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Regina Blaszczyk's Fisher & Paykel refrigerator fits the petite kitchen in her narrow rowhouse.
Regina Blaszczyk's Fisher & Paykel refrigerator fits the petite kitchen in her narrow rowhouse. (LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ / Staff Photographer)

Regina Blaszczyk sees much more than yesterday's bread

Posted: September 01, 2012

Regina Blaszczyk went back to school to become a design historian while working as a junior curator at the Smithsonian in the 1980s. She noted that a lot of scholars were examining material life in the 18th and 19th centuries but few were focused on the 20th century. She decided to specialize in the recent past, specifically on aspects of everyday consumer culture - she's written on the rise of auto shows, Wanamaker's gilded age, and the increasing use of synthetic fibers in interior design-that shed light on our cultural traditions.

Her own house on the 800 block of Bainbridge Street in Bella Vista embraces a very South Philadelphia cultural tradition of enthusiastic holiday decorating. She and her husband started slowly when they moved here in 2002. "We got so many fun, positive responses," says Blaszczyk, "we started to ham it up." They're now known as "the house with the decorations."

This, the vivid parrots she keeps as pets, and her brand-new book, The Color Revolution, belie her choice of the item that currently consumes her. When their stove door broke, she and her husband decided to update the stove and their refrigerator. The fridge may not be sunshine yellow, like the washer/dryer that sparked the famous 1959 Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate - "No one realizes it was yellow, because all the pictures are black and white" - but she finds it meaningful for myriad other reasons.

CONSUMED WITH: Her new Fisher & Paykel refrigerator.

THE DESIGN: The stainless steel fridge was made by a New Zealand company that specializes in small runs of high-design appliances in odd shapes and sizes.

THE HUNT: Blaszczyk had no luck finding a smallish refrigerator at Loews, Home Depot, or Sears for the petite kitchen in her narrow Bella Vista rowhouse. She also needed one without an ice dispenser (there's no hookup) and with a freezer on the bottom so she and her husband, who are both tall, aren't constantly bending down for basics. They lucked into the perfect fridge much closer to home at Chestnut Street's AIRS Appliances, the only remaining appliance showroom on what used to be Center City's Appliance Row.

THE APPEAL: The design historian had never heard of Fisher & Paykel and was tickled to discover a fridge that ran counter to her understanding of the evolution of the appliances industry. "What Fisher & Peykel are doing today reminds me of the innovations in America in the '30s, '40s, and '50s, when the refrigerator market was just getting started," she says. "In the 1920s there were two dozen carmakers, and now there are three. It's the same with appliances." Globalization gave her access to one of the survivors.

THE COLOR: People don't think of stainless steel as a color, but "everything is a color," says Blaszczyk. Stainless is the latest manifestation of aesthetics in home refrigeration. "It's a reflection of the foodie revolution of the '90s," she says. "It originated in professional kitchens and as people became more interested in gourmet cooking, the style migrated to the home kitchen." The shift to stainless steel also represents the shift to men spending more time in the home kitchen. Blaszczyk doesn't love to cook, but her husband does.

THE HOPE: Blaszczyk thinks often about the best way to balance the global economy with regional manufacturing in a way that will revive old industrial towns. Growing up in Lawrence, Mass., a former textile hub, and living in Philadelphia makes this issue even more immediate. She sees inklings of a solution in "flexible specialization," a strategy practiced by Fisher & Paykel that has been around since the Industrial Revolution. It means manufacturing small runs of specialized, and often custom, products. Flexibility is a way for boutique manufacturers to compete when they can't compete on price.

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