“…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.”
Fasten 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.
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! 🙂
I 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.
So 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.
So — 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.
[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.
The 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.
I 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!
I 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…
You’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.
I 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.
If 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.
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!