03 December 2009

Who says you need a huge refrigerator?

I went to a dinner party last night at my old friend Keith's. Keith lives in a recently renovated 1930s bungalow in a historic part of Tampa. He did a masterful job with his home. Despite the fact that it's a historic structure, he stayed true to his modern/ eclectic tastes while still honoring the architecture he had to work with. He did everything perfectly. The scale is right, the aesthetics are right and his use of the existing structure is spot on. Bravo Keith.

When I walked into his kitchen for the first time tonight I saw immediately that he had a suite of appliances by Fisher & Paykel. Again, bravo. He used two separate drawer dishwashers, a 36" gas cooktop, an under cabinet hood, a wall oven and a refrigerator. The refrigerator was the last thing I noticed and I stopped talking when it sunk in what he'd bought.

This is the fridge. It's Fisher & Paykel's 17 cubic foot counter depth. It's width is 31-3/8" and it's height is 66-3/4" and by American standards, it's a small fridge. He enclosed that small fridge with cabinetry on both sides which makes him stuck with that size appliance for life.

I am hardwired to specify at least a 36" wide and 72" tall refrigerator in every kitchen I design. I buy the story  that everybody needs a large refrigerator so thoroughly that even when I don't have a large refrigerator to work around, I leave room for one. I mean, doesn't everybody need at least 25 cubic feet?

So I asked him why he bought such a small fridge. He said, "Because that's all I needed."

Of course. You know, I don't think I've ever asked someone how big an appliance he needs. I automatically specify them to be as big as the space and the budget allow. Keith lives by himself in a small bungalow and his kitchen is a small galley. He grocery shops a couple times a week and he really doesn't need a big fridge.

I spend a lot of my working life helping people figure out the difference between their wants and their needs. Last night I learned that I have been blind to a whole category all this time. So really, how big an appliance to you need?


  1. I love the "built in" kitchens in Germany. My in-laws have an awesome fridge that looks like a cabinet. But you open it, and voila! A fridge.

    But yes, they're built in, and you can't remove them or change the size without extensive renovation (and they're typically small)

    In Germany, we lived just a few blocks away from the grocery store. We shopped about every other day, and we just walked everywhere. If we had been on our own, we wouldn't have needed much more than a dorm fridge. I think extra freezers are great, though.

    In France, you can buy something I've never seen: refrigerators without a freezer! They're actually very common here. When you do find a freezer in the fridge, it's typically the frosty ice compartment you used to have in the old days. Pain in the butt for long term storage of big stuff, but just fine for holding ice or cold drinks.

    At the moment we are about 10 miles out of town in France, and I wish I could exchange my just-bigger-than-a-dorm-fridge plus frost box for an American style fridge. Or at least get an additional deep freeze. I miss being able to walk to the store.

  2. The all-refrigerator refrigerator is available in the US now too, only they are always paired with an all-freezer that's the same size.

    The thought that occurred to me in my friend Keith's kitchen last night was that in the US, we're presented with a dizzying array of choices, and the default seems to be to go bigger when ever possible regardless of need.

    I'm very aware of this and can usually be counted on to mock people who find the biggest SUVs they can find. I never thought about giant kitchen appliances being SUVs for the home before...

    Thanks for your comment. I love hearing from ex-pats. People who leave the US to live elsewhere generally have a great perspective on US culture because they know it from inside and outside. Keep your stories from rural France coming!

  3. As of today with my band new fridge arrives, i'm tossing my 1992 kenmore that was squeezed into a 34" wide space. I'm not kidding, it took me forever to get that thing to budge so i could clean behind it. I'm very much looking forward to my replacement: a 30" wide LG french door thats 19.7 cubic feet. I live in a small cottage style house built in 1949, anything larger then 20 cuft just takes over the kitchen and all you see is the fridge.

  4. Hey Gretamargreta, thanks for your comment and great screen name! The situation you described is the same one my friend Keith confronted. Why this is noteworthy to me is that I have always thought I was doing a disservice to my clients if I used any refrigerator less than 36" wide. That changed around 15 hours ago and it's good to get some independent verification that my new realization is valid!

  5. Thankfully F&P makes a fridge that short at cabinet depth. It's so popular for those shopping only for a replacement that have height restrictions.

    As an appliance retailer, we also see a lot of people wanting to shop for their own needs -- and maybe purchase the smaller fridge, etc. -- but then they get scared of how it might affect resale.

  6. Bigger is better!!!! WAHAHAHAHA!!! We have a Maytag wide-by-side. Love it, but it's a big boy. We had to raise the cabinets above it about 1/4", and we had to remove the gable end from the cabinets to make it fit. It sticks out so far to the side that it covers part of the door trim, and it sticks out a few inches from the cabinets. I know, very bad!! One of these days, we'll try to make it fit better. But we have too many other projects on the go that are more important to get done!!


  7. Julie: I think the F&P is the only appliance on the market with those dimensions. Blomberg makes a narrower one but it's significantly taller.

    I hear that resale argument all the time too. For some people, it's a legitimate concern. But for most, I think it's just parroting back the messages they hear on HGTV. Get what you want I say and let the chips fall where they may later.

    Kelly: So bigger is better applies in Canada too? When do we get to see photos of your finished kitchen? Will you and Brian be done by Christmas?


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