A knotty pine kitchen — respectfully retained and revived

A recent surge of animosity on some other blogs aimed at knotty pine kitchens has been upsetting my karmic balance. However, the retro decorating gods have made it all better (for now) by delivering flickr friend Eartha Kitsch, who just last week finished freshening up the knotty pine kitchen in her 1956 new-old house. Today, she shares her secret to reviving the cabinets, tells about her stove quest, and shares lots of photos. That’s her with DH (dear husband).

EK writes:

Hey Pam,

Thanks for asking about the fancying up of the knotty pine kitchen in our 1956 ranch. : ) For years, my husband and I passed by this house every day, each time saying that if it ever went up for sale, we had to try to make it ours. We had no clue whatsoever about what the inside of the home looked like but of course, when we saw it in our minds, we pictured it with the original kitchen and baths and other period details still intact. When we finally did get the word that the house would be for sale, we anxiously awaited the day that we could see inside. Once inside the home, we were super excited to see that our mind’s eyes had been correct in that not only were the original baths intact – but the kitchen too…and it was so much better than we’d imagined – knotty pine from top to bottom with flagstone wall and lighted niches. We instantly fell in love and knew that we were home. We both admit now that it was the kitchen that sealed the deal. In July of last year, our dream came true and we closed on the house.

The kitchen "before"

the kitchen “before”

The work in the kitchen has focused on cosmetic as well as more serious issues. Cosmetically, we set to work straight away sprucing up the woodwork in the kitchen. The walls, ceiling and cabinets are all knotty pine and they’d seen some years of dust, cooking grease and nicks and scratches. I know that there are a lot of different opinions on how to clean knotty pine but in our case, we mixed a tiny bit of Murphy’s oil soap in with hot water and gave all of the wood a wash with a slightly damp rag. Then we buffed it all with a clean cloth.

This took off so much of the grime from the years. I used a small bit of Simple Green mixed with water on some of the areas that were coated with cooking grease. The final touch was to use Old English to remove all of the scratches. A simple buffing with Old English made them look brand new. We were amazed at how well it worked and with just a small amount of the product too. A toothbrush was used on the hardware.

We removed some of the upper cabinet doors and put them in storage so that we could have more display space for a lot of the dishes and kitchen kitsch that we like to collect. The dishes added a nice splash of color to a room that is mostly wood. We found the original kitchen windows from above the sink in storage and after a good cleaning, we put them back up. It took a good deal of searching but we finally found the push bar hardware to match the rest of the windows in the house to go on them from a company called Blaine Window Hardware in Maryland that fabricates upon order. They matched perfectly.

We had an additional light put in on the ceiling because the corner at the stove was quite dark. Luckily, Home Depot still sells the fixture that matches so it looks like it has always been there.

When we moved into the house, we found that the stove didn’t work and learned more than we ever expected to know about 40″ ovens. We could either buy a new one for around a thousand bucks or search for a used one. We decided to look for a used one that would match the age of the house. That was quite the search! It took us to some very interesting places to say the least…

In the end, we found a beautiful old stove that was being sold from the sad gutting of a 50’s ranch across town. It looked showroom new inside and out and we were told that the lady who owned it never really cooked. Score! For a couple of hundred bucks, we took it home. It’s got all of the bells and whistles and some pretty snazzy lights on it too. Sometimes, I like to light it up and just look at it. Crazy but true. It’s my dream to have all vintage aqua appliances one day but we’ll see how long the current ones last for us.

We had some hardwired florescent lights removed from over the sink and a good deal of the budget was spent updating the breaker box and wiring. There were some pretty scary electrical issues in this house. There was also an unnerving issue with the kitchen switches sizzling when we flipped them. Eep! We also had some major plumbing issues in the kitchen. When we moved in, we learned that we could use neither the sink nor the dishwasher without water backing up into other places. After a lot of time and money spent with plumbers, we finally found out that the problem was inside of the wall pipes. Squirrels had been dropping walnuts into the plumbing exhaust vent pipes on our roof! (Note: We learned that it’s a good idea to cover these with strong wire mesh if you have squirrels in the area or live under trees) We had to remove our countertops and have the wall opened up to access the pipes so that the walnuts could be removed. What a mess! I love squirrels but not so much that day.

