I've been shopping for a new refrigerator, and I believe I have given up.
I have an incredibly poorly designed kitchen. Well, actually, to be fair, it was probably adequately designed in 1957 for a 5'2" housewife. Back then it probably featured a 24-inch-wide range and one of those semi-miniature 'fridges that come up to about my chin. (Occasionally, in old houses, you can still see bays that were built with that size refrigerator in mind—now usually stuffed, often awkwardly, with something else.) But with modern-sized appliances, the room features both a critical shortage of space and also a lot of wasted space, which is no mean feat. For instance, there is only 10" of counter space anywhere near the refrigerator and the stove. Many of the cabinets are in the wrong places, and the windows and the traffic flow seem particularly suited to disrupting the room's main function. Like most photographers, I have pretty good "spatial visualization," as the mental aptitude for comprehending the volumes and arrangements of objects and spaces is called, but I can't figure out how to re-map my kitchen, short of tearing everything down to the studs and starting over. I have a feeling it would be a good problem to present to a residential architecture class. But it had better be on the final.
To add insult to injury, the adjacent living room is long and skinny, so it also features limited living space alongside more space that is essentially wasted.
But back to the refrigerator. I really like the new designs with the freezer situated as a drawer at the bottom of the unit. You access the freezer less often, and accessing the freezer from the top seems sensible for keeping the cold air where it belongs. Plus, being 6'2" and having a bad back, I dislike stooping down to peer into the refrigerator. I would very much like the business end of the thing to be up on the level of the atmosphere that I inhabit.
For various reasons having to do with my poor layout, however, I am limited to refrigerator units with a total width of no more than 28 inches. Well, little did I suspect, but the refrigerator industry is rigidly locked into various size classes. As far as I can tell, there are no bottom-freezer models that are 28 inches wide. They are are all 29 and 5/8ths inches wide or wider. I can't imagine this is much of an impediment to most buyers, but I do not have an extra inch and 5/8ths. That would entail buying a new custom cabinet unit for more or less $500 (yes, I inquired) and reducing my precious 10 inches of counter space to 8 and 3/8ths inches.
So all right, then, I'll buy a unit with the freezer on top if I have to. Grump.
In appliance stores, all of the 28-inch wide models are down at the back end of the least-traveled aisle. They are usually utilitarian models with flat white or "bisque" slab sides and doors. ("Bisque," if you are not among the initiated—as I was not, previously—is a color, one that is apparently deeply beloved of appliance manufacturers. It is not quite yellow and not quite brown, with a lot of white thrown in—about the color of a latté made with skim milk and bad gas-station coffee—apparently useful because, being roughly the color of dirtiness, it can get dirty without looking dirty. Either that, or it always looks dirty). Refrigerators lacking that socially crucial last inch and 5/8ths of width are clearly for second-class citizens. I only encountered two other shoppers who were looking at them. One was a man looking for a refrigerator for his senile grandmother, who he and his wife were installing in a presumably temporary apartment in their home, and the other was a landlord looking for a unit for a rental apartment.
So I found a suitable if plain model that was not expensive, and very nearly simply plunked down the cash for it. But a tiny voice inside my brain—the small part I use to review cameras, probably—was murmuring something about getting more data. So at the very last second, I decided to hold off until I could read some reviews. So I came home, subscribed to Consumer Reports, and discovered, to my horror, that I had come within a fraction of a millimeter of purchasing the loudest refrigerator ever conceived by Man. My mind flashed on the terrible scenario—buying the unit, having it delivered, transferring all my food to it, and then discovering that it sounded like an industrial blower and realizing that I could not possibly keep it, in light of all the torture that years of excessive noise would entail for me (I hate noise).
Chastened, I looked into every single unit that Consumer Reports rates "excellent" for noise. Not a single one of them is 28 inches wide.
I literally stayed up until 3 a.m. last night making myself bleary-eyed by poring over appliance manufacturers' websites. Conclusion? I cannot buy a refrigerator. The task is too much for me. Looks like the grubby old one is going to have to soldier on.
At least it is bisque, so it doesn't look quite as dirty as it probably is.
Meanwhile, I am going to submit my kitchen to "This Old House." I think it would make a nice challenge for their cadre of ace designers and contractors. Although they'd probably study the problem at great length and come to me and solemnly say, "Well, can redesign your kitchen, but unfortunately, what with one thing and another, the old refrigerator is going to have to stay." There are limits to expertise, after all.
Featured Comment by Marc Rochkind: "Mike, I think you are taking the wrong approach. You need to think of your refrigerator as a classic refrigerator. Then whatever hardship there is in using it becomes instead a time to reflect on whatever you are trying to access. Do you really need another beer? With a modern refrigerator, the beer would be in your hands in seconds (auto focus on beer). With yours, you would have time to think. With a refrigerator that holds 8GB of food, you just fill it up and never discard the old stuff. With yours, you only keep what you really need.
"In fact, I want yours! List it on eBay under Vintage Refrigerators and I'll definitely bid on it."
Featured Comment by John Camp: "I would recommend getting the refrigerator of your dreams and putting it in the front room, thereby freeing up space in the kitchen and using wasted space in the front room; if you can fit it in so the refrigerator is facing the side of the couch, you'll be able to get a beer without standing up, when you're watching the Packers. Eventually, you'll become so embarrassed by this arrangement, especially if you start dating again, that you'll go to Home Depot and buy a load of drywall, drywall compound and paint, and remodel the kitchen, and then everything will be perfect.
"I charge you nothing for this advice."
Featured Comment by Jim Hart: "Mike, I feel your pain. Our house is 12 years old—relatively new construction. My wife found a 'fridge she had to have after our original unit broke. The new refrigerator—nothing special, side-by-side, indoor ice and water dispensers—it was an inch too wide to fit where the old 'standard' top freezer model went.
"I pulled out my circular saw and (after some education on how difficult it can be for even a circular saw blade to cut through various counter top materials) I created an inch of nothingness into which the extra width new 'fridge would slide.
"I'm an even worse carpenter than I am a photographer—but as my granddaddy would have said, I had my 'Irish' up. I'm only thankful I didn't have a chainsaw handy, or a supply of C4.
"Forget the 'fridge. You need a wrecking bar, a case of beer, and some quality time with your kitchen...."
Featured Comment by fmertz: "This story left me cold!"