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Dream Kitchen: 1946

Circa 1945-47. "Experimental kitchen model." Our second picture in this series of speculative designs addressing the postwar shortage of housing for mice. This model home has an open floorplan and open ceiling plan as well, with attic storage for giant cigars and oversize tins. Photo: Eric Schaal, Life archive. View full size.

Circa 1945-47. "Experimental kitchen model." Our second picture in this series of speculative designs addressing the postwar shortage of housing for mice. This model home has an open floorplan and open ceiling plan as well, with attic storage for giant cigars and oversize tins. Photo: Eric Schaal, Life archive. View full size.

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Channeling Frank Lloyd Wright

The open floor plan is just part of the "destruction of the box" that Wright brought to American architecture. This does have a European feel to it. I'd love to know more about it.


In these days of software design, I wonder if architects or planners anywhere make such realistic models anymore? Whenever I browse architectural magazines or peek in the windows of architects' offices, all I ever see are drab cardboard or balsa wood models. There's something to be said for offering the client a really good model, an all-seeing view.

Prefab Homes

Funny caption, but, I spent a few years assembling prefab homes. Well built, up to codes and finished perfectly. I thought by now it would be the norm. Everything came in on a flatbed then craned onto a poured basement wall.
Presto.. that was the beginning of the 70's

Front loaders in Europe

Front loading washing machines have been standard in Germany for ages. I have never seen any other type.

The main reason for this, I believe, is that front loaders require considerably less water, which is quite expensive here.


There's something vaguely insect-like about those chairs. They seem like they're fixing to start scuttling around.

Not just building materials

Not just building materials were in short supply after the war. I just had a chair recovered that I purchased from an estate sale. The upholsterer told me the padding in it was stuff they'd been using during the war as packing crate padding, and used in furniture manufactured just after the war until industry fully shifted back to peacetime goods.

The house I grew up in had that curtain thingy around the bottom edge of the sink, until, oh, 1970 or so. Yes, we used it for a hiding place, too.

Kitchen Memories

My grandparents' house, built in 1946 in Oak Park, Illinois, looked a lot like this. Building materials were in short supply after the war so there were no cabinets under the sink. What people did was tack a curtain along the drainboard. You could store a ton of stuff under there. Also a good hiding place for 6-year-olds.


The house from above. Click to enlarge.

Re: Clinical

Industrial pops into my mind, it's missing the floor drains so you could hose off the sanitizing solution.

Design disaster!

A kitchen built from this model would be an unqualified disaster. It's badly designed in so many ways that the only way to fix it would be to tear out everything and start again.

A sink of this type is only useful if the front is dropped enough so that the sitting user can easily reach in. This means the front wall of the sink also has to be angled inward so that the user can tuck her knees underneath. (Sinks for wheelchair users are made this way.) Otherwise the sink is difficult to reach into - I've used these and although they look wonderful, you end up half-crouched over the sink with your elbows pointing outward and your back tying itself up in knots.

There is no storage space under the counter. Where does the housewife keep her kitchen supplies, her turkey roaster, her scrubbies? Yes, homemakers back then had as much of that stuff as homemakers now do. Does she have to trudge over to the laundry area every time she wants to get something to scrub a pan? And how about things like stock pots, cutlery, bags of flour and sugar, etc., etc.? There might be some room to the right of the (tiny, but appropriate for the time frame) fridge, but there can't be much.

The oven is far too small. It's nice that the designers chose a 36-inch cooktop, but why an 18-inch oven? Cooks of the day used their ovens far more often than most modern people do; you couldn't bake a three-layer cake or roast even a ten-pound turkey with that oven.

The 'storage' shelf sitting against the right-hand wall that looks like it could hold three bowls could easily have been turned into a full counter with full storage space underneath. As is it's a waste of space.

But the work table is the worst part of it all. The pot rack hangs so low over the work table that someone kneading bread or rolling out pastry would have to remove the pans every time she used it or risk being smacked in the head. The table itself should not be on rollers since not only is there no reason to move it, there's no place to move it *to*, and the rollers make it unstable. It should also not be two tables (and especially not one on wheels and one not on wheels - what a way to make sure they separate whenever you try to use them), and the aluminum pole sticking out of the wheeled table will get in the cook's way no matter how it is aligned with the other table.

There's also a gap between what cabinetry there is and the floor. Maybe this is because they built in miniature, but in a real kitchen it would be very annoying. I don't think anyone appreciates having to lie on a wet floor and reach under a cabinet just to get the corners clean. You'll also notice that there's no dryer, just a washer - not so wonderful for the winter, wet days, or overly windy days, or for homes without a backyard (or with restrictive covenants forbidding homeowners to hang their laundry outdoors, which was as common in this time frame as in ours).

Back to the drawing board, Life.

Fantasy Island

An early glimpse into our love affair with kitchen islands. That pot and pan setup would be a nice breakfast bar/prep area.


This kitchen suggests both medical clinic and "Sweeney Todd."


Front-loading washing machines "failed to catch on" because the early consumer models tended to dump water on the floor. Materials and technology to make a rotating seal over a foot in diameter without it being so costly as to take it completely out of the "consumer" range didn't exist.

Commercial machines have been front-loaders for years, but paying the price of a fairly nice car for a washing machine isn't in the budget for most consumers.

[Front-loaders weren't exactly a failure. Millions were sold in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s, starting with the very first circa 1939 Bendix automatic washers. Home laundry front-loaders have never gone out of production. - Dave]

Another goes-around-comes-around

Note how the sink and stove are designed to be used while sitting down. This was a nice aspect of 1920's kitchens, which this architect carried forward with a modern flavor. But in fact 1950's kitchens didn't continue this nice feature. Instead they filled the undersink and understove spaces, requiring the housewife to stand. Now, under the rubric of "universal design," mainly for wheelchair access, we're finally coming back to letting the housewife sit down while working.

[Sit-down sinks, "vegetable sinks" in particular, were a shelter-magazine staple all through the 1950s. - Dave]

You got me, Dave

I never caught on that the model home in the other picture was a.... model. I just figured it was an experimental home built somewhere in CA around 1948 and was being SHOWN as a model.

And here I was thinking how antiseptic and unlived in it looked.

But I bet Stuart Little would love it....

Counter space

Yikes, there's almost no counter space. Was this anticipating the invention of the TV dinner?

What comes around - goes around

Notice the front loading washing machine, which took decades to really catch on.


Earlier this year, the Museum of Modern Art had an exhibit on prefab houses.

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