Enamelware is everywhere again. The centuries-old kitchenware is showing up in boutiques, general stores, lifestyle blogs, adventure outfitters and mass-market retailers. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the durable, light tinware once considered a poor man's ceramic.
Unlike the boldly patterned, vintage European pieces that sell for top dollar at auction, today's offerings are simple, casual and budget-friendly, charming tokens of Americana sculpted into sleek, contemporary silhouettes that make as much sense in a downtown loft as in a log cabin. How could one material have such universal appeal? For many, the draw is its old-fashioned sensibility.
"It has a nostalgic quality to it, but it's not in your face," says Sheri Moretz, a spokeswoman for Mast General Store, a small retail chain that dates to 1883 and has shops in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. "It's just the right amount of retro." Her colleague, Greta Hollar, remembers stocking up on enamel plates and bowls to take her kids camping, the same way her parents and grandparents did. "It's sentimental, but it's also functional," Hollar says. "There's a reason we've been using it this long."
Mast sells the classic colorful splatterware along with more modern solids. Both have seen a spike in sales in recent years. Moretz and Hollar suspect this is because the region is a big draw for campers and hikers who buy vacation homes near the Appalachian Mountains, and tinware's light weight and durability make it a perfect outdoor companion ("Hard to mess up, easy to clean," Hollar says). But the enamelware craze stretches far and wide.
In New York City, housewares brand Fishs Eddy recently announced an enamelware line due out in January inspired by vintage farmhouse design. And on Nov. 8, Anthropologie debuted a line of enamelware in a collaboration with Soho House, the worldwide private members' club, which is making a foray into housewares. Most of the line's enamelware sold out in a matter of days.
London's Falcon Enamelware is experiencing new life thanks to creative director Emma Young, who, with the help of a small team, helped revitalize the nearly 100-year-old brand. A self-described "materials fanatic," Young studied product design at Central Saint Martins and discovered the brand in 2011 while designing interiors for restaurants and hotels. The opportunity to expand was obvious. "It's incredibly versatile," she says. "It's urban and rural, masculine and feminine, casual and refined. It's universal."
Young's timing was nearly perfect. She and her husband, Kam, bought Falcon shortly after the Great Recession as design was making a dramatic shift back to basics. "Everyone was reevaluating their lives, their stuff," she says. "It was all about simplification. Utility became chic again." Their updates were subtle: cleaner lines, slimmer silhouettes, and no cutesy prints, patterns or phrases. Colors are neutral with occasional bold, limited-edition batches to test demand. And the pieces are packaged in corrugated cardboard, a nod to the hardware store and enamelware's utilitarian feel. The result is stylish and understated, a perfect complement to today's modern farmhouse craze. "We were conscious not to over-elevate it into a design statement," Young says. "It's a family material."
Enamelware is metal, aluminum or cast-iron cookware coated in a porcelain lining that makes it easy to clean, safe to heat and long-lasting. Although it's best known for being lightweight, some say that makes it feel cheap or childish. "It feels like paper plates to me," says Los Angeles designer Alison Kandler. "Great for families, but not a dinner party. That's too casual, even in California."
It can also chip easily, though enamel-lovers are quick to argue that small nicks and dings add to the look. "It can be stuck in an oven, hung on a hook or stored in a freezer," Young says. "You can live with it."