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Murphy Door Bed Company Cabranette steel kitchen cabinets — introduced as early as 1926

early steel kitchen cabinets murphy cabranettesMurphy Cabranette Kitchens — introduced in 1926 — made by the Murphy Bed Door Company. Alas, my vintage catalog has no date on it anywhere. UPDATE Dec 2019: I think my catalog is from the… late 1930s, but not sure. In any case, so far in all my research I believe that this brand is a very early brand of metal kitchen cabinets — although it’s unclear when “fitted” was added to “alcove” designs.

Thanks to reader Jim for the tip that led me to this Murphy Cabranette Kitchens catalog, now in my personal collection.  Let’s take a look >>

Murphy Cabranette kitchen cabinets are a very interesting addition to the history of steel kitchen cabinets: 

  1. Given their design — especially as seen in earlier catalogs — the Murphy Cabranettes present like a Denisovan Lucy missing link, bridging old “furniture” style kitchens with the new “fitted” style kitchen we still live in today.
  2. The”De Lux” installation is featured at the end of the catalog — after the “alcove” kitchens. It seems that alcoves came first … then, the cabinets were adopted into modern “fitted” kitchens for larger apartments and homes. Note, by “fitted,” I mean the cabinets are used in the entire kitchen — with attached base cabinets and wall cabinets — all in a long line. “Fitted”= modern arrangement of cabinets, which we we still have today! Prior to fitted, we had one-off furniture-like pieces e.g. Hoosier cabinets…. and “alcove” sets, but I am not including these as the ground zero base date for my historical inquiry. I want to know: Who made and marketed the very first fitted kitchen sets!
  3. Vitreous porcelain, oh my. 
  4. Murphy Bed Door Company — that’s the same company as “Murphy Beds” — big marketplace reach.

You know that my ultimate Encyclopedia goal is to nail down who was the first the first the first to make fitted steel kitchen cabinets. Could it be Murphy Cabranettes? Time may tell. 

Murphy Cabrabettes in “Alcove” designs

murphy door bed company steel kitchen cabinets
Read closely: Murphy could lacquer your wood china cabinet to match your kitchen cabinets!

gray steel kitchen cabinets 1930sapartment kitchen setsmurphy bed door kitchen cabinetsIn the photos shown above, we see a series of Murphy Cabranettes shown as unitized sets meant to slide into apartment kitchens. The fold-out sheet in my catalog indicate than when you combine the cabinets with the stove, sink and refrigerator, you are creating an ALCOVE UNIT.

Note, the refrigeration unit includes space for an icebox or refrigerator. Yes: ICEBOX.

EARLY STEEL KITCHEN CABINETS! 

Bridge to modern “fitted” kitchens

murphy cabranettes de luxeOn the back of the 8-page brochure, there is this photo of the “Murphy Cabranettes De Luxe” — “For luxurious residences and ultrafine apartments.” 

More of the text for the Murphy Cabranettes De Luxe:

Here is shown but one typical assembly… One Murphy Cabranette installation, in a 16-room Park Avenue apartment, stretches through three service rooms.

To simplify cleaning and for perfect sanitation, these Cabranettes are made entirely of steel. Doors and drawer fronts are porcelain, in our stock colors or in special tints….

Work tops are covered in Monel metal, battleship linoleum or porcelain. Exposed wall areas may be covered with porcelain splasher sections or may be built of tile.

… built to order…

Murphy Cabrette colors — amazing!

early 20th Century kitchen cabinet colorsAnd wow, the colors available! Used as solids with a touch of black — or in two-tone combinations, also with black outlines. Divine!

1930s kitchen cabinet colorsUse these colors if you are working on a 1930s or 1940s kitchen:

  • Bisque…
  • Silver-green…
  • Pewter gray…
  • Spring green…
  • White…
  • Ivory…
  • … all edged in black!

Porcelain finish on steel

On the first page of text, Murphy again makes a big marketing push for their porcelain finish on these kitchen cabinets:

The time approaches when painted kitchen equipment, either wood or steel, will be as archaic as a painted bath tub, a painted sink or a a painted refrigerator.

