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The White House Line of steel kitchen cabinets — our 86th brand — and the precursor to St. Charles

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:

The Other Theo said:

Hey Pam,

Have you come across the White House Line of all metal cabinets from Faultless Iron Works of St. Charles Illinois?

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/2674080999698928/

I found a reference to the company in a Google Books scan of The Good Housekeeping Magazine Bulletin No. 1: Efficiency Kitchens from 1914. (Is that too early?)

Book is here: https://books.google.com/books?id=P0U9AQAAMAAJ

I replied:

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.

https://www.ebid.net/us/for-sale/janes-kirtland-inc-1938-white-house-line-kitchen-units-vintage-catalog-144759804.htm

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:
https://www.ebid.net/us/for-sale/excel-metal-cabinet-company-1938-metalcraft-kitchen-vintage-catalog-144759706.htm

So #87, maybe?

Moi:

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:
http://www.wright-house.com/frank-lloyd-wright/fallingwater-pictures/photos-medium/7-kitchen-cabinets-ML.jpg

Me:

There you go! Thank you!

And then me again:

1929! http://www.ebay.com/itm/1929-FROM-PARK-AVE-TO-PALM-BEACH-THE-WHITE-HOUSE-LINE-STEEL-KITCHENS-ART-AD-/352129772843?hash=item51fc91ed2b:g:Y7YAAOSwXshWqU1R

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!

CategoriesSteel kitchens
    1. Jay says:

      It dawned on me that I might get out the book I bought at Falling Water when I visited in the late 90s. I came across a paragraph that stated to the effect that the kitchen was fairly standard and not reflective of the architecture, furnished with St. Charles cabinets and an Aga stove. I recall that the kitchen sits at a level lower then that of the main level. The softcover book: 1978 Dover Books; FLW’s Falling Water by Donald Hoffman. It’s still available and has a revised second edition.

  1. Allison says:

    Imagine an era where you had, not 2 or 3 or half a dozen choices for your kitchen but nearly 90 manufacturers to choose from.

    It was true of so many things in the pre-and post-war time frame; appliances large and small, flooring, curtains, cars… a huge array to choose from. Far richer than our present day.

  2. Carol says:

    Did anyone notice the lower cabinet to the left of the sink? Is that a flour cabinet or a built in dishwasher from the 30’s? I’m referring to the Fallingwater kitchen, which is amazing, cozy, modern, glossy and sleek. I don’t think it’s a dishwasher, but “gasp” if it is.

  3. karin says:

    I’m speechless over that Fallingwater steel kitchen. Is that an integrated steel backsplash? It’s incredible-the height of luxury. Great post, thanks.

    1. Ann says:

      Is there a way I can get in touch with The Other Theo directly? I am researching a book on Janes and Kirtland (going all the way back to their origins as Janes, Beebe & Co in the late 1840s). They are, indeed, the company that made the dome of the U.S. Capitol (plus did a lot of other work on the Capitol and in Washington, DC). My mother has one of their 1850s fountains in her yard in SC; the fountain in Forsyth Park in Savannah (seen in the Forrest Gump movie) is also by Janes, Beebe (from 1858). I am trying to find out if anyone has the company’s archives. I know Janes and Kirtland went into receivership (bankruptcy) in 1900…a Herbert Shoemaker took over their assets but Henry Janes continued as head of Janes and Kirtland until his death in 1937 (his residence in 1934 was New Rochelle, NY and he was still listed as a cabinet manufacturer in the city directory). His brother, Herbert Janes, was also a partner; he died in 1935 in Geneva, IL; at his death, he was listed as a manufacturer of steel cabinets.

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