Decorating ideas for Tracy’s knotty pine kitchen — Readers, chip in!

Tracy wants our ideas on how to perk up her knotty pine kitchen. What do you think, Retro Renovation Squad? Tracy writes:

Hi Pam! My husband and I bought a 1962 ranch house in Nashville about 3 years ago and I’ve been wanting to somehow “update” the kitchen but still keep the mid-century feel. It’s a knotty pine kitchen with aqua formica countertops and a sort of aqua, peach, and ivory speckled linoleum floor. Everything is in really good shape and functional and the layout works for us. The thing we’re having some discussion about is the knotty pine on the walls and cabinets. I’m not a huge fan of it. I mean, I like it, but I just don’t like so much of it. Honestly, I’m not really sure what direction to go with it. I was wondering if you or your readers could make some suggestions of things we could do to kind of brighten the room up without changing the character, which we appreciate and love.


Tracy, you may be new and not quite know it yet, but we are generally nutty for knotty in these here parts. So be forewarned. See this post about Eartha Kitsch’s knotty pine kitchen. And, you might like this story on “heart pine” — the expensive stuff, which I tend to believe you have in your kitchen, given it still looks so great.

In our email back-and-forth to get prepared for this post, I ask Tracy some more questions. First, with the pics, she says:

Yay! Thanks! Here are some pics. The area with the microwave/cart/mess of rubbermaid storage containers is the bane of my existence. Storage is an issue for us in the kitchen and we want to get some sort of behind-doors storage instead of that open microwave cart with all the pet food/crap thrown in the bottom. And the red/green/clear rubbermaid containers are for recycling, but we need to figure out another solution for the recycling/garbage that is functional and sort of funky and visually pleasing at the same time. The ceiling fan hasn’t worked since we moved in – the light is broken on it, so lighting will have to be addressed as well. Thanks again!

Then, I ask her to tell us more about how she and her husband (as yet unnamed, along with the doggie) got into the house. Ahhh! Ford is involved again. They should sponsor my blog. She writes:

Sure…we live in Nashville and bought our house about 3 years ago after an EXTENSIVE house search. We were looking for over a year before we found the house actually. In the beginning of our search, our agent was taking us to newer subdivisions, I guess because that’s what most people she works with want, but we didn’t really care for any of the newer homes. They all seemed the same….didn’t have any character or any sort of story to tell. Then we stumbled on this neighborhood called Charlotte Park and totally fell in love with it. All of the houses are mid-century ranch homes, built in the early to mid 60s for employees of the now defunct Ford Auto glass plant. Ford built a plant here in 1956 to provide glass windshields and windows for their cars and our neighborhood, Charlotte Park, grew up around it for employees of the glass plant. I believe that Ford even provided some money to help build some of the homes. The streets are all named after Ford products….Cougar Drive, Edsel Drive, Thunderbird Ave. and, our personal favorite, Mercomatic Drive. Our street is called River Rouge Dr., named after the original Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn Michigan. Anyway, we love the story of this neighborhood, we love the people, and we love the homes. We particularly love our home – it’s not too big (we love the “not-so-big” home ideas), it’s solidly built, and it has a lot of character and just feels warm, if that makes any sense! We knew it was perfect for us as soon as we saw it.

So, gentle readers… whatcha got for Tracy?

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  1. amy says

    Loved looking at your pics because it reminds me of my house. We have knotty pine cabinets and an adjoining pine den. We put LED thin under cabinet lighting, not the pucks but long bright ones. Big difference. We added a travertine subway tile backsplash, black stone counters, and a black island. I think black helps anchor the room even though it is a dark color. I also think the idea of pulling off some boards and making a built in cabinet with them is a great idea. We have red accents to give a splash and light green walls.
    best of luck

  2. Janice Black says

    I’m sure Tracy has long ago gotten her kitchen sorted out, but in case someone with similar issues comes across this post, I just wanted to say that the knotty pine cabinets in my 1950’s ranch kitchen have a pickled finish that lightens them up quite a bit so that IMHO they’re not so overwhelming. I guess the idea was to “antique” them (since the original owners were into retro, too, but to them that meant Early American!)

    I’m not sure if “pickling” can be attempted as a refinish job or not, but it might be possible. Actually, if anyone knows, I’d like to hear from you, because currently I’m trying to figure out how to keep the pickled look on my cabinets while doing some much-needed refinishing where spots have worn away around the cabinet knobs.

