Can Bryan and Alex retro renovate their kitchen in 13 days?

alex-and-brian-retro-renovate-their-warren-michigan-kitchenI first heard from Bryan and Alex on Dec. 10. These two cuties from Warren, Mich., explained that family was coming for Christmas on Dec. 23 — driving them to complete their kitchen renovation in under two weeks. Would this ambitious duo be up to the task?


Here is Bryan’s first note to me explaining the challenge:

DEC. 10:

Hello, We love the site, it has been so helpful with the remod of our 1949 1,200 sq ft home in Warren, Mich. Last winter we tore out the carpet in the front room to find original hardwood floors. We refinished those in a dark cherry and finished it off with all new trim and some paint. This year’s project is the kitchen. We had painted it pink and white when we first moved just to have something a little more our style. But the time has come to do it right. We just picked up a 1954 GE stove in perfect condition off craigslist for $70! And back in the summer we scored a perfect working 1953 Kelvinator fridge for free from the original owner. It had been painted at one time but I started getting the paint off with a power washer, and now I need to go back and strip it all down and respray it. The inside is all complete and in perfect condition.

So based around these two finds we have decided to “restore” our kitchen to what we can only assume it once looked like. We have purchased the Formica blue boomerang counter top. I have torn out the tile floor that was added some time in the 80’s. I can see the orig Armstrong tile under the sub floor. We are tearing out the sub floor and I’m sure the original tiles are bad, so we plan to replace it with the Armstrong VCT’s in white and gray. Then, paint the cabinets (once I make new doors) to match the bright blue boomerang on the counter tops…white brick 3×6 tile back splash (I wanted 4×4’s, she wanted the brick..she wins) We are having our first family X-mas here this year, and the plan is to have it done by than. Wish me luck… Back to work, the clock is ticking.  Bryan and Alex


“Woah!” I tell Bryan. He is one ambitious renovator. This is gonna be like a TV home design show — but without the $10,000 or $15,000 worth of carpenters and electricians that somehow never seem to get counted in the episode’s design-on-a-nickel budget. I also mention that I lived for many years in Michigan, where I worked for Ford. Mind you, it’s still Dec. 10, and Brian writes right back:

Oh no Ford, you’re the enemy haha. I grew up in a GM household and have four Chevys, two new and two vintage cars. I’ve worked in the past doing remods and updating. In fact, the past summer I worked with my brother-in-law to ruin this perfect time capsule of a house in Grosse Pointe. It was a huge 2,200 sq. ft. ranch from 1954. I did manage to snag the vanity out of the powder room so that will be going into my bathroom at some point. Sorry kind of drifted off there. I will include some pics of what it looks like right now.

the-kitchen-before-remodelI just got the sub floor out to reveal some nasty yellow linoleum that they glued to the  pink asbestoes tiles. So I’m stopping at this point with removal and I’m putting down new 1/8″ plywood and then my floor. I just got a exciting call from Lowe’s this afternoon. Turns out my 10′ x 4′ piece of laminate is in. So I need to pick that up in the morning!

the-fridge-beforeSorry for the poor picture of the fridge, it’s kind tucked away in the garage behind all the dirt bikes. But if it gets back up above freezing I’m pulling it out and getting it ready for paint. I’m including a few bonus pics from our house as well. Thanks,  Bryan & Alex

knotty-pineMichigan is full of great mid-century stuff – and Bryan and Alex are smart to snatch it up. I tell Bryan that will be truly impressed if they get that kitchen done in time. That is my pretend-to-encouraging-Pam way of saying, are you nuts!? He writes:

We have no choice but to get it done, it helps that I work from home and have no work so this is my full time job right now. Well right after I finish my last job on this Honda tomorrow haha. Thank for the compliment on our things, we have bought everything at a resale shop or a garage sale. Alex has a in with the guy at the antique shop down the street and he calls her when ever a new mid-century piece comes in. Thats how we got the fridge for free. We will keep you updated. Bryan


DEC. 12. I get a second set of notes from Bryan, proving that he really is serious about the fast-moving project. He writes:

Well got a few things done this weekend. The fridge got pulled out of the corner, and Alex and I got to stripping the paint off. That worked well, but we still ended up having to wet sand the whole fridge to get the stubborn spots cleaned up. That whole deal took us late into the night Saturday, I was able to prime it around 2:30 a.m.

priming-the-fridgeI still have a whole day painting and wet sanding the fridge but its turning out so nice.

kitchen and fridge 027Today after getting a late start we were able to get the new sub floor laid, I hung the new light we bought from Lowe’s. We are ending our night with one coat of gloss white done and hopefully one more to go. Tomorrow evening my brother in-law is swinging by to give me a hand laying the new laminate on the counter top. So far so good, Hopefully we will meet our deadline. Family shows up the 23rd!


