Are 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
- 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.