Saving the famous 1960 all-Formica Kitchen from the Corbett House — Hot ticket in Cincinnati tonight

If you live in or near Cincinnati, get your modern bootie over to the Architectural Foundation tonight for a must-see slide show and discussion by local modern enthusiast and kitchen-rescuer Chuck Lohre. In 2010, when he heard that the famous, all-Formica kitchen in the famous, 1960 Corbett house was going to be remodeled, he made a deal with the owners to salvage it. Tonight from 6-8 p.m., he will have the peninsula on display, and talk about the kitchen.

ACK. This house is Gorgeous beyond belief. Rest assured, I have provided links to all of Chuck’s great slide shows, below. Why is this house and its kitchen so famous? Wikipedia says:

John deKoven Hill and [Frank Llloyd] Wright designed a number of buildings together where Hill acted as Chief Architect.Hill was the chief architect and designer for the echt-Wrightian J. Ralph and Patricia Corbett House on 2501 Grandin Road in Cincinnati, Ohio. The 2501 Grandin Road house was House Beautiful’s 1960 Pace Setter and is considered the culmination of Frank Lloyd Wright and John deKoven Hill’s collaborative designs. Many features first seen in houses like Fallingwater and Taliesin are incorporated into the 2501 Grandin Road house.

It is unbelievable: The beautiful modern homes Everywhere across America!

I follow Formica on Facebook, and based on a tip they posted (thanks!) yesterday, I talked to Chuck Lohre on the phone right away. He said that he bought the kitchen out of total modernist love, and had hoped to use it in an upcoming. That project is not going ahead, so now it working to find a buyer. He is currently in talks with the local art museum, which has shown interest. If that doesn’t work out, he is planning to auction the kitchen in March. I suggested he talk to the Museum of Modern Art — remember their terrific modern kitchen exhibit last year? I bet they would love to have it, but Chuck said that first, he is working to keep it in Cincinnati.

Chuck gave me permission to feature a few photos that he took to chronicle the salvage operation. Oh my, the beauteousness. This definitely seems to have been a high-end, all-the-bells-and-whistles 1960 kitchen. Luv.

Chuck also explains that all of the Formica used in the kitchen was custom designed just for it, and apparently the laminate was ever not sold retail. The cabinets are laminated wood — the peninsula would double-decker shelves is covered in laminate, etc. Stay tuned, I am doing more research – and I also have reached out to Formica to see if they can provide any original photography of the kitchen.  Thank you, Chuck, you are a hero. Thanks, too, to the new owners; even though they did not want to keep the original kitchen, they were kind to let Chuck salvage it.

Following are some important links for more information:

  1. Marcheline says:

    That does it. I’m going to buy those retro vinyl atomic stars on Etsy and DO MY CABINETS!!!! I’ve been turning it over in my mind, wondering if it was really retro-propriate, but this post proves my instincts were right on. 😎

  2. Steve says:

    The Wikipedia entry quoted above GROSSLY overstates Frank Lloyd Wright’s connection to the Corbett house. John deKoven Hill had been an apprentice and construction supervisor for Wright, but he and Wright didn’t design this house together … if only because Wright was already dead. And Wright certainly bridged no “collaborative designs.” Hill alone is credited as the chief designer of this house by the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati. The house was obviously done in the Wright-style, but Hill himself – as one who devoted his entire life to Wright’s memory – would have been horrified to read the absurdly boastful claims in the Wiki-entry bearing his name.

    And before anyone is too impressed with the “House Beautiful’s 1960 Pace Setter” designation, I note that Hill himself was the magazine’s architectural editor at the time. He was placed at the magazine in 1953 to champion Wright’s form of ‘organic’ modernism, and Hill was responsible for about 25% of House Beautiful’s published content during the next decade. [Monica Michelle Penick, The Pace Setter Houses: Livable modernism in postwar America, ProQuest 2007, p.113.]

    So, I’m not saying the Corbett kitchen isn’t interesting and significant, but it needs to be judged on its own merits. Thanks for drawing attention to it.

    1. Steve says:

      Thanks, Pam! Just a few additional points of interest from Penick’s dissertation. Mr. Corbett was the founder and owner of the NuTone Company – of door chime fame – and a major House Beautiful advertiser. He approached the magazine about a house in 1957, and Hill designed it as a HB Pace Setter from the start, balancing the client’s needs with those of the magazine and its major advertisers who supplied building supplies and décor for free. The Formica was custom-designed for the house by Hill – you’ll note its pattern is repeated in the exterior ornament, as well as in the wallpaper and fabrics.

      Penick writes that though Hill’s creative impulse was apparent, “he struggled to distinguish himself from Wright,” who discouraged him from being licensed as an architect. Consequently the architectual credits go to others. Still, Penick describes the house as a “true masterpiece” and Hill’s greatest achievement as a designer.

      1. pam kueber says:

        WOAH! Founder of Nutone — we bow down! And thanks for the tip to look for how the Formica pattern is repeated in the exterior ornamentation — so cool!

        1. cincinnatimodern chiming in here! Not only was Nutone a Cincinnati company, so was Formica. I’m sure this was a natural pairing from the start. We in Cincy have much to thank the Corbett’s for – from Ralph’s invention of the two stage door bell (ding/DONG) to their uber generous support of the arts. My 3 children all learned to play violin in grade school because grants from the Corbett foundation funded their public school music program. This kitchen really belongs as a permanent installation where generations to come can see it and learn how to be forward thinking and anything but cookie-cutter!

          1. pam kueber says:

            Thank you for adding this information, Susan! I now have on my list to do more historical research about Nutone. Ding DONG!

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