While design trends come and go and then sometimes come back, mid-century design has been a constant since, well, it began. The ’50s were a time of design innovation which means vintage finds are always a hot commodity and make great additions most any interior. There are also great companies, like Big Chill, creating 50s-inspired products that merge the look of mid-century with today’s technology. What began as a family desire (a vintage looking fridge) led to a family business out of Boulder, Colorado and Big Chill. The Retro Original Fridge is where it all began so take a look to see how the design came to be, in this month’s Deconstruction.
Our quest to create a modern fridge with vintage appeal led to many long days in the junkyard and rummaging through refrigerator catalogs from the ‘40s and ‘50s. We were inspired by each of the different makes and models—from handles to chrome caps to logos. We purchased several units and disassembled them to see exactly how they were constructed.
To select a logo, we looked back to the ‘50s for some inspiration. Coldspot’s fridge logo really stood out. Once we ideated and then narrowed down potential logos, we consumer tested them, ultimately selecting the one with the best feedback. We were confident in our decision and really loved the final calligraphy. The curves just screamed 1950s and the horizontal line connecting all the letters lend added visual interest.
We found that a few of the vintage fridges had indentations, which is more than a charming styling touch. It also lends significant structural support.
The handle presented a design dilemma. In the ‘50s, fridges featured handle locking mechanisms that are no longer allowed on modern, residential units. We wanted to uphold our vision, recreating the look and feel of a ‘50s handle without a locking mechanism. Lots of testing and concepts later, we landed on the handle used today. Our handle pivots like the retro version, but doesn’t lock.
3. Build a prototype
Once we finalized the Big Chill “look,” we quickly went into prototyping. This is where we honed in on both scale and proportion. The majority of our products go through three or four prototypes before entering production.
To create the Big Chill fridge’s iconic curves, we rely on stamping. The refrigerator doors are metal—fabricated using the same traditional stamping process employed in the ‘50s. It’s a time-intensive, expensive process, but we refused to cut corners by building our products from plastic or fiberglass.
We were inspired by the 1950s color palette and knew we wanted to offer customers a wide range of colors to choose from. Our pastel colors (beach blue, pink, jadeite green and buttercup yellow) are mid-century influenced. We pulled in my aunt, who has fashion experience, to help establish our color offering. Our custom RAL colors are similar to Pantone colors in graphic design and fashion—it’s a standard set of colors for the powder coating industry.
After three years in design and prototyping, we finally had a product we were proud to launch. Our first fridge shipped in 2004 and soon after, our team began to concept Big Chill’s first stove.