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How SMEG became the coolest fridge on the block

The cream of the SMEG appliance crop — the Fab28 refrigerator that comes in many standout colors.
The cream of the SMEG appliance crop — the Fab28 refrigerator that comes in many standout colors.(Wayfair)

For most cramped city dwellers, the fantasy of an open-plan kitchen exists only on TV, in homes reimagined by the likes of Chip and Joanna Gaines.

Instead, those short on space tend to focus on appliances. Perhaps a SodaStream here, a stainless steel Kegerator there, a Sansaire sous vide behind the bar cart. But the crown jewel might be the ’50s-style SMEG refrigerator, a $2,000 commitment to having the finest ice box on the block.

Italian company SMEG, which stands for Smalterie Metallurgiche Emiliane Guastalla, makes other kinds of refrigerators and kitchen appliances, too. But they found themselves design darlings when they brought their Fab28 model to the US in 2007. Just under 5-feet tall, the Fab28 has retro, rounded edges like a piece of Chiclet gum, and is made from high-gloss plastic enamel in colors like creamy mint green and navel orange. It features a simple interior — with a built-in metal wine rack — and a drawer-size freezer compartment.

It is, indeed, underwhelmingly impractical.

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“That SMEG refrigerator is biased to European usage,” explains Riccardo Pearlman, owner of Newbury Kitchens and Bath in Back Bay. “People do their day-to-day shopping with two bags that they then carry home. In the US, we tend to load the car up. As Americans, we roll with large refrigerators, like creatures of comfort who want that big sofa.”

So while the KitchenAid stand mixer remains the staunch status symbol of domestic bliss, the SMEG refrigerator is the ornamental trophy of the childless chic. And like the popularity of the Mini Cooper, the novelty of SMEG’s European practically is more aesthetic than lifestyle-driven.

“We usually get requests about this brand from Millennial couples who move into the city,” Ekaterina Tsyganova of Casa Design Boston in the South End tells us via e-mail.

“Some of these clients ask about this brand because they look for small size refrigerators to save some space in their city apartments. Some are also international [clients] that are familiar with European brands and styles; they look for the specific retro look of SMEG products.”

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And of course, the Fab28 — which comes in 10 colorways in addition to custom Dolce & Gabbana or flag-bearing prints — provides a break from the oppressive stainless steel of big box store appliances.

“[SMEG appliances] add a unique flair and pop of color to any kitchen,” says Wayfair appliance expert Ben Pugliares. Indeed!

Of course, the SMEG aesthetic can now be enjoyed in smaller, less consequential doses. SMEG offers toasters, electric kettles, and even their own version of the stand mixer at registry-acceptable prices. A larger two-door version of the refrigerator is also available, as is a dorm-friendly 28-inch mini version.

But still, it’s the Fab28 that endures.

“I don’t put a ton of those units in kitchens,” admits Pearlman. “But that’s largely driven by the fact that people, in my experience, capitulate toward something more pragmatic, so they look elsewhere in the kitchen to add that kind of ’50s style. But it also never surprises me when someone turns around and says, ‘Tiny fridge be damned.’ ”


Rachel Raczka can be reached at rachel.raczka@gmail.com