Magical Oven: The Frigidaire Flair

As part of its efforts to maintain safe distancing during classes, Cranbrook Schools has spread out all over campus. This includes the use of the Edison House, former home of visiting scholars to Cranbrook Institute of Science.

The history of Edison House and a look at some of its unique features have been explored already (see earlier Kitchen Sink blogs Edison House a Modern Icon and Photo Friday: Modern inside and Out). But one particular object in the house has a special Cranbrook, and a magical, connection.

1965 Frigidaire Imperial Flair oven installed in Edison House. Photos by Daniel Smith, CAA ’22.

In the Edison House kitchen is installed a 1965 model Frigidaire Imperial Flair range and oven in Honey Beige. Frigidaire was owned by General Motors when the Flair was introduced to the market in 1962. An electric range, the Flair has burners that roll in and out much like a drawer, hidden from view when not in use. The double ovens sit right at counter height, and the oven doors lift up instead of swinging out. As a Frigidaire advisement in Cranbrook Archives proudly pronounced, “Flair has every automatic feature you’ve ever wanted!”

Ideas for Living, 1960
An image from “Ideas for Living,” 1960. Copyright General Motors. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

First, the Cranbrook connection: Many aspects of the oven, including the mechanics of the lifting oven doors, were designed by M. Jayne van Alstyne. Van Alstyne, whose papers are held in Cranbrook Archives, studied ceramics at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1941 and 1942 before going on to study industrial design at Pratt Institute and Alfred University in New York. From 1955 to 1969, she worked for General Motors, first with GM Frigidaire and later as one of Harley Earl’s “Damsels of Design” in the automotive division.

As Studio Head for GM Frigidaire, she led the research and development of appliances and oversaw product exhibitions, including the “Ideas for Living” show where the Flair debuted in 1960. Her signature oven and range (as well as many other modern electric appliances detailed in the dedication booklet) was installed at Edison House in 1966.

Kitchen in Edison House, “Cranbrook’s New Idea Home,” May 1966. Harvey Croze, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Second, the magical connection: From 1964 to 1972, Actress Elizabeth Montgomery starred in the television sitcom, Bewitched. It told the story of Samantha, a witch, who marries a mortal, Darrin Stephens (Dick York). Samantha agrees to live the life of an ordinary housewife. Of course, things don’t go as planned and hilarity ensues. In their kitchen, the Stephens had a Frigidaire Flair, which appeared in a number of episodes.

Actress Elizabeth Montgomery on the set of Bewitched with her Frigidaire Flair. Photo Courtesy of Grace Kelly, Kitchen Designs by Ken Kelly, Inc.

Anyone who sees the Flair in Edison House will agree it is a marvel of design. While they won’t be whipping up lunch on the appliance, I hope the kids taking classes in the house will take a moment appreciate it. As Frigidaire promised in 1962, the Flair is “The happiest thing that ever happened to cooking… OR YOU!”

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Modern Living

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s annual conference in Midland where in each session, I heard references to Cranbrook-related art, architecture and/or design. Naturally, I had to investigate some of these referrals when I got in to the office today! (Curiosity killed the archivist.) One of the sessions I went to, Ideal/Idea Houses: Modern Living in the 1950s sparked my interest since all of the homes were built in the metro-Detroit area and many of them are still standing today.

What exactly was an Ideal/Idea House? In late 1940, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis planned to exhibit a fully functional, completely furnished exhibition house called the Idea House in conjunction with an exhibition entitled “American Living.” The house was intended to showcase new ideas about home architecture and design. The exhibition opened in June 1941.

Fast forward to 1950 when the Builders Association of Detroit took this idea and turned it into an annual competition – first for practicing architects and by 1953, for Michigan architecture students. Originally called the Ideal Home, in 1956, the Builders Association changed the name to Idea Home. This was the same year that the winning entry of Academy of Art architecture student, George Zonars, was built and featured in the Detroit Builders Home Show held at the Michigan State fairground from February to April, 1956. Zonars turned over his preliminary drawings to the architectural firm of Palmquist & Wright, who prepared detailed working plans and specifications, and supervised the construction of the home.

Zonar's rendering of the 1956 Idea Home

Zonars’ rendering of the 1956 Idea Home. Royal Oak Daily Tribune.

Zonars’ Idea Home, like the ones that preceded his, was one of the earliest ranch-style homes in the area and accentuated modern outdoor living by featuring walls of glass windows and outdoor terraces. The exterior featured copper flashing and gutters, pierced brick screen walls, and a wide roof overhang. The interior was completely air-conditioned, had a built-in fire alarm system, and featured an “electronic precipitator” which filtered dust, pollen, bacteria, and germs from the air.

Exterior view of Idea Home

Exterior view of the large glass panel windows and the overhanging roof. Detroti Free Press.

Informality was stressed in the open floor plan of the interior which was decorated by Bette Wilson, assistant home furnishings coordinator for J. L. Hudson. The living room featured a mahogany plywood wall (stained with a walnut finish) and a copper fireplace and hearth. The color scheme was “soothing” with beige walls and carpet, accentuated by furniture in beige, green, rust and copper while accent cushions added splashes of bright turquoise and copper. The master bathroom featured wallpaper from Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Taliesin” line.

Snack Bar

The “snack bar” served as a room divider. The vinyl floor was turquoise with accent tiles in white and avocado. Detroit News.

The concept behind the Idea Home was to provide construction ideas and the use of new materials for builders, ideas for architects when designing future projects, and ideas for the “housewife” to decorate her current home. And perhaps the best part? Visitors to the home show could win the home by guessing the number of nails inside a large plastic model of the house! No idea who eventually won, but the house still exists at 29060 Lone Elm Lane in Southfield. I know what I’m doing this week-end. . .

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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