In the aftermath of the Second World War Italy was at an all-time low: it emerged from the fighting crushed, surrounded by the ravages of its infrastructure and torn by internal strife. In this pitiful state, somehow it had to muster the strength to rise from its ashes. It was a tall order: no houses, no roads, no industry and worst of all no work.
Yet despite everything, spirits were high and people were keen to get back to an ordinary life.
A new Constitution had come into force in 1948 and US funds flowing in with the European Recovery Programme meant that public construction works could get under way. One symbol of the Italian recovery was without doubt the Motorway of the Sun: in fewer than eight years of hard toil, Milan was linked to Rome by one of the most modern motorways in Europe.
And it was on this dual carriageway that Italy finally found its feet.
Families proudly hit the road in their nifty 500 FIAT (the very first city car which came out in 1957), youngsters hurtled by on their Vespas during the first Italian Summers of mass tourism and trucks and articulated lorries zoomed past rushing to supply the nation with those commodity goods that Italian industry was starting to produce on an increasingly large scale.
And it was against this backdrop that Rino Snaidero moved his first entrepreneurial steps and gathered business strength. At the end of the '50s, he transformed what was an artisan workshop creating bedrooms, doors and windows into an actual industry by introducing production line standards and by making the enlightened decision to pull out of other furniture types and concentrate on kitchens.
Like all great trailblazers, not only did he see the bigger picture, he also sensed that Italian society was about to change and he acted on his hunch. Tastes were evolving, needs were morphing and a brand new lifestyle was coming into being. Foreseeing that bedrooms would soon cease to be a good business opportunity, he focused investments on the manufacture of the first open-plan kitchens, spanking new and modular with fitted units designed to contain the first household appliances which had already turned the traditional concept of kitchen space upside down.
It was thus that Cortina, Gloria & Carpi, were born - each one intelligently devised to exploit space. With simple, clean-cut lines, these kitchens were practical and well-suited to the needs of modern Italian families, many of which already had working wives and mothers.
During the years of the Italian economic miracle
the most important changes took place in the kitchen.
The new gas hobs, fridges, vacuum cleaners and washing machines completely revolutionised household chores and family organisation. On a more general note, an increase in salaries and an improved lifestyle meant that between 1950 and 1962 there was an unprecedented growth in private consumption equal to 4.9% per annum.
A television set , as it used to be called in those days, inevitably occupied pride of place either in the front room or the kitchen, and broadcast the first black and white RAI programmes. Television turned out to be a watershed as traditional Italian lifestyle became more and more modern. This newfangled device steadily ironed out the differences, bringing society together culturally and linguistically and spreading new attitudes and lifestyles.
(RAI viewers rose from 366,151 in 1956 to 673,080 in late 1957 and reached almost one million at the end of 1958; these figures eloquently illustrate the extent of the phenomenon).
Radio and television reverberated with new American culture, starting with the rock’ n’ roll songs of Elvis Presley whose major hits were recreated by a callow Adriano Celentano from 1955 onwards.
Then the film theatres began to show the major Hollywood productions. The American cinema stars occupied all the front covers of all the women's magazines and pictures of a seductive Marilyn Monroe abounded: not to mention that elfin British actress, Audrey Hepburn, who would be forever linked in her audience's mind to a scene from the romantic comedy Roman Holiday, as she perched on the back of a Vespa driven by a sensational Gregory Peck and admired the monuments of the Eternal City.
The following year in 1954, with her dazzling interpretation of Sabrina, Hepburn gave the world a new slant on womanhood with her independent spirit, elegant verve and a gamine haircut which would be copied by an entire female generation.
And it was in the Paris of Sabrina that the most innovational fashion trends of the Fifties were dreamt up. Starting from Coco Chanel's legendary suits which would become a staple of every self-respecting woman's wardrobe. Jacket, blouse and a (preferably long and tight-fitting) skirt....a female take on a man's tailored suit. A new dress code for a woman who had gained in confidence and was demanding independence. A woman who was suddenly much more than wife, mother and housewife.
A clutch bag with a handy adjustable strap to be worn on the shoulder went to complete the look of this energetic and enterprising new woman. It was 1955 and a style icon had just been born: the Chanel 2.55 handbag.
Social change revolved around the role of a woman and Rino Snaidero realised that this historical moment was an opportunity to be snapped up: the kitchen had just become a pivotal part of the house, not only in terms of function but especially in terms of style. Household appliance manufacturers improved their product constantly and a woman's domestic load became lighter. Now all that was needed was a crowning touch so that these superb fitted kitchens figuring on the American glossies could start populate the dreams of the Italians.
Snaidero decided that the time was ripe to design a kitchen which fell in line with the refined tastes of the Italians.
So it was that Gloria, the first modular kitchen in polyester lacquered wood, took centre stage. The domestic appliances were built into the kitchen - a design revolution! - what were once humble storage units now became elegantly equipped cabinets lining the sides of the room. This groundbreaking product was even available with a filtration hood.
And so it was that Snaidero's fate was sealed in that distinctive kitchen range hood, elegant and ultramodern with overtones of Minimalism and with a nod to the creative vein that was rife in Italy at the time. These were the years when talented designers such as Giò Ponti, Munari, Zanuso worked alongside companies like Zanotta, Cassina, Flos, Kartell, Boffi and Bonaldo to create classics of home décor that would become historical design icons. Those were the fabulous '50s!
And Snaidero is still on the road...
Snaidero's photographic archive
Wikimedia Commons archive
Fiat '500: from wikipedia.it - Advertising image for the 1957 "New 500 N". Driven by Brunella Tocci, Miss Italy 1955
Motorway of the Sun picture: historical archive www.panorama.it