Viking discontinues St. Charles steel kitchen cabinet sales

 “…low level of … orders … in this difficult economy
makes it unfeasible to maintain
such a small volume of production,” Viking says

St. Charles kitchen cabinets promoted for the launch of the new Viking brand, December 2007

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:

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:

  All material as published here is copyright RetroRenovation.com 2012
No material in this story may be published in any format without written permission.

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Comments

  1. gsciencechick says

    This is obviously sad, but I understand the realities of the market and how it makes no business sense for them to keep the line. Hope someone can buy the line and perhaps revitatlize the brand, but it would take a huge leap of faith, risk, and vision.

  2. Chase says

    This is such a shame. I do, however, find it odd that I hadn’t seen any advertisements for the line of cabinetry. Usually, in the Architectural magazines that I get, I see all sorts of high-end cabinetry advertised. I have never seen a St. Charles by Viking ad. I wonder if a part of their problem was a lack of advertisement. You can’t sell it if people don’t know that it exists!

    • Steve 66 says

      I agree, they didn’t seem to do much to market the brand, especially in relation to the Viking name, which seems to be the holy grail of high end appliances. I’m sure the recession hurt, but let’s face it; there are still plenty of folks out there with lots of money. Maybe they were too stylish and tasteful for the McMansion crowd.

  3. Dan O. says

    I was completely unaware that new steel kitchen cabinets were recently available at any price. I am also not surprised at the pricing, comparisons can be made to other examples of high quality, powder coated steel cabinetry; specifically tool chest/cabinets from MAC, SnapOn and Lista, very similar pricing. As much sense as steel cabinets make I’m sure they were a hard sell to the typical high-end shopper who would be more likely to dump their piles of money on a vendor like Bulthaup or similar. So sad to hear of an old name (and domestic?) manufacturer dying off.

  4. Sarah says

    Well I’m beside myself. I’m a fan of repro – whether clothing or home goods. It seems to be an unpopular standpoint within the vintage community (as if my choices are not “authentic” enough to be worthy – ha!). But if I can get the same look in pristine condition, why not pay a bit more for something that will last a lifetime?

    I’m still renting, so I guess my all-new buttercup-yellow kitchen will have to remain a dream…

  5. Laura says

    I have some of the new St. Charles cabinets in my kitchen, and I’m currently waiting for some more to come in late May. They are beautiful and well made, and I’m very sad to see them go out of business. We compared prices and they were not outrageous, as most people think. We’re doing a small kitchen, L-shaped + a corner unit for under $20,000. We had a problem with our distributor who ordered the wrong color, so we’ve reordered the correct color and are going to sell the ones we have now. (I’ve listed them in the forum if anyone is interested.) It’s a VERY long story, but the bottom line is, we toured the factory in Mississippi and were impressed enough to place an order. When the project is complete, I’ll share some photos.

  6. Gary says

    My hometown, Bangor Maine has many kitchens with St. Charles kitchens. Post WWII, there was a dealer here who made a small fortune who sold St Charles for the building boom of the time and in many remodels. The owners of these homes still have the original cabinets. I rejuvenated a couple fo the kitchens when the owners originally wanted a “new” kitchen. The cabinets were removed, media blasted and refinished, just like new! One home had wood doors and the owner wanted some umph so we took the doors off, had an inlay of black walnut like a border installed into the plain solid birch doors. Very handsome kitchen. Kitchen cabinets have a large mark-up. I used to design/sell using Quaker Maid. The cost multiplier was about $0.28 per dollar of retail. So for every $1,000 in cost the price for us was $280. We rarely sold at full retail. Our less expensive line the cost multipier was as low as $0.17 per dollar.

  7. Jay says

    many reasons for the end-of-the-line:
    1. A high end buyer will splurge on the Viking appliances but when it comes to the steel cabinetry; American won’t do because it won’t impress the neighbors; it has to be German or Italian design.
    2. Also, probably a case where something that was so reasonable in price back in the day is now too pricey for the average Joe.
    3. Most people who look at older homes when buying usually decrie anything old as “dated” and has to be gutted; not vintage the way folks do on this site, so they certainly aren’t looking to replicate anything old with new if it’s going to have an “old” look.

  8. says

    Love that first photo, so streamlined, so neat and modern. It’s a shame that Viking has discontinued the cabinetry, but it seems to be a way of our times. If the price is any indication, most people (including my husband and I) couldn’t afford the cabinets even if they wanted to. Not all of us can afford what is considered ‘top of the line’, no matter how much we’d like to (without going into extreme debt).