We just finished painting the kitchen a light mossy green and I think that it looks great with the pine details. I love old Western and woodsy memorabilia so it’s all seemed to fall together so sweetly.

One entire wall of the kitchen is a flagstone wall with niches that light up and I’ve enjoyed decorating those.

Along that wall is a long countertop and cabinet that according to the original blueprints, used to be a breakfast bar.

It’s great as a bar and buffet at parties. We hope to one day replace the ceramic tile flooring with a checkerboard pattern in VCT tiles but I think that will be several years down the line, probably after some other rooms have been tackled.  On a side note, the Sellers of the house told us that when they bought the house, they were about to put down that very tile in the kitchen but their realtor told them that nobody wanted that style anymore and that it would be a horrible idea. Huh! I think that just goes to show that we should always do what makes US happy when decorating our houses and not worry about what “other people” like. I hope that we are in this house a long, long time but if for some reason we aren’t, I hope that the next folks down the line will also appreciate this knotty pine kitchen and keep it going. It’s easy to see that it’s got many more decades of service and charm left in it.

Thanks again, Pam!


Thank you, EK, for a wonderful, wonderful story. I also really appreciate your trials and tribulations regarding the electrical, plumbing and vent pipe issues — these are all the kinds of things prospective homeowners need to be very aware of, along with safety and environmental issues related to vintage homes. It’s good to budget for just these kinds of surprises — so that you can get to that good feeling of security that all your home’s basic maintenance issues are intact. Decorating is the icing on the cake. Your kitchen is just gorgeous — proof that knotty pine can definitely be worth preserving and maintaining.


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  1. Mary Elizabeth says

    Hi, Eartha! Your kitchen looks a lot like mine (except no lovely stone wall with niches), and I’m happy to hear that you had some of the same electrical issues in your house that we had. Where I live, you wouldn’t have had the water drainage issues, because in order to get a mortgage you have to have a home inspector test out the plumbing, well, etc. and make sure they work. Our inspector looked on the roof to be sure the vent holes were free of squirrel nests and covered, However, he didn’t know some of what was behind the walls electrically.

    I, too, chose to add green to the knotty pine. It just seems to go, doesn’t it? And we added more lighting, too.

    Your stove is cool–looks like one I had in my former 1939 house that was redecorated and got new appliances in the 1950s.

    Also love your vintage melmac and pyrex dishes–so cool displayed in the narrow cabinets with the doors removed. Makes you wonder if they originally were open shelves.

    Most of all, what I appreciate about you and DH is that you are making the home what you want, getting the things done that you want to live with. To double heck with the realtors that say, “Oh, when you sell, buyers are going to want stainless steel and granite countertops.” By the time we need to leave our houses, who knows what will be the latest style? I heard it’s going to be knotty pine!

    Keep enjoying life in the retro lane!

  2. Pat Denney says

    Although I have not read all the comments, I wanted to add my own. Our house was built in 1957, and has knotty pine kitchen cabinets, and one bedroom that has knotty pine walls. It was customed built for a person who was into ham radio, and the paneled room served as his “office.”
    For us, it eventually became a second son’s bedroom when the two boys no longer wanted to share a room.
    I have wanted to change the kitchen cabinets by painting them, but it seems to be a very time consuming job, and perhaps would sacrifice the integrity of the time period in which our house was built. We are in our 70’s and will most likely stay here for many more years. Since we are not likely to do the job ourselves, we would like to redo our kitchen. After reading this and seeing the photos, it seems the best thing would be to restore, not paint, knotty pine cabinets. Thanks.

