Creating a Vintage Kitchen

Scott Gibson, Contributing Editor

How can we get the look of 1930s and 1940s kitchens today? None of the cabinet or remodeling places is interested in selling those old style metal cabinets.

It's amazing, isn't it, how unassuming kitchens from that era were. Compared with today's elaborate installations, those unadorned steel cabinets seem modest, even quaint. Ozzie and Harriet could walk right through the door. But there's a good reason you won't find steel cabinets like these in a modern showroom: Life moves on. Whether you're stopping for clothes, cars or kitchens, retailers naturally want to show you what's new, not what went out of style 60 or 70 years ago. For that, you'll want to plug into the world of vintage goods.

Here's where the Web can help. Try "architectural salvage" or "vintage cabinets" on your favorite web search engine and see what pops up. You may discover a salvager nearby who specializes in kitchen fixtures from this era. If not, ads on eBay or Craigslist may point you in the right direction.

One well-known brand of metal kitchen cabinetry was Youngstown Cabinets by Mullins, made in Warren, Ohio. When I searched for "Youngstown cabinets," I found a couple of classified ads from people who were tearing out old kitchens and were anxious to sell the cabinets.

Brace yourself for some competition. You're not the only one who's fond of this look, and there are only a limited number of those kitchens left. Nor are prices especially low. One ad by a Florida salvager listed an "unrestored" Youngstown base cabinet 68 inches long and 24 inches deep for $350. Metal cabinets this old may be in rough condition.

Another possible option is to have cabinets made by a metal fabricator. One custom shop I spoke with (www.twentygauge.com) said a set of powder-coated steel cabinets would be competitive in price with new wood cabinets.

Appliances can be new or old. There's also a brisk trade in old appliances, the likes of Chambers, Roper and Norge. Whether you want just parts or a completely overhauled model, chances are you'll be able to find one. You'll pay a lot more for a reconditioned appliance than you would for a new one. One 1937 Norge that I came across was $5,400, not including shipping.

If that's too steep, consider a brand-new stove or refrigerator designed to look old. The Big Chill might be a perfect fit for a vintage kitchen. The 21-cubic foot top-freezer comes in eight colors and looks like something right out of the 1950s. Inside, you'll find glass shelves and an ice-maker (see more at www.bigchillfridge.com). Elmira Stove Works (www.elmirastoveworks.com) also makes vintage look-alikes, albeit from an earlier era.

In the end, you're facing the same problem as collectors of vintage cars, or old houses for that matter. Restoration can be daunting, but ultimately rewarding. If you want the look of old, you'll be able to create it.

About the Author
An accomplished woodworker and carpenter, Scott Gibson is the former editor of Fine Woodworking magazine, and a former editor at Today's Homeowner and Fine Homebuilding magazines. He also is former managing editor of the Kennebec Journal, a daily newspaper in Maine.

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