Molly’s cross country kitchen cabinet crusade

“…I knew it’d either be an expensive disappointment
or a way cool kitchen with a great story.
I’m happy to report, it’s the latter.

rental-truckFasten your seat belts and get ready to ride along with reader Molly as she tells the stupendous story of how she pieced together two sets of vintage steel kitchen cabinets from Missouri, had them painted at her local powder coater in Illinois, then packed them all into a rental truck — along with friend Cindy — to make the 1,800 mile trek to their final installation location in her Palm Springs, California vacation home. The logistics, planning and amount of time Molly must have spent hauling vintage goodies in rental trucks has me feeling exhausted just thinking about it, but all of this excitement didn’t seem to tire her out one bit.

palm-springs-ranch-retroMolly writes:

About six months ago I was in the planning stages of redesigning a new kitchen for a mid-mod house we’d just purchased in Palm Springs, CA. I hit your site early and often for research and somewhere along the way you and I briefly interacted. You instructed me to take lots of pictures and I have! 🙂

st-charles-metal-cabinetsI ended up buying two sets of cabinets that I found through your article “All the best stuff’s in St. Louis” — remember that? Like 24 or 25 full sets of cabinets were linked in that article. Remember the huge line of St. Charles in harvest gold? It had been a large round kitchen. I had no idea what I was going to do or need in this new house so I didn’t think I could go wrong buying all of it. Umm, well, there were some interesting things about it — for one the ROUND part of it was something — would I be able to get them unrounded? Indeed, I was because they had put inserts in them to get them to conform that way in the first place — but all those wood fronts . . . Yeesh. What to do? How would we arrange them? Could we use these? Would we have to build new doors on some of them to match the new white colors?

I had no idea and no plan. Just shot-gunned it — bought them all — $900 and figured I would figure it out later. They’re now a long WHITE island in my kitchen here. I had them powder-coated and they look amazing.

vintage-steel-kitchen-cabinetsSo why the Kelvinators too? I didn’t know if I’d have enough and the Kelvinators were in great shape. What if some of the St. Charles cabinets couldn’t be used? At $400, I’d rather have too many than not enough to choose from.

molly-in-uhaulSo — I made the six hour trip to Dexter, Missouri to pick up the St. Charles, hauled them back to my home in Illinois in a U-Haul and dropped them off at the powder coater. They had no idea what they were in for. Ha ha! Plus, I told them I’d be back the next day with ANOTHER set!

I turned right around and traveled down to St. Louis, picked up the Kelvinators, then dropped them off at the shop too. It took them a good two months to get through all of them.

When I went to pick them up in the Penske truck they had them all wrapped up in plastic and on pallets ready to load — I hadn’t even got to see them! Argh! What an adventure. Kind of nerve-wracking really. I just trusted it’d all be ok — naïve — but then I’m kind of a go-with-what-will-be kind of girl anyway, so it fit. I believed in good karma for this one, you might say.

kitchen-remodelmcm-kitchen-remodel[At the ‘new’ Palm Springs house] The beauty of it was that I had a wide open space . . . So much potential. I knew I wanted a long island for entertaining, we’d need two sinks – his and hers – and I wanted a special lighted art wall. With all those cabinets it wasn’t hard to come up with a nice arrangement.

mid-century-modern-kitchenThe line of Kelvinators forms the back wall — and they look just as great. They’re all topped with Wilsonart blue boomerang counters and are outfitted with a snazzy band of retro aluminum edging from Eagle Mouldings.

modern-kitchenvintage-kitchen-cabinetsI wanted the Big Chill line of appliances but come on — I just couldn’t justify that much money for appliances in a vacation home. We went with the GE Artistry line that I’d been introduced to ON YOUR SITE — thank you, again, Pam!!

My contractor was SO DELIGHTED with the quality of the cabinets. He’s lived and worked in Palm Springs for twenty five years but has NEVER PUT IN cabinets like this — he’s taken them out of a few long ago, but hasn’t seen anything like these in a long long time. Again — all the best stuff’s in St. Louis, as you said!

rental-truckI point everyone to your site when I’m asked how I came up with this whole scheme. I drove these cabinets 1,800 miles out here myself — with my friend Cindy. She couldn’t stand the thought of me doing this alone, so she took time off and rode along with me, bless her heart — in a big ole Penske truck.

I knew it’d either be an expensive disappointment or a way cool kitchen with a great story. I’m happy to report, it’s the latter. Everyone shakes their head, smiles, and tells me how cool it is that I’ve saved a part of the past and brought it proudly into the present.

And, a new passion…

retro-desk refinished-vintage-desk retro-modern-houseYou’ve completely changed me. I have to credit you with helping me develop my own unique style — quite contemporary but warmed with vintage and kitsch. There are lots of mid mod blogs and there’s Atomic Ranch but you’re an entity all your own. You’re the daily dose, the clean steady diet of substance and stamina. Because of you, I now refinish mid–mod furniture.

broyhill-brasilia-china-cabinet mid-century-dining-roomI buy off eBay, frequent thrift shops, and estate auctions. I’ll just have to show you in pictures. I have two homes. This Palm Springs house is clean and sleek, but nearly 60 year old cabinets and refurbished Danish modern furniture give it that look. My home in Illinois is more traditional, but a $20 1950’s Lane coffee table and a $75 thrift store Broyhill Brasilia hutch are focal points on the main floor.

vintage-chair reupholstered-vintage-chairIf nothing else, I just wanted to say “thank you!” for your site, the incredible amount of quality information and useful resources you’ve provided here. I’d have never thought of this myself or even thought to do anything like this, but you’ve been a real champion for keeping those cabinets out of landfills and for making people like myself realize the potential right under our noses. My new kitchen is beautiful, functional, and downright special! You should be so proud of yourself for inspiring people like myself to appreciate and save bits of Americana piece by piece.

mid-century-dresser refinished-midcentury-dresser mid-century-mod-bedroomvintage-light-fixture-70svintage-light-fixturepalm-springs-mcm-ranchMolly, you are in inspiration… and thank you SO MUCH for the kind comments. To be sure, they made our day. Love back at ya!

