“…low level of … orders … in this difficult economy
makes it unfeasible to maintain
such a small volume of production,” Viking says
Viking Range Corporation confirms that, in the first quarter of this year, it discontinued the manufacturing and sales of its St. Charles steel kitchen cabinet brand. The “original” St. Charles brand — launched in 1935 — was the creme-de-la-creme of vintage cabinets. The brand was purchased by Viking in 2001; they discontinued sales of the legacy design in 2004, and they launched their newly engineered designs for sale in 2008. I reached out to Viking, and they provided this statement, which they said was made to dealers in Q1:
As the economy continues to struggle, it is important that companies commit their resources where they have the most long term impact. With that in mind and after much contemplation and review, Viking Range Corporation has decided to discontinue manufacturing St Charles cabinetry.
Viking has a strong emotional attachment to the St Charles brand and has supported it for six years; however, the low level of St. Charles orders we are receiving in this difficult economy makes it unfeasible to maintain such a small volume of production.
Viking remains committed to supporting the network of St Charles dealers and their current customers as we work through this shutdown transition together.
– Viking Range Corporation
Two readers first alerted me on Feb. 15 that St. Charles cabinet dealers told them that they could no longer buy the cabinets. Comments came in this story about the lovely array of colors that Viking offers for its refrigerators, stoves and other appliances. One of the commenters, Dave, said:
I recently tried to buy cabinets and all sales have been put on hold while Viking tries to find a buyer for the brand. You can’t buy new St. Charles right now for any amount of money. Sad really, we are back to the drawing board for our 1951 re-do…
A spokesperson for Viking would not officially comment on whether the St. Charles brand was for sale. The St. Charles website has been deactivated, and we’ve recently spotted three dealers selling their showroom displays on craigslist or Facebook.
St. Charles was a longtime, iconic steel kitchen cabinet brand, and derived its name because the company was based in St. Charles, Ill. You can read more about the company’s history on our vintage steel kitchen cabinet Forum, where we help buyers and sellers connect and where we’ve identified more than 70 different vintage brands.
During all this time, as far as I know, St. Charles was considered “top of the line” — the gauge of the steel was very, very heavy. According to my research, it was the very last of the iconic brands to endure in the marketplace. The 21st century Viking/St. Charles cabinets were the only premium steel kitchen cabinet widely available in the U.S. market, as far as I know. Above: A mid-1980s advertisement from my personal collection. More info on the history of steel kitchen in midcentury America here.
I will let you know if / when there is more information on the status and potential future availability of new manufacture St. Charles kitchen cabinets. Viking told me in an email, “Should there be any updates regarding the St. Charles brand, we will certainly communicate that to you in a very timely manner.”
Other stories about the new-generation St. Charles kitchen cabinets that I have featured on the blog:
- I reported that Viking had purchased and would relaunch the St. Charles brand in spring 2008.
- A few years later, I followed up with a story on the use of the St. Charles kitchen cabinets in the Frank Sinatra house, Twin Palms”, in Palm Springs.
Moving to opinion — mine:
I would love to see the St. Charles brand endure and succeed. I have not seen a lot of vintage St. Charles kitchen cabinets in person — but the few I have seen were gorgeous, and definitely superior compared to any other vintage brands I’ve seen. HEAVY DUTY.
I never saw one the “revival” St. Charles kitchens in person, although they sure looked nice online. They certainly seem to have been marketed to the high-end consumer. When, a few years ago I asked Viking for pricing, they could not give it to me — prices were not even published.
Now that the brand is being sunsetted by Viking, we’re starting to get some clearer indications of how expensive they were, as dealers list their display models for sale. Currently, this set of seven kitchen dealer showroom cabinets is for sale for $8,950. Moreover, the dealer says the MSRP retail price was $23,000. That’s more than $3,000 per cabinet. Another showroom display, spotted by participants on our Forum, indicated a similar, hefty retail price: $48,300 for 14 cabinets, which averages $3,400 per cabinet. Again – these are full-retail prices; the price as sold by dealers may have been discounted. For example, I recall that on the Forum, we had another commenter say she’d been quoted around $800 for a 36″ base cabinet. Here’s a third display for sale; if you are in the market, these would surely be lovely to own.
Even so, I’m not saying this pricing was crazy or anything: I bet for sure, that for Viking, manufacturing steel kitchen cabinets and also maintaining a dealer infrastructure was very costly. Buyers would have been very high end — this market would have demanded custom sizes, features and service to the nth degree. I really think that selling kitchen cabinets and selling stoves must be vastly different: The stoves and appliances are almost like commodities at this point; the kitchens, on the other hand, are “high touch” custom. Very labor intensive to deal with. And we are talking: Powder coated steel. I am sure that must cost much more than wood, MDF and particle board — key components in wood kitchen cabinets.
Not to mention, and as Viking pointed out in their statement, there is the economy: The Great Recession hit just as Viking was launching the St. Charles brand — that could not have helped either, *understatement*.
What to do if you want steel kitchen cabinets for your retro inspired kitchen?
Buy vintage. Some tips:
- See all my stories about steel kitchen cabinets here.
- How and where to buy (or sell) vintage metal kitchen cabinets.
- Analysis of pricing for vintage steel cabinets bought in 2010.
- How to make vintage metal kitchen cabinets fit into your kitchen.
- A short history of steel kitchen cabinets.
- The Retro Renovation steel kitchen cabinet buy/sell Forum.
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