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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. Phil says:

        That’s what I said in my post from 12:14 above, but I couldn’t find a picture of a Hotpoint. Thanks for the link!

  1. Annette says:

    Off topic and random question. We own a 2017 NJ Colonial, Chestnut trim, oak floors throughout. We need to rip up seven layers of kitchen floor. Once we remove the layers of vinyl flooring what are our chances of finding oak flooring at the bottom? Thanks so much for your help!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      I don’t know, but be aware: The materials and layers — including flooring and their adhesives,etc etc — used in our hold houses can contain vintage nastiness such as lead and asbestos. Get with your own properly licensed professionals to assess what you are dealing with so that you can make informed decisions how to handle. For more info see our Be Safe / Renovate Safe page here — sfaber@lenoxlib.org

  2. Phil says:

    And I forgot, regular fridges (not counter depth or built-in) were also available with brushed chrome finish. Mine isn’t counter depth, Frigidaire didn’t make them. Usually, just the a few of the higher end models were available with brushed chrome doors. Some were top-freezers and side x side but they were more often bottom-freezers.

    https://flic.kr/p/SrXUi2

  3. Suzy says:

    I have a 1956 stainless Western Holly gas cooktop …. So much prettier in style & a better quality stainless than today’s garbage being sold.

  4. Kay Goolsby says:

    Our house that was built in the late 1950’s-early 1960’s had stainless steel G.E. appliances in the kitchen. Included were wall oven, cook top, vent hood, dishwasher, and sink. They were a brushed stainless, and I loved them. It was a mid-century house with huge brick fireplace wall, beamed ceilings throughout, wall to ceiling windows in the living room, etc. I still miss that house!

  5. Kristin says:

    I went with a counter-depth fridge for my remodel and I am so glad I spent the extra money. It definitely looks more “built-in” and seamless with the steel cabinets, and is still plenty big at 20 cubic feet.

  6. Jordan says:

    Stainless steel was definitely not only available, but a common look in those days. My 1961 kitchen has its original stainless oven and cooktop. HOWEVER — the quality of the metallurgy was FAR superior to anything you can buy today. Stainless steel is not all the same quality, and the new stuff tends to have far more iron in it. Therefore, while the finish on my 1961 oven is pristine, there are rust spots on my 2000’s stainless fridge.

    1. Pamela says:

      I was told by an appliance person that many people with stainless (modern) appliances clean them with Windex or a similar product. He says the ammonia in those cleaners interacts with the stainless steel resulting in oxidation /rust. The best thing to clean with is soap and water, or a cleaner specifically made for stainless. Side note: I lived for 17 years in a town built originally in the 1950’s. Many houses still had the original stainless countertops with a raised or “Navy” edge and stainless sinks, all one piece. The cabinets were usually wood; I did see some stainless wall ovens especially if the cabinets were natural wood finish. It was a pretty classy look.

      1. Jordan says:

        Yes that’s true, because the new appliances have a high iron content (impurity) in the metal. It is specifically the iron that rusts. You will never see a 1950s or 60s stainless appliance with rust spots because they used purer metal in those days.

    2. Jay says:

      So true! Saw this with my now 10 year old stainless cooktop vs. the 50 yr. old one it replaced which was in far better condition when it came out. The new one is nothing but a thin stamped piece of metal that raises up in one corner when a large pot of water is placed on a back burner.

  7. Carolyn says:

    I’m not positive but I think I saw a SS oven in the background of a photo of Patsy Cline at home. It was on a PBS special of her life.

  8. Jay says:

    Pam, thanks very much for this story. I like to think that the stainless was the neutral to the pink, aqua, yellow, avocado and gold appliances.

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