Our 86th brand of vintage steel kitchen cabinets — The White House Line by Janes & Kirtland — and it appears to be one of the very earliest fitted kitchen sets — and, it appears to be the precursor to the St. Charles line. No photos of the cabinets on this one until I acquire a brochure. But for my Steel Kitchen Cabinets Encyclopedia, I need to capture the recent conversation with reader The Other Theo about The White House Line of steel kitchen cabinets.
Based in St. Charles, Illinois, The White House Line started with “dressers” — free-standing “Hoosier” style cabinets. Then, the company expanded to fitted kitchens. Then, they seem to have morphed into the famous, top-of-the-line St. Charles brand. What a wonderful history!
Let’s get started with the conversation and research that began on this story about our 85th brand of vintage steel kitchen cabinets, Humphryes:
Hi The Other Theo, for my compendium/Encyclopedia, I am only focused on full-scale fitted kitchen manufacturers. I don’t research metal Hoosier cabinets. I think there were lots of metal Hoosiers, but I’m not interested because I focus on the postwar era, and that’s when fitted kitchens came on strong, transforming American kitchens in a way that’s still relevant today.
The Other Theo responded:
If I’m reading this 1938 brochure correctly, it looks like the White House Line made the jump from Hoosier cabinets to the unit kitchen cabinets of the late 1930’s. So they almost made it to the postwar period.
I wonder if the company that cast the iron dome for the U.S. Capitol building made it through World War II?
Me, back at him:
Cool! I guess we have #86! Thank you!
The Other Theo:
Great! Glad you like it. You’ll want to list the manufacturer as Janes & Kirtland. According to a 1927 promotional booklet by the St. Charles Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Janes & Kirtland, Inc. “was located in St. Charles about 1900 as the Faultless Iron Works” (meaning, I think, that the Faultless Iron Works was acquired.) It goes on to say that it “manufactures white enameled steel ware, specializing in white enameled steel dressers which largely go into the ultra-exclusive apartment homes of New York City.” What can you expect from a company with a Park Ave. showroom, I guess?
You may also want to have a look at the items in the shop of the seller of the Janes & Kirtland brochure. There is a good deal of mid-century architectural and contractor information and advertising. Just searching on the keyword “kitchen” brought up materials on steel cabinets from Dietrich, St. Charles, Art Metal, Acme Metal, Geneva, Tracy, and Youngstown, as well as a host of wood cabinet makers and appliance manufacturers from the 1940’s through the early 1980’s.
Of particular interest might be this 1938 piece from the Excel Metal Cabinet Co., makers of “Metalcraft” Custom Kitchen Cabinets:
So #87, maybe?
I wonder if James & Kirtland morphed into St. Charles…
The Other Theo:
I think the Faultless Iron Works part of the company did at the minimum. According to the St. Charles of New York web site Brand Heritage page:
“The St. Charles Manufacturing Company organized and began operations in a small plant in St. Charles, Illinois. Former owners of the plant were Janes and Kirtland, who made the first steel “kitchen dressers”.”
That happened in 1935. The Janes & Kirtland brochure is still selling “The White House Line” in 1938, the same year that St. Charles says it organized its national media campaign, and two years after Frank Lloyd Wright chose St. Charles for the cabinets in the Kaufmann House (“Fallingwater”).
Picture of the Fallingwater steel cabinets here:
There you go! Thank you!
And then me again:
The Other Theo:
“When it’s time for your Southern vacation and you close up your city apartment this winter” — talk about “ultra-exclusive” marketing!
I tried to see if anyone definitively referred to the cabinets at Fallingwater as “Janes & Kirtland” or “St. Charles” since I figure that every detail about that house has to be documented somewhere. Alas no, the Internet fails me. The only casual references are to “St. Charles”.
So who knows how long Janes & Kirtland continued selling steel cabinets under its own name… but at least it provides some history on the St. Charles brand that still exists today and why Janes & Kirtland disappeared.
I also found a few references here and there on the Steel Kitchen Cabinet Institute. I found a document that had its business address in the 1930’s, and another that said it changed its name to the Steel Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association by the 1950’s. Trying to search for “Steel Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association” is difficult because there are just too many common words and the “Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association” also exists.
Thank you, Theo! I have some brochures that mention the Steel Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association — I’ll pull them out for the Encyclopedia at some point. The name Metalcraft also rings a bell, but I see it is not in the Encyclopedia, so I need to chase after that too! Who knew, when we started this, that we’d be heading toward 90 different manufacturers from back in the day!