Porcelain conquered the bathroom, then entered the kitchen via sinks, table tops and refrigerators. Now come Murphy Cabranette Kitchens with their entire fronts of 18 and 20 gauge steel finished in four-coat vitrified porcelain! << (emphasis theirs)

Note, the brochure also says the cabinets “double thick flush doors, operating on Jerome concealed hinges….”

Family tree history of Murphy Cabranette kitchen cabinets

Murphy Door Bed Company locations c. 1926 — pretty impressive reach — they seem to have been outfitting apartments all over the nation.

Basic history of Murphy Cabranettes once they had that name:

Diving further back, research suggests Murphy’s connection to steel kitchens to as early as 1919. However, I do not have enough information to tell whether the early kitchens mentioned pass my test of being classified as “fitted” kitchens. They may be “kitchenets” (Hoosier-style cupboards) or unitized alcove sets for apartments only.

  • 1919 — a May 25, 1919 advertisement in the Tampa Bay Times from the Murphy Door Bed Company, of Atlanta says that the Murphy Door Bed Company sells Powell Steel Gas Kitchens. The text describes the kitchens and the other “Murphyized” furniture that can be installed in apartment units. 
  • 1920 — By 1920, the Majestic stove company buys Powell and now these cabinets become the Majestic Steel Gas Kitchens (also now added to my list — 92 brands) Fort Wayne Journal Gazette clarifies that these cabinets are sold exclusively by the Murphy Door Bed Company. Ads for Murphy Door Bed Company reflect the name change. 
  • 1919 — Squirrel: I seethe Electric Kitchenet Company of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, because they have hired a Powell/Majestic employee. Let’s take this moment to codify/clarify/understand: Kitchenets. Just to be clear: These are not what I call kitchens. They are what I call, all Kleenex- and Formica-like: Hoosier cabinets. Poking around, it’s easy to see that there were many makers of kitchenets, especially wood kitchenets. Steel kitchenets are likely an important part of the evolution to fitted steel kitchen cabinets, but they do not fit my definition of fitted kitchens. So, kitchenets will not be catalogued in the Encyclopedia, although I will add them to the History. This 1920 reference calls Majestics kitchenets. Dangit, without illustrations or photos I can’t make the judgment call of how these puzzle pieces all fit together in the history.
  • 1923 — The details in this story suggests that the Majestic kitchens are small unitized apartment units — again, I’m calling these alcove kitchens. Still it seems like “all the parts” may be there to make a fitted kitchen, and in fact, the story mentions “more elaborate cabinets and cupboards” available. I’m putting a pin in this date — 1923 — as a result of those word, “more elaborate cabinets… are available”!
  • 1926 — By January 1926 the cabinets are renamed Murphy Steel Kitchens.  This ad in the St. Louis Star and Times in 1927 gives us an illustration of what Steel Kitchen Cabinet by Murphy Bed Co. looked like — although the door styles are different than the ones in my catalog. In any case, it’s good to have the illustration. NOTE: In the movie “Judy”, are the kitchen cabinets in Sid Luft’s house these old-style Murphy Cabranettes? Watching the movie, I noticed them right away. Maybe so!

You are now in the universe’s epicenter of all steel kitchen cabinet research:

CategoriesSteel kitchens
  1. Neil in San Francisco says:

    The great thing about those early-mid 20th century kitchens and the elements of them, besides their visual beauty and grounding practicality, was their tactility. Using them was a treasure of sensations: the hard cold of an ice block that melted under a soft touch, the warning of an open fire leaping from a stovetop, the cool clean skin of enameled steel cabinets, the friendly reassurance of bright linoleum floor squares under bare feet, the quiet embrace of wooden kitchen tables and chairs; and lots more.
    In that era there was still plenty in Mom’s alchemical lab to remind us that we’re inextricable from mother nature.

  2. Carol K says:

    Yes, the ad does Bill. The icebox looks just like the one in my canned ham Westerner trailer. It is butter yellow along with the propane cooktop. It is a true icebox.

