Art for the Kitchen: A Tale of Two Refrigerators

The first fridge

If you are like most people, almost every inch of wall space in your kitchen is dedicated to cabinets or appliances. In my kitchen, because there are four doorways, all essential, room to display art or ceramics is in short supply. Years ago, I saw a refrigerator with a panel consisting of maps that charted the owner’s travels; I quickly realized the fridge is a wonderful opportunity to display art.

    When we moved to our current home several years ago, I was lucky to find a fridge that accepted panels, but was a conventional counter depth size. I used a large Cinzano poster of two zebras leaping. The bottom of the poster did not quite cover the bottom freezer door, so I used a piece of poster board to add the extra length.

    The poster was cut into two pieces, then attached to foam board. Because of the size of the poster, we were forced to include the white border at the top of the image.

    That worked for awhile, until I got the urge to make the kitchen less carnival and more calm. This time I used a Rothko print. In spite of the size and color of the image, it projected a feeling of serenity. It also allowed me to play with a wider range of colors that were less intense in value.

First fridge, second look. This poster is still my favorite.

     Once again, the poster was not long enough, so a piece of coordinating poster board was added. This time I had the image laminated, then affixed to gator board, which is a stiffer backing than foam board. The lamination provided an extra layer of protection against spots and dirt.

    The Rothko poster set the tone for the color in the room, working beautifully with smaller pieces that fit on my very limited wall space. Intense, yet calming, it created the perfect atmosphere.

The new fridge, minus artwork. 

    But all good things come to an end. The refrigerator broke after 15 years, and that model had been discontinued. If I wanted a fridge that would accept a panel, I would have to go to Sub Zero or Thermador. Not only were these fridges at least triple the cost of my old Amana, they were too tall for the space, which would mean the fridge cabinet would need to be removed and placed higher on the wall, and the crown molding would also need to be removed and replaced.

    I could find units that fit the opening, but everything that fit entailed changing to a double door on top/freezer on the bottom style; they also did not accept decorative panels. After much research and debate, I decided on a Fisher Paykel fridge that fit exactly into the space and gave me a bit more interior room. But although the fridge fit in the space, the artwork no longer fit on the fridge. Enter the folks at Frigo Design, a New York State company that specializes in making custom frames for fridges and other appliances. They could make a frame for each of the three panels that would hold whatever artwork I found.

     Since I was starting from the beginning, rather than trying to fit something unconventional into an existing frame, I looked through the fabulous selection at New Era Portfolio, an online trade site that has a wide variety of interesting artwork by contemporary artists. I was able to customize the size, so that the print fit almost perfectly.  I felt strongly that because I now had to contend with two handles in the middle of my print, I wanted the art to be asymmetrical, so that it did not appear to be sliced in half. I also wanted an abstraction, so that the eye was not registering breaks in the image. The print I chose, by a contemporary artist, kept the same color scheme as the Rothko.

Finally finished! Note the different handles: the Frigo frame fits over the existing doors, which meant the original hardware had to be removed.

    Preparing the print to act as refrigerator panels was a challenge. Laminating can sometimes produce wrinkles which cannot be removed, and many print shops refuse to even try. Mike Kennedy, at J & M Imageworks ( not only laminated the very large print flawlessly, he suggested di-bond, a more durable backing. This is important because the Frigo frame fits over the fridge, and once it is in place, the panels cannot be removed easily.

    This is not an inexpensive project, but even when adding the roughly $1000 additional cost of buying a frame, artwork, and then treating the artwork to stand up to everyday use was far less expensive than buying a built-in unit; plus, there was no need to alter the kitchen cabinetry.

  Was it worth it? Absolutely! I like my kitchens warm, with plenty of color. Transforming a huge expanse of stainless steel into a piece of art makes my kitchen unique, as well as cutting down on the inevitable clutter a magnetized surface encourages. The color makes me happy, and I feel somehow that I’ve outsmarted the system. Yes, I had to settle for a french door fridge, but as Frank Sinatra liked to say, “I did it my way.” If you’re interested in appliance frames, check out