1950s Home Decor
Then she got word of those 67 cabinets sitting in the cooking-school basement in New York: 115 linear feet of aquamarine gorgeousness. Kueber bought the entire lot for $3,000, cherry-picked the pieces she wanted, and sold the rest on eBay for $2,500. When the contractor came to install them, he said, “What? Someone’s old cabinets in this brand-spanking-new kitchen?”But once they were all installed and polished up, everyone—from the plumber to the inspector—understood. “There were big smiles on their faces,” she says. “Everyone would say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve been tearing these out for years. We can’t believe we’re putting them back in’—but always with a big smile.”
Just as the kitchen renovation was wrapping up, blogs were starting to become popular, and Kueber thought of débuting her own. “I love design, I love writing, and I decided it would be a shame to shove all this information into a drawer and move on,” she says. Kueber began sharing her research, musing on everything from hardware to DIY projects. “It’s a narrow and deep topic,” she says of midcentury home design. And the Mad Men era was starting to heat up the popular imagination.
“People my age are moving into these ’50s and ’60s houses because they’re downsizing to a single-floor layout—and because they’re nostalgic,” Kueber adds. “First-time buyers in their twenties and thirties like them because they’re affordable and groovy.Assuming the house is well built, it’s often a little jewel box—whether it’s midcentury modest or modern or a sweet Cape or Colonial. They have immense charm.” Four years later, she was able to quit her day job to make her living as a blogger.
But Kueber isn’t a slave to vintage: “I wouldn’t say I live like the ’50s at all. We’re a modern-day family, though I do have some vintage clothing I throw on occasionally. We use the kitchen the way anyone else would, with salmon on the barbecue. I don’t make ‘tuna surprise.’”
That said, she does carry on a secret life downstairs, where she squirrels away remarkable antique finds. During my visit, she disappears below and emerges a few minutes later hauling a 30-pound 1963 “Electro-Sink Center.” It’s a two-foot-long hunk of metal with a faucet in the center and a motor on either end, designed to drive a bevy of Cuisinart-like attachments, including mixers, choppers, and juicers. It sold for $399 in 1963 (about $3,000 in 2013 dollars), and Kueber says it appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
She also shows me an original Republic Steel Kitchens salesman’s kit; each one came with dozens of dollhouse-size cabinets that you could use to lay out your dream kitchen on a gridded mat. “I’m so fascinated by the social history of these things,” Kueber says. “At one point when I was building my kitchen, I set up this little model in my dining room for reference.”
Ultimately, Kueber has become a crusader for preserving the flamboyance of a bygone era: “We’ve come through this decade where people have been told to do everything in a neutral way for resale value. So when you see unapologetic color, it brightens your day.”
She’s also found herself defending the quality and aesthetic of a period that many still remember with a tinge of embarrassment. “A few years ago, no one understood my other little blog, ‘Save the Pink Bathrooms,’” she says. “People were flipping houses and gutting pink bathrooms, replacing them with 16-inch faux granite.” Now people send her photos of their salvaged pink tile.
“I’m starting a campaign for knotty pine,” Kueber says. “It’s the classic eye-of-the-beholder thing. Grandma wasn’t wrong; she just had a different perspective.”