Wednesday, March 5, 2014

the litany of stoves

DID YOU KNOW THAT WARREN G. HARDING ONCE LOST SOME OF THE WHITE HOUSE CHINA IN A POKER GAME?! 

I just learned this from Snapple.  My first reaction is - that is almost certainly a violation of contract and fiscal law, although of course the heads of executive agencies can't have more authority to obligate federal resources than the president...hmm.  My second reaction is, of course, that he's a huge jerk.  I bet that was awesome china.  And now I'd like to see it. 

But instead, I need to look at stoves.  First of all, let's refresh everyone's memory.  Here is the Stove of All Stoves:



It is not available.  (It dates from the 1950s.  Few exist.  Those that do don't work.  Those that do are not affordable.)  Then there is the amazing Ilve stove I found on teh internets:


Which, I think we agreed, would cost around $10,000 (for the double-oven version - assuming that is available in America).  Then I listed some criteria.  I've thought about my criteria more, and decided to come up with some that are more concrete.  Assuming you're paying close attention (yes, I realize that no one is), these will be even less helpful than the previous set, although those were even more subjective:
  1. Functional Criteria
    1. Cooking things
      1. Large burner grates are good (continuous grate surface best)
      2. Larger oven is better (5 cubic feet would be awesome)
      3. High-BTU burners are nice, though probably not necessary*
      4. Two ovens would allow two temperatures at once; broiler drawer almost as good 
      5. No serious design defects 
    2. Surviving the climate
      1. If I could have a principal functional criterion, it would be insulation (i.e., heat retention). For some reason, though everyone and his brother reviews stoves, nobody analyzes this
      2. Since I can't have that criterion, I would like two ovens, so I could bake pizza or cookies or bread in the summer without heating up a big oven 
    3. Other
      1. Must self-clean
  2. Aesthetic Criteria
    1. Matching my kitchen
      1. 30" wide, ideally
      2. Color should coordinate (more or less) with gray-blue lower cabinets
      3. Nothing excessively modern
      4. Preferably looks a little unusual
    2. Selling the house
      1. Ideally, is not precisely off-trend whenever we decide to sell
      2. On-trend would be handy, too
      3. Does not look cheap or throw-away
  3. Price (obvious)
That's all very enlightening, isn't it?  Oh, and in reference to high-BTU burners:

*I have never, to my knowledge, had a stove with a special high-BTU or low-BTU burner (although Stove the Second had a magical simmer/high flame feature that was awesome, and I have used that).  But I do low-temperature simmering operations (in my case, heating custard for ice cream.  Pace Consumer Reports, I wouldn't melt chocolate directly in a metal pot.  Does anyone do that?).  And I automatically put that custard pot on the right front burner.  When I'm simmering something that is done when it produces teeny bubbles and a faint cloud of steam, and that curdles if overcooked, I want it right under my nose - and apparently, I also want it next to my dominant hand, so I can whisk it off the heat that much faster.  Conversely, when I am boiling an enormous pot of water for - let's see, last time it was mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, I believe - I set it all the way at the back of the stove.  Because my enormous stock pot is, well, enormous.  It would hang over the front of the stove; if someone bumped into a huge hot pot walking by, it could cause injury.  It's also tall enough to block my view of things on the rear burners, if it were in front.  I haven't developed these habits out of some weird theory.  I do these things automatically because I can't imagine working any other way.  And I have watched other people boiling vast pots of water - they put them at the back of the stove, too.  (I haven't watched anyone else simmer custard that I can remember.)  But those of you who have not shopped for a stove recently may be surprised to hear that all the different manufacturers have one thing in common: they put the highest-BTU burner in the front, and the simmer burner in the back.  That's not just less functional; I think it may be dangerous.  So that's what I think of that. 

Is it predictable to those reading that in practice, my decision-making is dominated by two criteria: price (OK, yes, that was predictable) and "preferably looks a little unusual"?  I want the two ovens, but they drive up the price and narrow my options a lot, so I think I'm willing to let them go.  If I do have just one oven, it has to be pretty big.  I tried to make my DH look at stove photos with me last night, and after trying hard to communicate non-verbally that he is not interested in stove photos, he started looking over my shoulder and agreed that we should probably have a stove that's a little bit funky.  Because he is awesome (i.e., is willing to indulge me).  But which stove? 

Now I treat you to photos of stoves I have considered, and share my headache with you.  First, as we know, I think the Ilve above is awesome.  Ilve ranges also come in this style:


Also breathtaking.  And $6448, if you're curious.  It may also lack a self-cleaning feature, but at that price range I suppose the point is academic.

