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. says

    Thank you for sharing the details of your remodeling. We are getting ready to fix our knotty pine kitchen the way we like it. This is a link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31108567@N06/sets/72157621971263328/
    We are changing the counter tops (no granite!) and taking out the upper peninsula cabinets to let in more light and open the kitchen up to the eating area. Also, we are replacing the floor (not original).

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your tips about the Old English. I can’t wait to try it!

    I love your stone wall and your color choices. Great kitchen!

  2. Lindsey Cota says

    Morgan,

    It’s the artisan series kitchen-aid mixer in mint or kiwi. very easy to fin, but maybe not in that color. they run about $250.

  3. says

    Hey Morgan,

    Thanks! Lindsey is right that it’s the KitchenAid artisan series mixer. The color is Pistachio and looks a lot prettier in person than the photos online at retailer sites show. It’s a nice mint green in person.

  4. Sherrie says

    Eartha Kitsch, our style always makes me feel so very happy! All that hard work paid off big time in fabulosity! On a side note, my boyfriend’s mama has a KitchenAid Pistachio mixer from the many many decades ago…and it is in MINT MINT MINT condition. It’s so dang fabulous.

  5. Steven Keylon says

    Thank you for posting this entertaining and delightful look at our favorite domestic goddess Eartha Mae Kitsch! She’s done such a terrific job, this should be an inspiration to those lucky enough to have inherited one of these original pine kitchens!!!

  6. Loryn says

    You may have just converted me to knotty pine fandom. I’ve always hated them, but not after seeing how great your kitchen looks. Wow!

  7. Karen says

    It is the most beautiful kitchen I have ever seen… hooray for knotty pine, Eartha Kitsch and DH! (But no hoorays for squirrels and plumbing issues.)

    Great article!

  8. Amy says

    I am the person who, along with my hubby, sold this house to Eartha Kitsch and DH. We are so glad we did, and not because of the issues they found (I promise we didn’t have those plumbing issues and we never messed with the electrical stuff!). So sorry about all that! No, I’m so glad because we really loved that house but were never able to really put in the money and work it would take to restore it like it deserved to be. We were it’s caretakers for a few happy years, and it was our daughter’s first house. I’m so glad to see these pics, Kelly. I knew you all would give [it] the love and care it deserves!

  9. says

    It’s absolutely breathtaking! So that’s why that was happening, the squirrels and the walnuts! This is just the most gorgeous, wonderful kitchen I have ever seen, in my entire life.
    Pam, thank you for this great feature, about Eartha Kitsch’s knotty pine kitchen. Priceless.

  10. Dana says

    Eartha Kitsch and DH ~~

    Thank you for saving this fantastic kitchen! It looks so loved and so cool. I’d love to see more of your house for inspiration. And thanks to Pam for posting this story. This site is a revelation to me, an actual vintage person learning a new appreciation for styles I’ve taken for granted for decades. My karma has been leading me here for several years however, with my own collection of mid-century cool and the books and mags of the era that are the best things ever to read! Glad to land here at last. I love it all!

  11. BF says

    I love your photos so much I wanna cry. When looking to purchase our first home, I told my husband I wanted the Brady Bunch house or a sprawling (preferably) one-owner sprawling rancher with as much knotty pine as we could find. Unfortunately, months went by and nothing. Very hard to find knotty pine thanks to those “sell this house” type shows where they paint everything and hope to sell quickly.

    We ended up with the house I have now. Suitable for our needs but no character. Thank you for saving a knotty pine kitchen!!!

  12. nancy anderson says

    Thank you for publishing your photos. We just purchased a cottage with a very similar kitchen. My husband is so excited about the knotty pine, me, not so much but now that I see yours, I’m all for it!

  13. SilentCal says

    Thank you for the tips on how to clean unfinished knotty pine cabinets! My father and grandfather made the cabinets and drawers when the house was built in 1950, and I’ve been struggling with what to do to clean them. Those who scoff at my mid-century family heirloom woodwork suggested sanding to the original pale color or priming, filling and painting. No!!! You have inspired me to try your magic formulas.

