Remember steel kitchen cabinets? If you were born in the sixties, you may remember the sound of metal and magnet from grandma and grandpa’s kitchen when they fetched a special treat for you from the cabinet above the sink.
What might have appeared to be a low-end feature is now a prized addition to the modern kitchen. From the convenience of bare bone steel – it kept rodents away from food items – to today’s aesthetically-correct stainless cabinets and appliances, there is truly but a mere leap in imagination and design.
In truth, steel cabinets were not low-end at all. While not out of reach, these were certainly a luxury in the post-war American home. “During the war, America had ramped up tremendous capacity in steel production so that we could produce weaponry,” explains a Retro Renovation article, “Afterward, all the production had to find a new outlet. Where did it go? To big ‘ole American cars, but also into the American home.”
The article continues, “After the war, steel kitchen cabinets became very popular. They were offered as standard in the famous Levittown houses, for example.” High-end home expositions begin to feature semi-fitted metal kitchens in the 1930’s. The cabinets had a deco, streamlined look.
Wood started to gain in popularity toward the late 50’s. Steel has a long life, but it rusts and dents; not very desirable features from the point of view of the modern family and the respectable homemaker. Wood, on the other hand, is easier to repair. By the mid sixties, wood had won over steel.
Today, steel is making a comeback. “In 2008,” the Retro Renovation article explains, “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. But, they do not seem to be targeted at the retro market — they are high-end Euro style.”
Like the strong magnet that used to keep those steel cabinet doors shut tight (remember the resistance they offered to a small child’s hand?), it seems we have an attraction to steel that resist the test of time. To this day, steel cabinets spark the imagination because of the history that resonates in their appearance and odd beauty.
Historic New England, a Boston-based organization that seeks to preserve, interpret and collect buildings, landscapes and objects reflecting New England life from the 17th century to the present, features an authentic, vintage metal kitchen in their permanent collection.
The kitchen continues to evolve and to tell its story, our story.
The full Retro Renovation article is fascinating. It might even give you ideas for your new home. Click HERE to enjoy it.