Melita uses steel laboratory cabinets to create her retro dream kitchen

white-kitchenMelitaOne of the things that sold reader Melita on her 104-year-old Victorian farmhouse when she purchased it 25 years ago was the 1963 kitchen added by the previous owner. Tragically, the 1963 kitchen was destroyed in a fire a few years ago. But instead of feeling defeated, Melita rebuilt and created her dream kitchen.  Notably, Melita used steel kitchen cabinets available today from a company that manufactures and sells cabinetry for laboratories. What a terrific alternative for Retro Renovators who do not want to go through the epic struggle of searching out vintage steel kitchen cabinets.

vintage-modern-kitchenMelita worked hard to replicate the 1963 kitchen that she had loved so much, while also adding some new elements — like her 1938 Chamber B-11 gas stove. The kitchen remodel took three years to complete but Melita wouldn’t have it any other way — now she’s living in her retro modern dream kitchen.

Melita writes:

Dear Pam,

I am sending pics of my ‘dream’ kitchen, recently completed (completed? Is a kitchen ever completed???) after a gut-redo due to a fire. The design and materials are newer versions of the original materials that were in the kitchen when we bought the house 25 years ago. The proud seller told us about her renovation 25 years before that — in 1963 — and we fell instantly in lust with the house and kitchen. It took us a good part of three years to finish the entire renovation after the fire.

A few months before the fire we had embarked on updating/changing the appliances to better fit our current needs. We took out the dishwasher and replaced it with a combo unit washer/dryer which was much needed and used as the laundry room is in the basement and not easily within reach. We replaced the fridge — the 1963 one had been replaced long ago by a tenant — with an Energy Star with an access door, a feature that is very rarely seen but works great for us.

And after the fire, we were finally able to get our dream stove, a Chambers B-11 gas stove. I believe it is a 1938 model. She came from afar — Buffalo NY — Ebay purchase.

metal-kitchen-cabinetsThe cabinets are an updated version of the originals, Yorktown (yes, Yorktown, not Youngstown. I know there was only one other person on the Forum that had those). They are taller and bigger than the ones made in the 1950’s. The new ones were made by Genie Scientific/Moya Living in Laguna Beach, California. These cabinets are a joy to use and pure eye-candy. There is a gap where the contractors did not account for the spacers when they sent the order. They just used the widths of the old cabinets themselves.  I have been toying with various ideas – constructing shelves, etc. At some point… For the time being, it holds the broom/mop/dustpan.

retro-modern-white-kitchenThe stove, a 1938 Chambers  is considerably shorter than the counter. There is definitely a visual break there, but after using it I realized how much easier it is to see the food into the pots in the back at that height…

Breakdown for the appliances and fixtures:

  • Stove: Chambers B-11 model – 37 and ½ inches wide.
  • Washer & Dryer Combo unit (where a dishwasher would normally go, but I have no use for it) is a 24’’ wide LG WM3455HW.
  • Sink: Kohler Delafield tile-in/metal frame right out of your blog.  So is the hudee ring, order from Vance.
  • Metal ring around the sink: Hudee ring from Vance Industries.
  • Counter top: Wilsonart Grey Glace.  We had the exact same one matching our French Country Blue American Standard sink. That sink was a good color but awful quality… Fiberglass. No comparison to cast iron/enameled. And worse yet, it was ‘self rimming’. Now the counter top also matches new sink.
  • Cabinet handles from Lowes (I can’t find them online at the moment, but they looked very atomic age to us…)
  • Faucet: Chrome Gooseneck from Plumbing Overstock (ebay) — We also purchased a Dishmaster for this sink for ‘later’.
  • Fridge: GE GSHL6PHXLS.
  • Hood: Vent-a-Hood, their ‘retro’ design (here pictured in the color of your kitchen!), and ‘under the hood’ is a powerful Magic Lung, an exhaust advertised as keeping the fire from spreading. We can wholeheartedly vouch for that, as we had the exact brand exhaust before and it kept the fire from spreading anywhere in the house.
  • The under cabinet light is strip led lights from Costco – self stick! No holes on the cabinets.
  • I used Rare Earth Magnets – they are VERY strong – to hold the metal key holder shown on the vertical pic. My keys are many and heavy.
  • The backsplash is glass tile from Home Depot, less than $10 per square foot.
  • The floor is Atlantic Birch laminate.

I find laminate [flooring] very comfortable and easy in the kitchen. Especially the non grooved type. Easy to clean and maintain, non-flammable, easy to install. OK, this time I had it installed. But only because it was an insurance job. One thing I regret though, I didn’t get Pergo, which I had before, only because I couldn’t find a non-grooved Birch or Beech I liked. But Pergo is better constructed, more durable and it does not bubble if liquid seeps between planks. I am foreseeing replacing the floors with Pergo in the not so distant future…

One ‘pocket’ that doesn’t show in the pictures is the ‘other’ side of the fridge.  I have a tool chest there! (although I got it from Sam’s last year, I don’t see it available there now). A stainless steel tool chest with butcher’s block top and on the wall above it, not yet hung, will have my copper pots. I find having the tool chest in the kitchen immensely useful. All the power and non-power tools right there, within reach summer and winter. Our “garage” is the old barn, not that close to the house.

The house, a lovely 104-year-old Victorian farmhouse, was at some point divided into apartments for the various members of the previous owner’s extended family (they owned it for over 70 years!)  So although the house is big, each unit has a very urban apartment feel.

