Here’s another company using its mid-century roots to underscore its brand longevity: At this year’s big Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS), Merillat assembled a (company)-historic 1946 Merillat kitchen on site. Seems like it was a big hit — I heard about it from several readers and friends. So I chased down the photos, and here they are — a happy sunny vintage Merillat kitchen, classic Americana complete with original counter top and dinette and period-correct flooring and appliances.
1940s birch kitchen made for the parents of one of Merillat’s first employees
The kitchen has a nice story: The company says that this was one of the first kitchens that founder Orville Merillat built — by hand, no factory yet! — when he launched Merillat in 1946. His wife Ruth Merillat stained and finished the kitchen. (I tend to believe the original finish was all wood — that is, the cabinet boxes were stained, not painted. The company is trying to confirm this for me.)
Orville and Ruth built the kitchen, made from birch, for the parents of the company’s first employee. It remained in its original home — located in Adrian, Mich., where Merillat was founded — for decades. In 1996, as the company was approaching its 50th anniversary, Merillat employees located the kitchen, purchased it from the homeowners, removed it, and gave the homeowners new Merillat cabinets. They then reassembled the 1946 kitchen and presented it to Orville and Ruth as an anniversary gift.
The company says the appliances are all from the same time period, but that they can’t confirm whether they are from the original kitchen. The counter tops are original, but are missing the original metal edging.
It seems like the kitchen was a big success at KBIS — lots of happy picture-taking going on, in this cheery sunshine-y kitchen. Seriously — you can keep your breakfast-bar-style seating — I will choose a kitchen with a dinette plopped in the middle over the island any day.
- 1940s — During World War II, Orville Merillat enlists in the Coast Guard as a carpenter. He sends $150 from each paycheck to his wife Ruth and keeps $1. This money, along with the sale of Ruth’s 1938 Chevrolet, was used to start Merillat Woodworking.
- 1946 — Orville and Ruth Merillat start the Merillat Woodworking Company in a 2,400 square foot workshop in Adrian, Michigan. Fueled by an incredible work ethic and a post-war building boom, the business grows steadily.
- 1950s — Drawing from manufacturing practices popularized in automotive plants, Merillat standardizes its cabinets to facilitate assembly line production. It becomes the first company to use exclusive Formica laminates on cabinetry. Sales break the $1,000,000 mark.
- 1960s — The Adrian plant expands to over 290,000 sq. ft. with a manufacturing capacity of 270 kitchens per day. By the end of the 1960s, Merillat was manufacturing 1,500 kitchens a day, the company says. In 1962, Merillat says, it introduced a patented hinge that allowed cabinet doors to be easily opened and closed quietly with a gentle push, replacing the standard magnetic latch of the time. The company also received a U.S. patent for its injection molding Romance cabinetry line.
- 1970s — Merillat grows to eight strategically located manufacturing/assembly plants. The ability to control materials and manufacturing processes gives Merillat a competitive edge in production and delivery. Merillat becomes the nation’s largest cabinet manufacturer (although on Facebook, the company says it hit this #1 milestone in 1985.)
- 1980s — The successful cabinet business joins Masco Corporation, an industry leader in home improvement and building products. Orville and Ruth Merillat retire.
- 1990s — Merillat pioneers the development of new door styles, including raised panel vinyl clad doors, and the use of premium woods. The company also begins assembling cabinets a kitchen-at-a-time, a manufacturing model which remains in practice today.
- 2010 — The company became part of Masco Cabinetry, which also includes the KraftMaid, QualityCabinets and DeNova brands. The group is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Today, Merillat remains the #1 selling kitchen cabinet brand in the U.S., the company told me.
Many thanks to Merillat for the photos and for rockin’ the retro at KBIS 2014! And thanks, too, to our reader-tipsters!
- In the same vein: Stanley Furniture recently began restoring, showcasing and selling vintage Stanley pieces at trade shows.