What I was not able to do was get off the twelve tiny, hateful hex screws that held down the top piece, making it a "sealed burner" range.  (I am not impressed with these sealed burner ranges.)  So, that burner required a match to light.  I also started to realize that while the broiler would appear to turn on, it would not actually broil anything.  On one occasion, I left raw chicken under there for half an hour and returned to find it totally unaltered. 

I was also starting to conclude that while I liked the kitchen on the whole, two particular views (one being the wall with the coffee cupboard, which I mentioned previously and have been working on) were just not up to scratch aesthetically.  This is working, for me:

OK, the picture is crap (those colors are not nearly that bright, among other issues), but the actual wall is good.  This is not working:

And I was thinking a very-modern-looking stove might be the problem.  But before I could address myself to aesthetics, I had bigger fish to fry. 

By this point, I had realized that the working, 7-day warranted range I had purchased was (a) not working and (b) worth negative dollars: I had gone in the hole more than double the purchase price of the item for the privilege of finding out that it was significantly non-functioning.  And by the way, stoves are not free to throw out, so there's the disposal cost, too.  To say nothing of unhooking it from the gas line.  Following this experience, I have a significant degree of disenchantment with the ReStore.  While their donations go to a laudable cause, I don't believe it's appropriate for them to extract donations by deception, whether deliberately or negligently.  And while I can take the $395 hit for a $170 stove that isn't worth $17 (but don't enjoy it at all), there are people buying stoves there who cannot afford to learn the "7-day warranty isn't worth the paper it isn't printed on" lesson the hard way. 

But here was where the other part of my brilliant strategy came in: by buying a contemporary stove (built in 2003, as I later learned), I would ensure that both parts and repairmen were plentifully available nearby (as they are not for my 1952 Wedgewood).  So I contacted a local repairman who came recommended, and got a quote for three projects: replacing the ignitor on the stove burner (which I had the replacement part for, but couldn't get to); fixing the broiler; and replacing the inner door glass (which was fine when I bought the stove, but which at some point I apparently broke - don't know how).  He came and took a look at it, and quoted me $400 to do these things.  So, now I was looking at $800 total, to get myself to a $170 stove.  Not exactly what I had in mind.  I decided that I would replace the door glass myself, thereby saving the labor on that repair.  So I called my trusty local appliance parts store, gave them my model number, and ordered the inner-most glass.  It arrived promptly from the manufacturer, expertly packaged, and then I set about several days of trying to get excessively-soft, instantly-stripped screws off of the various inner workings of the door so I could put the new glass in. 

In the process, I learned that the door to Stove the Third actually has four pieces of glass.  The largest is the outermost one (it's black glass, not black metal).  The innermost one was cracked.  And there are two others in between, really for no reason that I can fathom.  Only the first and last seem important.  After finally getting the last few screws off and trying the replacement glass in the mounting hardware, I realized the manufacturer had sent the wrong glass.  It was too big to fit the brackets, by a significant amount.  I called the appliance part store and told them I had a problem.  They really are awesome to deal with, and they offered to order me all the pieces of glass that go with that model (except the huge one, which I could logically eliminate), so that I could come to the store, measure all of them, give them the wrong-sized one I had ordered earlier, and go home with the one I needed.  I was now in my third week of trying to replace a stupid piece of glass, but the end was in sight.  I looked forward to Saturday, when my oven door would no longer be in pieces all over my kitchen floor.  So I came with my original glass and my tape measure to the appliance parts store in an excellent mood.  Imagine my disappointment when I learned that all three of the pieces of glass the manufacturer provides for the model are the wrong size. 

In bewilderment, I took my glass home.  I hadn't wanted to do this, because I didn't want to screw it up and be out $45 (tempered glass is expensive!), but with no other options, I decided I would have to cut the glass.  Here is another definite mistake: I should have given the wrong-sized part back to the store, and asked for my money back.  As you will soon see.  So I went home, measured my glass meticulously, scored it on both sides with a glass cutter, put the scored edge along the edge of my granite countertop, braced the top with a book, and tapped gently on the overhanging glass.  Nothing.  I tapped harder.  Nothing.  I smacked.  Still nothing.  At that point, well beyond the capacity for decorum, I pounded on the edge of the glass with my closed fist.  It didn't budge.  And it was only then that I googled "how to cut tempered glass," and learned something that would have saved me $45.  Namely:

You can't cut tempered glass.  I promise.  There is no tool, no method that will accomplish this.  I did find one delightful tutorial that instructed me to put the glass in a water bath and set it in my kiln for nine hours.  Then it would be un-tempered and could be easily cut, and then re-tempered (in the kiln, of course).  Very cute.  I believed there must be some way around this ("LASERS!" promised some wag on the internet), and called a couple of glass shops, who politely laughed at me.  Then I decided to use the diamond blade I had used to cut my granite countertop, because either I was going to destroy the glass or have to store it somewhere.  Ten minutes of prep and ten seconds of sawing later, it was in 700 pieces on my work table, just like the glass shop guy said it would be.  So now I won't have to worry about storing it. 