    The only thing remaining is what neutral colors to choose for the laminate countertops–e.g. light or dark. Right now, they are the original blue linoleum with chrome edge strips, but the lino is so chewed up and ruined [especially around the sink] that it has to go. I’m on the fence about whether to go with black or something lighter as I have a new glossy black stove. Any ideas? Authentic 50’s popping color isn’t my aim with the counters…just something that doesn’t call attention to itself. It’s all about my cabinets. Thanks!

  14. Ann-Marie Meyers says

    I am looking at houses in Fort Worth, Texas, and find myself forgiving a lot if they have knotty pine kitchen, for instance, one trapped between two freeways?
    I guess it is the northwoods, 1950’s born Wisconsin girl in me.

    I shudder whenever I see a good 1940’s/50’s home with a 2000 era kitchen stuck in it.

  15. Andee says

    I just closed on a one owner ranch with some truly amazing original features (turquoise boomerang counters? Yes please!) My new house is dripping in knotty pine, so I’ve been scouring the internets for information and inspiration. I will be attacking my new cabinets tonight with Murphy’s and Old English! Thanks so much for featuring this drool-worthy kitchen and for the helpful hints!

    • pam kueber says

      Welcome and congratulations, Andee! Send me some photos (use Contact button to establish contact…) :) Pam

  16. oliie dogmouth says

    It’s so nice to see someone with taste of their own.
    To not follow the crowd and have the exact same thing as everyone else seems to be out of fashion right now.
    Refreshing!

  17. says

    I WISH I would have discovered/come across/stumbled upon your site BEFORE my Renovation. My Mom has my old 40’s stove and I demo’d the bottom knotty pine cabinets. I still have some top one’s, but I painted them white. Ugggh!! Oh well, I will enjoy the one’s I see on your blogs and for those I know that still have a kitchen like this, I will personally help them lovingly restore them to their former glory. Great Job!!!

  18. diane says

    Such a beautiful kitchen! I too have a 1950’s home. My kitchen still has the original boomerang countertops but the notty pine cabinets have been painted an eggshell color. At one time the kitchen had turquoise green ceiling and window trim with the notty pine but, it had all been painted eggshell – ceiling, walls, cabinets…. I have thought about stripping the cabinets but, it seems like a huge ordeal. After seeing your kitchen….it just might be worth the effort!

  19. Julie B says

    I came across your site because I was googling knotty pine for an article that I was researching. Anyway, strolling through your pics, I realized I have the EXACT same stove you do. It’s a vintage GE electric that was in our home when we bought it. It has always worked great and I love the look of it so I have never replaced it. Hope you have enjoyed your stove as well~!

  20. Sandy E. says

    I just found this site and am totally thrilled…Our home was built in 1926 but was “updated” in 1952 with knotty pine in the kitchen, breakfast room, one wall in living room..and in our bedroom, we have real beadboard on top and knotty pine on lower walls. I have always wanted to paint it all but never did….now I know how to clean well and make it look new again and I am so excited…I love my bungalow and now everything will look as I envision it did in early years…thank you so much for the blog, the pictures, the comments, and the encouragements….

  21. Beth F says

    At first glance, I thought these were pictures of my kitchen, right down to the hardware and corner shelves on either side of the sink! Found this page doing a search for how to refurbish knotty pine cabinets. Definitely having second thoughts now. Thanks for sharing.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

    • Denise says

      Hello. We are remodeling some knotty pine cabinets from 1948 and are looking for some 9″ and 7″ black heart strap hinges and 5″ black metal pulls. I noticed your comment and wondered if you ever found yours, and if so, where? Thanks

      • pam kueber says

        Hi Denise, I would probably start stalking ebay searches all the ways you can figure to write them. These things do show up, I think…. Good luck!

      • Wilma Moore says

        Hi Denise. We redid our 1955-ish knotty pine kitchen cabinets and changed out the hinges. (Shameful, I know.) We still have the old hinges and pulls, but not sure how many. I’d have to count. ANYWAY, the hinges actually measure 6-1/2″ and the pulls are 5″. Let me know if you’re interested.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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!

  28. 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.

  29. 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 :)

  30. 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!

  31. 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!!!

  32. 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!

  33. 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. :-)

  34. 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. :-)

  35. 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

  36. 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!

  37. 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?

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