Living With a Vintage Chambers Stove

Our client Morgan is a certified e-n-t-h-u-s-i-a-s-t.  We loved her energy so much that we asked her to sign on as our web designer.  When she and her husband Phil remodeled their kitchen, their purchase of a Chambers was just one element of their desire to use as many reclaimed products as possible, both for the aesthetics and for the environmental benefits. Morgan never imagined that an old appliance would become the star of their kitchen. After just a couple of years with their white 90C Chambers stove, Morgan knew that she would never go back to a modern range.  Here's her tale of falling in love with "Babs": 

First, just look at her.

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Babs is beautiful in a way that few modern stoves are. Just like the stunning cars from her heyday, she’s all rounded edges, curved handles, and lots of chrome. That authentic vintage style is a truly gorgeous alternative to the ho-hum stainless steel, white, or black boxes that can be found in appliance stores today. And in my 1915 bungalow kitchen, Babs looks right at home.

Beauty is important, but functionality is paramount. And Babs can do things that no other stove can. The In-A-Top broiler and griddle has been a game-changer for meals at my house. The griddle surface is ideal for anything that you flip to cook – fried eggs, pancakes, pork chops, grilled cheese – or huge amounts of food, like a double batch of Julia Child’s ratatouille recipe, which I make and freeze every summer. The griddle’s generous size is much larger than even my biggest pan, making quick work of any large recipe.

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Underneath the griddle is a broiler and sizzle platter, which has completely replaced my toaster oven for toast, bagels, leftover pizza, and anything else that benefits from a broiling flame. I once broiled a Christmas Eve leg of lamb on the sizzle platter; it’s also great for burgers and steaks, especially when it’s too cold to grill. If you cook bacon under the broiler, you’ll be rewarded with a delicious little pool of grease in the sizzle platter’s gravy well. That grease is absolutely perfect for slowly cooking a couple of eggs.

I’ve also found Babs’ top pilot light to be surprisingly useful.

It’s ideal for melting butter, keeping hollandaise sauce or gravy warm, or softening cream cheese for a baking recipe. I have a set of 3.5” stoneware ramekins that happen to fit perfectly over the pilot, and they retain heat quite well. Between the In-A-Top and the pilot light, I haven’t had any need for a microwave since I got this stove.

Of course, Babs also has three regular burners, all of which are more powerful than those of any gas stove I’ve used before. The burners are perfectly sized for my most prized vintage kitchen tools, such as my 1910 cast iron Wagner waffle iron.

 My vintage Wagner waffle iron looks like it was made for this burner. In the center of the range is the pilot light. The Thermowell is directly behind the waffle iron.

My vintage Wagner waffle iron looks like it was made for this burner. In the center of the range is the pilot light. The Thermowell is directly behind the waffle iron.

Before Babs came into my life, my biggest concern about living with a vintage stove was the size of the oven. It just looked so much smaller than a modern stove’s. But I’ve never once wished the oven was bigger. My years-old cookie sheets fit perfectly. Last year’s 12-pound Thanksgiving turkey had plenty of space (and tasted incredible). And since the oven is heavily insulated, you can actually cook with the gas turned off. I haven’t converted my recipes to cook this way yet, but it’s very handy for keeping a meal warm when dinner guests are running late.

If I ever do need more oven space, there is a solution already built in: the Thermowell. Often called “the original slow cooker,” the Thermowell is a small, heavily insulated well at the back of the stove that can serve as a fast-heating oven or warming closet. Chambers used to manufacture sets of kettles that fit perfectly in the Thermowell. With a triple kettle set, you could cook three different dishes at the same time! I own a Thermobaker, which is a device that holds a casserole dish, pie pan, cake tin, or a couple of foil-wrapped baked potatoes. The Thermowell truly becomes a second small oven when combined with a vintage Thermobaker.

 The Thermobaker.

The Thermobaker.

I recently stayed at an Airbnb with a slick, modern, and likely expensive electric stove. It was the first time in a long time that I had tried cooking a meal on any stove other than Babs. The pans slid all over the surface. I had to press a button to get the burner started. I couldn’t tell when the surface had escalated from barely warm to screaming hot – or when it was cool enough to touch. The oven was comically large for the dishes I cooked inside – a total waste of energy. During that stay, I realized just how much I missed my Chambers’ gorgeous chrome handles and the satisfying sensation of turning them to light a burner. I missed the sound of the burner coming to life. And I really missed how consistent and visible the heat was, and how quickly it would be ready to use.

I feel a bit sorry for the Airbnb hosts who purchased that brand-new, gee-whiz electric stove. I imagine that they were lured in by the range’s sleek digital presence, and by the idea that a new stove must be so much better than an old one.

Well, when I was planning my kitchen remodel, I could have gone that way. I could have spent far more on a brand-new stove. I could have prioritized shiny newness over vintage charm. And I could have made do with just four burners and a huge oven, the way most people do these days, and I likely never would have known that I was missing out on so many other cooking possibilities. But I’m so glad I didn’t. In my mind, you just can’t improve upon the infinitely repairable, simply built, versatile, and gorgeous Chambers stove.