I scan, therefore, I am. For our reference and enjoyment today –10 photos — six kitchens — excerpted from a 1953 American Kitchens catalog in my personal collection. American Kitchens was the brand name for steel kitchen cabinets made by Avco Manufacturing Corp., of Connersville, Indiana. Avco American was among the major brands of the day, and we see these cabinets fairly often in the wild — in their natural habitat or on craigslist, etc. This brand also is noteworthy for its porcelain drainboard sink with the unique faucet — I get questions regularly about to get this faucet, new, which until quite recently was possible, can you believe it.
“Postwar” design really is split into two periods
When we talk about design in post-World-War II America, we really need to split those years into two distinct eras.
Postwar Design – The Carryover Years — In the immediate aftermath of World War II — 1946 through to 1953 — colors and designs were more pre-war-carryover in look and feel. There were still material shortages. Manufacturers were still using designs created before the war (they had not innovated on consumer goods during the war, when all efforts were channeled to building America’s arsenal.) Also, people were still quite tight with their cash; those Depression years still weighed heavy, and folks liked their savings accounts. These Avco American Kitchen designs? I would describe them as prewar-carryover style. In addition, the Avco American Kitchen cabinets themselves have a very streamline look. I need to check authoritatively, but my aging brain is leading me to recall that they may have been designed by Raymond Loewy and/or his firm!
Postwar Design – The Populuxe Years — 1953 is recognized as the start of the “Populuxe” (*affiliate link) years — a term invented by author Thomas Hine. Beginning around 1953 and running through 1963, colors and designs in America became more exuberant, more experimental; these were heyday years for America in a variety of ways, and our rising affluence was communicated in our interior design and architecture.
- My story about 1950s design style.
- My story about 1940s design style.
All of the countertops in these kitchens are “vinyl plastic bonded to steel,” it says. Colors were quite saturated, quite rich:
- Greenwich Green
- Grenada Gray
- Baltic Blue
- Redwing Red
- Yosemite Yellow
I’m thinking they must also have offered black. To replicate this look today, check out linoleum sheet — check specifications, though. And there may occasionally be a laminate to mimic the look.
The catalog also promotes a hard maple cutting board — note the adorable roll-out serving cart shown under it in many of the kitchen designs. This is a classic Avco American kitchen feature.
That faucet is a specialty item, and you can still get a replacement today — see this story for info on where.
Above, the brochure asked:
TV or not TV… that isn’t the question in a house of today with this beautiful L-Shaped kitchen as modern as tomorrow. Here the busy homemaker can watch TV without disrupting her regular kitchen activities….
This TV kitchen was promoted as an “ultra-modern kitchen.” The first image (where the walls look so bright red) was on the cover of the brochure. Golly, could you even get a TV this small in 1953?
The catalog shows six kitchen design styles. Can you match the title with the photo(s)?:
- Westward Ho!
- TV or not TV
- To Grandmother’s House We Went
- Southern Hospitality
- City Gal
- Down on the Farm
A few years later, Avco American gave us the famous wood+coppertone Pioneer Kitchen, color-styled by Beatrice West.
Some of the images toward the back of the brochure (where product details are outlined) are quite amusing — and graphically interesting in that they appear to be combinations of photography and illustration. And of course, we get the occasional “Caption This” opportunity. Because, oh my gosh, new kitchens for America! New kitchens for America!