Drew collects 60 Geneva kitchen cabinets — four sets, in all — to get all the pieces for his ‘new’ kitchen

Geneva kitchen cabinet collectionDo you want to build a ‘new’ kitchen using vintage steel kitchen cabinets? Well, buckle up: Because if you’re going to fit someone else’s cabinets into your space, you may have to collect quite a few to fit your kitchen layout. How many? How about: 60. Yes, Drew is most definitely a The Hard Way 2017 contender after collecting 60 vintage Geneva steel kitchen cabinets — from four different sets in four different locations — so that he could get the “just right” layout for his apartment in an historic Chicago complex. And to increase the level of difficulty even more: He hunted a rare “Impasto” finish. That Lazy Daisy was… a unicorn, but he found it!

The “After” photos:

steel kitchen cabinets sandburg terrace chicagoA lovely blue kitchen that suits the space beautifully. Thanks to Drew and to realtor Newman Realty Services for permission to show these photos. Yes: The condominium apartment is now for sale here (original link now gone but redirects here.)

Here’s Drew’s kitchen cabinet collecting story, edited for readability and to combine several emails:

Hi Pam,

First off, thank you so much for creating such a valuable resource for all of us. Your blog was a starting point for me, via Google, when I decided to renovate my kitchen and keep my original Geneva Kitchen Cabinets with the Impasto finish.

I’ve been meaning to write to you about my project for some time. My home in Chicago is now on the market, and I’d like to share with you my successfully completed project before it sells.

Long story short: In 2009, I bought an all original 1962 condo in Chicago’s storied Sandburg Terrace housing development.

Sandburg Terrace was designed in the 50s and built in the 60s and early 70s as a urban renewal project on Chicago’s near north side. It’s 2,600 units span four long city blocks. The first building was built in 1962, Alcott, which is the unit where my condo is located. 

Geneva Impasto kitchen cabinets
Drew’s kitchen with the original Genevas with their Impasto finish
The early Sandburg units were built with Geneva cabinets that have the Impasto finish. Mine was originally built with a set of yellow cabinets that were in excellent shape when I bought the unit – the cabinets were the main reason why I purchased my place.  
Impasto Geneva kitchen cabinets
goldenrod color for geneva steel kitchen cabinetsEditor Pam notes: The “Impasto” finish was a nubbly finish created, I *believe*, by stamping the steel with an embossed plate. You can see the Impasto nubbly finish in the wall cabinet above. It’s likely that manufacturers introduced these sorts of finishes to address complaints about fingerprints showing on the more common glossy smooth finish, and Impasto-like finishes also may have hidden dents better. Another example: See these vintage Capitol cabinets — their solution was a “color-flecked” sort of granite-like finish — photo also at right: I tend to think this was done with paint, not embossing of the steel, but I am not sure.  I’m sure I have other photos of this feature in my brochure library. I’ll get some scans up soon, for the historical record.
It’s really amazzzzzing that Drew was able to find four sets with this less-common finish — I’m not sure if I should call it “rare”, but it may well be.
vintage geneva kitchen cabinets moving steel kitchen cabinetsBack to Drew:
I always knew that I wanted to expand the kitchen and about three years ago began searching for additional cabinets. In total, I found four additional sets through Craigslist, ebay and my local salvage store with the same finish — a miracle.  
lazy susan steel kitchen cabinet

My cabinets came from Geneva, IL; Hartford, CT; and Evanston, IL. They were all different colors. I created an inventory of all the cabinets and then worked on designing my kitchen. Missing ones were identified and purchased one by one using the original sales materials — the Lazy Daisy came out of a barn in southern Illinois. 

The cabinets were electrostatically painted by a local commercial coatings specialist in the popular Pantone 2016 “Snorkel Blue” to modernize the cabinets and make them new for a whole new generation to fall in love with them.  

undercounter kitchen sink set int solid surface countertop

I selected a KOHLER Cast Iron undermount sink and a Silestone “Mont Blanc” countertop that kept with the spirit of the original gold flecks. The widespread faucet is the same manufacturer as what was original to the unit: Central Brass in Ohio [Amazon affiliate link – Pam]. The original ceiling fixture was restored and painted to match the cabinets.

snorkel blue pantone
Appliances are from the GE Artistry series [now discontinued but it looks like there is some last stock remaining in stores – Pam] completed my retro look. 
buy steel kitchen cabinets

At the height of my collection of Geneva cabinets, I had over 60 pieces split between my condo, two storage units, and a friend’s basement. All extra cabinets found new homes with people who were as passionate about them as I am. 

Your blog was key to inspiring me to do the project, find the sources, and make sure I restored everything correctly. 
I used a German Chromium cream to shine all the original hardware, which was boiled first in a crockpot to clean off years of exposure to great meals. The bumpers were replaced on all the drawers and doors with modern door mutes, and all the original metal coated shelves got a bath in Dawn in my bathtub – it was an overnight treatment.  [Readers: Do your own research / consult with pros when making decisions on how to clean old stuff. Renovate Safe – Pam] 
It’s bittersweet that happy life events have caused me to put my place on the market.
midcentury modern bathroom renovation

Additionally, the bathroom was restored similarly. All the chrome fixtures are new in box Hall-Mack fixtures from the 1960s and I replaced all the original Central Brass fixtures in the sink and tub with new ones from the company. A friend of mine in the design trade restored the original Hollywood ceiling fixture. The medicine cabinet and mirror are original to the unit. 

 Thanks for the chance to share my story with you — and thanks again for all the inspiration!
Best regards, Drew

Howdy hudee, Drew, what an accomplishment! 60 cabinets — from four different kitchens! I had 67 before I started and ‘made it’ by just one filler piece. But: All my cabinets came from one space, a cooking-school kitchen. Your story is way more typical. You get many many gold stars for tenacity!

Thank you for sharing your story — and good luck with the sale and your next adventures. It will be interesting, for sure, to hear what comments are made by prospective buyers.

Link love:

  • See more photos of Drew’s renovated Sandburg Terrace condo for sale now via Newman Realty Services Inc. — note, original link now gone but redirectshere

  1. Kathleen says:

    In 1998, I lived in Sandburg. I had a fire and removed the metal cabinets. My contractor told me “someday everyone is going to want the metal cabinets back.” So, here I am…20 years later with 3 different sets of St. Charles cabinets in storage, trying to figure out a layout.

  2. Candice M says:

    Drew, any chance you will share who painted the cabinets? I’m about to close on a 1948 house here in Chicago that needs the kitchen restored. I haven’t purchased any steel cabinets yet but I’ve been keeping an eye out. I need to close on the house first.

  3. Christine W says:

    Very nice kitchen Drew. What a lot of work and dedication. Obviously you were very focused. Alot of people would have gotten sidetracked somewhere along the way gone off the rails and wondered why it didn’t end up like they pictured it in their heads (of course I’m not talking about myself????)

  4. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Good job, Drew! The result is outstanding. After all that work, I’m not sure I would be willing to give up those cabinets, even for a new partner or a new job in another city. But may the Retro gods smile on you and your kitchen and send you the perfect buyer.

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