    I hope the company continues to look for someone to continue producing the line and to do it justice.

    I’ll admit that though I’ve heard of the cabinetry, I’ve never seen it before. It is very striking, and as I said above, very streamlined and modern. Great for a ranch or many other modern style homes.

    • pam kueber says

      Yes, I’ve seen these companies in my online travels. They cabinets often have locks and an… institutional look. As I recall. There also appear to be some very ‘low end’ metal cabinets available for … apartments maybe? Again, as far as I know, Viking/St. Charles the only retail-for-consumer steel kitchen cabinets that I was aware of.

    • Laura says

      Dura Lab Corporation sells to the scientific and hospital type clients. They’re not interested in dealing with home owners with small needs.

  9. philq says

    I am fortunate to have original St Charles cabinets in my kitchen, butler’s pantry and breakfast room. They are in good condition for their age and include specialty cabinets like flour bin, flour sifter, bread drawer, mixer cabinet, lazy susans, slide-out shelves for pots/pans, locking silver cabinet and linen drawers. I even have original correspondence between the owner, architect and builder regarding the choice of cabinetry for the house. The owner spent over $1.1 million (in today’s dollars) for his dream home in 1957. I had fantasies of replacing the cabinets with the new Viking line, keeping the same Buttercup yellow, if I ever updated the kitchen. Oh well! Sad to see the line discontinued.

    • Jane says

      We have an original St. Charles kitchen too, in a custom mid-century modern house built in 1951. There are many specialized and interesting drawer fittings as well.

      My partner and I have been disagreeing though, about what to do with the kitchen. It definitely needs an upgrade in terms of space, functionality, and appliances (still have the original double wall ovens!). Our compromise solution was going to be to renovate using contemporary St. Charles cabinets and reconfiguring the adjacent family room as a new kitchen, while turning the old galley into a butler’s kitchen, or possibly a laundry room keeping most of the original cabinets as they are.

      Totally bummed that this will no longer be an option. I hope some company picks up the brand. Wolf/Sub-zero? Better appliance manufacturer anyway… please take up the challenge!

  10. says

    When we bought our midcentury house last year, the kitchen had three St. Charles buttercup yellow cabinets in very good shape, the rest were generic wooden ones. I sold them through your forum–thanks!!I think they went for about $45 each + shipping.

  11. Adrienne Sabato says

    I have a galley kitchen and want St. Charles cabinets…white w/glass tops…..i know they have discontinued mfgr’g them….is there any other company that u could possibly recommend?…….i’ve had wood and want to go back to steel/metal……any assistance u can provide would be greatly appreciated….Thanks muchly!

    • CC in Virginia says

      In my never-ending search for a company still producing metal kitchen cabinets, I contacted Linda Bergling, Owner of Stainless Steel Kitchens (a woman-owned company, btw). After my inquiry, she told me she has actually been thinking about it for some time and is considering starting up a “retro” type line of metal kitchen cabinets. She is trying to gauge actual interest to see if it’s financially viable and would like to hear from anyone & everyone! Please send her email at stainlesssteelkitchens@hotmail.com – include “retro cabinets” in the subject line so she’ll know it’s not just a random inquiry.

    • Jane Wolford says

      If you are still interested I have 14+/- St. Charles cabinets that are leaving my kitchen and in need of a good home. We are in Colorado

  12. Faith B. says

    This brand of kitchen cabinets is so classy that Frank Lloyd Wright installed them in Fallingwater — the famous house that he designed in rural Pennsylvania, which is now a museum. They’re fabulous!

  13. PerfectCircle says

    We salvaged almost all the St Charles vintage cabinetry for our kitchen (had it shipped to Seattle from Indiana). We needed just one area to be custom and new: cabinets above the fridge with an adjoining tall skinny pantry pullout alongside the fridge. We had it priced for new St Charles and it was over $3k (actually sounds pretty good in comparison to some of the prices quoted above), so ended up getting Ikea cabinets for about $700 instead. We just couldn’t swing the expense, and once we put the same hardware on them, nobody notices that the Ikea units aren’t metal units. I’m really sad to see this line discontinued, and sorry that we couldn’t support them while they were still around. St Charles are indeed incredible; we love all the features of the ones we salvaged.

  14. Leah says

    I found a St. Charles kitchen for sale on Craig’s LIst. Does anyone know about this line? From what I read, this isn’t an “vintage” cabinet, but the newer line.

