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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. 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.

  2. Jay says:

    Amen! I have never forgotten seeing the identical stainless oven that was installed in my modest ranch kitchen in the kitchen of a house designed by FLW.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Paul - CT says:

    Stainless Steel Ovens and Cooktops were all the rage in the early 1960’s! My 1961 split level house had a Tappan Custom 42 inch Stainless Steel electric cooktop with griddle, a matching Stainless hood and a Tappan 24 inch stainless steel double wall oven with black handles.

    The houses next door, both sides, across the street, had stainless steel ovens and cooktops, too! of note, the house to my right still has the original funky double wall oven where the doors open side to side. The cooktop also has a stainless counter top and backsplash. So, Stainless Steel is definitely mid-century. Though, when I redid the kitchen 3 years ago, I went with black appliances.

    (BTW, I am also horrified to report that the house down the street yanked their perfect one piece American Standard gorgeous low profile PINK commode (the same one Pam wrote about) and it’s sitting there on the side of the road so if there’s anyone from Connecticut who wants one, go get it!!

  6. I love this post. I guess now feel better about installing stainless in my 1953 kitchen. It was the best for my situation at the time, considering price, availability and design. Finding vintage is not so easy in certain parts of the country and certainly not in my area. I opted for a cook top, built in oven, built in microwave and counter depth fridge with bottom freezer. I was able to “retro” the room with other finishes like the counter top, flooring, lighting, decor and accessories.

  7. Ben says:

    For a time, I had a 1954 Thermador 24″ wide wall oven in stainless.
    One thing to beware: Stainless will discolor! When I rebuilt my current kitchen (going for a 1930s look in an 1840s house) I went with white for ease of cleaning, and better matching between ages and brands (1930s double sideboard sink, 1920s wood cook stove by Round Oak, modern range with double oven and modern Samsung refrigerator until I can justify something retro or rebuilt).
    Sadly, the 1954 Thermador was discolored, needed work, and even if I had polished and rebuilt it, I would have been building a custom cabinet and hoping it would never need a $2000+ replacement. 🙁

  8. Joe Felice says:

    Brushed metals were used, usually on built-ins and in higher-priced homes. The metal finish din’t wear well, and tended to tarnish and scratch easily. Maybe they didn’t have spray varnish back then. And yes, it would have been “brushed” chrome or steel.

  9. Peregrined says:

    The kitchen in the house across the street is a beautifully stainless— being snoopy, I went to the open house, to hear from the real estate agent: Of course, this needs to be removed and updated”. I begged to differ, but I guess we’re just not with it yet down here in the SE!

  10. CarolK says:

    Paul, those side wing oven doors are back! I’ve seen them on Blue Star wall ovens, maybe Viking and perhaps others. GE has a wall oven with French doors. Those kind of doors would be great for us shirt people with short arms. I can’t reach the racks on my daughter’s upper wall oven.

    When my daughter lived in southeast Connecticut, her apartment had beautiful blue bathroom fixtures and tile. I hope your neighbor’s pink toilet goes to a good home.

  11. Jennie Williams says:

    My in-law’s 1956 ranch had a stainless wall oven and 4 burners that each flipped up against the backsplash when not in use. My mother-in-law used the kitchen daily for 50 years and it all held up well. They also has a dishmaster on the sink and a built in turquoise bench around the kitchen table.

  12. Neil says:

    The picture of the Woodmode kitchen reminds me that the revolutionary 60s started out still under the stranglehold of the 50s. Dig that housewife’s dowdy Dale Evans dress (taking her style cue from the mexican pottery, what appears to be a teepee in the corner, and the stage-coach and raring horses occupying the highest perch).

    Also, I notice she’s sitting, not standing, at her sink to prep the veggies, with her legs in a kneehole under the sink. This conveys some cultural history: The 50s housewife was married to the house; to the upkeep of the physical house and the ceaseless care of all who entered there. Her mother and grandmother had doubtless spent countless hours, also seated, at the ubiquitous prep table (in addition to the breakfast table), having already exhausted her legs scrubbing the rest of the home before meal-time approached. Then, our modern pioneer wife was upgraded to the more efficient practice of doing the same at the sink, the prep-table having been eliminated for the sake of sleek modernity.
    In pictures of pre-mid-century kitchens you see a lot of kneehole sinks, the most stylish of which had fancy curtains that the redoubtable woman had sewn herself. It would be interesting, dear moderator, to track the trajectory of kneehole sinks, and their demise as the atomic age “liberated” American housewives.

  13. Mary-Caye says:

    Circa 1954, my parents added a kitchen and living room to our little house. The kitchen included a stainless steel wall oven just like the one shown in the primary photo of this article. There was also a large range top, stainless, that had 4 burners with a big griddle in the middle, must have been 42 inches wide, or wider! The sink was also stainless steel with a drainboard on each side, probably 6 ft. wide. Sometime in the early 80s my mother remodeled some and got a regular range placed where the wall oven had been, that gave her more counter space. But both the old oven and griddle STILL worked!!!
    I am a Realtor in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and I still see these appliances in homes built in the late 50s thru the 70s….most still work too!

  14. Jill says:

    My 1958 colonial ranch with the knotty pine kitchen had the original brushed chrome cooktop, dishwasher and sink when we bought it 22 years ago. The original 24 inch wall oven had been replaced by a black one in the 80s. We have sinced replaced all with stainless and it seems to have kept the original look. Friends bought a 1960 ranch that did have the original Thermador wall oven and cooktop. I have a feeling these weren’t cheap!

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