Home: Scout: The Big Chill

The latest must-have kitchen appliances show you how to think

Long gone are the days when you felt only lukewarm about that drab old icebox. Glass doors, metallic finishes and custom wood panels adorn today’s refrigerators, meaning that more than ever before, home-owners can choose a fridge that reflects their personal style. We’re not only talking about the kitchen, either — with so many different sizes and configurations available, refrigerators are migrating to other rooms in the house. With the help of local experts, we’ve rounded up the best models for however you like to chill.

The oiled-bronze French-door refrigerator by Jenn-Air marries smart design with good looks. Its distinctive metallic finish harmonizes with traditional kitchens (oak furniture and earth tones) as well as contemporary ones (sleek black appliances and stainless-steel fixtures). “It’s a good-looking refrigerator,” says Tom Donatucci, co-owner of Donatucci Kitchens in Philadelphia. Its economical use of space is a bonus. The French-door configuration offers a narrower door swing than other side-by-sides — helpful if you don’t have tons of space between the fridge and, say, a center island. And, unlike side-by-sides that are divided down the middle to separate fridge and freezer space, this refrigerator has a wider, uninterrupted interior compartment to store large items like party trays or whole hams. Because the freezer drawer is located below the refrigeration compartment, the foods you reach for most frequently are all at eye level, an advantage over top-freezer models. “It’s art and function in one,” says Donatucci.

Price: $2,999, Donatucci Kitchens, Philadelphia 215-545-5755, customkitchens.com

The Liebherr WU 4000 Under-counter Vinidor is an oenophile’s dream come true. At less than 3 feet high, it tucks neatly under countertops and blends into any room. A variable-speed compressor keeps the temperature stable and makes it one of the quietest wine refrigerators on the market, which explains why Gerry Gerhard, vice president of Gerhard’s Appliances in Glenside and Doylestown, has seen people install it everywhere from the study to the master bathroom. “Wine storage used to be just in the basement,” he says, “but now we’ve brought it up to areas on the first floor.”

While many wine refrigerators offer one internal chamber, the Liebherr is divided into two sealed-off zones, so you can chill whites to their ideal drinking temperature (48-52 degrees) in the same unit you store your reds (58-62 degrees). The Liebherr also lets you showcase your collection: Along the front of the internal wooden shelves is a ledge where you can store and display your saved wine labels, and its glass door and internal LED lights put the spotlight on your favorite bottles.

Price: about $2,000, Gerhard’s Appliances, Glenside 215-884-8650, Doylestown 215-343-2190, gerhardsappliances.com

Who says you have to have your refrigerator and freezer together? Not Thermador. The company debuted refrigerator and freezer columns in its Freedom Collection, modular units that can be installed together like a traditional refrigerator or separately anywhere in the kitchen — or beyond. “You can put the columns pretty much anywhere,” says Adam DeJesus, a sales associate at Home Appliance Center in Frazer. He worked with one family who installed a freezer column in their pantry.

The long, slim columns can be fitted with custom panels to match your other cupboards perfectly — even the hinge is specially made to be concealed from view when the doors are closed. “Usually, other [built-in refrigerators] stick out from the counter maybe 3/4 of an inch, but these are really flush with the cabinetry,” says DeJesus. “It’s a better look.”

And you don’t have to sacrifice storage space for aesthetic appeal. At 84 inches high, the columns are taller than most traditional refrigerators. “You’re going to have more capacity than in a side-by-side,” says DeJesus.

The columns also hide some pretty state-of-the-art features inside. So-called Liberty Shelves inside the columns can be moved higher or lower while fully loaded simply by pressing a button to the left of the shelf.

The columns score high marks on pure refrigeration power, too. “Thermador does a good job of cooling the refrigerator door itself,” says DeJesus, which means you can safely store perishables like milk on the door’s shelves. The doors are also lined with a thick gasket, which creates an ultra-tight seal that preserves fruits and vegetables better than most brands.

Price: $3,749-$4,289 for refrigerator columns with custom panel; $2,859-$3,849 for freezer columns with custom panel, Home Appliance Center, Frazer 610-644-6666, homeappliancepaoli.com

Appearances can be deceiving: At 36 inches wide and just over 6 feet tall, the Sub-Zero 601RG all-refrigerator is similar in size to many other built-in counter-depth fridges. But because this model has no freezer, you get a 20.1-cubic-foot refrigerator compartment, which offers much more space than a side-by-side with the same dimensions.

The triple-pane, UV-resistant glass-fronted door gives the 601RG an attractive, modern facade while insulating the fridge and preventing temperature fluctuations inside the appliance. “Things that ripen more in the sun won’t ripen more in this refrigerator,” says Junior Rideout, store manager of Airs Appliances in Philadelphia.

You can choose from one of three stainless-steel door finishes — classic stainless, smoky-gray carbon or bright, polished platinum — or opt for a custom-panel door to coordinate with your kitchen cabinets (For more options, see “Cool Camouflage” on page 49). Although the 601RG doesn’t come with door shelves, its five interior shelves (four of which are adjustable) are deeper than most, and the high-humidity crisper drawer is as wide and deep as the fridge itself.

Refrigeration power, for a built-in, is top-of-the-line. “The cooling system in the Sub-Zero preserves the food longer than a normal refrigerator,” says Rideout. “For one thing, they’re made of better materials,” such as magnetic door gaskets that retain cold air extremely well.

If you like to shop in bulk, consider these options: For increased storage capacity with the look of a side-by-side model, purchase an all-refrigerator model with a coordinating all-freezer (in this case, the Sub-Zero 601F all-freezer) and install the two adjacent to one another; or, use as a second refrigerator for another room in the house such as the bar area or in the butler’s pantry. After all, when’s the last time you remember saying, “We have too much room in our fridge?”

Price: $5,625 for custom-panel door (does not come with panel); $6,100 for classic stainless steel; $6,985 for platinum stainless steel and carbon stainless steel, Airs Appliances, Philadelphia 215-568-1010, airsappliances.com