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Celebrating 1920-60s Vintage Kitchen Cabinets
yay retro! is an online vintage shop selling vintage kitchen and tableware from the 1930-40s. I can remember my Nan's kitchen being very narrow and small, this was back in the 1960s/70s. It had just one kitchen unit which was from the 1930s/40s in a pastel green, similar to the gorgeous ones below from Resto-Worx. You pulled down the front to create a mini worktop, and this was pretty much Nan's entire worktop space as far as I can recall! I have such fond memories of Nan cooking faggots, sliced bread and tinned processed peas (!) and this is one of the reasons I love these kitchen units so much!
Photo above... L-R 1953 County larder with built in Smiths timer, c.1957 Harris Lebus, 1933 Easiwork, 1954 large Prestige Crondale
Up until recently I didn't have room in our house for a vintage cabinet, but have spent many months (years) looking and drooling! Happily, having just moved to a different house, I can fit in several, and I shall be using them to store bits in my kitchen as well as some of the vintagewares for sale in the yay retro! vintage shop.
It is amazing how different each of these kitchen cupboards renovated by Resto-Worx can be, making me previously wonder if they were all handmade to order, or perhaps within the home itself? However, although, it doesn't seem possible they were in fact mass produced. Apparently 85% of the kitchen larder units we see today were manufactured in the East End of London.
The history of the kitchen unit would have begun with furniture such as Welsh Dressers and sideboards made of pine etc, which were stood about the kitchen either side of the fireplace, and later the range where most of the cooking took place. Watch BBC's Downton Abbey to get an idea of how kitchens used to be laid out. Apparently companies like Hoosier in the USA began making kitchen units in the late 1800s, and manufactured them until the 1920s. By then in America, fitted kitchens began to be popular, and so production ceased.
Meanwhile in the UK, freestanding larders and kitchen units were being made of solid oak, however during the war years wood was in short supply and so ply wood from Norway was used. Many of the vintage kitchen units we love today are made of ply.
Photo above...Hollins larder with internal etched glazed panel, 1920-30 Maidserver would have originally had an internal flour funnel!
What I adore about these units is that they can hold an awful lots of vintagecups, saucers, plates, dishes and cookware. They all seem to have a different personality and very different features. Some handles are bakelite or plastic, others are chrome. Units can have ventilation panels, useful for storing cheese and meat so that it didn't overheat (back then very few people would have had a fridge!) Some units had clocks and timers installed, still others had built in enamel bread bins and egg racks. I particularly love the etched glass compartments for the areas to store eggs, bread and milk which you find in some of the larders (see bottom left image below).
A key feature of many of the units are their fold down worktops, which can have a glass, melamine, formica or enamel finish. Some had pull out tables so that the family could sit around them for dinner, this was an innovative and important space saver; ideal for when people lived in Victorian 2 up 2 down homes or small flats found in the shared housing of the big towns during the war.
1955 Queen Hygena Dresser, 1961 Shefco Larder
The glass in the doors can be plain, striped, spotted, have artistic Art Deco, Arts & Crafts or Art Nouveau patterns or even funky designs such as playing cards! This can be seen on a pre-restored unit (bottom right in the image below).
Photo above...Grovewood Larder, Stencilled Playing Card Glass from a 1960 Blue Gate Larder.
As well as the tall larder units, wall units began to appear - particularly in the 50s and early 60s. We adore the simplicity of the sliding door wall cupboard on the right below. You can see how the styling on the units was becoming more minimalist and cutting edge if you compare this unit to the more traditional one on the left.
Photo above...1955 Hygena Sink Unit bottom right
Companies such as Schrieber and Hygena were continually developing their range, as you can see with the marvellous sink unit made by Hygena above. With a Butler sink feel, this unit actually has a stainless steel sink and drainer which was ultra modern in the late 50s.
Comparing the earlier style units (in the image below), to those that came along in the early 60s you can really get a sense of the development of the kitchen larders. I have very much fallen in love with the 1960s cupboard on the left, with it's sleek appearance on fine legs. The chrome handles, understated frosted sliding doors and simple interior - it's magnificent!
All of these kitchen units have been saved and restored by Resto-Worx in Cornwall, I would like to thank them for letting me use their photos, and highly recommend Resto-Worx if you are looking for a beautifully restored vintage kitchen cupboard, a freestanding larder unit or an interesting piece of antique/vintage furniture for your modern vintage home. You can contact them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07929 136674.
Please note that yay retro! do not sell kitchen units, if you have any you are looking to sell, or wish to buy one do contact Russ using the info above.