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!

Sincerely,
Eartha

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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Comments

  1. Barbara says

    I’m so glad I found this site tonight! I just started cleaning our knotty pine walls in our log cabin that was built in the early 60′s, at least that’s the story. We have ceilings and walls, as well as a full kitchen of knotty pine. I started cleaning with the spray on Murphy’s Oil Soap, but was wondering what else to use to brighten them, and Old English seems to be my answer. We also have log walls which I started cleaning with the Murphy’s as well. I’m tired tonight! We have the same stove, in a lovely harvest gold! Still works fine and I love having the extra space on top for plating the food. Nice big oven too.

  2. says

    We too have a retro kitchen and are seeking some strap hinges to repair our missing ones.
    We didn’t quite have the luck you did with murphy’s oil soap and old english, but it gives us hope.

  3. sandyb says

    has any one seen a knotty pine kictchen with a black and white checkerboard floor? I want to put this in my k pine kitchen with black granite countertops.

  4. Wilma Moore says

    I bet SOMEBODY in this group knows what I’m talking about. We have a 1955 era kitchen with knotty pine cabinets. What do you call the board that is on the cabinet in front of the sink. Ours has intentional “slits” in it, for decoration or venting or who knows what. Help, please.

    THANKS YOU!

    Wilma

    • pam kueber says

      Hmmm… I don’t know what this is called. We see it on all varieties of wood and metal cabinets. I am pretty durn sure it’s intended for ventilation. I’d call it the … sink ventilation panel. But, I’ll look in some catalogs and see if there was an “official” name for this.

  5. Cheryle Francis says

    So happy to see this site. We have an older house with pine cabinets in kitchen exactly like kitchen pictured above, and pine paneling in many rooms. Our house is on the market, we are hoping to move to warmer climate. Our problem has been that real estate agent wants us to paint over pine but I love the Pine and feel we should keep it and if someone else wants to paint it they can. So frustrating when they want to change your house before it is sold. I will be using the above advice to clean and refurbish the pine. Thanks.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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 :)

  9. 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!

  10. 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!!!

  11. 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!

  12. 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. :-)

  13. 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. :-)

  14. 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.
    Marge

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