to solve problems was way more exciting to me
than just getting a new kitchen.” — Chris
Creating a kitchen worthy of Mies van der Rohe
Chris and I had several ‘conversations’ via email, and I edited them together for flow. Chris writes:
I just wanted to thank you for your awesome site! I have always loved vintage kitchens, and your site is a fantastic resource. I graduated from architecture school a couple of years ago, and when I bought a unit in a Mies van der Rohe designed building in Chicago, I took out the not-so-great 80s kitchen and found an original steel GE all in one kitchen center on your forum and a vintage GE fridge on craigslist.
The only problem was that the kitchen was located on the east coast and I was in Chicago! My brother and his wife, who live out there, picked it up and took it to someone he knows in Providence to get it powder coated (I owe them!). He took all of the hardware and trim off, disassembled the oven, dishwasher, stove and washer/ dryer and dropped it off. They sandblasted everything and then put “arctic white” coating on it. It was fairly inexpensive as they do huge runs of stuff there, and they just did this between runs. When they fired the coating it burned the material in the doors, which I think I remember reading on your forum. So the doors don’t have the same kind of “thunk” that they once had when closing, but they still work well.
When we got the stuff to Illinois, we reassembled it in the unit (minus most of the old electrical elements). One of the sliding glass doors was missing but we found an exact match at a glass store in Chicago. The washer/ dryer wasn’t needed so we took the entire front and hinged it on an Ikea cabinet to make more storage space. The dishwasher is not hooked up so we use it to store trash and recycling.One of the biggest challenges was that nobody wanted to re-wire the push button stove! I ended up buying a cheap stove on Amazon, removed the casing and made a panel for the knobs. So now the buttons are just decorative, but it works now! Because of code, we couldn’t use the outlets on the backsplash so we raised the cabinets up a bit and put a stainless steel plugmold strip with outlets. The appearance is not perfect, but it works well.
I have always loved modernism and especially kitchens. When I was young I liked looking through magazines from the 1950s and was excited when there were ads for appliances at the time. When I look at pictures of the Case Study houses and other period houses, the kitchen is usually my favorite part. I’m not much of a cook but I love the look of vintage kitchens! I also really liked the challenge of adapting the kitchen to code and to modern needs. Finding replacement parts and coming up with ways to solve problems was way more exciting to me than just getting a new kitchen.
I’ve only enjoyed it for a short time, and now I am moving, but I am excited to use your site to get ideas for my next place! I hope my story can help inspire someone else in their vintage kitchen project!
Here are a couple of photos. I also attached the link to the listing in case you know anyone looking for a vintage kitchen with a condo attached! 😉 If it seems like the future buyer is going to rip it out, I will plan to take it with and maybe re-list it on your forum! www.880nlakeshore6g.com
It is so great to know there are people out there that share my passion for modern kitchens! Thanks again and keep up the great work!
Wow, Chris, what a spectacular space. When I lived in Michigan, I took a weekend course in “Architecture and Poetry” at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The course included a study of the famous apartment complex that Mies van der Rohe designed in Detroit adjacent to the downtown core. What a fascinating place, what a fascinating man — and you have done him proud.
Yes, readers, GE Wonder Kitchens were another derivative of steel kitchen cabinet sets sold in the 1950s and 1960s. I am not sure of the exact dates for this design — GE experts … Patrick ? — do you have any definitive information? These were marketed as one-piece, space-saving, space-age kitchen units. The cabinet modules were united by a long single piece of stainless steel counter top, which also had a sink and electric range engineered right into it. As you can see from Patrick’s GE Wonder Kitchen, there was also a built-in oven tucked in at one end. I love the height of that oven — so ergonomic, I would think. I believe that the Wonder Kitchen also usually included a three-door refrigerator that was designed to look like a wall cabinet — yes, the refrigerator was up where the wall cabinets go. People’s eyes always pop out of their head when they see these for the first time. Finally, it looks like with the GE Wonder Kitchen you get a lovely array of cabinettes, too. What a delightful design!
Challenges with powder coating — do your own thorough research — consult with your own professionals
Note that in this story, Chris also mentions one of the challenges to powder coating vintage steel cabinets. I recall hearing before from a reader or two who said their metal cabinet doors warped as a result of the final baking process used in powder coating. This is the first time, I believe, that I have heard of the backing inside the cabinet doors disintegrating during the bake process. Yes, vintage cabinets may have some sort of backing inside the doors — I *think* they were added as sound deadeners… as, Chris mentions, to ensure a nice clunk. To cut to the chase: If you are restoring these cabinets, take note of the risk of using refinishing processes that require high heat… and, we don’t know what’s in that backer material… and, oh yeah, and the original paint may contain lead. Precautionary Pam repeats: Consult with your own properly licensed professionals to assess what’s in the materials and layers of the stuff in your old house so that you can make informed decisions how to handle. Be Safe / Renovate Safe.
You can repaint without heat: I have never had to refinish metal cabinets. Mine are original finish. But, when Shaun refinished and repainted the steel bases of my Burke tulip table and tulip chairs, he used auto body-quality paint in a dust-controlled spray booth in his shop. He did the stripping in his shop, as well. I think my table base and chair bases turned out beautifully. If I were to refinish steel cabinets, I think I would find someone like Shaun who had the equipment, space and patience to spray the cabinets by hand using paint that did not require baking. I think that personally, I would not want to risk my cabinet doors warping — the cabinets are too precious. I might then try to finish off the top coat with a clear gloss or something like that — to get an even richer look mimicking baked-on enamel best I can. All this said, I continue: This is not a DIY site. But, I have featured stories from a number of readers with steel kitchen cabinets and some of them have shared a bit of their experiences. You can read these stories to begin to get a sense of the refinishing options. But then: Do your own research — consult with your own professionals. Make your own decisions. And: Be Safe / Renovate Safe.
We see GE Wonder Kitchens for sale fairly often. But as Patrick suggested, the thought of trying to rewire them and get them working again is likely off-putting to most folks. So, I fear, this should be added to the Endangered List.
Nope, we don’t do things the easy way around here. That’s no fun. Nope. Not at all.