In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, refrigerators lined the empty streets of New Orleans like sentries. At night, the standard bright-whites glowed like eerie canvases; it didn’t take long for graffiti to hit. In a situation so dire they had to laugh or they’d cry, residents replaced levees with levity, writing out frustration on the fridges: “Only a fool would open this—I was that fool.” “Louise, this ice cream tastes funny!” or “Free gumbo inside!”
Despite the obvious problems of their recycling and disposal, refrigerators, unlike automobiles, have become dramatically more efficient in the past two decades—and truth be told, it would behoove every home to have a new model. Americans are reportedly already saving an estimated $17 billion in energy costs each year thanks to improvements in refrigerator design and technology. However, keeping our ketchup cold and our ice cream frozen still strains resources. Theoretically, if every household in the United States were to replace its refrigerator with an Energy Star model or the equivalent, we’d be an energy-exporting nation. But energy efficiency doesn’t mean leaving looks in the lurch—these fridges could all call the Bauhaus home.
Beyond their stainless steel exteriors, refrigerators today have advanced cooling systems, quality materials, and energy-conserving features (beware of extraneous gadgets like Internet hookups and TVs which consume more power). In short—the places we house our food are designed better than most of our homes. We don’t need another Katrina to remind us that refrigeration is a luxury. The least we can do is be responsible by buying energy-efficient models (plus they’ll pay for themselves faster than you’ll pay off your mortgage).
To assess our selection of refrigerators, we chose sushi chef Susumu Ueda, who appreciates efficient design and, in his quest to serve fish of the utmost freshness, opens and closes a fridge over 100 times a day.
Chelsea is the former online editor of dwell.com. Her architecture chops come from swinging hammers for her father’s design/build business in Maine and living with an architect in San Francisco; a city she loves for its supreme bike-ability.