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Jennifer’s epic journey to add Raymond Loewy-designed kitchen cabinets in her 1948 house

raymond loewy kitchen cabinetsHow 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!

Jennifer wrote:

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.

rosenthal form e dishes

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”.

I started to do more research. I read “Never Leave Well Enough Alone” and “Industrial Design“. [<<readers, these are affiliate links – I earn a small commission if ya click and buy anything – Pam]

rosenthal china by raymond loewy
Heidi and Scott also have the Rosenthal china designed by Raymond Loewy in their remodeled Las Vegas kitchen here.

steel kitchen cabinets being installed

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.

A 1956 American-brand “Pioneer” kitchen color styled by Beatrice West. 

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.

installing steel kitchen cabinetsThe 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.

vintage refrigerator

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.

vintage stoves designed by raymond loewy

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!

raymond loewy kitchen

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.

restored steel kitchen cabinets

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.

american brand steel kitchen cabinets

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.

custom doors

We had the ash trees milled into flooring and the maple tree milled into doors, cabinet doors (for the copper cabinets) and countertops.

maple 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.

american brand steel kitchen cabinets
On a desktop computer – click to enlarge to see the details of the Raymond Loewy kitchen. 1953 catalog in my personal collection. And, to see more details within a Raymond Loewy kitchen, see this story with a bunch more vintage illustrations of 1953 Avco American kitchen cabinets designed by Raymond Loewy.

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!

raymond loewy designed kitchenPhew. That was a lot of work.

dog
“Even Wilbur (our pup) is happy with the results,” Jennifer added.

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!

  1. Jay says:

    Some serious baking can be accomplished with two sets of ovens. Well it’s only mid January and we’re presented with a lollapalooza eye popping story. Beautiful light filled kitchen and all that reclaimed wood from the trees to boot. Lowey also designed the streamlined deco locomotive shells for the PA RR. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  2. Melinda says:

    What dedication! And a patient family as well. I really like the unexpected touch of the wood countertops. How fabulous to be able to use the trees in such a beautiful way.

  3. Barbara says:

    I love reading how some people really get down and use good old fashion elbow grease to get the job done right!!
    What a beautiful kitchen!
    And on top of that, incorporating the trees into it all! LOVE…THIS STORY!!
    I also love the Holly stoves.
    Last year I found a full set, 14 pieces, of steel American Kitchen cabinets. And, in mint condition! I took them right off the kitchen walls. And now I’m the proud second owner of these amazing 1943/45 well-built cabinets. Every time I look at them, I’m blown away. Their only 78 years old! I love saying that. LOL!!
    Lots…of respect from me, to the family who has so…much to offer and for sharing their long journey story of determination.
    Now that ladies and gentlemen, is what you call, “good old fashion elbow grease!”
    THANK YOU SO MUCH!

  4. Priscilla says:

    Gorgeous result of all your hard work. Love that you have a Weimaraner too. He is the best neutral for modeling your “new” kitchen.

  5. Angus says:

    This is absolutely incredible! The amount of dedication and work that went into the kitchen – plus the results – are amazing!

  6. Mary S says:

    Just beautiful! Seems like a great candidate for “the hard way” award. I love your attention to detail and all of the windows in the kitchen. Thanks so much for sharing and to Pam for posting for us all.

  7. Diane in CO says:

    THANK YOU for your amazing story, kitchen and photos!! As a dedicated “tree person” I found your repurposing of your trees and the glorious results the best part. Just gorgeous.

    Love all the Loewy info! Kate posted a story here in 2014 when Le Creuset reissued the Coquille Dutch Oven.

    In the photo with the maple door, may I ask the brand/name of your lovely paint color?

    1. Jennifer says:

      Thank you! The paint in the kitchen is BM Pale Smoke. In the original main part of the house, which has the vintage fridge and the overstuffed China cabinet, the color is the next one up on the paint chip–BM Wales Grey. Both colors change a lot in the light and remind me of a slightly more airy version of the grey/blue/green colors that were popular in the late 40s.

  8. James Lehr says:

    Magnificent! Your kitchen is a dream, and I applaud you for rescuing vintage appliances. People thought I was out of my mind for removing 5-year old appliances from my 1949 home, and installing Frigidaire Flair ovens and vintage KitchenAid dishwashers, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. And there’s nothing better than a Sunbeam radiant control toaster. You rock!

    1. KennyT123 says:

      I know what you mean James. My electrician was floored and impressed with my Frigidaire RV-92 fold up burners, pink GE wall oven from 1955 and my 1940s Philco Fridge that I painted yellow all by myself. I even painted the front panel of my GE Artistry Dishwasher turquoise. It was only two years old when I painted it but it was so cool. He was surprised people still liked them and in the spring my 2014 GE Artistry range and fridge go to the REStore. Well, I’m thinking of painting that fridge with the rest of the yellow paint just to see………..

  9. Diana says:

    Love your story. Beautiful kitchen. You had a vision and perservered to make it happen. Love the beautiful use of your trees. So sad when old trees have to come down. We recently lost a 70+ year old ash. I cried all day! Wish I had thought of a use for some of the wood in our house. And I love your ovens too!

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