As any homeowner or renovator of today knows, putting in or redoing a kitchen is a massive expense. It was no different in the 1950s. Poggenpohl had advanced the concept of the all-in-one kitchen, but as comparatively prosperous as 1950s America was, not every Tom, Dick and Harry could afford to put one in.
American companies knew this, of course, and urged homeowners to do it piecemeal if necessary, replacing one outdated component at a time. While German companies could sell European customers on the idea of having an overall design aesthetic, American companies wooed customers partially by shaming them for owning old things while dangling new, improved ones in front of them. The keywords were "convenient," "attractive" and "modern." The American housewife, the thinking went, should let technology do the heavy lifting, should own a kitchen that was beautiful and the envy of the neighbors, and above all, should own things that were new.
Thus we have propaganda videos of the era urging homeowners to embark on "Kitchen modernization programs":
It is refreshing to note, however, that consumerism had not completely overtaken U.S. society yet, and that Americans weren't urged to throw out everything. The video above does encourage some DIY elements, like putting a fresh coat of paint on old cabinets, re-tiling the floors yourself, and cutting new laminate for the countertops. The cynical guess is that this is less about conservation and more about paint companies, tile companies and laminate companies having a seat on the board.
In any case, it is also refreshing to see, in this short from 1957, the narrator espousing the value of "beauty and function" in American kitchens:
Did you catch those wicked "French doors" on the oven? That's a design feature I've not seen recently, so I'm guessing some flaw—bad sealing, perhaps—led to its demise.
These films, of course, were not created purely for the sake of improving the lot of the American housewife. They were a result of collaborations between different corporations and organizations that all had a stake in consumers putting in new kitchens: Companies like Whirlpool, The Formica Company, the American Gas Association, the National Association of Home Builders and even The Woman's Home Companion all pitched in to produce the following short, where housewives yearn for "freedom from unnecessary drudgery," a freedom granted by the "dream" kitchen.
Though the 1955 pacing of this 13-minute video will require some patience for the YouTube generation, this provides the most illuminating look for an industrial designer at the "dream kitchen" of the '50s, however staged and ham-handed the presentation may be. You'll see overall shots, snippets of interfaces and functions, and hear the satisfying CHUNK with which appliances of that era closed shut.
A Brief History of Kitchen Design
Part 1: Pre-Standardization
Part 2: Gas & Water
Part 3: The Birth of Taylorism
Part 4: Christine Frederick's "New Housekeeping" and Margarete Schü-Lihotzky's Frankfurt Kitchen
Part 5: Poggenpohl's Early Influence, 1892-1923
Part 6: Poggenpohl Transforms the Kitchen from Workshop-like to Hospital-like
Part 7: Post-war Poggenpohl's First Unit Kitchen