In 1913, Jerry Mahoney established the first stationary diner in New Jersey. Similar to the horse-pulled lunch wagon (which the diner ultimately replaced), the idea was to offer a place for “your average Joe” to get a reasonably priced meal. By the 1920s, the term “diner” had become a well-known part of popular culture and you could find plenty of Americans seated on a colorful stool at a long counter or in a cozy booth enjoying a casual and filling meal.
In the 1930s, many diners began to feature aerodynamic shapes, curved silhouettes and bright chrome accents. These design elements were hallmarks of Art Deco’s “Streamline Moderne” style, which was inspired by the streamlined trains that were crisscrossing the country at the time.
As 1950s car culture gained prominence, the diner lifestyle became even more widespread. Diners not only provided a convenient place where people traveling for work and recreation could recharge and get a quick and cheap bite to eat, but their ‘no fuss,’ laid back atmosphere made them an appealing gathering spot.
Fast forward 60 years or so and imagine how fun it would be to create your very own diner in your home. Well, Glenda Ervin and her husband did just that in their basement.
Glenda Ervin is a co-owner of Lehman’s, a store that was founded in 1955 by her father, Jay Lehman, to provide hardware for the Amish community. Located in Kidron, Ohio – in the heart of Amish country – the store has grown significantly over the years and now sells everything from old-fashioned treats and sodas to practical, non-electric goods that help people live a simpler life. In fact, it’s been voted “Ohio’s #1 Destination in the Amish Country” for three years in a row.
The Ervin’s have always had a fondness for simpler times. For a number of years, they have been regularly hosting 50’s themed events – complete with costume contests – at the store. Says Glenda, “We’ve always enjoyed our 50s parties and our store carries so many authentically retro products. So we thought, ‘Why not update our basement and create an authentic diner?’ That way, we could enjoy the 50s and all of its nostalgia at home!”
The Ervin’s decided to base their diner design on the year 1955, the year Lehman’s was founded. However, that made it challenging to find decor items specific to the time period. Notes Glenda, “My husband’s insistence on being authentic to 1955 limited our choices. There were so many cute diner decorations available, but it if wasn’t from the right era, we couldn’t use it.”
The couple’s persistence paid off and they were able to adorn the diner with the perfect mix of mid-1950s style. “We were able to find many unique pieces during our travels,” says Glenda.
The star of the space is a Candy Red Northstar retro fridge from Elmira Stove Works. “The fridge looks so authentic and is so dramatic,” comments Glenda. “We knew the color scheme was going to be red, black and white, so the red refrigerator fit perfectly as an accent piece and really brings the space together. We love the chrome accents and bright, cheerful color.”
The diner also comes complete with a cotton candy machine, a bubble gum machine and a popcorn machine.
Glenda’s husband was a contractor who remodeled homes for a living and did all of the work in his spare time, completing the remodel in just under four months.
Says Glenda, “Not only is the diner theme nostalgic, but it is also a great conversation starter and creates a super fun place to entertain. We have hosted several 50s parties in the space, complete with costume contests! I actually own not one, but two, Poodle Skirts. Adds Glenda, “When guests visit for the first time, all of them have the same reaction, ‘Oh, how fun!’”
The Ervins couldn’t be happier with their retro diner. “At Lehman’s, we stand for a simpler life, which we believe is more fulfilling, more sustainable and more honest. It’s about relationships with companions, community and family. The diner embodies that philosophy and we love it!”
Want to create your own retro-inspired space? Learn more about Northstar retro appliances.