Stepping into Jenny Kuller's 1950s-inspired kitchen is like traveling straight back in time. The pink walls, patterned curtains, and stacks of colorful tablecloths make the small room a vintage sanctuary. Everything from the authentic food packages and containers (retro Jell-O, anyone?) to the shelves of salt-and-pepper shakers and figurines transforms her kitchen from a place to cook food to a place to curate history.
"Why be beige when you can be bright red, lemon yellow, or green?" she asks. "Things then just seemed to be a heck of a lot prettier than they are now."
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Kuller, a Phoenician since 1987, has been a collector of 1940s-'50s kitchen linens and goods for more than 20 years. She looks the part, dressed in a vintage teal dress and perfectly coordinated accessories, from pearls to a flowered hairpiece. Inspired by the colors, textures, and history that are inherent to each piece, Kuller loves to surround herself with things from the era. Loyal to her adopted home state, she has assembled a collection-within-a-collection of vintage Arizona kitchenware, spanning items from tiny matchboxes to specialty dishes. Among Kuller's vintage pieces are several artifacts from the Hotel Westward Ho in Phoenix. She shows us a massive handful of old multicolored swizzle sticks, a set of vintage original dishes and cups, and even two pool balls from the billiard room. The dishware displays a pattern called "Mariposa," specifically made for the Westward Ho by the Syracuse China Company.
In addition, Kuller owns about 600 vintage tablecloths, including several that are Arizona-inspired. She unfolds one with a detailed and colorful map that documents cities and attractions all over the state and shares how to decipher its date of origin. In the upper-left corner of the tablecloth is a label for the attraction that we know as Hoover Dam, named in 1930. In the early 1930s, its name was switched to "Boulder Dam," then switched back to Hoover in the late 1940s. This particular map labels it as Boulder Dam, proving it was made during that brief period between the name changes. She affectionately shares anecdotes like this, bubbling with excitement over the unique facts and specific details that bring the history of the kitchenware to life.
Kuller considers herself a curator and feels that her admiration of '40s and '50s culture helps her process the present world. Her attachment to the era is personal, too — she collects as a gesture to both of her grandmothers, who inspired her love of kitchen collectibles with the decorations in their old homes. "I've always kind of felt that I'm chasing my grandmothers; I'm chasing the feeling that I had at their houses," she says. Most of Kuller's kitchen pieces are the fruits of her tireless scavenging efforts. "I do have a lot of fun with the hunt. I've been estate sale-ing and yard sale-ing for most of my life," she says. The reward of finding unique artifacts from the '40s and '50s and preserving them with care for generations to come continues to fuel her search.