Sexy paint colors for Veronica’s 1976 black and white kitchen

picasso hand with flowers1976 kitchenRetro Renovation readers had terrific ideas for paint colors for Veronica’s original 1976 kitchen. I agree with a great many of their suggestions, and also noodled the question on my own. First up, though, I gotta agree with lots of readers on this piece of advice: DON’T DO ANYTHING RASH, Veronica. Don’t move in and right away start ripping out or painting over original stuff – unless there are documented environmental, safety or serious quality issues to address.
For example, you say that black-and-white kitchen feels stark and cold to you. But, we longtime Retro Renovators are not chilled by the look at all. We are accustomed to the graphic high contrast and can imagine how wall color, window treatments and accessories will warm up the whole room quickly and to great effect.. And assuming that the cabinets are sturdy and the laminate, in good shape — we’d call that kitchen: Stunning! So — don’t paint the cabinets. At least not yet!  Honestly, it’s all a matter of understanding the look and getting accustomed to it — this takes time, because you have not been educated by mainstream lifestyle media to understand or appreciate this 1970s look.
With that little introduction, I’ll give you three ideas for the approach I might take if this kitchen were my own.  First — I love the cabinets. Clean the heck out of them and leave them as is. I would not fuss with the appliances either – unless there are serious performance issues. (At some point, though, you will want to assess the energy efficiency of the fridge.) That kitchen is cohesive. For the walls, though, I would head straight for color — big, bold, saturated, SEXY 1970s color… How to choose? I know you are already on the way after scouring etsy for some artwork that speaks to you. That is the right method. Yes, continue to keep studying and putting your hands on pieces of art, fabric, rugs or other accessories that may provide the color inspiration you need for your walls.
picasso hand with flowersIdea #1 — The first inspiration piece that came to my mind was the famous Picasso drawing — Hands with Bouquet. The drawing appears to be dated 1958. But, I went off to college in the fall of 1977 and when I did, I took twin “Hands with Bouquet” comforters with me — so there must have been a resurgence. Today, you could buy this poster, then start playing with the different colors of the flowers, with samples applied to your walls.  Oh, and be sure to torture your husband excessively throughout your color-selection process. Put 37 closely related colors on the wall and make him stand there with you and discuss them. At different times of day, in all lights. When he indicates he likes a color, immediately reject it; this is a good way to do process of elimination and is a crucial rite of passage in every marriage. Of course, since you are newleyweds, he might actually think it is fun. Repeat it 10 years later and see how it goes then. Or maybe, don’t repeat it 10 years later. If you want to stay married.
1976 needlepoint pillowIdea #2 — Going through my ebay Saved Searches the other day, I spotted this fabulous, bold, colorful and graphic 1976 bargello pillow kit. The retro decorating gods sent it to me the DAY I started thinking about your kitchen. This kind of signal gets me really excited. I would build the interior decoration of my entire 1976 house around this pillow. But, I know you are not me, I have been mainlining retro for quite a while now.
Idea #3 — You could also turn to someplace like Marimekko and search their fabrics for inspiration. This is their Siirtolapuutarha fabric and again, you can see how the strong colors play well with the strength of the black and white. You could find the same kind of inspiration in wallpaper. Wallpaper is more expensive than paint, and you indicated you wanted to put off big money investments. But if you spend some time immersing yourself in wallpapers, you may find one that you want to add in the future — and meanwhile, use its colors to guide your paint choice today. In a large space like your relatively open living room/dining room, you could also use use your wallpaper on only one “focus wall”, with adjacent walls featuring one of the colors of in the wallpaper.
  • I’m totally agreeing with readers who said to live in your house a while — a year, even — before doing anything major. Okay – paint the walls, yes. But paint cabinets? I don’t recommend it.
  • Be sure to work with a professional to get a good environmental and safety inspection. Lead and asbestos are issues we often mention, but there are others. Start smart going in. Also, if at some point you want to rip anything out, consult with environmental/safety pro’s again — you will want to know what is in adhesives and underlayments etc. etc. before you start disturbing them. Stay smart as you gear up for new projects.
  • Energy conservation is a big issue today. If you are going to make energy-related improvements, it’s a whole lot easier when the house is relatively empty. Many states are currently running free programs to assess energy efficiency of homes, and offering huge incentives for weatherization. Take advantage of this — quick. Your best new investment may be a high-efficiency furnace, air sealing, and insulation. These are the big 1-2-3 punches of energy conservation of the Northeast.
  • I’m also agreeing with one reader who said take a look at the floor. My concern: If you are sitting on a slab down in that walk-out-basement-kitchen, that floor seems to me like it will be cold. And, that inset dining room wood or laminate does not appear to be a well-integrated design.  New flooring that is warmer underfoot and which is consistent throughout may also be a preferred longterm investment, for comfort’s sale, and for aesthetics, too.
Veronica — thanks for letting us play with your kitchen! Ultimately, it is you and DH who will live in the space, and you will want to make it your own happy nest. This post made me remember setting up house with my husband in our first home… it was a wonderful, bonding experience… a great memory in our marriage story. Let us know what you decide, and enjoy!
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    • Kersten says

