1930s Kitchen Cabinets

Haute 1930s designs set the stage: The first examples of full-blown semi-fitted metal kitchens that I have spotted were in the 1930s, in very high-end homes shown at expositions.Among the very early brands were Whitehead/Monel, Servel, Elgin, and Dieterich (above, circa 1933-34. ) As you can see, these cabinets had a deco/streamline look. I’ll call these “semi-fitted” kitchen because the stove and fridge were still separate pieces of furniture.
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1930s Kitchen Cabinets

The key, if you want to find these cabinets and make them your own: Patience. Doing these kinds of projects is a real hassle… you must have the mindset to take it on… if you do, the results can be very gratifying. Remember my kitchen (pictured again behind me,  that’s my vintage Republic cabinets salesman’s sample kit)? It took me FIVE YEARS to find them. I almost gave up, and had pursued bids on MDF cabinets to paint aquamarine. Then, at the 11th hour, the retro decorating gods sent me 68 steel cabinets, original aquamarine finish, that had once been used by nuns to teach cooking. My kitchen has been featured in two magazines and  all over the intranet. Moreover — the pursuit is what led me to create this blog. Over those five years of searching, I gathered so much info on vintage steel kitchen cabinets and the other elements to pull the kitchen together, that I decided to create the blog to share the info with others.
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1930s Kitchen Cabinets

A glimpse through early 20th-century catalogs illustrates just how quickly the change to uniform, fitted, modular cabinets trickled down to average consumers. In a 1910 edition of the Sears Roebuck catalog, there are just a few pantry dressers, but a 1927 Universal Millwork catalog devotes several pages to cabinets that were intended to fill entire kitchen walls. There are cabinets stretching from floor to ceiling (standard height was 8', 6″) that feature waist-level pullout bins for storing flour and other staples; cabinets with rows of hinged doors, behind which were shelves to hold an array of kitchen utensils; and cabinets built around integrated sinks and refrigerators. There are cabinets designed to fit into a recessed wall or project into a room, as well as a choice of solid wooden or glass cabinet doors. For certain cupboard combinations, homeowners could choose to have the countertop made from one solid piece of wood. They could also order special features such as built-in spice racks, broom closets, or rows of drawers. Cupboards could be broken down into individual, modular units designed to fit narrow spaces (one cabinet sporting a stack of drawers, for example). There's even a waist-high floor cabinet that features a recessed toe board, a design the catalog says allows one to get up close to the table while working.
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1930s Kitchen Cabinets

I love your kitchen. I have a 1953 house, which has more of a 1940s kitchen than 1950s. For years I have been trying to decide what to do with the kitchen. My husband thinks I’m crazy, but I decided i cannot take out the old cabinets. About 25 years ago we added on to our house and turned the small eating area of the kitchen into more kitchen area, adding cabinets and counter space. (my kitchen is very small). Now I want to replace the added cabinets with ones that will coordinate with the originals. I may have to have them custom built because the originals have curved corners instead of square ones. In the original layout our stove and refridgerator were also side by side and there was no counter space next to them. We relocated the refridg a few years ago. Thank you for sharing your story and pictures. It gives me more confidence in my renovation.
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1930s Kitchen Cabinets

The history of the kitchen is fascinating. The kitchen we know today is an indispensable component to contemporary life. Today’s kitchen is often open to the family and dining rooms and it’s the natural gathering place when entertaining. Instead of welcoming guests into the living room, the kitchen is the place we gather friends or conduct business. Homeowners today are demanding large kitchen plans with plenty of space for baking, cooking and hosting. Double islands, walk-in pantries, and specialty appliances keep kitchen remodelers busy. Considering how important the “trophy” kitchen is for today’s homeowners, it’s amazing to think that not long ago, kitchens were one of the least desirable rooms in the home. It’s obvious that the kitchen has undergone many technological and social changes over the decades. But what might not be so obvious is why these changes occurred, or what created the kitchen we know and love today.
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1930s Kitchen Cabinets

Interest in metal kitchen cabinets is growing: Here in the U.S. there seems to be a growing community of people trying to collect and restore vintage metal kitchen cabinets. This can be a journey… an endeavor… yes, a trial… because it can take a while to hunt down enough used cabinets to fit the configuration that you need. Some readers have collected three kitchens just to get the pieces they need. Many have driven, like, 15 hours there and 15 hours back to get the sets they want. Then there’s repainting… I recommend dealing with professionals to get the best results. Even this can be tricky — you need to find pro’s who will work with you and you will want to ensure the stripping and painting processes they use are appropriate for your gems. If you DIY, please take care to test your cabinets for lead paint and to plan accordingly.
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1930s Kitchen Cabinets

Designed by the Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, the Frankfurt kitchen was the first to boast modular cabinets and thoughtful, fitted features that used every nook and cranny of space. The Frankfurt kitchen boasted waist-level cabinets with hinged fronts and overhead cabinets with sliding doors. There were rows of integrated aluminum drawers and bins made of oak (the wood repelled mealworms) for storing flour. There was a built-in garbage drawer for scraps, as well as a work counter, a rack for drying dishes installed over the drain board beside the sink, and a layout that optimized workflow. Similar kitchen designs were soon the standard throughout Europe, and it wasn't long before the designs became popular in the United States, too.
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1930s Kitchen Cabinets

Fast forward 45 years to today, and steel kitchen cabinets are making a comeback. In 2008 the same company that makes Viking ranges re-introduced St. Charles steel kitchen cabinets to the market. They come in 23 powder coated colors and stainless steel (above). But, they do not seem to be targeted at the retro market — they are high-end Euro style. I believe that in Europe, steel kitchen cabinets are also available, and like current-day St. Charles, high-end. Update: Viking discontinued the St. Charles brand in early 2012.
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Saving for the American Dream Kitchen: Folks liked these 1930s steel kitchens — they were a huge advancement over the farmhouse and apartment kitchens most people lived with. But prior to WWII, people simply couldn’t afford them, because of the Depression. During the war, though, employment rebounded to support the war effort — but, there was nothing much to buy, due to rationing. So, women and men alike were able to save a lot of money to spend after the war. Manufacturers, meanwhile, had all their factories dedicated to wartime production. But, they knew that after the war, they would return to a consumer-driven marketplace. So they “primed the pump” by running ads like the one above — encouraging American women to save for the ream home they’d always wanted — and that started with the American Dream Kitchen.
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In the 1920’s, ergonomic efficiency in the kitchen took one giant step forward with the creation of the tiny, but efficient, Frankfort Kitchen. This advanced kitchen design, introduced in Germany by the efficiency expert, Frederick Winslow Taylor, focused on putting all necessary items in the kitchen within arm’s reach. Although this sounds like standard practice for today’s kitchen, the idea of laying out the kitchen to make it more ergonomic and efficient for the homemaker was revolutionary, and eventually gave way to the “golden triangle” (read more about that here).
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In the 1960’s and 1970’s other societal changes were taking place that impacted the style of the kitchen. A renewed interest in home cooking, fetishizing kitchen utensils and entertaining meant that life was happening, once again, in the kitchen. The kitchen became a source for honing culinary crafts, displaying designer cookware and served as the hub for social activity. By the 1980’s, the idea of a completely open kitchen, with appliances designed to show off, came into being. The trophy kitchen was born.
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I have a 1950’s original kitchen…original nevamar green linen countertops with metal edges, original cabinets, windows, appliances…the works!! It’s amazing. And I totally agree with your “resale value be damned”…you’ve got to do what the kitchen calls out for! Great Job! Inspiring! I’ll ready to repaint my cabinets and walls…and needed to see someone else committed to a truly vintage kitchen. I love it!