  3. Carol K says:

    These have to be my favorite of all the metal cabinets posted here. Porcelain, oh my! Cabinets of my dreams. Pam, your kitchen is beyond enticing, and if my memory serves me correctly, Roundhouse Sarah’s parents had an amazing kitchen with curved end cabinets. These three top the list with me for sure. A 16 room apt. on Park Ave. with three service rooms. I would love to know which billionaire lives in it now. Thanks so much for the fabulous story.

  4. Tina says:

    There was even a small metal plaque on the inside of one of the cabinet doors identifying it manufactured by “Murphy Bed Door Company”.

  5. Retroski says:

    These are beautiful! It’s interesting to note that the counter depth looks “skimpy” compared to the 24” (or so) we’re used to. Maybe these are 18”?

    I can imagine the alcove kitchens in the 1920s-1930s Chicago “courtyard” apartment buildings, and I once visited a friend who lived in a 1920s apartment building with so many of the historic details intact, including a metal door attached to the outside of the unit, by the door to deliver packages, maybe ice too. Her studio had an alcove type kitchen, but the cabinets were wood.

    Also, I wonder, what’s the history behind why ivory and jadeite/spring green was such a popular Art Deco color combination?

    “Spring Green/Silver Green”—so that’s the name for that wonderful 1930s green!

  6. Phyllis says:

    248 Boylston Street in Boston is where the Four Seasons Hotel is today, right across the street from the Public Garden, a pretty tony address. Clearly back in the day their customers were the wealthy families that lived in Back Bay and Beacon Hill. I loved this story!

  7. Pam Kueber says:

    I have another sheet from the brochure that shows cabinetry dimensions.

    Yes, “Standard” base cabinets were 20″ deep. Deluxe were 23″ deep.

    “High closets” — what we call wall cabinets today — were 14″ deep.

    The widths included a mix of what we have today — and other sizes we don’t have today. It does not appear there was the 3″ standard yet. Lots of options. Too many options for Henry Ford, that’s for sure!

    I’ll get this scanned and up at some point soon…

  8. Patsy byers says:

    I own an apartment complex (5 units) built in 1962. Two of the apartments have the Dwyer steel kitchens. One is the whole unit. But one only still has the top cabinets. Both are mint green. I love them. Email me back and I will send u a pic. Ism currently shopping for the baking element for the stove. Not an easy task. Send me any tips that might help.

  9. As a graphic designer, I love the design and typography of those Cabranette sales brochures. Those steel cabinets would look perfect in our little Baltimore row house built in 1925. Next year, we plan on renovating our kitchen, and this post is providing inspiration. Thank you!

  10. CarolK says:

    Bill, your description of that apartment reminds me of a cruising boat. Heads/bathrooms tend to be rather compact and there may not be an actual shower compartment although there will be a showerhead. Some cruising sailboats still have iceboxes. They are nice and low-tech, don’t break down like an electric reefer might, don’t drain your batteries and they work!. Unless you have some solar panels, the generator only produces electricity when the engine is running.

    The stovetops in some of these Cabranette kitchens remind very much of modern rangetops. The ad for the Park Avenue kitchen talks about back splashes, too.

  11. Linda Fry says:

    Hi Pam…in my 1927 Homebuilders catalogue the Murphy bed metal cabinets are listed. As are the Majestic Steel Cabinet company, based out of Chicago. Let me know if you want me to scan the picture to you.

  12. Shari Davenport says:

    Pam –
    Enjoyed reading your blog post here very much! I also recognized the brochure you posted here too. If this is one that was available on eBay fairly recently, I recognized it right away from that. I had found it as soon as it was posted, and it lived on my watch list while I tried to decide if I wanted to invest in them just for my own collection. But, when domestic plumbing issues cropped up, the decision got made for me! So, I let them go.
    I am sorry that I didn’t mention them to you myself, but I didn’t think about it. I am glad that you ended up with them though! I can’t imagine them being in better hands!
    Best Regards,
    Shari D.

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