Editors’ Picks: A Dozen Vintage Kitchen Tools We Swear By

What is an heirloom? Traditionally families pass on things of value to the next generation, while the stuff of daily life—juice glasses, stepladders, clothes hangers—gets dumped in donation boxes or, worse, tossed. We say, treat these humble tools as valued objects and keep them in use.

In our latest book, Remodelista: The Low-Impact Home, we rounded up 75 beloved vintage items, many from our own childhood homes. Among these favorites are everyday kitchen implements, including the 12 examples presented here, better made than today’s versions and lovely to look at, battle scars and all.

These goods are the eco-friendly answer when adding to your kitchen arsenal because they keep existing materials in circulation. All are easy to c0me by, whether as hand-me-downs or affordably priced on eBay, Etsy, and at thrift stores, flea markets, and tag sales, among other places. Even nonprofit Goodwill now posts offerings online. And for those willing to hunt and peck, there are listings of free items on Buy Nothing, The Freecycle Network, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and other sites. But the best way to begin is by assessing your own holdings and then browsing the castoffs of family members and friends. You’re likely to come away with a collection of better-for-wear household staples that will make you happy every time you reach for them.

Photography by Justine Hand for Remodelista: The Low-Impact Home.

Julie's heirloom wooden spoon from The Low-Impact Home, Remodelista 75, Justine Hand photo.
Above: Julie’s favorite wooden spoon—with carved hanging crook—was passed down from her mother who hosted many a dinner party in Wellfleet, on the Outer Cape. Its driftwood patina comes from having been put through the dishwasher more than once.
colander-black-enamel-Justine Hand photo
Above: This enameled colander—found at Remodelista favorite Alder & Co. of Germantown, NY—is in a spatter pattern known as graniteware. When not in use, it’s beautiful enough to be put on display.

Produce washing tip that I learned from Gourmet executive food editor Kemp Minifie: Rather than rinsing fruit and vegetables under a running faucet, give them a bath. Immerse and swirl them in a bowl of water, then drain in a colander. This uses less water and provides a better cleaning.

French cutting boards from The Low-Impact Home, Remodelista 75, Justine Hand photo.
Above: Fan’s quartet of old French cutting boards are from Elsie Green, a Bay Area antiques emporium that always has a large supply of French kitchenware in stock. Chopping on wood is far kinder to knives than plastic and other harder surfaces.

To clean boards: sprinkle with coarse salt and scrub with half a lemon. Allow the paste that forms to sit for a few minutes, then rinse, dry thoroughly, and rub with a food-safe finish such as beeswax paste.

Vintage Pyrex measuring cup from Remodelista: The Low-Impact Home. Justine Hand photo.
Above: Annie and her mother love kitchen tools that hold family stories. There’s the old sifter; the countertop marble slab—”allegedly found by my mother’s mother during a quest to start making molasses candy; my mother uses it with her grandkids to roll out sugar cookie dough from the family recipe”—and Annie’s prized Pyrex measuring cup from that same grandmother. Of the latter, Annie says, “vintage Pyrex can be used for just about everything (save the stovetop), and it’s easy to find vintage pieces. At the moment, they’re something of a prize for me and my fellow Goodwill hunters; I’ve seen it for $2 to $4 apiece.”  That’s not the case in Japan, where vintage Pyrex has had an avid following for years.

Word to the wise: keep your Pyrex measuring cups out of the dishwasher if you want to preserve their markings. Design details worth noting: The indent at the top of the handle serves as a thumb rest. Older versions, such as this one, have D-shaped handles; the open handles on more recent models allow for stacking.

