servel living kitchen with new steel kitchen cabinetsDo you want or need new kitchen cabinets? I share my opinions on sourcing the best quality kitchen cabinets for the money. 

How would I approach getting new kitchen cabinets, in what order? If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you will probably not be surprised by my #1 recommendation.  Here goes:

  1. Reconsider the need for new kitchen cabinets at all.

    If you have an older house with its original kitchen cabinets, those old cabinets may be of better quality than any “affordable” new cabinets available today.  If your existing kitchen cabinets are sturdy and still serviceable, there are numerous ways to give them new life. This would help you avoid significant, unnecessary spending, not to mention the stress of a major renovation. Can you work with your cabinets? Refinish them if the wood is nice… Or repaint them… If  the doors and drawers have decorative moldings and you want to go for a glazed look, try a solution like Rust-oleum Cabinet Transformations… Then, swap out the cabinet hardware for a fresh new/old look. Other ideas: Add glass-front doors to some of the wall cabinets, or take some doors off some of the wall cabinets for an open look.

    Remember, Reality Check:  You typically do not make your money back on remodeling projects — plan your spending with care.

  2. Shop for vintage steel kitchen cabinets.

    This is the route I took. The 1975 melamine cabinets in my 1951 kitchen were literally falling apart. I learned about vintage steel kitchen cabinets and went on a five-year hunt. I finally found my 1963 aquamarine Genevas, original finish, in great shape in a cooking school formerly run by nuns. I bought 67 cabinets for $3,000. I installed a bunch of them and then sold the leftovers on ebay for $2,500. And did you catch that: My cabinets are STEEL. Like Superman. With steel roll-out shelves. These cabinets will outlive me. Heck, barring a flood, they will live FOREVER.

    Want to learn more about vintage steel kitchen cabinets? I have dozens of stories about vintage steel kitchen cabinets here on the blog.  Youngstown steel cabinets were the biggest-selling brand, so will be the most plentiful today. But St. Charles steel cabinets (shown in the photo above, 1941) are the best-of-the-best. The St. Charles’ were made of even heavier steel than my Genevas. They are something. Still, many of the other brands are wonderful — and will do the trick just fine. Searching out steel kitchen cabinets can be a chore. And then, you may need to have them repainted at additional expense. But dollar-for-dollar, I can’t imagine finding any better quality kitchen cabinets for your money, especially for a mid century house or any house with a kitchen being done with vintage flair.

  3. For new wood cabinets, read the research on Consumer Reports.

    I am a ginormous fan of Consumer Reports. All of their testing is independent. They are not beholden to advertisers. They exist to serve their subscribers. Whenever I am in the buying mode for big stuff, I buy an online subscription, so I can research like a maniac. It makes my decision-making process so much easier. Right now, they do not show any brand-by-brand tests of kitchen cabinets. But they do have an article about what kind of construction to look for if you are looking for new wood kitchen cabinets. So read up. Note, though, that their #1 recommendation is same as mine: Can you work with the cabinets you have?

Readers, what is the situation with your kitchen cabinets?
Do you have experience to share with others?

  1. Jamie says:

    We just moved to a 1908 farmhouse that had some very strange renovations. While the boxes for the kitchen cabinets are wood the door and drawer fronts are plastic. They are also covered in years of uncleaned grease and funk and have a ton of mouse droppings inside. The layout is terrible (fridge blocking the only window, U shape cuts off access). Hubby even declared them unusable. I’m looking for steel cabinets but it’s difficult to find them in our area. I don’t want to have to resort to Home Depot melamine even though they might look nice now I know they won’t last.

  2. Megan says:

    We just bought a 1965 ranch from someone who owned it for a couple years and made a few thoughtless “renovations” before cashing in on the real estate boom and selling to us, including painting all the kitchen cabinets white. I Googled the original owners, who passed away around 2010, and found an online memorial full of photos of the family! And a couple are even in our house! So exciting. Now here’s the part that makes me want to cry: in one of the pictures I can see our cabinets in their original form and they are GORGEOUS! So now I know what I’ll be doing over the next few years; some quilt, others refinish cabinet doors one at a time.

  3. Brendan says:

    You’ve sold me on steel cabinets, but now I have to sell my wife on the GE cabinets I’ve found. Do you have any idea which child proofing products would work best for such non-traditional cabinet doors?

    1. Joe Felice says:

      Good question! I’ve not seen discussion of this previously. I do not recall having such things back in the day, even when I was a kid. I suspect people didn’t worry about it as much as we do today. Back then, you have to remember, people watched their kids more closely. Children were rarely out of their parents’ eyesight. Once old enough to go outside, we weren’t allowed to leave the yard, or go in the street. If we wanted to go to a friend’s house, mom always asked “Is it OK with Mrs. So-And-So?” And if a friend came over, she’d ask “Does your mother know where you are?” The first time child latches came into my memory was in the late ’70s. I remember thinking “That’s a great idea. I wonder why someone didn’t think of it sooner.” Also, I don’t think we kept as-many poisonous products under the sink as we do today. I do remember ashtrays’ being an issue, because everybody smoked, and some kids liked to eat the butts. Never could understand that one.