      I immediately read this outloud to my DH!!!!! (Here’s the best part though– he is WAY better at color choice than I am!)

      • pam kueber says

        My DH is actually very very good at colors, too. That does not stop me one millisecond from torturing him endlessly with my second guessing.

        • Jeanne says

          I always ask for my DH’s opinion, but he’ll say “does my opinion matter” and I say “no, but I thought I’d be nice and ask” LOL.

  1. Suzie Que says

    Never got a chance to comment before but wow, I agree wholeheartedly with DO NOT PAINT THOSE CABINETS (unless there’s ground-in-dirt/chippage, etc, issues that we’re not seeing on the pic)….but go bold/warm with the walls. LOVE that Marimekko print….

  2. says

    Wait. Then orange if you want to blend with the floors, or avocado to make the floor pop. I’d change the floors first, as Pam hinted at.

  3. Andrea says

    I’m with BungalowBill and Kersten on your post about choosing colors. I am glad I wasn’t drinking coffee at the moment I read the torturing part….AND I immediately read it out loud to my husband. His comment, “Oh no, there are MORE of you out there?”
    Going now to check out that fabulous Marimekko fabric as a possible shower curtain for my turquoise and black tiled bathroom—love that print.
    And while I do look at all the pictures, I also compulsively read every word, Pam!

  4. Gavin Hastings says

    Two more points that have played on my mind for the past 2 days-

    I remember that on “Trading Spaces” they used to paint laminate all the time…it would be very interesting to go back and see how well it held up. I would have strong reservations.

    Does you tile flooring extend into another room?
    Which then has a cut out of another floor?
    Do you really want to add another flooring an separate the space so much?

    We could all discuss this kitchen forever, because it has a fabulous layout, :good bones” and what seems to be plenty of light. Best wishes for years of happiness.

  5. Selena says

    I think Bradbury & Bradbury’s papers would be nice to accent. Maybe this one?

    Or this,

    It keeps in with the style, but makes it less austere. I agree, the black/white makes things a bit harsh. Maybe instead of black trim do a gray.

    (Keep in mind, I am a bright color type of gal. I live in a small cottage, and my kitchen is Robin’s Egg, my dining room is 2 shades of perky blue, and my living room is like warm creamed butter. For me to like monochromatic rooms, well, that’s a rarity!)

    You know, the wood trim and the floor is a bit off. What she could do is use those browns as a jumping point and still have a 70’s kitchen. I’d think the black/white was more 80s, right? So perhaps going more earth-based colors would be nice. Think of all the Burnt Orange, Avocado Green, and Golden Harvest items… Not only were they big then, they’re making a come back now.

  6. katkins says

    That Marimekko fabric is perfect. I’d get a yard or two of that, stretch it over a wooden frame, and hang it on the wall opposite the range (assuming that there is such a wall). Add a groovy teapot and dishtowels in those strong colors, and leave the white walls for contrast.

  7. Tami says

    Excellent advice as always – and even better dorm room style. My stuff was plastered with the Kliban cat motif . . . .