  3. Genevieve says

    Although I am sure Tracy has long since made up her mind, here is what I would do:
    I would leave all the cabinet doors as they are, and the walls as they are, but add a contrasting backsplash and give or sell that paneling to some else more knotting pine deprived. She does have an overflowing abundance of it and you can have too much of a good thing; wood is a great element but it needs to be offset by other elements– stone, metal, glass, color to be comfortable. I would stain, paint, “pickle” or otherwise add color the valence and the cabinet facings on the kitchen side. This will add color and made cabinet doors pop in contrast. I would also paint the trim around the other three sides of the room the same color and add picture frames in a matching color. I would not use any other wood furniture or accessories in the room. The cabinet facings don’t appear to be as knotty, and painting it would make the rest of it stand out in contrast. That leaves 90% of the knotty pine untouched, but it will brighten it up considerably and make it less overwhelming and more comfortable, more balanced.

  4. Ally Cat says

    Hey, if this is a redundant comment…sorry! There were just soooo many!
    I had a Knotty Pine room with water damage, discoloration, and just dang dark from the wooded lot I live on. I decided to give my walls an update, modeling them after my childhood 1970’s pickled kitchen. If the brown is getting to you, consider giving the walls a light sand (with an orbital sander for speed) and try not to overwork it (even if you do silghtly, in the end it can even out). The goal is to knock down the sheen and give it a tooth. Then create an oil-based glaze (Ben Moore’s Alkyd Glaze is great) and tint it with a white oil paint or have a good paint store do it for you. Test the glaze on an inconspicuous area, as it always dries differently from it’s liquid appearance. My overall end effect was a very 1970’s beach-washed Gray knotty wood—-somewhere between Nantucket and Gilligan’s island. In your case, you could just treat the walls, and keep the doors brown, as it is the darker more dominate color and would stand out. Or vice versa… the push and pull of tone could be cool, as the overall “woodyness” ties it together! **Note** Paint stores can sell you pure tints so you can tint your own paint and glaze. Storing them in plastic application bottles from Hair Salon supply stores is how I do it. Then, like a good cook, you can experiment and make your own colors!

  5. Ally Cat says

    *correction*….not orbital sander! That would eat the paint off your car, I meant hand-held electric sander with med-fine grit sandpaper. That way you’ll have something left to refinish after you’ve touched it! Mucho apologies!

  6. jayne clowater says

    Last summer I re-did a knotty pine kitchen. A finish carpenter took down a wall to open up the tiny kitchen and then reconstructed the cabinets on another wall. I refinished the door faces and traded he dark hardware for chrome knobs from Lowe’s, faithful to the period but brighter.

  7. Austin says

    Hi Tracy! i love your kitchen! its beautiful, what id do to help make it seem more up to date is to play off of those beautiful laminate counter tops. do not paint the wood, it is getting harder and harder to find original 1950s pine kitchens, painting them is destroying a piece of history. i would try to find a floor tile or linoleum floor in a darker light blue than the counter top has, then i would paint the ceiling a very very sort of light blue white-ish color. i would also buy the chrome diamond cushion back splash and install that as a back splash it will help break up the wood a little. then replace the fan and hanging light with a chrome sputnik lights, then find a nice light blue 50’s dinette set to replace the wood table. to help with storage you can buy an old armoire thats made of knotty pine or cedar to help hide your storage stuff. love your kitchen preserve what you have it is a beautiful example of a era that has sadly gone by :)

  8. Dan T says

    I know I’m late to this thread, but having grown up near Dearborn in a Ford family, these street names are something else! Most of the car names are obvious — but even some of the less obvious ones have Ford connections:

    – Mercomatic Dr and Fordomatic Dr are both sort of puns — cars with those transmissions were advertised as having “Fordomatic Drive.”
    – Premier was a short-lived Lincoln model in the ’50s.
    – Landau is a body style, of course
    – Grosse Point is the suburb of Detroit where Henry’s son Edsel lived — Edsel’s son was William Clay (Willclay).
    – Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn is at 1 American Road
    – Ford built his first car in the Bagley Avenue Shop (Bagleyshop)
    – The Ford family was very close to the Firestone family (hence, Firestone Ct).

    Really kind of remarkable that someone went to all of that trouble.

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