      1. pam kueber says:

        Hmmm, Joe… when I was growing up we roamed freeeeee. I think it’s the opposite: Parental control over children so much stricter today !

        1. Joe Felice says:

          Can there be that-much difference between east & west? Of course you are much younger than I. I’m talking about the ’50s. And I suspect you are in a smaller city. I’m talking about Denver. But we were not even allowed to go onto someone else’s property without their permission. I remember in 1964, my cousin & I were running to his house, and he decided to cut through the yards in the middle of the block. (Not all yards had fences as of yet.) I stopped dead in my tracks, and said “We can’t go on these people’s yard.” To this day, when I jaywalk (which is commonplace today; pedestrians wander into streets wherever they like.), I still can hear my mom (God love her!) telling me to go to the crosswalk. When I was 7, I did leave the yard, and cross the street in the middle of the block (both without permission), and sure enough, there was a car there to run over me. On the way to the hospital, my mom told me that when we got home, I was going to “get it.” And man, did I ever, especially since that was one of only-two times I interrupted her bridge game.

    2. Danika says:

      My brother and wife have magnetic ones where a magnetic controlled lock is installed inside and a magnet in what looks like a knob is kept on the fridge and you “un-lock” the cabinet with it. They are invisible from the outside. I’m sorry that isn’t too specific but they just put them in (they just had their first baby) so I’ve only had to use it once. Needless to say you could look at baby and home stores and ask around with probable success. Knowing them they didn’t get their locks anywhere unusual, they are “big box” people.

  4. Christa says:

    I wanted to contribute to this thread because it was such a huge problem when we first bought our 1958 home. We bought a mostly intact house from the original owner. The lovely woman was quite old when she passed and the house was really, really dirty as sometimes happens to elderly folks. The kitchen had some very gross things going on (not falling apart, no mice, but gross). The house overall was completely sound and solid, and absolutely beautiful bones.

    We bought thinking we had to rip the kitchen out right away – I just could not deal with the ick factor. But people told us to wait and think about it, so we decided to make it work for our first year. Before moving in my sweet husband went to the house by himself and scrubbed that kitchen for 3 days, inside and out of all the cabinets and appliances. Then I went in and painted the walls and insides of the cabinets a nice, crisp white. That was enough to take away the ick factor. We replaced the knobs, the appliances (they were on their last legs and not original/vintage). I got silicone tape to help the drawers glide easily ( ), which actually worked! The floors were replaced with hardwood to match the adjacent rooms, giving the whole area a more continuous feeling.

    After all these changes, the kitchen is looking pretty good. As we lived with it for few months, I learned to appreciate how well designed it is – the layout is very efficient, making cooking and clean up easy, intuitive and quick. The cabinets are block-filled mahogany ply (they don’t even make this stuff anymore). Nothing is warped, the doors and drawers all close squarely and look straight and even as the day they were custom built on site. The original hinges are solid brass and have acquired a lovely patina.

    People always say to live in a house for a year before you renovate. I think that advice proved very true for us. I didn’t appreciate what I had at first, and only learned the value of the existing kitchen by living with it and doing some research on the material. They truly don’t make things the way they used to and I’m so pleased we didn’t rush into anything. With good care, I expect these cabinets to survive another 50 years.

    1. Maggie says:

      Are you me? I bought my 1958 ranch last year and cabinets were smelly and gross. My parents helped clean the kitchen and it took the three of us us a solid 3 days to get it usable. My sink is still nasty (they tried coating it in some sort of enamel paint- did not last), and I need new countertops.
      Unfortunately, I was not as lucky- my cabinets were made by the original owner and they are a lot janky. They are worn out and I think they just need replacing. The whole thing is overwhelming. I wish they were in better condition

  5. Jan in KC says:

    I have a comment and a question re Genevas. Not sure if this is the right place to post, but hope it’s OK. Comment: I had good success scrubbing my textured aqua 1959 cabinets with a scrub brush and Bar Keeper’s Friend (powder worked better than cream). It largely removed stains and rusty spots that I had thought permanent. Not perfect but so improved that I won’t attempt any other refinishing. After cleaning, I applied paste wax. Looks pretty good. Question: I need to replace the original double wall oven and the closest I find in size is 5 inches taller. Has anyone trimmed away at a double-walled metal cabinet to accommodate a taller
    oven? Or switched to a single oven? Thanks!

    1. pam kueber says:

      I need to say: Ack! I would not use abrasives like that on vintage cabinets, although I hear what you’re saying about making them serviceable. Also be aware: There may be lead in the paint — consult with a properly licensed professional to know what you are working with so that you can make informed decisions.

      I don’t know re: the stove question.

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