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Were stainless steel appliances use in vintage midcentury kitchens? Yes — with qualifications

yellow and blue kitchen designAre stainless steel appliances appropriate for midcentury houses, if you want to do a relatively authentic remodel? This question comes up fairly often on the blog, and the answer is: Yes. My research indicates that stainless steel — or UPDATED per reader comments: maybe it was brushed chrome — was used on midcentury appliances. Brushed chrome: I’ll declare that “close enough.” Even with that: There are further qualifications, because there some places where we did not see these materials used.

revco refrigerator
Revco appliances — refrigerator / freezer combination … built-in ovens … range-top cooking. See more vintage Revco here.

As best I can tell from 15 years of studying photos of midcentury kitchens, stainless steel and/or brushed chrome was used on: Built-in ovens, expensive built-in or counter-depth refrigerators, dishwashers, kitchen sinks, range hoods, countertops, counter edging, and various small built-in appliances. Above: Time capsule kitchen with St. Charles cabinets from this story.

1956 hotpoint stainless steel range

These finishes were not commonly used on the sides of free-standing ranges — although they do pop up now and then as in Sarah’s 1956 Hotpoint stainless steel or is it brushed chrome range above. I have never seen them as a finish on steel kitchen cabinets. 

vintage wood-mode kitchen cabinets
Wood-Mode showed a lot of stainless steel appliances — note the dishwasher — in their 1961 cabinet brochure. What a nice kitchen design! See more photos from 1961 here.

Today, stainless steel appliances are so popular that they are likely the easiest solution if you need new appliances. White appliances also are available fairly widely. Pastels: Niche market, only a few suppliers.

If you want to use modern stainless steel — but you still want to “get the look” my experience includes:

  1. vintage sub zero refrigerator
    You can still get Sub-Zero refrigerators that look like this one from 1966!

    Be careful about sizing your appliances — so many of today’s refrigerators are behemoths. Try to make sure your refrigerator is “scaled” to the size or your kitchen. If you can swing it, look for counter-depth. And if you can really swing it, consider Sub-Zero. They make counter-depth refrigerators with stainless steel fronts in a variety of sizes and door configurations, and you can get handles and exhaust grilles just like they’ve been making for many decades. Sub Zeros are pricey, though.

  2. Go for a built-in oven(s)  with range-top burners [rather than a freestanding range with the oven on the bottom]. But, if your existing kitchen layout has the space carved out for a free-standing range and you are not reconfiguring your cabinets, don’t sweat it. Yes: Stainless steel appliances were used in vintage kitchens.

For all of our research on Kitchen Appliances, see our Kitchen Help / Appliances and Accessories subcategory here.

  1. Cyd says:

    Reading Jill’s comment about replacing with black in the 80’s leads me to comment about our black refrigerator. I think of the comments my mother was getting when they became popular. Our house had a black refrigerator in 1960 to the late 70’s. The kitchen is much newer than the rest of this 1900 house with the much talked about pink bathroom.

  2. Robert E. Oakes says:

    My father purchased a 1920s bungalow in the mid-70’s that had its kitchen remodeled in the early 60’s. Wall oven, electric cooktop, refrigerator, dishwasher, range good and sink were all stainless steal. Except for that he sink, they were a pain to clean. When the dishwasher died, its replacement was harvest gold. Stainless was available but very expensive.

  3. David says:

    I love the vintage stainless steel appliances shown here …

    But I am a little taken aback by the bad-mouthing of modern stainless steel appliances. Surely some of the current, low end appliances are indeed made of poor materials, but that has always been true. There were “builder grade” materials and appliances in the 1940’s and 50’s, too. I remember the cabinets and appliances originally in my parents’ 1954 tract home, and they were not high quality.

    We installed high-end GE stainless steel appliances in our new/old house in 2012. They have not rusted. They do not buckle. They clean up easily and beautifully with proper stainless steel cleaning products. They still work well. They have a handsome, substantial look, and they feel good to the hand. You can still purchase high quality appliances made of high quality materials … but you need to pay for them, just as you did in the good old days.

    Just my two cents. 🙂

  4. Carole says:

    My childhood home had a stainless steel oven, and individual fold-down electric stove eyes, which were very cool, and allowed for extra counter space when not in use. The house was built in 1954.

    1. Phil says:

      The fold down cooking surface from Frigidaire were introduced in 1954 as 1955 models. I have a set of those. The early ones were larger and each burner folded individually. Later versions had burners that folded in pairs and the controls were stacked on one side rather than on each side to save some space. The original ones with the individual burners and the x-shaped knobs are my favorites.

      These units were often paired with the Frigidaire “french door” wall ovens.

  5. Deb says:

    My parent’s house, built in 1956, had a stainless wall oven, stainless electric cooktop, and a stainless sink. They did not have a dishwasher at that time and the refrigerator was not stainless. It was still in good shape when they sold the house in the 80s.

  6. Mike W. says:

    I have vintage Thermador (1960) top of the line bi level built in ovens and a six burner drop in cook top. Stainless is like new after 57 years, but some functionality with wall ovens and cook top need work. Parts very hard to find, if at all. I have the 1960 brochure with model #s and specifications, but need guidance for someone or some company than can do the restoration if I can locate parts I need.

    Thanks

    Mike

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      See our research in Kitchen Help/Appliances and Accessories subcategory. I believe the main stories on this type of issue are right at the top.

  7. KennyT123 says:

    My kitchen has the 1955 Frigidaire Foldup burners. Those were stainless and were an accompaniment to the Stainless french door oven. You could get two ovens in one space with the adjustable bake oven element that plugged into the back center of the oven. It was called the ‘Wonder Oven” and was also a feature on their 40 inch range. Sadly I didn’t have room for the french-door oven so I installed a pink GE 1955 wall oven under the counter.

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