All of that driving from one side of the country to the other in the name of reusing vintage steel St. Charles and Kelvinator kitchen cabinets is such an extraordinary story. Your finished kitchen looks fantastic — a wonderful mix of modern and midcentury that truly feels at home in your fabulous Palm Springs home. Kudos to you for a job well done on your new kitchen, your new style and your wonderful attitude and energy for restoring and refinishing your retro finds. Thanks so much for sharing your Retro Renovation journey with us!

Tips to view slide show: Click on first image… it will enlarge and you can also read my captions… move forward or back via arrows below the photo… you can start or stop at any image:


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Comments

  1. Molly Evans says

    Thank you, thank you! You’re all so kind! TammyCA, yes, vintage. I loved it too — did you see the before shot? I took it to the same powder coater that did my cabinets.

    Amy — I know, right?!? Weird desk! I found it in a thrift shop in west central IL — all original hardware and it was uniform so I assume that’s how it was made. I didn’t find any sticker identifying it though. It was a weird piece. I took it apart to refinish each piece individually — solid wood / very heavy and it had veneer overlays on the sides. I had to paint that one side that was all chipped up and I balanced the color splash on the other side with paint in that little shelving unit. When there’s good wood I try to maintain that with stain rather than paint.

    And yeah, I have lots and lots of pictures . . . Where is it most convenient for me to post them to?

  2. Amy says

    Dear Molly,
    Thanks for writing back about your desk. I keep coming back to view it,&think I may have fallen in love. I’m a big fan of unique pieces which call to me, not necessarily the “big names”( although, of course I do adore certain architects &designers) More important than collecting “names”, things that make one think&use unique technique to make pieces mulitifunctional, while remaining as attractive as that desk, call to me most. You can tell it’s crafted well. Maybe I’m naive,& it is designed by a “name”. I still have so much to learn,(beyond the obvious big “names”)yet I’ve never seen anything like it!
    What a great find to include in your beautifully retrofinished home. It fits w/ the fun & adventurous spirit I sense you have tons of! You trip reminds me of something I’d do,&w/ your mention of the sights along the way, I can tell you’d be the BEST road trip companion!=^_^*=

  3. Rayne says

    I have three of that style Montgomery Ward dresser / chest of drawers and I also live in Illinois. 🙂 Two came from my MIL who bought them new from MW and the third I found in a thrift shop still in good condition. The quality is great. I’m always on the look out for more because i just love the simplicity of the design.

  4. Lauren says

    Wow! I am so impressed with all your creative work and tenacity, Molly. This site is great and such an invaluable resource and community. I, too, am renovating a vacation home in central Palm Springs; a Meiselman. I was lucky to get it with original Youngstown steel cabinets and much of its MCM details. Eventually, it will be furnished with danish modern and vintage pieces for a vacation rental. Your ideas for refinishing are fantastic. I wish you had those cabinets powder coated in PS since I’m looking for a source for mine. I’m also looking for an oven to match my 1960 Tappan has stovetop. Maybe St. Louis has what I need. (I have a gorgeous 1950s O’Keefe & Merritt brown enameled gas oven/stovetop set that, unfortunately, doesn’t fit, if anyone is interested, by the way.)

    Anyway, your renos are an inspiration. Great job!

  5. Molly Evans says

    Thanks, Lauren! Yeah, sorry, I just don’t know those sources out here (I’m here now for the winter). It’s been kind of frustrating for me to get good quality help in so many areas. I’ve found that doing anything beyond buying vintage items from the stores that sell them, it’s . . . difficult. There are other ways to do those cabinets though — I’ve had so many people tell me that they’d have had them painted by a professional autobody shop. I never checked in to that but suppose it’s a viable option. I’d encourage you to at least try it — no one is doing the difficult thing out here — they’re all turning to contemporary stuff and/or IKEA. Thanks for the note here — nice to hear from a fellow comrade and good luck to you in your renovations!

    Molly

  6. Joyce Coffey Hodder says

    I am the daughter of Opal and Loren Coffey, live in their same neighborhood, and am delighted to see what you have done with those old cabinets. My mother just loved them. The family is very happy to see the transformation by somebody who also values them.

    She also had the entire dining room collection of Brazilia furniture. Did you get any of those at her auction?

  7. Molly Evans says

    Oh my goodness, Joyce! How nice of you to write here! No, I didn’t know of the Brasilia furniture available then — shoot! Would have loved to have bought that too! I bought the cabinets from the guy redoing the house — I was right there on the premises to pick them up. Did you know my Aunt Marilyn T. and daughters Karen and Nancy were there with me? One of them may have pointed you to this article I’d guess. I’d love to show you another shot or two of your mother’s cabinets as this article spotlighted the Kelvinators more. The St. Charles ones make up the whole island and everyone gasps when they see them. They’re really cool! Still, that set was so large that I had far too many left over, so I gave them to my next door neighbor for use in his laundry room. He was thrilled! Thanks for the note, Joyce. I’m glad you said something. 😉 Pam, can I attach a photo here for her to see her mother’s cabinets in their redone state?

  8. Chris says

    I am uninstalling a 1955 GE Wonder Kitchen tomorrow to move to my house. Does anyone have instructions?????

    • pam kueber says

      Chris, I recommend: Consult with a professional. Be Safe! You could also try calling GE, which made these kitchens. They may have archival materials they can share.

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