  3. Jackie says

    That is just beautiful! I am currently thinking of making some of my new kitchen look old and installing some knotty pine into it, as if it always was there. Great ideas from your kitchen, glad people keep these houses as they should be 🙂

  4. Kristina says

    I love this kitchen! I am hoping to recreate a similar but much smaller version in the “new” 1969 Shasta Stratoflyte travel trailer we just got over the weekend. She needs a complete restoration so now’s my chance to have my little cabin on wheels. LOL!

    And I totally agree, you have to go with your heart when you’re decorating otherwise it’s just no fun!

  5. Cshe says

    Just bought a 1924 house with a huge, beautiful knotty pine kitchen (floor is original hardwood!) . On first walking in, I began thinking of what I could do with it, (paint, resurface, etc.) but after being in the kitchen for a few moments, it began to call to me, and now I am excited to clean it up, (countertop needs to be replaced) and decorate in Adirondack fashion. (This house is in central NY state.) I am SO grateful for this website that encourages and celebrates doing what one loves, rather than just following the latest trends. Thank you!!!

  6. Rebecca says

    I love the green you chose for these walls. We’ve just purchased our first house, and it has a single wall in the living room in knotty pine, with the fireplace with a brick surround in the middle. The living room doesn’t get a ton of sun, so I’m hoping to find a color that will brighten the room a bit, and make it cozy, instead of just dark. I’d love to know the color you used, or any suggestions from other readers!

    • says

      Hey Rebecca, thanks! We actually made that color up by mixing and remixing colors that we didn’t like until we got something that we *did* like. In person, it’s a really soft green…sort of like a sage color. It looks nice and natural with the pine. Good luck!

  7. Deanna Sellers says

    So glad to see the love and time and care you’ve put into your home. I am also glad to know someone else loves the aqua appliances. 🙂

  8. Wyndee says

    We are in the process of buying a home built in 1958. The entire kitchen and one bedroom are covered in knotty pine. I like the classic look, but it is too orange for my taste. We are willing to refinish the wood, but are hoping that cleaning it would help reduce the ornangeness of the finish. Any suggestions? We are thinking of taking down the panelling in the bedroom and transferring it to another room on the fireplace wall. I have pictures. 🙂

    • says

      hi there, i too love my knotty pine walls and kitchen cabinets. and i when i bought my house i discovered pine floors underneath the carpet! yay! for now i am keeping the carpet until i am ready to take on restoring the floors, too. so my question is similar… my floors are more an orangey color and i would like feedback on how to treat them. they will need cleaning and refinishing but overall they are in good shape. but my walls don’t seem to have that orangey tint the way the floors do. i wonder if it is a different shellac or varnish and if anyone has suggestions. also ps i have so far been using murphy’s oil soap for cleaning the knotty pine walls and it is great. and yes that old english scratch cover works wonders too!!! has anyone used the old english lemon oil for treating the wood? i’m experimenting with that now. anyway would love suggestions. thanks! michaela

      • pam kueber says

        My reco: Call Zinsser, which makes Shellac, and ask them what to do. I have this on our list to do as a story, but have not got to it yet…

  9. Marge says

    I just bought 22 knotty pine kitchen cabinets at one of Habitat
    for Humanity’s Illinois Recycled Building Materials stores, so I was
    delighted to read all the positive comments regarding the knotty
    pine materials. I saw a lot of pine paneling while growing up in
    Germany’s Black Forest, but I had not seen any kitchen cabinets
    made of knotty pines in the Chicago area where I now live.
    I know I will love those cabinets once they are installed. I might
    replace some of the wall cabinet doors with glass panels so as to
    lighten up the ongoing wood pattern. But, as was stated in earlier comments, selling my house with the knotted pine cabinets
    might be an issue. Meanwhile, I will only use about ten of the
    pine cabinets in my present kitchen, but I will find good use for
    the rest of them at a little lake cabin located near Wisconsin
    where knotty pine will contribute to a wonderful country look.

    Again, thanks to all of you who helped me to stay upbeat about
    my choice of cabinets and gave me some cleaning hints as well.

