Kitchen pioneer Guy Gunter reflects on his career

On lava lamps, stainless steel, and his best renovation advice

For more than five decades and three generations, Guy Gunter Home has been installing high-end kitchens in Atlanta. The business was founded in 1952 by Gunter himself, a pilot during World War II who flew on historic missions like D-Day. Returning to his native Atlanta, he became the “flying salesman,” piloting a single-engine plane all over the Southeast to sell cutting-edge appliances. Recently, we asked Gunter, now 97, to reflect on his career:

How did you sell appliances back in the day?
We put on cooking schools. I put on the first and largest cooking school in Savannah in 1952. We gave away a Hamilton clothes dryer, a Chambers range, and a Servel refrigerator as door prizes. A grocery store gave away 40 baskets of groceries. Back then there was segregation, so blacks had to sit upstairs. The first day the blacks filled up the upstairs, so I went on the radio and advertised that they could sit anywhere they wanted. We didn’t have any problems.

You had some clever gimmicks.
I was selling a line of gas refrigerators, and my brother was going to Georgia Tech. I asked if he could hook up a record player so that when you opened the refrigerator door it would talk to you. I recorded a message saying, “Thank you for opening my door.” That didn’t go over too well.

Guy Gunter
Chamblee Cooking School

Courtesy of Guy Gunter

Tell us about the lava lamp.
I brought the first lava lamp down from the Chicago furniture show in 1965. When I would visit a distributor, I’d set the lamp on the table and start talking. When it got warmed up, they were amazed. But I wouldn’t let anyone sell them unless they also signed up to sell appliances.

When did commercial-style kitchens become popular for private homes?
About 1960 I sold the first built-in refrigerator in the South, Sub-Zero. No one had ever heard of it before. I also sold a lot of Garlands, commercial stoves for homes. We had to put asbestos siding around the back. We sold to all the movers and shakers. I did Hank Aaron’s kitchen, and Reverend Abernathy’s and Joseph Lowery’s.

Do you ever get tired of stainless steel?
Stainless steel is one of my favorite colors. I started doing that back in the ’60s. Before that I did a lot of color because I sold Chambers ranges, and they came in Coca-Cola red, black, dove gray, apple green, and jonquil yellow.

What’s the most exciting technological breakthrough you’ve witnessed?
The microwave.

What’s your number one piece of advice for someone renovating their kitchen?
Find a good kitchen designer who will be around for a while. We would take care of a customer even if it meant coming out of our own pocket because we knew they were coming back. A kitchen is complex, and you need help. It’s the most important part of the house.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.