Retro decorating ideas for Sara’s country kitchen

Thanks to the 51 readers who contributed ideas to Sara as she thinks about how to add some more retro appeal to her already very appealing country kitchen. To be sure, the comments got me to thinking… and changed my views on what I was going to say. In particular, I was very swayed by those who said, basically: “Don’t lift a finger if you are going to me moving soon.”

When we first moved into our 1951 house back in 2001, we had a similar dilemma. The three bathrooms were wrecked, and the kitchen was on its last days. But, we were not in a mode to renovate quickly, and I kind of don’t believe in that anyway. I like to sit for a year, at least, live in the house, and see what it tells me it wants to do. Even so: One bathroom had blood red walls! I really wanted to do some interim work — painting, at least — while we waited to figure out our renovation plan. My husband — ever practical — was adamant, though, that we weren’t going to lift a finger or spend a nickel on anything that we would be tearing out soon enough. Oh, it was SO PAINFUL. Unable to decorate… to settle in… I was in agony. Ultimately, I could not stand it anymore, and the blood red walls in one of the bathrooms DID get repainted. I remember, it took three coats, and I swear, I could still “feel” the red radiating from beneath, like a Poltergeist.

Which leads back to Sara and ideas for her kitchen, above. I am convinced by the other readers that, Sara, if you are going to rebuild within a few years, you should not be spending much time or money on this kitchen. And, as everyone said: It’s quite sweet already. But, I also understand the itch. So, I promote a compromise: ONLY buy things that you are sure would go into the new house as well. Or: Only buy things that are super dirt cheap… that the retro decorating gods send unto you because you are good and humble servant. That is: You can still nest! Just nest wisely, with an eye to the next house and to your pocketbook.

That said, I had to do a mood board, of course. After fussing and fussing and fussing with it… I went ahead and posted it… BUT, I have to say: I now keep coming back to BLACK — or more precisely “WROUGHT IRON”. If this were my kitchen, I think I would build upon that black wrought iron hardware… and that fry pan… and start adding black to the kitchen. The black will make your Fiesta ware “pop”, play up the red, “outline” the kitchen, add sophistication, and not add another color to the mix because it’s extant in the cabinet pulls, microwave and fry pan.

Here are other thoughts… which are meant to be “directional” because remember, what you may do is dependent on the gods:

  • In general I vote wallpaper. I show some that was on ebay a while back. Something that pulls all your colors together and has that Americana feel (rather than googie).I think the paper would have to be a vintage design. But again….I think I’d focus on the black accents first, before worrying about wallpaper.
  • A big Capel braided rug, in a mix of colors, but basically “dark” will pull everything together and anchor the room, too. A Capel rug also could easily find its way into the new house — I have one, and it’s found three places in three houses, no problem.
  • Watch for a vintage dinette. I’ve shown red, but really, any number of colors could work. Only if you want one for the new house… Your oak is fine with me.
  • The window treatments I’ve shown are Cabin Check in Black from Country Curtains. They are cotton. I found them up to show: More punches of black in that kitchen… Also, black adds a bit of sophistication that contrasts the country. A big check, a fabric in a heavier/starchier hand, and a more refined or tailored curtain/valance will also fight fussiness. Also use your valance fabric under the sink, to cover the storage area, and as seat pads. You’re talking to Ms. Matchy Matchy, you know. (Caveat: You already have a blue check on the wing chair, but I think the black check is still workin’.
  • Ummm, maybe a mint condition black Sears Country Charm range will fall into your hands? With the oven warmer on top maybe even? Could you imagine!
  • You could definitely have fun with vintage lighting… I’ve shown a fixture I saw on ebay, but there are many possibilities. Wagon wheels, like some readers suggested? Sure. I do keep coming back to black, though…
  • Occasionally, I see a mint-in-box range top hood on ebay. This copper model from a few months back = delicious.
  • And last, new or old stools for the JCP island. The blue one I’ve shows in a barstool from Pottery Barn… but it’s also available in yes, black.

I see you have more wrought iron fry pans by the stairs — group them with the one by the stove — bring them into the kitchen. Also, at risk of having you kill me, you could also tie black ribbons or gingham around your canning jars… or hmmm, do something decorative along each shelf edge… nothing too *precious* though…. That wall of canning shelves: FANTASTIC!