  10. Beth says

    Our 1959 rancher has knotty pine cabinets in the kitchen. It was the feature that caught my eye immediately. Easy to clean and keep fresh. My complaint is that the original owner covered up the oak hardwood floors with laminate vinyl, GLUING, the vinyl to the floor. How do we remove this flooring without destroying the floor?

    • pam kueber says

      Not sure… note, however, there can be vintage nastiness in old flooring and adhesives — consult with a properly licensed professional to assess what you have so that you can make informed decisions how to handle.

    • Caroline Sheffield says

      We had the same thing in our 1924 home, new to us this past year. The entire home has hardwood floors, but in one of the bedrooms, there was carpet, and under the carpet, wood-grain vinyl flooring GLUED to the hardwood floor. We had the floor professionally refinished, and are glad we didn’t try to tackle it ourselves. It is absolutely gorgeous. Hard to figure why someone would cover hardwood with vinyl, but back in the day when people had to wax the woodfloors, I guess they didn’t figure it was worth the effort. Good luck! Find someone with good credentials, and leave it to them!

  11. Kathleen Lavey says

    This is a beautiful kitchen with almost the exact same layout as mine! We don’t live in a ranch, though, but a 1951 traditional Cape Cod. When I moved in seven years ago my immediate plan was to remove all the knotty pine and put in something else. But before I could amass enough $$ to do a complete kitchen reno I started to fall in love with the knotty pine. However, my pine is a little scratched and scarred and I am looking for a way to freshen it up. Would it be crazy to sand and re-shellac?

    • says

      hi there, well your story is similar to mine. my first inclination was to replace all my kitchen knotty pine. i’m so glad i did not. after 2.5 years of consistent cleaning and oiling, my cabinets are looking sweet! i still need to figure out how to deal with the sides of the cabinet doors where it seems there is no varnish to protect the wood though. anyway my suggestion is to clean with murphy’s and oil before considering sanding. it’s amazing how resilient the wood is. i think because it is soft wood, it is malleable enough to come back from scratches, it is like the wood fills back in. at least that has been my experience.

  12. Laura Ann Ostermeyer says

    LOVE this kitchen and the story. My dream house would be from this era but I am grateful for my 1978 town home. I have always been a huge fan of knotty pine. My kitchen cabinets are original and while they are not knotty pine they are nearly that same color. This article gave me some great ideas that would enable me to get a very 1950s feeling for very little money just by using what I have now and a bit of paint. Thanks for the super article and inspiring photos. COOL! I also dig the idea of removing a cabinet door to allow for showing off festive dishes. It looks like you didn’t have to even add a glass door so that makes it easy to enjoy the bounty of color these dishes provide!

  13. Caroline Sheffield says

    I’ve lived with my knotty kitchen for a year and a half, and love it. However, some of the lower doors had stubborn white spots, and the finish is glazed in some areas. I’ve been feeling like the wood is just beat up. Tonight I treated with a mixture of olive oil and salt, ( an internet remedy for taking white steam marks off of wood) rubbed onto the finish, then buffed off. The results are absolutely amazing!!! Seriously, you’d think I completely refinished a couple of these cabinet fronts!!!

  14. Shanon says

    What color are your walls? I like that color. We have a room that has two knotty pine walls about the same color as in your kitchen, and I’ve been trying to find a color scheme that I like to go with the walls. I love the color you used.

  15. Susan says

    I have your kitchens twin with the exact hardware and rounded shelves. We have lived here 15 years and I think I’m tired if it. I am so tempted to pain or white was it. It look like the wooden room.

  16. Lenora says

    I am just the opposite I have a bedroom that done in the pine boards going up and down and I want to know how to paint it and bring it into the 20th century

  17. Stacey says

    It’s so pretty…I love the pine. It’s coming back in and you’ve given the kitchen such an updated look. It has character. I’m so over “custom” kitchens…they look like laboratories.

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