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Saving a Modernist Cincinnati Kitchen

By Steven Rosen · February 8th, 2012 · The Big Picture
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When Chuck Lohre and Janet Groeber learned the innovative kitchen at Hyde Park’s landmark 1960 Corbett House was being replaced by new owners, they shifted into action to save it. They offered to take it and the owners agreed.  

They acquired the kitchen in 2010. Now, no longer wanting to store the disassembled kitchen, they are trying to find a new home for it. To help that quest, they have put one of the kitchen’s most distinguished and visionary features on display through Friday at the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati (811 Race St., Downtown).

It is a 12-foot-long, mid-room “island” that contains two custom-designed stainless-steel sinks, shelving for spices and below-level warming lamp for food, deep fryer and more. From 6-8 p.m. Friday, Lohre will present a slide show/discussion on the house and kitchen.

He is planning on having Everything But the House auction the kitchen in March. But Cincinnati Art Museum also is considering it as a future “period room” and hopes to determine the feasibility of that this week, says its director, Aaron Betsky.

“We’re interested in a fascinating and beautiful artifact and we’d love to keep it in Cincinnati one way or another,” Betsky says. “We and others are working to see how that’s possible.” 

A decision is due this week. (It may have been made by the time this story is published. If so, the online version of this column will be updated.)

In Lohre’s view, the Corbett House is a critically important piece of the city’s Modernist legacy.

It was House Beautiful magazine’s 1960 Pace Setter, featured in a cover article. The Grandin Road house was designed in 1960 by John deKoven Hill, a key associate of Frank Lloyd Wright who was an officer and trustee of the Wright Foundation and also at one time editorial director of House Beautiful magazine. He died in 1996. 

J. Ralph and Patricia Corbett were among Cincinnati’s great 20th Century families. He was a founder of Nutone, which made electrical door chimes, and he and his wife were major arts supporters. They also entertained at home and wanted a residence appropriate for that task. (He died in 1996; his wife in 2008.) 

“The kitchen was the centerpiece that was so incredible,” Lohre says. “(The house) is so significant because it’s all unified inside and outside, grounds and interior. It was used extensively for entertaining and became part of the culture of Cincinnati because of Patricia Corbett.” 

Lohre and his wife have a background in preservation of Mid-Century Modernist architecture and design, an area of growing importance in America. They live in Clifton’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed 1956 Boulter House and are active in Cincinnati Form Follows Function, a group devoted to Modernism. Lohre also has a keen interest in the “green” movement, running the green-cincinnati.com website (where photos of the Corbett House kitchen are posted).

The Corbett House, when new, had to have as modern and fully integrated a kitchen as the booming post-World War II years allowed. It was approximately 15-by-25 feet. As the House Beautiful article put it, “This kitchen has every convenience built in right at hand, so you are free to concentrate on creative cooking, unhampered by the usual clutter.” 

The architect turned to Formica, a Cincinnati company, to help design the light-blue, laminated plastic surfaces of the kitchen, which had icons meant to be the home’s symbol. And Nutone provided a built-in food center with mixer, blender, shredder, grinder, sharpener and juicer, plus built-in hood fan, intercom radio and clock chime. 

Lohre, who paid the Corbett House kitchen-renovation crew an extra $500 to remove the original as carefully as possible, does not have the original refrigerator or two dishwashers. They had been replaced over the years. A rolling table is missing and it was difficult to disassemble some of the built-in wall features.

Originally, Lohre thought he might someday rebuild the Corbett kitchen in a new house — the “green” reuse could qualify for LEED certification. The architect of their current home, Wright, was not an advocate of big kitchens.

“I thought I owed it to give Janet a bigger kitchen than the last one, which has 30 square feet,” Lohre says. 

But for now, maintaining a Wright home in pristine condition is too important to give up. He’d like the Corbett kitchen to also have a good home.


CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosen@citybeat.com

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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