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Classic midcentury wood kitchen cabinets from 1948 — 20 pages of Nu-Style by Bilt-Well

1940s kitchen cabinetsWood kitchen cabinets were surely more popular than steel kitchen cabinets after World War II. Homemakers were very familiar with the comfort of wood, and although I don’t know this for an academic fact, steel cabinets must have been more expensive. Wood cabinets also other benefits — they are “warm”, dents and fingerprints are less likely to show, and you can repaint them relatively easily. I tend to think that there were many makers of wood kitchen cabinets nationwide, each selling into their locality or region. Today for your viewing pleasure: A 1948 catalog from my collection full of stylish kitchens designed with wood kitchen cabinets. The company is Bilt-Well, manufactured by Carr, Adams & Collier Co. of Dubuque, Iowa. 

bilt-well kitchen cabinets catalog pageThe style is “Nu-Style”. That seems to be: Slab-front, radius-edge door panels and drawer fronts… at close to full overlay. This is very much akin to the design of steel kitchen cabinets. Sleek. Fitted.

1940s white wood cabinetsThe year is 1948, so America is still very much in recovery from World War II. The styling in these kitchens is all very linked to Streamline design that was popular before World War II.

1940s kitchen cabinets with ruby red bases and blue wall cabinets The brochure says the cabinets are made of specially treated Ponderosa Pine. This surprised me. I tended to believe wood kitchen cabinets were usually made of birch or maple. But here you have it: Pine. I wonder if it was “better” pine than we have today. Older-growth pine. ?

1940s kitchen cabinet designsCubbies galore!

1940s wood kitchen cabinets gray base cabinet yellow wall cabinetsThe cabinets are modular, like today.

affordable 1940s wood kitchen cabinets Efficiency rules.

coral kitchen cabinets from the 1940sOooooh, what a pretty color! This page says the cabinets are set on a built-up base, so you can raise or lower the counter height to suite.

bilt-well wood wok kitchen cabinets from the 1940sLots of piece available to maximize every inch of available space.

1940s kitchen colorsThey’re talking up the ability to easily change the color of your cabinets here. Note: It’s fascinating to see the bold colors of 1948!

colors for 1940s kitchen cabinetsSuch happy spaces! a before and after kitchen with new 1940s wood kitchen cabinets farmhouse kitchens updated in the 1940sBefores & Afters.

1940s kitchen cabinet specifications and installation instructions bilt-wel nu-style cabinet units planning sheet how 1940s wood cabinets were constructedaccessories for 1940s kitchen cabinets flour bin lazy susan what not shelfThe catalog includes a fair amount of technical info, too. Oh, and don’t forget (1) to order your choice of two optional flour bins and (2) to wallpaper your soffits, ladies!

Fun, don’t you agree!

CategoriesCabinets
  1. Ann says:

    I have these exact cabinets, complete with the original pulls. AND Retro Renovation Aqua Ripple laminate counters. I even have the vented sink unit with the Bilt-well label. I believe the cabinets are original to the house (1956 ranch), although the kitchen layout changed once in the ’90s and the cabinets were rearranged at that time. I bought the house 3 years ago. I had a few of the cabinets moved, and had some custom ones built to match. I was able to get matching vintage pulls on ebay for the new cabinets and drawers. I wasn’t able to find the original hinges. I found some modern ones that are pretty similar. The original door catches were pretty noisy. I replaced them with magnetic catches. My cabinets weren’t originally painted. I did paint them (white) so that I could get the newly built cabinets to match. I wish I had had some of those info pages to give to my carpenter.

  2. Carolyn says:

    It makes me happy to know the shelves above the sink are called what not shelves. I’m going to start calling mine that and start changing what I put on them some I can say it more!

  3. Jill says:

    Would it be possible to get a pdf of this catalog? I plan to build cabinets to match my spouse’s grandmother’s 1949 Wedgewood stove and Arvin Dinette, and these would be perfect! TIA

        1. Jill says:

          There are a few pages missing: 1, 10, 11, and any after 17, and Kitchen Planning pages 2 and 3, and any after 4.

  4. Katharine Carroll says:

    The details are fantastic! This article is going in my folder for kitchen ideas. I prefer this so much over the new stuff. So thank you! Oh, how I miss the broom closet!!

  5. Cinda says:

    Since our house was built in 1948, and I am always looking for ways to preserve elements or restore things to a more era appropriate look, this was great! Our kitchen actually has cabinets that look like they could have come out of the catalog, but there are 3 metal drawers, with wood fronts, which have a “Kitch’n Handy Product” label from Washington Steel in Seattle. Our counters are original from 1948. They definitely show lots of wear but are in amazing shape for being 60 years old! They seem a bit different than formica type, with a softer material under the surface than I see with laminate material. Also, they are heat resistant. You can set a hot pan on them with no problem. Any idea what material they might be? Was there a hybrid linoleum/laminate product? They are a beige cracked ice look pattern. Also, the last page of the booklet answered a question I have had about the ironing board cupboard! Our door and ironing board are gone but the frame around the cubby and the electrical outlet are still there. In the frame are 2 places where hinges had been, one near the top and the other near the middle of one side. I always wondered why there wasn’t one near the bottom of the side. Now I see that how that all worked! Maybe I can have a new door and ironing board made to work like the original! Thanks!

  6. Gretchen Boise says:

    I have these 1948 kitchen cabinets also. White, original, light and functional, a professional painter sanded and repainted them after removing the handles about 13 years ago. Time to do so again but I don’t know who can do it. The house is “for rent” and I have lots of repeaters! 17 years! It was my folk’s beach house, third from the ocean on Long Beach Island, NJ. If anyone would like to stay in an “I love Lucy house”, let me know! The rent off season is really reasonable and it is so lovely, sleeps 8-10. Maybe someone would like to barter for this task?

  7. Scott says:

    Interesting, my wood cabinets are so tank-solid I always assumed they were custom built, but being a modest, it makes alot more sense that they were manufactured units.

    Interesting to see that painting was encouraged from the get-go, I always assumed that painting was something that happened many years down the line, but not when the wood cabinets were new. Great to know, as I feel like I more period-correct options now.

    And I even though I rarely have to iron anything, I want that fold down ironing board!

    1. Carolyn says:

      Scott, use the fold down ironing board to hold the paper plates, napkins, etc. when you entertain – lighter weight stuff or put a leg on it for strength. Would also come in handy when you’re sorting papers or doing crafts. In life, there never seems to be enough horizontal surfaces handy when you need them.

  8. Jill says:

    Would it be possible to get a pdf of this catalog? I plan to build cabinets to match my spouse’s grandmothers 1949 Wedgewood stove and Arvin Dinette, and these would be perfect! TIA

  9. Pam says:

    My father built our house that I grew up in starting in 1957 and we moved in 1958. It still has the original Bilt-Well wood cabinets. The only difference I saw was there is no sink vent but has a solid board with silver logo button there instead. The chrome curved handles are still the same. My mother first painted them turquoise with a grey counter and later changed them to orchid with a celery green Formica counter and orchid and green floral wallpaper between the top and bottom cupboards. My mother (who will turn 90 in November) still lives there and wouldn’t change the colors. It’s nothing I would have picked as a color scheme but she loves her purple.

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