What the World Needs Now Is an Induction Flair From Frigidaire

The switch to induction is an opportunity to rethink kitchen design.

Showcasing desk space in the kitchen.
Frigidaire Flair at Edison House, Cranbrook University.

Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

In an earlier post, I wondered why are all kitchen counters 36 inches high and noted it wasn't always thus. I quoted kitchen designer Lenore Thye, designer of the step-saving kitchen, who said, “The practice in modern kitchen layouts of having all surfaces on a level, using the 36-inch height of the range as the unit of measure, places more emphasis on appearance than suitability. Different tasks performed in the kitchen frequently require work surfaces of different heights.”

I was reminded of this after a recent tweet from design historian, author, and professor Deborah Sugg Ryan, showing an ad for a Frigidaire Flair range beside a photo of Samantha of "Bewitched," a show about a witch living the life of a suburban housewife after marrying a mortal man. Hence she is actually using the stove instead of just twitching her nose and having dinner magically appear.

Ryan asks: "What’s not to like about an electric range cooker with pull-out burners, eye level ovens with cantilevered doors & so many atomic knobs? Produced 1960-71. Cooker design has gone backwards!" But our professor doesn't mention another important feature: The range itself is about six inches lower than the counter so that the tops of the pots are at a good working height.

Ideas for Living show
The flair at "Ideas for Living".

Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

The Flair was first seen in 1960 at an "Ideas for Living" show as a free-standing element in front of a wall of Lazy Susan storage cupboards, which is an excellent idea as well. According to the Cranbrook Kitchen Sink, the blog of the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research:

"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."

There are so many good ideas in this range that still make sense. The range top is low and disappears when it is not needed. You can pull it out to use two burners or pull it out further for four. To handle electric elements, the drawer had to be relatively thick, but today with thin, light induction elements it could be shallower and lighter.

Hotpoint stove

Hotpoint Museum

Having a high oven and a low range top was certainly not a new idea and was logical. It makes it so much easier to get the food in and out without bending down. The famous industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss thought it was a good idea, writing in his autobiography in 1955:

“Our grandmothers used [the high oven range] twenty-five years ago, but it virtually disappeared when the industrial designer came along and created a revolution in the kitchen by making everything counter height, including the stove. Several years ago, however, research indicated a preference for a high-oven range and a manufacturer offered an improved model. Women liked its greater convenience... but they didn’t buy it. The table-top stove flush with theother cabinets in the kitchen had become such a style factor that the ladies refused to be budged away from it.”
oven design that pops out of cupboard patent design

M J Van Alstyne / Google Patents

But Jayne van Alstyne certainly thought it was a good idea. She even designed and patented an oven that could be parked on a conventional counter and popped up with a spring mechanism to eye-level height. She wrote: "The trend in built-in appliances is toward cooking units which may be moved to concealed or out-of-the-way positions when not in use. Such appliances may be designed to install snugly against adjacent kitchen cabinets, such that a concealed appliance will align smoothly and coplanarly with adjacent cabinet surfaces."

Flair advertisement

GM Frigidaire

Look what we have here in this ad. The controls are all at eye level, out of reach of children but high enough over the pots that they can be easily reached by an adult. The doors pull up and out of the way so the turkey gets basted without bending over. There is a cupboard underneath for storage, but everything about the range and the oven is accessible and ergonomic.

As far as sustainability goes, the Flair is still in demand 60 years later, with an active Facebook group showing off their Flairs or looking for parts. Because good design is timeless.

But also, we are in a time of wild innovation in kitchen design thanks to the induction revolution. Have a look at the ad for this new induction stove from Korea, where the entire top is an element and you can put a pot or pan of any size, anywhere.

There is evidence that people's cooking habits have changed due to the pandemic. One study shows: "The exceptional circumstances of the lockdown provided a positive opportunity for some people to improve their diet quality by spending more time cooking (54.8% of those reporting a positive change) or eating more fresh products, including fruits and vegetables (47.4%)... The lockdown led to a massive rise in home cooking with 42.0% of all participants cooking more frequently (vs 7.0% cooking less), as barriers such as time constraints were reduced." 

With so much change in the air, it's time to rethink how we design our kitchens and our appliances. A good start would be with a modern Flair designed around ergonomics, safety, and health.

View Article Sources
  1. Dreyfuss, Henry. Designing for People. Simon and Schuster, 1955.

  2. van Alstyne, Jayne M, and Powder, Paul F. "Concealable built-in oven." US3027216A.

  3. Sarda, Barthélemy, et al. "Changes in home cooking and culinary practices among the French population during the COVID-19 lockdown." Appetite, vol. 168, Jan. 2022. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2021.105743