How long might it take to pull together a historic kitchen of your dreams? How about: seven years — and that includes buying the house. Yes, I checked, and my first email from Jennifer was in Dec. 2011 — seven years ago — when she was “house hunting in the burbs.” She recently updated me that in the years since, she’d found a new house and is finishing up on remodeling a “new” kitchen full of salvaged American Kitchens brand cabinets designed by famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy. In fact, she has become quite the Loewy expert, and her house includes more his designs, including Rosenthal china, a Sunbeam toaster, Le Creuset Coquelle dutch oven, Mengel furniture, and Borg bathroom scale. Still, the big story is: Those cabinets!
I’ve collected midcentury since the late 90s. At first, it was the bright pop art type stuff.
I first heard of Loewy when I bought a yellow knockoff (like the Broyhill Premiere but with round molded plastic) at the Chelsea flea market. It was sold as DF2000. It wasn’t. It was priced well and I was ok with that. I didn’t become obsessed with the details until later.
The first Loewy designed thing I acquired was the Rosenthal “form e” set of dishes. I was looking for a set of “real China” for the holidays and found it at a good price. I later bought the “Plaza Form 2000” design and mixed and matched it with pieces from the classic modern line (the shape of the pieces was the same, the artwork was different). They were all marked “Raymond Loewy” or “Loewy”.
Meanwhile, we started to search for a house. Most of the houses we found, in our price range, were midcentury houses that had been remodeled in the 70s or 80s. The remodels were not current, nor did they fit the houses. So, I began collecting Loewy kitchens in anticipation.
The first one, was a small Pioneer kitchen, color styled by Beatrice West (as I learned on your blog). It was in pretty good shape, but the birch veneers were peeling. I had planned to use it in a future dining room, but my children claimed the dining room site for their own and planted the sofa in it.
The restored cabinets are going to now go in the almost complete lounge. I found 3 more small sets (in 3 states–VT, CT, PA) of all steel for the kitchen over the next 2 years and used them as storage in my Brooklyn apartment. They were in the living room and dining room and filled with books, games, and dishes. In all 4 sets, there was only one lazy Susan corner piece. It was copper. It is now white. We used pieces from all of the sets and have a few left over.
We found a kit cape style house from 1948 in a town we liked. The kitchen was small and also shared space with the laundry room. The garage and the enclosed breezeway, which had been converted to living space by a previous owner, needed to be rebuilt. The rooms had water damage and a lot of rotting wood. So, we decided to move the kitchen to that space and leave the laundry room in the old kitchen space.
I found a working Frigidaire by GM fridge (the one with the round handle–I have a thing for circles) a local online estate sale for $1 and opted against searching for the matching Loewy designed stove because it was electric and I wanted gas. The vintage fridge will serve as a second fridge.
The 2 matching Western Holly ovens and one stovetop came from NJ and MA via craigslist. Again, I loved the round portholes and thought they went well with the circle pulls and rounded shape of the American Kitchens cabinets. The copper pulls on the pioneer set were in good shape, but the lucite pulls on the metal set were not. I found some similar vintage copper pulls and used those.
More circles for the light fixtures and the rounded vintage Joal fiberglass shells for the counter stools.. It’s probably good I wasn’t able to find a round house!
I dropped the ovens and the cooktop off at the Stove Lady. She restored them and also connected me to Fred, who came to my house and rewired my vintage fridge.
The cabinets went to a powder coater. They were stripped to remove the old paint and surface rust and came back bright white. We also had the baseboards, that were originally black, vinyl wrapped copper to match the pulls and the paint on the pulls cleaned up and refreshed. Everything is now tested and safe.
The cast steel sink was powder coated in the same white as the cabinets. The faucet is a reproduction “American Kitchens” found on Amazon [<<affiliate link – Pam]. Yes, Loewy. Yes, it has the spherical black pulls at the end of the chrome.
We had to take down a bunch of ash trees that were infested with the emerald borer and a big maple tree. The trees were unstable and the maple was leaning towards the house.
We had the ash trees milled into flooring and the maple tree milled into doors, cabinet doors (for the copper cabinets) and countertops.
We obsessed over the countertops for a long time. Restoring the Loewy American Kitchen seems to be a popular pursuit in Holland and most of the restorations include the iconic countertop profile shape. I’ve seen them in stainless steel, laminate over steel and Corian solid surfaces. We wanted to keep the steamlined modern shape of the original tops, but it was impossible to do with wood. And, we really wanted to use every bit of the lumber from the property. In the end, we loved the details of the maple on the countertop and can’t imagine the kitchen any other way. I also think the warm wood contrasts with the cold white steel in a nice way. And, our amazing carpenter was able to match the bullnose profile of the wood to the edge of the sink exactly, so the outside edge matches if the wall side does not. I like to joke that the trees wanted to be in our house. We just really micromanaged their fall.
I furnished the bedrooms with the two different styles of Mengel furniture (by Loewy of course) and designed in 1948–which was the year the house was built. I added a few other pieces by the designer to my collection (the Le Creuset dutch oven, Sunbeam rounded toaster and the Borg scale). At this point, almost everything in the house (save the new fridge) is vintage and fits the scale and proportion of the house. We even powder coated some of the upper cabinets and floated them in the living room as a tv cabinet. While most of the vintage stuff from the late 40s, some disco era bling has been managing to find its way in!
Onto finding an Avanti Studebaker and retired Concorde to add to my collection 😉 I’ll leave the Lucky Strikes for someone else…
Phew, indeed, Jennifer. I am in awe of your kitchen — every detail, so thoughtful. What an amazing life-experience — with an amazing end-result.
Thank you so much for generously sharing this story and all the photos!