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. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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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