Bottom line: As you can tell from all the feedback from the original post, your kitchen already is oozing country charm and heavens to betsy, your acreage and views and setting and porch — amazing. At this point, whatever else you do inside the kitchen is icing on the cake and for creative expression — not really need. Also, regarding my suggestions and other folks’ — Take them with a grain of salt. COLORS ARE VIBRATIONS, and we all react to different vibrations differently. Bottom line: Process the ideas… decide which individual elements are most important to you… prioritize them, then build upon them… stay in tune with the retro decorating gods and what your house says it wants…. and do what speaks to you! Many thanks for sharing, Sara, and let us know how your updates go!

UPDATE: Just spotted this today on ebay. Would look great. Totally opposite my black idea… and not sure if there’s enough… but wanted to show it:


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  1. jkaye says

    I can’t wait to hear what Sara thinks of these ideas. I thought of gingham, but not in black — love it. The vintage dinette set idea is a fun one, too — never would have thought it would go so well with the country elements, but it does.

  2. Gavin Hastings says

    Aren’t you the smart woman??!!

    I never thought to suggest black…and yet it appears in every room of my own home. If white is a “non-color” then black can be consider an “all-color”, I guess. It brings a real dignity to a room and is a great unifier- It is a silent “match-y match-y ” color. Great job.

    Question: How many red lights did you drive though yesterday while thinking about Sara’s kitchen dilemma?

    • pam kueber says

      Gavin, I actually thought of you and your house and how you used black… I need to show the photos you sent me (wanna send more?) … And ummmm, I spent waaaay too much time thinking about this one. WOKE UP thinking about it… and how novelty wallpaper would work, too, like from this post:

      I like the one of the old newspaper ads… hover over it for name of book/pattern. I also like the diner one. Would look good with the large black checks, too, I think…

      • Gavin Hastings says

        Ok…this is a great lead-in to something that has been on my mind for years here on this site:

        I want to send out a HUGE high five to Mr. RetroRenovation. Without getting every woman in the USA mad at me….Pam, he IS a great guy. This site itself takes gigantic amounts of your time….let alone your attention. How many dinners have you sat though saying “…uh-huh” while REALLY thinking about vinyl tile choices? Not to mention being bombarded with e-mails from around the globe.

        This is your career and a labor of love to be sure….But for most men (myself at the top of the list) it boils down to: “How is this going to effect my dinner…..”
        It is politically incorrect to say this, but thank you Mr. RR for sharing your wife’s time and opinions with all of us.

        You can omit this before the firestorm hits…

        • Candice says

          I’m inclined to take this in the spirit I think it was offered. I often thank the spouse for his patience with my renovations. I am the handyman, decorator, and GC.
          Sometimes he comes home to find parts of the floor missing, and sometimes when it’s my turn to cook we only get pizza.

          For those of us with hands off spouses, or spouses that aren’t interested in our house obsession, its important to be grateful that they let us turn their refuge into a chaos zone.

          • says

            Yes, yes, my husband cooks dinner while trying to avoid sawdust coming from sanding in the next room. I am definitely thankful he goes along with my crazy plans, puts up with me blithering nonsense about tile and does the laundry – all with a smile.
            I actually like the fact he has no notion of how to be handy. It gives me complete control of the situation. teehee

  3. TappanTrailerTami says

    Love the black idea Pam – touches of black in the kitchen are a great thing, and defy the viewer to make judgment about the years involved since black has been in/out/in/out of popularity for years. I think the check is a great choice because it solidifies “country” without being overly busy, nor as boring as a solid.

    I would probably head over to Van Dykes and round up some nice black iron decorative support brackets to put on the underside of the range hood, just for looks 🙂

    Awesome job once again on the “mood” board. I recently discovered that my house planning software allows me to save photos of wallpaper, and then I can actually place it on the interior walls and then view it in 3D. I recently put Bradbury and Bradbury paper up!! LOL

    Houses are so much fun!