I was convinced I must have missed something.  I called the appliance part store and DOUBLE-checked the model number they had used in ordering the parts.  It was the right model.  They had also showed me the manufacturer's diagram of the stove, so I could see that they had ordered the correct part the first time (they had).  It occurred to me that I might have been spared this headache had I just paid a professional to replace the glass, but of course, he would have to deal with the same manufacturer that couldn't send me the right piece of glass.  So in fact, by being cheap (on this specific occasion), I had incurred significant headache, and some cost, but spared myself a good deal more. 

I put the oven door back together without the glass, realizing as I assembled it that this was the only glass of the included pieces that formed an airtight seal with the door.  I had a feeling about what that would imply, and fired up the oven right away to test my theory on a 450-degree bread-baking run.  By the time the oven was up to temperature, the glass was hot enough to give a decent burn to anyone who left his hand on it.  No adult would (your hands don't even comfortably reach that low), but if we had toddlers, they would be in significant danger.  So would the toddlers of anyone who bought the house.  Or those of any friends who visited.  Also, it would be unspeakably awful to use such an oven in the miserable DC summer, and I have promised to bake a dozen (small) cakes for a wedding in June.  So it was then that I knew it was time for Stove the Fourth. 

The problem is - well, the problem is obvious.  Some people spend thousands of dollars on appliances because they haven't the imagination or the courage to search for, learn about, travel to, transport, move, hook up, or repair second-hand ones (let alone vintage ones).  I have no such deficits; indeed, as the soon-to-be owner of four stoves in three years, I must accept that I have crossed from courage through foolhardiness and straight into stupidity.  (Though I would like to note that plenty of people have done what I have done with 100% success rates; where I've had two defective and [to me] irreparable stoves in a row, others have spent less, attempted more, and come up roses.  Perhaps stoves are simply my nemesis.  Though I've never had a problem with one before this.) 

I haven't decided what I want in a stove this time.  OK, that's not true.  I want the following things:

(1) I want it to be beautiful, and of course match my vintage kitchen. 
(2) I want it to have room for all the things I want to cook and bake.  At the same time. 
(3) I want it to fit in the 30" spot I currently have - although I will knock out the adjacent cabinet to make room if it's very pretty. 
(4) I want it to be either a perfect vintage piece or a modern piece that will be considered on-trend and worth keeping at the time we sell our house, although I do not know when that will be.  Of course, really, I want it to be both. 
(5) I want it to be in absolutely perfect working order and remain that way forever. 
(6) I do not want to have to travel far to get it, or find people to carry it, unless it is practically free and also totally magnificent. 
(7) I want it to be affordable.  I haven't decided what exactly that means, but it definitely means that 100% of the associated costs (including disposal of Stove the Third) would be under $1000, and probably under $500. 

That is obviously impossible (even if you don't consider the last point).  There is no such stove.  Then I was reading Kate's round-up this week and I saw it:

Zoom in.  It's worth it.  You need to look.  It's an ILVE, by the way (I had never heard of the brand).  Obviously it is perfect. Vintage and modern. Subtle but unusual.   Modest in scale, but with great upper burners and a cookie oven.  Since the internet is always telling me how Americans are such excessive consumers of resources and Europeans are contented with modest-scaled stoves, and with not remodeling their living spaces every ten minutes, I speculated that it would be affordable, and the only major expense would be transatlantic shipping, which I could finesse somehow. 


The double-oven variety doesn't seem to be sold in the US (that I could find), but the single-oven version of the one above is $6000.  So presumably the double-oven clocks in somewhere around $10,000.  That's more than my car. 

I await solutions.  You may leave them in the comments, or email me directly.  (And I am already in therapy, so don't bother with that one.) 


  1. You've got quite the list and you have been through many stoves...I don't have any advice...sorry but the one you want sounds delightful and expensive. Yikes. Someday...when I have a bigger kitchen I would like one of those big six burner chef stoves...a neighbor has one...It is amazing. Not vintage at all but amazing.

  2. not sure where you live but this looks cool:

    seems like it's still installed at the house so you might be able to test it first

    also my grandparents had a white fridge they made black with some kind of special paint ... I can't tell that it used to be white at all and I'm pretty picky about that. Of course that is probably vintage stove blasphemy to suggest. ;)

    1. That is really a lovely stove. And it sounds like it's in working order! It probably doesn't fulfill my oven capacity or driving distance criteria, but if I had gotten my hands on that thing at the start of this debacle, I could have spared myself stove #3 and stove #4. Sigh.

  3. I'm a terrible shopper so no help here except that I just love Stove the Second. It sounds like maybe a brand new stove might tick most of your must haves. Just googling "vintage looking new appliances" came up with this:

    Or ebay? Keep us updated on your decision :)

    1. This is very important information! I'm familiar with retro-design stoves, but the mid-century styles from Elmira (Northstar) and Big Chill start at $4300. Ouch! I didn't know GE was getting into that game, and I shall be checking this out post-haste.