  15. Kate McLeod says

    Hi Pam, I pulled a set of old St. Charles cabinets out of the basement of a NY City building. After a wall in my kitchen collapsed, I was forced to renovate but I didn’t have the resources to go whole hog. I took the cabinets upstate, stripped them of exterior layers of paint and took them to an autobody shop and had them painted a graphite gray. The interiors are getting a bright red paint, which I’m doing. The knobs on these cabinets alone weigh a half a pound. And this kitchen costs about an eighth of what it would have cost if I’d gone the “everything new” route. I was fortunate to have friends looking out for me and a contractor who can figure anything out and doesn’t want to skin me alive. Kate McLeod

  16. says

    My wife and I just purchased a late 1940’s era home with some St Charles cabinets in the kitchen. These however are skinned in white laminate but they still have the St Charles Labels on some of the doors and the Hinges all say St Charles on them. I don’t know if they are original to the home but I can’t find any history on any laminate kitchens made by St Charles. Does any one know where i might find some info on the possible dates of these cabinets and some tips on relaminating some of the door edges and faces?

  17. Malinda says

    Does anyone know where to find replacement hardware for vintage St. Charles cabinets? I’m looking for door catches, bumpers and drawer glides.

    • Laura says

      Contact Dave Voss, at Voss Spray Painting in St. Louis MO. He has been painting St. Charles cabinets for decades and says he has some parts. 314-771-7711

  18. peter jackson says

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

    Why is it the beautiful things always have to die?

    I’ve been fantasizing about a new St. Charles kitchen for years, and I’m about to buy a new house and had budgeted for it. Now I’ll never have my great-grandmother’s kitchen.

    Dag.

  19. Bobbie Jager says

    We purchased a home with St Charles cabinets in the VERY large kitchen, The bad part is the home is in Oregon and there is ALOT of humidity and some of the cabinets have rusted. Do you have any suggestions. I am very frustrated.

  20. Donald Kelly says

    My wife and I bought a house in Tennessee that was built before 1900. It was remodeled in the 60’s with St. Charles cabinets. The kitchen is huge with a large assortment of St. Charles cabinets that are cream in color. We’re interested in selling the whole lot, I would say all but one are in excellent condition. There has been only one owner who had originally installed them. I can send pictures of the cabinets. Don.kelly2@live.com

  21. Irene Glasner says

    Silly me. I thought this was e.a.s.y.

    I just wanted to know the name of the material used in my white pull out bin under the sink.
    I’ve got to mask some permanent stains with tape, but I need the tape to adhere to this material.
    So what kind of tape shall I buy?

  22. Tom says

    Just a heads up that St. Charles has been brought back to life by the NY reps, St. Charles of NY. It looks like they’ll be up and running in a month or so.

  23. Laura says

    Tom, this sounds like great news, where did you hear this? I just went to their website and didn’t see any press release. Very curious!

  24. La Lydia says

    I grew up in a house with wonderful St. Charles kitchen cabinets and everything else I have lived with since then has seemed flimsy, not to say shoddy. This is a real shame. I hope someone buys and relaunches this product. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

  25. Ray says

    This is an example of utterly poor marketing/management.

    I had a Saint Charles install in a large kitchen at a home I sold a while ago. Absolutely nothing — including high-end German cabinets — come close to the Saint Charles. Not much style in mine, but you could stand on the lip of the pots and pans drawers, on a rolling island and it was solid as a rock. Use your pinky to slide them open and shut.

  26. says

    I own a kitchen and bath studio in mass. Last year I was called out to a home to do over a countertop… They had original pistachio green St. Charles cabinets in pristine condition! They still had the catalog and plans for the layout they had.. I told them the history of them and how Viking had bought them… too bad they could not keep it going.

  27. George Zawacki says

    Also looking for bullet catches for my 1970 St. Charles doors. I just talked with Voss Spray Painting in St. Louis who was suggested earlier in the forum. What little they have, they do not sell except as replacements for painting projects in house. I repainted my cabinets this last spring in place and they are just as great looking as the day we purchased the home in 1973. Thank you for hosting this forum.

  28. Dan Farnum says

    I have a St. Charles Kitchen and need a source for parts to replace hinges, catches ect. I would also like to know if anyone refinishes these cabinets. Thanks.
    Dan

  29. Ann chiango says

    I have white cabinets purchase appx. 20 years ago and still love them. Structurally, there is nothing better and I have never had a problem with them. However, they surface paint is wearing in certain areas, primarily at the edge of the doors, and a few spots elsewhere, and I need to have them refinished. I live in Massachusetts area. Would St. Charles give any recommendations for a refinisher? Does anyone know a company, or had any experience with this refinishing?

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