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. gsciencechick says

    I think you have some good ideas here. Our knotty pine had already been painted a horrible dirty cream when DH bought the house. So, we have painted it white for the cottage/beadboard look.

    I would agree on perhaps taking out the pine in the backsplash and maybe leaving it painted for some visual breakup. We do have blue glass mosaic tile, but the cabinets are painted white.

    Also, we have a similar wall where there is no storage. I have a vintage Hoosier cabinet, but it’s still not enough, and we’re looking at what else to add there, mabye some Ikea shelving, or else I saw some modular storage units on JCP. com.

    Oh, BTW, around the corner from us is a house for sale with pretty much the exact same knotty pine kitchen AND a pink tile hall bathroom!

  2. Susan says


    I didn’t make it through all 56 comments, but I had a similar recycling/microwave problem that I solved with a customized cabinet from See images 3 and 15 at this retrorenovation link:

    Also, I had to bite the bullet and throw out some things to make room for others. Barsandbooths will work in any material you suggest–even knotty pine, I bet! In the cabinet ,we installed two pull-out Rev-a-shelf containers for recycling, one behind each door. I found special Rev-a-Shelf units that were shallow, with the longest edge of the wastebasket facing front (I have a photo of the inside of the cabinet if you’re interested). Because my cabinet is not very deep, it doesn’t take up very much floor real estate.

    Good luck! I grew up in a 1955 ranch home in suburban Detroit in a neighborhood across the street from a Fisher Body plant, so I lived a little bit of what your neighborhood recalls.

    • Tracy says

      Oooh thanks for that link, Susan! I’ve been thinking for a while that I might need to have a custom cabinet made that can hold the microwave, recycling and has shelves for my cookbooks but I just wasn’t really sure where to go to have something like that done. This helps.

      I also saw this table on Craigslist this morning that looks like it could match my counters perfectly!!!

      • pam kueber says

        Ha, Tracy – the retro decorating gods clearly read about you on the blog yesterday and sent this item to you for your consideration!

          • Nathan and Daisy says

            Tracy, we have some mid century magazines, please let us know as we could copy some stuff out for you.

            Daisy suggests pulling colors out of the floor for accent items. She also suggested hanging different colored items in the backsplash, such as mondrian style quilts wrapped around streacher frames and hung in the back splash. We have some pictures showing this. Then you wouldn’t have to destroy the back splash.

            Let us know! Nathan and Daisy

            (You can reach us via direct email at nathan at valinet dot com – replace the english with appropriate punctuation).

  3. Rob Bielarski says

    Hi Tracy,

    I think your home is very cool. How nice to live in such a neighborhood with those neat street car names. Also, your exterior shutters with the blue squares are awesome!
    I had a kitchen in a prior home that had knotty pine similar to yours. I think part of the problem is that as you say, there is so much of it, it sort of gives you a log cabin feel. Perhaps you could make it stand out more by taking it out of the back splash area under the cabinets & maybe using formica or tile in that area. The area above your cabinets maybe could be painted or wallpapered in a neat retro-vintage style. I think this way you would have less knotty pine but at the same time, what is left would be shown off to greater effect. Maybe in the dinning area you might paint the walls a nice nuetral color or if you want to be more daring, you could match the formica on your counters for a more dramatic look.
    Good luck and enjoy !!! Rob

  4. nina462 says

    love, love, love it! would go well with my knotty pine basement! – I would suggest red accents, or turquoise. My kitchen has a knotty pine theme-and I’ve decorated with a cheery cherry theme. But it’s in moderation. I have cherry curtains, and some cherry/fruit chalkware for the decor. I’ve also framed a couple cherry canning labels (in red frames).

  5. The Jenny says

    What an adorable family and such a sweet home. I agree with the new backsplash idea. White or light colored tile that would complement your laminate countertops. Looks like you are fond of blues, a pale turquoise color would really make the cabinets pop. Maybe paint the ceiling fan white too so it blends with the ceiling and gives the room more visual height.

  6. jane says

    Hi Tracy — I didn’t read all the comments so I don’t know how many people have suggested painting, but I have almost the exact same kind of kitchen in Woodland Hills, CA (a suburb of LA) in our very ranchy house. We painted ours white and spray painted the hardware black. Our floor was a very raunchy and ugly yellow 70s vinyl that we covered with black and white peel and stick tiles. Your floor looks pretty cute though. I would not be afraid to paint the wood if you don’t like it. I’ve never liked knotty pine and I doubt it would grow on me – perhaps you feel the same way. If you want to see a pic our our white cabinets with black hardware, email and I would be happy to send some your way.

  7. Elaine says

    Oh, my, I hate the thought of painting that beautiful wood. I do love the log cabin look and I had a house made of pine logs with all knotty pine inside, floors, walls ceilings, cabinets, even the furniture was handmade from local cedar. What tones it down a little bit is colorful window treatments and upholstery or otherwise not wood furniture. Pine can take lots of color in the accessories. I like the red and turquoise very much. Since you have to live there and don’t love the knotty pine, though, I hope you can come up with something that can be reversed should the mood strike you or maybe the next homeowner in line.

    For instance, I like the idea of a colorful backsplash. Might there be something, like tin or stainless that could be applied over the wood in such a way that it could be removed without damaging the wood too much? Could you put drywall over one or more of the walls instead of painting?

    • Julie says

      It’s been years since her post but would love to know what she did.

      I’m in the process of negotiating for a house with a knotty pine kitchen (built in 1955) and I found the description of her kitchen to almost seem to offer the answers to her questions. Sure her aqua countertops seemed to demand that color in the kitchen but she had some cool choices in the linoleum too. Personally, I think knotty pine looks remarkably good with almost any color with ‘personality’ (tangerine, red, olive green, aqua, yellow). It just seems to get out of balance when it’s asked to share the space with just white.

      I find myself hoping she didn’t succumb to the suggestions that some made that she should paint it!

    • Michaela says

      Give it time because I wasn’t too fond of my knotty pine and now I love it. When you paint, you can’t take it back either. Keep that in mind. To me painting knotty pine is a fad that will end soon.

  8. Mary Melmac says

    Great kitchen…there’s something to be said for “original” time capsule preservation. 😉

    • pam kueber says

      That is a pretty cool lookin’ cabinet, Tracy. But yes: Be careful not to get something too deep. Idea: Take cardboard or even newspapers… arrange them in the space you’d put the cabinet — see if you can even get the mockup to the proper height and then see if you feel like it’s okay or not.

      • Tracy says

        That’s a great idea….thanks! I was trying to do it with chairs and it wasn’t working very well.

        • pam kueber says

          hey i also think $400 is way too much. and: while the piece is great, i was also noodling: do you want something that doesn’t scream “wood” so much, as you already are sheathed in knotty pine? and, tracy, i think you really want to optimize all that space along the wall. you need a piece or pieces not too big not to small just right. did i mention: this all is torture. don’t listen to any of us, including me. scope, laugh, have fun and trust your instincts.

          • Tracy says

            Yeah, she said she would sell it to me for $250 but I decided it’s too big for the space. I’ll keep looking.

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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 :)

  16. 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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