1946 Merillat kitchen on display at 2014 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS)

merillat kitchenHere’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. 

merillat kitchen

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.)

Retro Yellow-KitchenOrville 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.

merillat kitchen 1940s

Don’t get (too) excited. This appears to be a DIFFERENT Merillat kitchen — but of the same, very early era. Spotted on Merillat’s Facebook page.

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.

merrilat cabinetsIt 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.

merrilat 1946 kitchen

Merillat-kitchen-ad-vintage

A peek at Merillat history:

  • 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.

    original merillat logo 1946

    original Merillat logo, circa 1946

  • 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.

    Vintage-Merillat-kitchens-logo

    The company was first to put Formica-brand laminate directly on to kitchen cabinet doors, it says.

  • 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!

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Comments

  1. lynda says

    What a nice story. Darling kitchen. I think the white boxes look rather nice with the wood doors. Thank you for this interesting look at history.

  2. Chris says

    I want to show up with a giant semi-truck, sneak in all dressed in black – like a cat-burglar, and STEAL that kitchen! Love the appliances!

  3. Mary Elizabeth says

    Love the look of this kitchen. We achieved the same sort of paint/stain combination kitchen after a fire in our former 1978 condo created a lot of smoke damage to the original cabinets. It’s easy to take off doors to sand and refinish them, but we decided stripping and staining cabinets in place would be too difficult, and the way they were installed, taking them out would ruin both cabinets and walls. It’s likely the same decision was made at some point with this kitchen. We ended up loving the look and living with it for about 20 years.

    I have to say that one of the things I love about this kitchen is the number of drawers. I count ten of them! It’s a very advanced design for its age. Even high-end built-in-place small kitchens from the forties and fifties usually had only a few drawers. We converted some of our 1959 knotty pine cabinets with doors to drawers with full extension slides.

  4. Mary Elizabeth says

    Oh, and we had a table in that little kitchen for a family of five. It could be called cozy or cramped. Take a look at the layout. Mom has to sit in the chair with her back to the counters so she doesn’t have to constantly ask Dad, Junior and Sis to pull in a little bit so she can get to the sink. Also, she has to reach over and pick up the receiver on that black phone so she can tell the boy at the other end that Sis is eating dinner and he should know better than to call at 6 PM. He should call back later and make it short, so as not to tie up the party line. :-)

  5. JKM says

    My grandparent’s 1940’s Texas kitchen was similar to the one pictured – simple cabinetry with a sink in the middle, refrigerator, freestanding range, and dinette pushed up against the wall. The end. Nothing big or fancy but, wow, the wonderful food that was prepared in that simple setup is something I’ve never forgotten.

  6. midmichigan says

    My parents bought a new tract home in Lansing, Michigan in 1955. I have a color photo of the kitchen at that time showing what I believe to be Merillat kitchen cabinets. The boxes are painted white with stained and finished doors. They have round brass knobs and exposed hinges for hardware.

  7. Robin, NV says

    I love that people tend to gravitate towards vintage kitchens, probably because they’re so warm and inviting. I’m sure there’s some nostalgia wrapped up in there too. But you just don’t see the same kind of smiles on the people looking at modern high end kitchens.

    I’ve always wondered who made my cabinets. I’ve never been able to find a maker’s mark. Occasionally there are stickers on the inside of drawers that say something like “treat these cabinets like fine furniture, clean and oil periodically.” The original owners certainly treated them well and so do I.

  8. Anne-Marie says

    I adore this kitchen. I like the way the white boxes look with the brown wood doors and drawers. I wonder if I could pull that off in my 1969 kitchen? Unlikely. But, I am tempted. Currently, we have boxes that are slightly different than our cabinets and it drives me crazy to look at them. We have 3 or 4 different phases of re-muddle represented in this kitchen.

    I am also really interested in the black and white photo showing the curved and extending counter top. It JUST occurred to me that my kitchen must have had something like that because there is an odd empty space at one end of the cabinets. it only took me 3.5 years to figure this out!

    Great post!! Thanks for sharing and inspiring.

  9. Sam R says

    Lovely kitchen, and a great story as to how the company preserved it as part of their history. However, if they really wanted to be period correct, they would have had to have cut those 12″ VCT tiles down to 9″. ;-)

    I have to agree with everyone else – the painted cabinet bodies with wood doors do look great, even if the style might be a bit more 1962 than 1946. I’ll have to consider that as an option if I decide to keep the (mostly) original wood cabinets in my 1954 kitchen that have been painted white.

    • pam kueber says

      Yes. 9″ was most universally common. BUT, I think I have seen 12″ tiles in catalogs. AND, in my foyer: 6″ tiles!!!!

      • Robin, NV says

        My ENTIRE house was floored in 9″ tiles – living room, kitchen, dining room, bedrooms, bathrooms, closets . . . My husband and I can’t quite fathom why they did that. I would be OK with it except that it’s not the most attractive tile – tan with yellow and green splotches.

      • Allen says

        OH. I never knew they had 6 inch VAT back in the day. This size would be easy to make with no waste out of the standard 12×12 VCT we have today and would look fantastic especially if you had a smaller area to use it in.

  10. Amy in Sacramento says

    What???!!! Dang it! I was AT that show and missed this!!! It was my first time at KBIS, and there were 3 halls — I was only able to get through 1 with all of the talks I attended. I would have LOVED to have seen that! I hope they’ll be back. It is important to see how kitchens, and how we use them, have evolved.

  11. elle says

    I love this! Is that bead board on the walls? Would this have been used on the walls during this time? My husband and I have been going around and around about tiled walls or bead board.

  12. says

    OMG!!!! Thank you, thank you for saying you would take a dinetter over an island in the kitchen any day!
    I thought I was the only one that felt that way.