tea towels The Low-Impact Home, Remodelista 75, Justine Hand photo.
Above: The beauty of old cotton and linen towels is that they’re woven to last—and come in so many uplifting stripes. They dry glassware lint-free in a way that makes it gleam. The stack shown here is a sampling from the collection of Marnie Campbell, friend of Remodelista editor and photographer Justine Hand. In addition to contributing many of the items in the The Low-Impact Home Remodelista 75, Justine photographed them all, including the examples shown here.
Knife sharpener and knife French cutting boards from The Low-Impact Home, Remodelista 75, Justine Hand photo.
Above: The carved initials on this stone knife sharpener are Justine’s Grampa Dick’s. The knife itself, with its ergonomic handle, is another family heirloom—thanks to the whetstone, it remains perfectly sharp.
wooden bowls salad pan lasagna yellow Knife sharpener and knife French cutting boards from The Low-Impact Home, Remodelista 75, Justine Hand photo.
Above: Thanks to a revival in the popularity of woodturning, wooden bowls evoke Early American and 21st century tables equally. These vintage pieces, gathered over years by Justine, will likely serve many more generations.

Word of advice from having grown up with a black wooden bowl just like this one: We were under the impression that soap was a no-no on wood, and our nightly salad bowl developed a sticky finish. So use soap as needed and season on occasion with food-grade mineral oil.

Cast-iron frying pan from Remodelista The Low-Impact Home, Remodelista75. Justine Hand photo.
Above: My neighbor bought this repurposed 1950s Lodge cast-iron skillet years ago and loans it to me on request. Cast-iron cookware has made a big comeback of late thanks to its durability, safety, and ability to retain heat: Unlike nonstick pans, there’s no danger of toxins leaching out of cast iron. Treat your pan with care: Clean it without soap (Chainmail Scrubbers work wonders), oil it as needed under a low flame, dry it fully before storing, and it will develop a less-stick, if not exactly nonstick, surface—and last forever: even rusty pans can be reconditioned.

Collectors note: Early 20th-century cast-iron cookware is slightly thinner and smoother than its modern counterparts. Vintage Griswold, Wagner, and Wapak, all now-defunct American makers, have a big following. Look for their logos on the undersides. Unmarked vintage cast-iron, such as Lodge’s—it’s now the oldest family-run foundry in the US—are just as good and less pricey.

Copco-teapot stainless wooden bowls salad pan lasagna yellow Knife sharpener and knife French cutting boards from The Low-Impact Home, Remodelista 75, Justine Hand photo.
Above: Julie grew up with a Copco tea kettle on the stove. From 1962 through the 1980s, Copco sold more than a million of these teak-handled Michael Lax designs, most in enameled colors. Julie tracked down this rare, all-aluminum example on eBay as a nostalgia purchase.

You’re not seeing things: The current bestselling Kaico kettle by Japanese designer Makoto Koizumi is unmistakably an homage to the Copco classic.

Vintage glass refrigerator storages from Remodelista: The Low-Impact Home, Remodelista 75. Justine Hand photo.
Above: Before Tupperware, there were all-glass refrigerator dishes, which we’ve found extremely handy as we attempt post-plastic living. Produced from the 1930s to the 1970s in many shapes, sizes, and colors, they’re stackable and ideal for loading with leftovers because you can see the contents.

Some versions, such as Anchor Hocking’s Fire-King line, can be popped in the oven, and all are perfectly presentable as serving dishes. They’re not air tight, so if that’s a requirement, such as for storing coffee beans, consider a mason jar. I’ve been picking up these glass containers at flea markets for ages—these three are in heavy rotation at my house–and you can find a wealth of choices online by searching “refrigerator dish” and “vintage glass refrigerator container.”

Potato masher from The Low-Impact Home, Remodelista 75, Justine Hand photo.
Above: Even a potato masher can be elegant. They come in a range of variations: Some, such as this sculptural one from Fan’s kitchen, crush the spuds; versions with holes extrude. Both work.
Jar opener can opener from The Low-Impact Home, Remodelista 75, Justine Hand photo.
Above: Kitchen tools with painted wood handles were once pervasive. Red and green are the most easy-to-find colors, but we like the cheery yellow on this jar opener and can opener: I have red versions from my childhood kitchen; they inspired Justine to track down these two on Etsy.

For a deeper dive into the world of vintage everyday goods, check out Remodelista: The Low-Impact Home.

Also browse our Antiques & Vintage archive for more ideas and inspiration, including:

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