Then there's the Elmira 1890s-style range (perfect for my 1894 house, no?):


The base price for the 30" gas stove is $6295.  (A dual-fuel version would actually be $5795 - a considerable savings - but I'd eat up most of that money having a high-amp outlet installed for the stove.  In the imaginary world where I am spending $6k on a stove, I mean.)  There's one for sale on my local craigslist:


Evidently it includes some features beyond the base model (I recognize some extra chrome trim-work and that decorative back plate from the catalog's upgrade section), because the seller claims it cost $8900 originally.  Whether this is true or not, it is now offered, used, for $4500.  I think not.

Then there's the mid-century reproduction avenue.  (For those having trouble keeping this straight, I own a real mid-century stove whose ovens I cannot get to work.  The picture immediately above is a reproduction of stoves made in the 1890s, though real stoves from that era [which can still be purchased] were wood-burning or sometimes coal-burning.  And there are also companies that sell brand-new stoves that are reproductions of mid-twentieth-century style.)  Elmira actually has a division that makes these, called Northstar.  They're quite nice-looking:


And they come in fun colors (plus white).  The base model there is $4300.  Moving right along...another company, Big Chill, also makes mid-century reproduction ranges:


That's about $4300, too.  (And I think I like the look of the Big Chill version better.  Plus it comes in buttercup yellow, which could conceivably coordinate with my kitchen walls.  Another point that's totally academic.)

Then Made for Another World offered some priceless information: GE is now making a retro-inspired line of appliances, called "GE Artistry."  Apparently this is an effort at market differentiation, as it's at a fairly introductory level, price- and features-wise.  It comes in black and white, and looks like this:


The gas stove has an MSRP of $649, but seems to sell in the high $500s - and through today, it's on sale at Home Depot for $539.  (As you know, Home Depot does not pay me to say things, and, indeed, doesn't know I exist.  I'm just letting other midnight stove-shoppers know.)  This being the first option I've shown that dwells in the land of reality, I have many thoughts.  I like the styling.  I especially like that there's style differentiation happening at a more introductory price point.  It makes no sense that (assuming the features themselves are not costly) options start to appear only at high price points.  If I have 70 options for the print on my Kleenex box, why can't I decide what color stove handle I would like when I'm spending $500-$1000?  So while I think GE's "marketing to millenials" approach may be misguided as such, I like what they're doing here in general.  And it's around what I'm looking to spend.  On the other hand (because I can't be satisfied), I'm a little disappointed by the extreme no-frills-ness.  I don't share some reviewers' concerns with the lack of electronic oven programming, for example (that's less stuff to break, and I can buy a timer cheaply), but I don't love the tiny burner grates, and I am really not enthused about the lack of a self-cleaning feature.

Then I wander into the mental morass of whether I want to go with stainless steel (presently I have a stainless steel countertop microwave and a stainless steel dishwasher.  The dishwasher is fine but not excellent; the microwave is showing its age.  The refrigerator is white, but that's in the pantry.  I actually like the Artistry dishwasher and fridge more than the stove, design-wise, and if I needed to replace the dishwasher or fridge, I would be interested in replacing with something like that.  But I'm not hoping to have all my other appliances fail on me.  And so keeping the stainless look consistent in the kitchen itself would be intelligent.  Unless stainless suddenly experiences a huge backlash of hatred, which I have been predicting for years now, but which is stubbornly not happening.  I know I am making this very difficult, but in my mind, I'm trying to be prudent).  Having failed to resolve that issue, we move on...

For about the same price as the Artistry stove (with major footnotes on delivery and installation costs), I could get a number of normal contemporary stoves from the Sears outlet (which I recommend checking out, online or in person.  Lots of options there.  Note that I have not purchased any of them to date).  So, for example, there's this:


It has the functional features I want.  It starts at $719 for a refurbished or floor model - but that's without delivery or (significantly) installation.  It's nice-looking, but it's, well, a bit boring for my kitchen.  In my obviously not at all humble opinion.  But I don't think my concerns are totally delusional - I think Stove the Third, which is also fairly typical/modern, is a visual blight on that wall of the kitchen (I could possibly be overreacting).  So I don't want to make that mistake again.  Then there's this:


It starts at $649.  Again, good on function.  On the plus side, it's white, which I consider more traditional than stainless; and it avoids that "I'm from the future!" look.  On the other hand, I think it looks dated.  (Do I sound crazy yet?)  To my way of thinking, retro doesn't look dated, because it isn't trying to be current.  But things that are trying to look current and failing - those look dated.  This makes sense in my head.  So, then, there's this stove:


Once again, I approve of its functional characteristics.  It starts at $805.  Design-wise, however, I would say it reads, "I'm from the future.  GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"  It would look extremely bizarre in my kitchen.  There are other double-oven options (nothing I'm in love with), but the prices just climb from there.  So then I looked at single-oven stoves.  First I found this:


It starts at $442.  And I wanted to love it (I'm not 100% sold on the strictly-horizontal grate design, but it has an attractive simplicity, and I could picture swapping out the oven door handle for something a little fancier - maybe after the fashion of the Ilve), but the reviews made clear that there are issues with moisture from the oven seeping inside the door glass and making a mess.  And I have had my absolute fill of oven-door-glass issues; I would actually prefer an oven without any window, all other things being equal.  So that was a no.  And then I found this:


It starts at $640.  And of course, it also doesn't fulfill my double-oven criterion.  But, though I found this impossible to explain to my DH, I thought it won overwhelmingly on design.  It did what I assumed impossible - it looked very contemporary (I can't imagine anyone in five years thinking it looks dated), and it looked retro.  I'm not on crack here, really.  Check this out:


That's a vintage stove.  You see what I mean?  (My DH, only slightly persuaded by this, wanted to know why I didn't buy that one.  "Because it's not for sale, obviously," I said.  "That's a picture of somebody's kitchen."  Then I opened the page and realized that that was a sales photo.  The stove is actually vintage, apparently actually working, and sold for $2700.  It's 36" wide, though, so I don't have to cry over the sale or the price, because it wouldn't fit in my kitchen...we'll move on.)

So then my DH wanted to know what other cool-looking stove options were out there, and I was disoriented.  Quick, tell me what you mean specifically, or I will answer that question completely.  Trust me, that is not what you want.  I decided to take him on a quick survey of the internet.  I showed him the blue Ilve above, and he thought it was awesome.  This suggests that I am not merely swayed by the amount of stove-marketing I've endured (or the knowledge of its price, which I didn't tell him at first): it really is objectively lovely.  I also showed him what I've been toying with as the sensible option:


It starts at $660 (though yesterday I think they had one in the $400s.  They probably will again; it's the outlet).  It's GE's "slate" line, which strikes me as a good strategic choice.  It would go well (I suspect) with my cabinet color.  It would mollify the stainless crowd, I think, and yet (not being stainless) might withstand a future anti-stainless backlash.  And, it's unusual.  I like unusual.  I also picked that one over the more contemporary-looking slate one with the much bigger oven window because (as noted) I do not like oven door glass, and I think this one, which has more simple lines, almost looks just a little retro.  My DH, however, saw nothing special about it.  (That doesn't mean I won't buy it anyway.  I'd just have to decide that I'm totally in love with it.)

Then I tried to find some colored-enamel Bluestar ranges to show him something between the discounted GE and the crazy-expensive Ilve, and realized that the TV shows that claim Bluestar is an affordable pro-range-style option are simply lying (some actual professional ranges cost less).  However, I also learned that Bluestar makes this:



I know it looks dull there, but other photos confirm that the copper is shiny.  The 30" model starts at $6339.  Why is that starting to sound reasonable?  And, while we're on our non-reality tour, we have to see what La Cornue is offering:


Ah, yes.  The 30" starts at $21,000.  Very nice.  But I've always preferred the Aga...


That's the 36".  It also comes in 24", but I'm having trouble finding a 30".  I know this is the modern-adaptation one, not the original with the three different fixed-temperature ovens that are always on, but still, I'm quite surprised to see it's a mere $5700!  Oh, here's the one with the pre-set temperatures:



Is that gorgeous, or what?  It's 39" wide, and $15,000.  But for that price, you not only get those magnificent good looks (that color is "British racing green"), but near-magical cooking powers: "Because there are no elements or flames, all oven space can be used for cooking. The design allows you to grill at the top of the roasting oven, bake in the middle, and fry on the floor...all while simmering, boiling, or toasting on the hotplates!"  I don't even know what that means.  But I'm pretty sure La Cornue doesn't offer it.

Would you believe I actually negotiated a discount with the seller and ordered something?  Can you guess which one?  What would you choose?

Because your help is still needed.  Although I thought I had left plenty of room, after all the costs added up, installation would have exceeded my price ceiling, so I abandoned the order at the last minute.  The search for Stove the Fourth continues.

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