DEC. 17. Another note:

Hello again, Bryan and Alex here with another update on our kitchen remod. With our deadline fast approaching, it’s time to kick it into high gear.

blue-kitchen-countertop-and-tileThe other night my brother-in-law came by and we were able to get the counter top installed. Then yesterday I had my friend come by who owed me some tile work for work I did on his car. We went with 4-1/4″ gloss white from Daltile and added a stripe in a new color from Daltile called “Waterfall” — it matches the counter top so well. Hope you like it, we’re off the flooring store to order our VCT. We are going with Armstrong tiles in Carribean blue and a silver white.

new-countertop-and-tile-backsplashMy brother in-law laid all the VCT for just about every Borders Books from Flordia to Alaska, so I think we are in good hands. Our vintage fridge is all but done now, too. I need to do one more coat and sand on it. I don’t want this project to end, I’m having so much fun. I wish I could do this for a living, it’s just like what I do to customize cars, but it’s nice working in a new medium. p.s. Look past the pink cabinets they will be blue by this weekend. I’m going to have them scan a blue tile and match it. Thanks for all you do with the site. Bryan & Alexandra


Dec. 21: 10 days into it and my goodness, the kitchen is looking great. I notice, Bryan and Alex, that you went from gray to blue — I like it! Perkier, but still very classic. And Bryan got the 4×4 tiles rather than Alex’s brick/subway tiles. Hey, what happened? (I tend to favor 4x4s – they are more “authentic” to this period, but subways are nice, too.) Bryan writes:

Hello again, just me this time she is sleeping. I on the other hand have not been to bed yet and its 7:30 a.m. The kitchen will be done tomorrow… well I guess later today after I nap. So any rate the floor is in, the paint is done, I just finished putting the base molding on and mocking up the shelves above the fridge. All the cabinet doors are made and only need one more coat of paint. We’re going to wait till after the holidays to finish a few more items like soffit wall paper and a can light above the stove. As it is, we may not have the cabinet doors for x-mas unless the chrome hinges I bought come in the mail. Well, I need to hit the bed, enjoy the pics, we couldn’t be happier with the way it’s turning out. It’s cute but classic, like a Corvair. Thank, Bryan/Alex.

new dishes 003

Yes, classic. (Like a Mustang, too.) Of course, I had suggested to Bryan wallpaper for the soffits. But then he sends me photos of their new dishes — oh la la. He writes:

I’m sorry I keep bugging you but you’re the only person I “know” that’s into the retro life like me and Alex. With that being said, I had to send you this email with yesterday’s find. Yesterday was Alex’s birthday and she wanted to spend the day going around to the vintage shops. We are lucky enough to have three or four stores with in a few miles that cater to mid-century modern collectors. Well at our third stop yesterday, she found the greatest set of dishes that we didn’t know we needed to have, haha.

North Star dishes 1961The set is missing a few items, but i believe we got 64 pieces of this great collection from North Star.

atomic glasswareThe shop owner said they were circa 61-62. I just had to share some pics. We got the whole set for $125 approx. $2 per piece. Thanks, Bryan & Alex

Woah, that’s the kinda birthday present all the readers here love to get. Clearly, the retro decorating gods are on your side, you two. I recommended to Bryan that they take the starburst and replicated it on the soffit — no need for wallpaper!

renovated-blue-kitchen-at-christmasAnd on Dec. 23 — deadline day, I hear from Bryan:

blue-and-white-kitchen-renovationIt’s done! I stayed up for 30 hours straight with only 4 hours of sleep. I’m sending you a few final pics of the house all ready for X-mas. I will do a quick write up with more pics if you would like, but I have to sleep more, I’m a bit out of it so I’m keeping this short. Enjoy. We worked very hard to make our first hosting of X-mas special, so now I’m going to sleep till 2010! alex-and-brian-in-the-garage-painting-kitchen-cabinets-croppedThe pic of us was taken at 3am Monday night, we look a little worse for wear. Have a Merry Christmas. We want to thank you for all you have done with the site.There is no way this project would have turned out so nice with out all your info and pictures. It’s so nice having one place with all the info needed to do it right. Bryan and Alex.


Bryan & Alex's kitchen: Before and After


Bryan and Alex: Well done, you get lots of exclamation points!!!! Yes, among all of this, Bryan, it would be great if you could fill us in on how you ended up in this house. (I didn’t want to bug you for this, though — you were busy!) Are you “accidental modernists” (another term that I have coined) or has mid-century been a longtime interest that led you to this house. Oh, and what’s your dog’s name. AND: How was your Christmas! Many thanks for sharing all of this. It was great fun for me to follow and to feature. You two are retro renovation rock stars! Thanks so much for sharing.


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  1. Jeff says

    Bryan, Alex, congrats on a super renovation! I’m also a neighbor- have an atomic ranch in Southfield, currently under renovation. Love that you used vintage appliances and managed to get rid of the routed door fronts on the cabinets- now it looks like it’s suppose to!

    Wish my kitchen was original, unfortunately I’m still looking for a vintage replacement. Please, someone, save me from IKEA!

  2. Bryan says

    Thanks for all the great info Patrick! I’m glad ui could clear up the info on the fridge and stove. I love the fact that every thing even stoves had cool names. Now its all just numbers, even with the newer cars.

    Jeff Thanks for the props. There are some real cool homes in southfield, that was one of the places we house shopped. The door making was not that hard if you have a basic understanding of wood working tool’s and the time any thing can be made. This was only my second time working with wood. the first time i tried to make a wall mounted tv stand for my garage tv. I felt great staring at my creation while drinking a celbatory beer with my buddy. only to have the whole deal including the tv fall to the ground as i took another swig from my beer. I felt like Clark W Grizwald, haha

    But i learned that i need to slow down and think a little more when working with wood. Just take your time and learn about what needs to happen. .


    Hey I think your kitchen turn out great. I love you Melamine dinning set. What was the make of your vintage refrigerator, I think my mom had one just like it.


  4. Alison says

    Hello! I like your kitchen update. But, where is the hood for the stove? Curious because I’m trying to deal with a hood situation.


  5. LENORE says

    Love your kitchen, especially the cabinets – My husband and I are replacing cabinets in our 1950 ranch and are using MDF. We want to paint white/off white, and are wondering what type of paint you used on your cabinets. They look fantastic! Thanks.

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