Since most household chores tend to take place in or at least in association with the kitchen, Eichler's concept of blending leisure and work comes through strongly there. While entertaining, hosts could spend considerable time in the kitchen without missing a step. The Eichler model brought the party to the host.
"Everybody could gather in the kitchen, crack a beer, cook a steak. It was almost primitive—a campfire kind of thing," Coggins said. With the nation flocking toward the suburbs, gatherings within the home began to take the place of nights at the supper club or bar. Eichlers were built for socializing and allowed middle-class people to entertain in a natural style all their own, rather than hosting knock-offs of more affluent gatherings.
Built-in appliances brought with them practical improvements as well as stylistic ones. The new ovens came with warming drawers to keep food at a serving temperature. The range, in the absence of a 450-degree box under it, cooked what was on the burner, but allowed food to stay cool right up until the power came on. It also made 'slaving over a hot stove' just that, instead of slaving over a hot stove and oven.
Getting the oven out of the way allowed the stove's ventilation system to be down-draft, removing the need for the overhead hood and allowing for the kitchen island setup. Though forward in concept, the early downdraft systems did not work as well as their ceiling-mounted counterparts. In 1978, Thermador developed the pop-up vent, which drafted from the side instead of from the bottom and sank into the counter when not in use. Though introduced after the Eichler era, the pop-up vent stems from concepts developed in the Eichler-Thermador kitchen and remains popular in remodels.
As Eichler worked to streamline the commute-heavy lives of the new suburban multitudes, Thermador worked to streamline their kitchens. In 1963, Thermador introduced the self-cleaning oven. In 1964, the lift-up cook-top made cleaning the burners an easy job. 1967 saw the built-in can opener and toaster. Many Eichlers also had a Nutone blender motor built into the countertop.
This integration of appliance into construction is known in German as 'Einbau,' a word that translates directly as assembly, flush mounting, or integration. Thermador's penchant for Einbau gained enough attention from overseas that the German company Bosch-Siemens Hausgerate bought it from then-owner Masco Corporation in 1998.
Despite its German parent company, Thermador remains an American institution, and for its 50th anniversary currently underway, the company is going big. One facet of their national celebration is the 'Taste of America' recipe contest, in which contestants submit recipes native to their home states. Restaurateur and Caesar's Palace Chef Bradley Ogden will judge recipes and the winner from each state will be featured in a book, 'Taste of America' Oven Recipe Cookbook. Contestants will also be entered into a contest to win a Ford Thunderbird.
Most of those competing in this contest will be using modern ovens, the majority of vintage Thermadors having been lost to old age or remodeling. While advancing technology has changed their appliances' performance, Thermador's design concept has actually changed very little over the years. They still lean toward minimalism and stainless steel finish, introducing, over the years, the flat electric range, a dishwasher with a stainless interior, and a built-in microwave.
Chris Papageorge, marketing director of Atherton Design Studio, a Thermador dealer based in Redwood City, noted that with advertising slogans such as 'the leader then, the leader now,' the Thermador company is "trying to brand themselves, like Chevy, as an American icon." Thermador is certainly not letting the birthday of its premier product go unnoticed.
Thermador's 50th anniversary celebration includes an exhibit, presented at a recent large-scale kitchen and bath show, on the company's history. The most effective tribute to Thermador, though, will come not through promotional events or nostalgic publicity, but through continued innovation and a commitment to function.
Parts, Transplants and a 'Boneyard' of Thermadors
Thermador may think of itself as the Chevrolet of ovens, but a major difference between the auto manufacturer and the appliance giant is that one can actually find replacement parts for old Chevys. But unless you're lucky, you're going to have to look hard for replacement parts for those old Thermador appliances.
San Jose Eichler owner Joy Schiffner knows how difficult it can be to find those original parts. Before she came across an original double oven, a replacement for a noisy clock in her 1969 single-wall oven was going to cost $75 or more by way of Oklahoma (Stoveclock Repair: 918-791-9309).