  13. Katie says

    I love those cabinets, and the yellow paint is so cheerful. For whatever its worth, the remaining original cabinetry in my house is the same shade of birch, and my house was built in 1960.

  14. Cynthia says

    Very charming. Many delicious meals were cooked in “small”, modest kitchens like those. And people actually cooked and baked, as in from scratch – usually three meals a day – not just microwaving or assembling pre-cooked ingredients which is what cooking means to many people today. It’s also very cozy to sit at the kitchen table.

  15. Luke says

    The Merillat company will not confirm if the appliances are original to the kitchen – well, I can say for sure that the Crosley refrigerator would not have been the original in the kitchen from 1946. That fridge is nearly 10 years newer. I’m not putting down the fridge or the kitchen, just wanted to put proper information out there :-)

  16. 9075 says

    Interestingly enough, the walls in the 1940s B+W photo appear to be covered in the same faux tile wallpaper that originally graced my 1940 kitchen.

    Unlike the photo, the paper in my kitchen was only used as a wainscot/back splash to 4′-0″, with regular wallpaper above. It is glossy and heavier grade than typical wallpaper of the period. Does anyone know anything about this product? I have never seen it in any other houses or in advertising from the period.

  17. Michael says

    OMG!!! The dinette set looks EXACTLY like the set my grandparents had–except theirs was in red. WOW, do I wish I had that set! They had it goin’ on in the ’40s, didn’t they?

  18. says

    I love the ad photo as that kitchen, albeit in black and white, reminds me of my current 70s kitchen layout. I’m sure the cabinets in the kitchen, as well as the bathrooms, were all made by the builder as these are tract homes. Many people haven’t cared for the cabinets and have had them torn out when remodeling. I love the flat surfaces as they are easy to clean.

  19. Josie says

    I love this! I have promised myself since I was a child (really… I was a weird kid… and obsessed with dollhouses and having my own house…) that my own kitchen someday would have a checkerboard floor, and I’ve stayed with that… the only thing changing with my moods and years being the size of the tiles and the colours involved.

    I still don’t have it in real life yet… but I will…

    I really like this one right now.

    And I love the simple cheery yellow-and-white palette. Right now I have yellow walls and white appliances and cabinets and I love the home I’m in! (But not the floors so much)

    Personally, I’m uncomfortable on bar-stools and I prefer dinettes to a lot of the higher seating I see at islands – I’m only 5’0″ and I hate feeling like I need to pole vault into position and can’t get down gracefully, especially in a skirt.

    Anyway, what a long way to say I love this kitchen. I find the yellow-and-white such a nice way to get some colour in without it being super loud or super “diner themed” iykwim.

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      Josie, you are not the only former weird kid with the dollhouses and decorating mania. I designed my own dollhouse when I was a kid, and my grandfather and I built it in his cabinetmaking shop. I made stoves and refrigerators out of painted metal tins and furniture out of scrounged materials. I made a chest of drawers out of three empty small match boxes (not the big kitchen matches, but the small ones for cigarettes, etc.) and my mother found a pile of loose matches in a drawer. I sewed little curtains from quilting scraps my aunt gave me.

      Then in Girl Scouts I earned a home decorator badge by making mockups of rooms out of cardboard and a huge scrap book of ads cut out of magazines. (Again, picture Mom opening Ladies’ Home Journal and finding half a page missing. Wha???) If I had understood myself better, I would have gone to design school and become an interior decorator.

      So Josie, did you notice that the wallpaper and the curtains MATCHED in that late ’40s or early ’50s ad? When I saw stuff like that as a kid, I would just about swoon.

      • Josie says

        Matching and especially “matchy-matchy” is like a dirty word in decorating nowadays, but I kind of still love it.

        I hoarded paint chips and Formica chips. My poor mom. But at least I behaved in the hardware store! Anything to get my chips!

        I collected wallpaper books, too. lol.

  20. jeanne says

    Those cabinets look identical to the 1952 Dearborn, Michigan home I grew up in. We had white painted boxes, with the wood stained/varnished doors and identical hardware. I always assumed they were built into the kitchen. I didn’t know Merillat made something similar. We had brown tile counters, though. I think they were octagon shaped tiles, if I remember correctly. Our kitchen was yellow (with one wall wallpapered), too…with a Colonial style table/chairs in the middle of the kitchen and a Colonial maple hutch in the corner. We hardly had any cupboards!

    My sister and I were reminiscing a few weeks ago and she said she remembers our dad keeping his hat in the cupboard above the stove! Everyday he would put it in the cupboard when he came home from work. LOL! I didn’t remember that. She’s 8 years older than me, so she remembers more than I do.

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      Probably your mom couldn’t reach that cupboard, so it was up for grabs. I wonder if his hat smelled of last night’s dinner. :-)

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      No, it was a standard style to have this type of vents cut out of the wood or metal in the cabinet under the sink. My theory is that It allowed for some ventilation of the moisture coming off the pipes and in the winter it allowed heated air from the house to reach the pipes to keep them from freezing.

  21. Joe Felice says

    I have Merillat cabinets! Who knew they are of such noble heritage? When I saw this kitchen, I decided to have my cabinet boxes painted canary yellow, which is the accent color of my kitchen.

  22. Kristin says

    Just wanted to let you know that this article is on Yahoo Homes today– with your blog linked. Pretty cool! Happy to see this for you!

  23. Sheryl Evans says

    I live in SW Michigan, just under 2 hours from Adrian and I have the 1946 kitchen shown in the photos! Almost looks identical, although mine certainly don’t look as nice anymore. In my house, the cabinet wall is longer and there are more drawers and mine have decades of paint layers. I don’t know where to look to find any kind of proof. My house was built 1940-1950, can’t seem to find a consistent date on it. I came across this by accident and it was a wonderful surprise!

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