Design Classics

Design Classics #33: The AGA

11th September 2012
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Classic style in contemporary white

Beloved by the middle classes,  owners of farmhouses and readers of a certain type of fiction, the AGA is a totemic symbol of country living. There is usually a wet dog lying in front of it, a pile of laundry steaming gently on it, and preferably the aroma of baking rising from within.

The AGA is an opinion divider though. There are those who refuse to cook on anything else, and the rest who point scornfully to the fact that when you raise the lids you lose heat from the oven. Or the fact that while brilliant at heating the house in winter, they have the same effect in summer – less brilliant.

So how did the AGA come about? Well, it was, as is often the case with the best inventions, an accident. Gustaf Dalé was a Swedish Nobel Prize winner, who was blinded when a bulb he was testing for an automatic flashing lighthouse exploded. On returning home he was apparently appalled to discover how much time his wife, and the maid, spent tending the oven and resolved to invent a cooker that could be left on all the time and not need constant attention.

Laura James, an AGA representative, says: “He designed his AGA in 1922 and seven years later, a British company had bought the licence and from then on it was made in Britain.”

All AGAs are now made at a Shropshire foundry, which has been listed as a world heritage site because of its importance as the birthplace of the industrial revolution.

“They are popular in Sweden but it is the British who have really taken AGAs to their hearts, says James. “They suit our damp climate, they make our houses cosy and they are so multi-tasking. You can make toast, cook food, dry laundry, revive lambs.”

Well the last point might not be vital for most of us, but James points out that these days you can programme your AGA to run on a low temperature while you are out at work and gear itself up ready for cooking when you get back.

“I am sitting next to mine on one of the hottest days of the year and it’s fine, but people refuse to believe it,” she says. “The fact that they are programmable has removed one of the main objections that people use to have.”

An AGA is almost completely recyclable and around 70 per cent of each one is now made from previously used material – this can include car gearboxes, guttering, lamp posts, door fitting and drain covers. You can choose the fuel that suits you. AGAs can run on natural gas, kerosene, diesel and electricity.

So if you want one, get your cheque book out – they start at £4,995 including installation, although a survey by estate agents Savills found that houses with AGAs sell faster than those without and you do get the cost back when you sell your house.

first published in The Independent

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  • Lesley Carr 23rd September 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I do like AGAs, although I have never owned one. And following on from Kate and Jill I agree that most AGA owners these days have at least on more method of cooking. We install a lot of bulthaup kitchens around AGAs, old and new, and we are always asked for an additional hob, oven, steam oven etc. This seems sensible to me. If you have the space and budget it allows flexibility.

    What surprises me more is how almost every kitchen with an AGA that you see in an advert shows traditional style kitchen furniture, with all the downsides of dusty crevices, hard to reach cupboards etc. I wish there were more images showing how well contemporary minimal kitchens such as bulthaup can look with AGAs and in older style properties. Not everyones cup of tea I know, but would be nice to see nonetheless.

    For those who are interested there are a few I have put on Flickr at https://flic.kr/s/aHsjBZtyuC and at least one on the Case Studies on our website

  • Jill Cox 11th September 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Hello Kate, I haven’t got an AGA but I know quite a few who have. I once had to cook a big breakfast party on a Aga which was a complete nightmare, that’s all they had. There wasn’t even a toaster to relieve the pressure. Watching the bacon sizzle sleepily wasn’t the best start to the day, well it didn’t really sizzle it just shifted lazily, and the eggs just didn’t want to know. I notice all the telly cooks who have Agas in their posh kitchens also have a hob and another regular oven for their on screen demos. But I’m sure aficionados know what they’re talking about, they must really love them. By the way what does AGA stand for. Is it an bit like ABBA?

    • Kate 11th September 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Hi Jill, whisper it quietly but quite a few people think they don’t make very good roast potatoes either. As I said, they do seem to divide opinion and you’re quite right, people often have another complete oven as well as an AGA. Anyway personal feelings aside: AGA stands for Aktiebolaget Gas Accumulator, which were the initials of his company. You can see why he abbreviated it!

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