  8. troysf says

    Wow Pam, great post! Your Marimekko fabric inspiration is sheer brilliance. A quick google images search for Marimekko pulls up TONS of great ideas for injecting bold color within the black/white framework. Now I wish that were my kitchen… 😉

  9. Maryanna says

    I wholeheartedly concur with the Marimekko suggestion! Even if you don’t like the Siirtolapuutarha pattern, they have tons of other bold colorful graphic designs that would work great in this kitchen. And it probably wouldn’t take but 1-2 yards of fabric to make a pair of cafe curtains for that fabulous big window.

    I also agree that the floor and the wood trim could use updating, rather than the cabinetry. Perhaps a black/white checkerboard floor? Admittedly, that’s a lot of black and white, but that never stopped me. Black & white is as neutral as it gets, and you can repaint the walls as many times as you want without having to change anything else! 🙂

  10. Patty says

    I think it’s funny that someone suggested updating the floor when this whole website is about “back-dating.” If that floor is tile, I would bet it’s better quality than those cabinets.

    While the cabinets look fun, after you live with them for awhile, you may find they are not so much fun…the drawers may not glide nicely, etc. I would sit tight for awhile and you may decide you want to completely update this place to today’s lifestyle/taste.

    Except for the cabinet pulls, I’m not seeing a lot to love about this house’s past style. When I moved into my 50s kitchen, I loved it. But it was small and cramped and when push came to shove and I had money to spend on it, I went modern because I wanted a dishwasher, counterspace, etc.

    Sometimes the past just doesn’t translate well into the present.

    If those are laminate pressed fiberboard type cabinets, environmentally speaking, I don’t think that’s great either.

    Congrats on the house purchase!

    • pam kueber says

      Patty, I was among those who noted the floor. This site is not dogmatic about keeping the old stuff. If something doesn’t work for today – change it. But, we do encourage homeowners to live with things a while to figure that out — especially if their initial reactions are about a previous era’s aesthetics. Regarding the laminate cabinets — I agree, it’s possible they may not have the longterm quality a homeowner would want. But regarding the environmental issues — NOT changing something is generally much better for the environment, unless what you are manufacturing significantly save energy during the “use phase” — such as a high efficiency furnace. But regarding stuff like cabinetry, there’s “embodied energy” in what is already there. Manufacturing new cabinets or “stuff” — even if you try to call it “green” — is generally worse in terms of environmental impact. In this sense, keeping the floor as is would likely be better for the environment as well — unless it is so cold that you have to keep the heat cranked up all the time, I guess… Sorry, I know this response may sound defensive. Just want to make it clear in particular that I am not against taking stuff out that is “outdated” in the sense of the word that means there is a current improved-quality or improved quality-of-life replacement…or even, if you just really don’t like it. These are our houses and we want to make them our own…. there will be as many different answers as people.

      • Patty says

        Pam, long before being “green” and using the word “green” was in vogue, environmentalist warned of the dangers of value priced particle board cabinets because formaldehyde was used to manufacture them.

        I was referring to environmental issues on a very personal basis … in relation to people who are highly sensitive to chemicals in their home and have had serious breathing issues living in houses with such cabiinet…or those who worry about such things for their children.

        Here’s an article on more recent laws concerning the manufacture of cabinets and furniture today and the use of formaldehyde.

        My floor comment was really meant to be kind of tongue in cheek.

        • pam kueber says

          Thank you, Patty, and for the article, too…. Yes, “off-gassing” is another issue folks can familiarize themselves with…

  11. MrsPitcher says

    I think it’s all a matter of the decade you prefer. Seeing as how the black and white is basically a blank slate, you can make any decade fit and work. Unless you were going for a 30’s kitchen, a smidge too early. If you want to stick with the 70’s vibe, I would go with shades of yellow. Maybe even light green if you wanted to keep the cabinets white. Leaving them alone is the best option. Love all the ideas and I hope to see the finished result whatever it may be! I just love putting my two cents in, and not the least offended if not taken seriously. 😉

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