Raymond Loewy was one of the most important and prolific industrial designers of the 20th Century, so it’s no surprise that he became a contributor to the history of steel kitchen cabinets as early as 1948. Welcome, Mr. Loewy, to the Encyclopedia.
Loewy and his firm designed the “American Kitchens” brand of steel kitchen cabinets, which launched as early as 1948, according to ads I’ve seen online. In 1951, some wonderful historical photos were taken of the kitchen by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, whose work is now held by the Library of Congress. Thank you, heirs of the photographers, for sharing this wonderful historical legacy of photos into the public domain! Above: The full view of the kitchen with Hazel 🙂 Gottscho-Schleisner Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division Library [LC-G613-T01-59449-1/2].
Above: A crisp look at the cabinets. American Kitchens are pretty easily identified by (1) their lines — see how that drawer curves out and up — very Loewy; combined with their (2) pulls — centered on the doors, circular. Credit: Gottscho-Schleisner Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division Library [LC-G613-T-59454]. Heck you can see the whole collection here, mostly retakes of the two I’ve shown.
The photos are labeled “Look” kitchen. I cannot find any primary materials to indicate why “Look”. My first (currently preferred) hypothesis is that it was a shoot meant to provide guidance for illustrators for upcoming promotional catalogs. Most of the catalogs at that time included idealized illustration, rather than photography. A second possibility is that it could have been a photo shoot for (now-defunct) Look Magazine.
The appliances are likely 1951 Frigidaires also designed by Loewy. And, the firm even designed vinyl floor tiles for Goodyear, so I betcha.
In any case: This story is about Loewy and these American Kitchens brand steel kitchen cabinets — and there are some interesting twists to this story — so onward!
Raymond Loewy American Kitchens cabinets were on the market by 1948
Before I found the 1948 ads on ebay, I started looking for signs of these cabinets for sale in 1951, thinking that was their launch date. Using my newspapers.com subscription, I found the cabinets for sale in 1952 at Polsky’s Appliance of Akron, Ohio. The ad copy confirms designed by Raymond Loewy. It promotes a 54″ sink cabinet — complete with drainboard sink with “the world’s largest sink bowl” and faucet — for sale for $89.95 — $45 off. You could also buy with 10% down and pay the balance over 78 weeks. Note, $90 in 1952 would be about $850 in 2019. That sounds like a good deal including the cabinet, drainboard sink, and faucet all-inclusive, don’t you think?
Continuing into 1953, I found this story/ad about Raymond Loewy American Kitchens going into new “executive” homes being built in Atlanta. Oh, big ads about Loewy Kitchens you could buy straight from Gimbels in New York City (“consult with our kitchen specialists on the 8th floor”) and from Howe & Bassett Co. in Rochester, New York, open Monday and Friday nights ’til 9!
This research kind of makes me think: American Kitchens might be pretty close up by the Big-3, Youngstown, Geneva, and St. Charles. Sounds like the company had some reach.
Doing the newspapers.com research, I also will agree with what I’ve been reading about Loewy as a prolific contributor to American domestic products. Poking around just 1951-1953, I’m seeing Loewy-designed Arvin dinette sets [many designs, I think]… an expansive range of Frigidaire appliances… Nesco “nosegay” kitchen ware… Goodyear vinyl floor tiles, lawn chairs at Safeway (limit 4 per customer)… Bavarian china for the Easterling Company — Spencerian Rose was one design… a Mosler safe, Modern bedroom furniture… trailers for Mid-States Corp. and that’s just a wee sample of newspaper ads and articles.
Photo above: From a catalog in my personal collection.
Biographies of Raymond Loewy:
- John Wall wrote a book on Loewy — “the most influential American industrial designer of them all” — and gives us this excerpt on a wonderful website hosted by The Smithsonian and Arizona State University
- There are other biographies — and Loewy’s own autobiography — also available via the usual sources. << affiliate link
You can still get the faucet for the American Kitchens sink
Amazingly, you can still get the faucets for the Raymond Loewy-design kitchen sink. This faucet is specially designed to nest right into the sink (rather than attach via holes). See this story on where to get it.
There is a company in Amsterdam that restores and resells these cabinets
And super interesting: >> There is a company in Amsterdam << that restores and resells these cabinets. Kinda cool, huh? Of course, this makes me wonder whether
I’ve done several stories about American Kitchens, which I’ve also called AVCO kitchens — here is one catalog showing designs from 1953. The photo above is from that catalog, notice the pull-out cart and dishwasher built into the sink base. Such attention to detail! Such manufacturing complexity!
That said, during my research on this article I made a huge (for me) discovery:
Raymond Loewy also designed Crosley Steel Kitchen Cabinets
Okay, surely others know this. But I didn’t. And hey, I really only recently started down the rabbit holes of industrial designers — e.g. Norman Bel Geddes and Servel Steel Kitchen Cabinets — involved in steel kitchen cabinet design. This is a new angle I just figured out would be great for the Encyclopedia.
In my newspapers.com research, I also ran gobsmack into a 1952 ad for the “famous” Raymond Loewy Crosley All Steel Kitchens. For sure you can see the resemblance — most notably, handles are different. Continuing down the hole, I see (1) ads for these lookalike Crosleys as early as 1950, and (2) this ebay listing for Crosleys, which includes cabinet label showing Crosley was a subsidiary of AVCO. American Kitchens also was a subsidiary of AVCO — thanks to the ebay seller for letting me archive the logo here! So there you have it, two brands — with what appear to be the same cabinets — differentiated mainly by different pulls and knobs — under one corporate umbrella. Car companies did basically the same thing with many of their brands. So why now AVCO? Which came first? Crosleys or Americans? Or were they launched at the same time? Are there any meaningful differences? Did they both collapse at the same time, or did one collapse into the other? Always more questions.
You are now in the universe’s epicenter of all steel kitchen cabinet research:
- The Retro Renovation® Encyclopedia of Vintage Steel Kitchen Cabinets
- A Short History (ummm) of Steel Kitchen Cabinets
- All my stories about steel kitchen cabinets