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This IS your grandma's Fridgidaire

Let's hear it for the plump, curvy stars of yesteryear that are on the comeback trail.

Some of them are way cool.

Others are still hot.

They're vintage kitchen appliances, the refrigerators and stoves of the 1930s through the '70s.

To some, they're just those big white clunky boxes. To others, with a new coat of paint and rechromed trim, they're a retro lover's delight.

"They're highly collectible," says Jack Santoro, founder of the Old Appliances Club in Ventura, Calif., who repairs and collects the appliances and kitchenware of yesteryear. "And the prices are really taking off."

A completely restored range can cost $3,000 and up, Santoro estimated. "Some are worth up to $16,000. Those are the ones with three ovens, three broilers and eight burners. Those are much more exotic and hard to find."

A simple toaster can start at $25 and go as high as $250.

At Metropolis 20th Century Antiques on Bay-to-Bay Boulevard in Tampa, a 1950s refrigerator typically costs from $1,000 to $1,500, said Scott Harden, who works at the shop with owner Greg Coots. "Refurbished and revamped, they're slick as can be."

What's the attraction?

"It's nostalgia," says Santoro, who publishes a newsletter called The Old Road Home devoted to vintage appliances and offers a vintage appliance buyer's guide. "People have grown up with this stuff. It's like a family member. Lots of family things happened around the kitchen, and that's the thing that draws everybody back."

So just as we're attracted to the meat loaf and mashed potatoes of the Leave It to Beaver era, we're charmed by the appliances we remember: the Crosleys and Vulcans, Warings and Osters, Westinghouses and Firestones.

Carmen Kelley started buying vintage kitchen items when she owned a home in the Bayboro section of St. Petersburg built in 1915. "Back then you called it junktique," she said. "It was a good era, I guess; everything was very simple and to the point."

Now she lives in the city's Woodlawn neighborhood, with a red-and-white porcelain-topped table from the '30s or '40s; an 1887 gas stove that she uses as an accent piece; and an old Hoosier cabinet, designed to store flour and other staples and provide a work surface. Cups and glassware from decades ago decorate the kitchen.

"If it's lasted this long, they must have been built very well," Kelley said. "People took the time to do things the way they should be." She does her actual cooking and refrigerating with more modern appliances. She finds her vintage kitchen items at antique stores along Fourth Street and M. L. King (Ninth) Street in St. Petersburg.

Take a close look at some of your favorite TV shows and movies _ Seinfeld, Sleepless in Seattle _ and you'll spot the appliances of yesteryear. Pay close attention to the sets on MTV and you may see the turquoise-green 1953 Firestone refrigerator that Fred Schwartz of Tampa and his partner Danny Santiago placed there when they styled the set in the MTV Latino studio in Miami.

One of Schwartz's other businesses is an auto body shop in Ybor City, where he has the equipment to do the specialty painting necessary to refurbish an old refrigerator.

"It takes a lot of hours _ about 100 hours _ to restore an intricate one," said Schwartz, who does about one a month. "You have to rewire, ground, repair the seals and rechrome. It's not a real profitable item. You do it because you like it."

He did one for himself, a 1956 General Electric in two tones of purple with a handle encrusted with cubic zirconium. A few years ago his refrigerators appeared in the Seventh Avenue windows of Bloomingdale's in New York City with a display of clothing by fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi.

Schwartz doesn't sell at retail. The appliances refurbished by his Ybor City company, Orphans, are sold at antique stores on Lincoln Road in Miami and at places such as Echo Antiques in St. Petersburg and Metropolis in Tampa.

That's where Cally Griffith saw a bright turquoise 1950 Frigidaire refrigerator Schwartz had rehabbed. "Isn't it cool?" she exulted.

For Griffith, an art director who heads her own agency, Callygraphics, in Tampa, the attraction is "the modernism aspect. Clean edges, clean, rounded design. That's what the Midcentury Modern movement is all about."

She owns a lot of Fiestaware, Russel Wright tableware, and a chrome Art Deco ice bucket with Bakelite trim, among many other items.

The refrigerator's color was a big factor, she said, but so was the fact that it's in mint condition. "It had to work," she said. "I'm going to put it in my studio," where it will hold cold drinks.

"Everyone who walks in the store says, "Gee, we threw all this stuff away,' " said Harden, at Metropolis, where toasters and blenders from years gone by share shelf space with potato mashers, ice cream scoops, grinders and lots of other items your mother had.

"People collect eeeeverything," agreed Dana DeMore, who publishes Kitchen Antiques & Collectibles News in Harrisburg, Pa. "Eggbeaters, apple parers, raisin seeders, unusual mechanical stuff. It's hard to find and getting expensive. I don't see it decreasing in popularity."

Up next:Yin and Yang

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