  4. MrsErinD says

    I don’t know why anyone would be mad for you saying that Gavin, but I am pretty politically incorrect myself, lol. As Hubby jokes, as I am gabbing on about some decorating thing when he gets home, “this would be much more interesting with coffee” hehe

    I love the black idea Pam! Ya, I didn’t think of it either, and I have it in my house too, I am redecorating in pink aqua and chartreuse and the black really keeps it from being too awful “sweet” and more retro.

    Great ideas Pam! Ya, I like staying with the early american look that it already has than try to force it to be mod.

  5. Michelle says

    It was so much fun to see so many ideas, all of which could work in part or total. Thank you Sara for letting us all dream about what we might do if we had that wonderful space. There are so many ways to invoke vintage/retro and no one right way other than to do what feels best to you and like Pam says, let the retro gods speak to you. Sometimes is really is the little things that you do to a space to bring it alive. It was super fun. Best of luck.

  6. RetroSandie says

    Great idea, Pam, of adding the touches of black and the black-and-white check. It will be interesting to see what Sara does decide to do!! It IS a marvelous kitchen – love the red sink and the floor! (Once upon a time, I had that floor in avocado!!! Loved it!!) 🙂

  7. Hellhot says

    I love gingham, but use it somewhere else, I love the lace white curtains that are in there already. But if it hasn’t been said already, you can certainly change the wall paper and border to paint, or another retro wallpaper…the backsplash on the counter too. And it’s cast iron, not wrought iron, unless you’re talking about twisted, shaped, wrought bars of steel, but pans and brackets and knick-nacks were cast. Awesome sink! need to bring some red in somewhere else too!

    • pam kueber says

      Yes – cast iron! Brain freeze when I was writing this. But the cabinet pulls are properly called wrought iron, yes or no? And yes, you would not do the black gingham curtains if the wallpaper had lots of colorful retro goin’ on…

  8. says

    Oh my goodness, I can’t believe that stove! My kitchen was redone in 1970 and I do enjoy my gold but I wish they would have put that in instead. I also love those wallpaper choices.
    And I didn’t have time to read everything/get to post a few days ago so this was probably suggested but definitely think about what you want at the new place and try to integrate it here so when it comes time to move you will have already taken the time and money to search out some great pieces which can simply be transferred.

  9. says

    OK first I want to say you are all wonderful! Thank you for helping me to “love the house I’m in” and for all (and my head’s spinning) the great ideas. Everything from Atomic Doodle to Lucy’s Connecticut house, vacation getaway to western retro! But isn’t it these fun decorating challenges that make living in our unique homes great. Any one of us could put together a simple model home; but this, THIS, isn’t so straight forward now is it?! The black idea is interesting. I was thinking of painting the chairs black as they are beat up but the table is nice. the island in black looks nice too. Black gingham might work as chair cushions or placemats too. It could go either the colonial or the western direction. And while braided rugs would be appropriate, it’s kinda like the ivy and bricks we removed outside – don’t ever want to see them again. Your ideas that come to mind are: making a curtain straight across the top for the under stair storage area (duh, never thought of straight), matching the counter on the dw (it’s a portable) to whatever I do on the main counter (and yes it can be painted – google it, what have I got to lose), new canisters in a pale yellow (I have the ivory fiestaware dishes too which looks pale yellow to me, not “ivory”), a paint-by-number (maybe I can steal some family originals from my mom), a clock like the one in the inspiration picture, changing the wallpaper (and no, it’s not “eighties”. I took OUT the “eighties” wallpaper. 🙂 ), splashing red around, bandana print, gingham in turquoise or yellow, red geraniums in pots on the window, . . . . . don’t worry. I’ll do several of your ideas. I’m officially inspired. And you have been so gracious and I appreciate it so much. Seems like it’s easier to look at someone else’s room and use imagination but we sometimes get stuck in our own rooms. So THANKS! and a really big thanks to Pam. I’m glad you all enjoyed it. And if you’re ever in SW Washington, you are welcome at North Fork Ranch! And in appreciation to the hubby – he said if I agreed to buy this place without looking inside the house, I could do whatever I wanted!

  10. Neighbor Jeanne says

    I love the idea of black. I have black porceline counter tile in the Kitchen and bathroom of our Cabin and appreciate how it makes the emerald green and barn red accents really pop next to thte Hickory cabinets. BLACK is daring and dangerous. Live a little. 🙂

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