Your website has been indispensable to my quest to replace our kitchen after the fire. I wrote to you then (2009) looking for help with metal cabinets and all your tips helped me restore our lives…  There is no way to express my gratitude for that. I am including all these product details in the hope that I may ‘pass it forward’, as you did.

Thank you, thank you so much!


PS – that pitiful microwave has to go. A street find. Did a good job before the stove got hooked up.

In a separate email to Pam, Melita mentioned that at first, her and her contractors didn’t see eye to eye on how the kitchen should look. She wrote:

I am glad you like the kitchen and again thank you for your website and all your help!!!!  My contractors hate you since day one!  You couldn’t have had a better complement than that.  They wanted to “build me a ‘nice’ contemporary kitchen with ‘cherry wood cabinets with a ‘nice’  beige granite countertop, and  ‘nice’ beige walls” – eeeeek!

Melita, you did a fabulous job creating a kitchen with a vintage feel, modern vibe and all the comforts that make it a dream to use — and not caving to your contractor’s idea of what a nice kitchen should look like. It is obvious by the way you talk about your kitchen and the smile on your face that this labor of love was well worth the wait, time and effort that it took to find just the right pieces for your dream kitchen. Thanks so much for sharing your story, photos and sources with all of us in the Retro Renovation community. Yes: Passing it forward.

And Pam adds: Thank you so much, Melita, for your lovely lovely comments. They mean so much to me. xoxo

  1. vegebrarian says:

    Beautiful kitchen (and beautiful name), Melita!

    Congratulations on being able to rebuild your dream kitchen!

  2. Mary says:

    I actually love the gap between the last cabinet and wall that you said is due to the contractor’s mistake. It reminds me of my mother, who used to store the broom and dustpan in the gap between our refrigerator and wall. So in a way, it’s a very retro touch. Lucky you have space for the ironing board as well!

    Beautiful kitchen, very timeless style.

  3. Amazing idea! I have considered using medical cabinets, but didn’t know how to go about it. How great that Melita decided to go for it. The results speak for themselvesI I will definitely investigate them. Can these cabinets be painted by professionals? I ‘d love to try them in turquoise.Thanks so much!!

  4. Daniel Lay says:

    Great ideas..I have one suggestion.In the photo of the cabinet beside the fridge, the one that has a space between the cabinet and the open doorway…why not add about three shelves there that are curved at the front of the cabinet like we often see in end cabinets from the era we all love? They would be useful, and lend more of an era appropriate look than just the flat side. It still looks great,though. I plan to steal your ideas , if I can afford it.

  5. MELITA says:

    Yeaaaahhh! And it-coo-Ks-Like-A-dreeeaaaaM! I love to cook and my grandmothers always said a cook can cooks on anything. Maybe true. But the Chambers rocks!

  6. MELITA says:

    The W/D is great for most things except towels, and possibly sheets. Towels because you lose that softness from the dryer sheets – dryer sheets would not work on a condenser dryer. As for the sheets, if you want them really dry, they will be wrinkled (for those who care, that is…). That said, I prefer this W/D for my sheets because I take them out a bit damp and lay them on the bed (I almost make the bed) to dry completely. This way they stretch and come out like ironed. Otherwise I have happily notice that my clothes don’t shrink, not even a bit, as they always did in the regular dryer. And most importantly, this particular unit is perfect for people who have small loads of laundry – different colors, fabric types, etc. It is very high efficiency with little waste.

  7. MELITA says:

    Oh… The ironing board is too wide for the space. But thank you for putting a nice spin to the only thing I felt dismayed about!

  8. MELITA says:

    GenieScientific and Moya Living (their Home Design division) can make cabinets any way you want them. Their logo is ‘we bend steel beautifully’. And they certainly do! They can paint the cabinets an incredible variety of colors, all available on their website. My cabinets were especially made (is it ‘custom made’?) for the kitchen, they were not lab cabinets adjusted to the purpose. But at the last minute before they shipped them, I bought one of the cabinets they already had made, leftover from some lab order, for my bathroom and they painted it in two colors, body white and doors gunpowder grey with frosted glass to match my bathroom.

    Moya is a designer and also has experience with restoring metal cabinets. She was restoring a St. Charles kitchen at an estate in CA. about the time of my order.

    Price-wise, I can say that they were very-very reasonable. For new cabinets, that is. As this was an insurance work, I don’t know the exact figures. But I do know that, after having gotten estimates for restoring old steel cabinets and for new stainless steel cabinets – the closest I could come to steel before finding GenieScientific – my insurance adjustor approved the GenieScientific estimate without a moment’s hesitation.

  9. MELITA says:

    I simply turned the pilots off. No need to waste gas, produce more heat in the summer, and so on. I even have a cut-off for the gas, visible behind the stove. I turn the gas off after I am done with cooking and cover the stove. There is nothing wrong with using matches or a long lighter. Then, again, that’s the european way… I had never seen pilots on stoves before coming to the US.

  10. MELITA says:

    This was the one real contribution of the contractor. I just insisted on having them, and to his credit, he got it done. I will ask him and let you know. It took some doing, mostly because he couldn’t figure out how to attach them. I found the shelf holders on this site, an article about bathroom shelves with an ad for small glass shelves form Bed Bath and Beyond, I believe.

  11. CCinVA says:

    Thanks for taking the time & effort to share your renovation with us. How wonderful that you stood your ground with the contractor!

  12. Melita says:

    Thank Pam! I hadn’t seen that story. Using an extra piece, a “filler”, “spacer”, to avoid the ugly long screws peering out of the back makes a lot of sense.

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