I first *met* Jon when he wrote to ask me about removing tile from a laminate countertop. Heck if I knew, but before I could even get around to answering, he emailed me back saying he’d done it already. He and wife Trixi also were onto de-layering the floor. In reality, their renovation so far has meant: Peeling off a circa-2005 update. Oh, and did I mention that Jon is hilarious? And that the pair is admittedly “obsessed”? Read on for more about their wackadoodle adventure to uncover the true blue (avocado green) bones of their 1962 kitchen …
I’ve strung together Jon’s emails — which came to me over the course of about 6 weeks — into this amusing and informative timeline:
Hello, Pam! [Hello, Jon!]
We’re currently doing a Retro Renovation of our kitchen. We’re peeling up the crappy, mid-00s vinyl flooring and restoring the glorious 1962 linoleum, and getting everything back to period specs. We just started, and your site has been an inspiration, a godsend for those of us with midcentury-era homes.
The problem is that our gorgeous vintage Formica countertops have been covered with a layer of granite tile with a “sandwich layer” of drywall that has been GROUTED TO THE FORMICA. I’m wondering if any of your readers have a good method for removing grout from Formica — I’m about ready to start chiseling away the tile, but the grouted drywall scares me — I don’t want to damage the Formica, if possible.
I did a pretty thorough scouring of the site and I don’t see anybody else talking about the same problem, so this might be a “new thing” for your site, but I bet with the popularity of ugly “greige” granite tile, we’re not the first people to run into this problem with their renovations!!
Hopefully you or someone on your site can advise! I will pose the question on the comments section there, and in the meantime I’m going to check out that citrus stripper mentioned. Thank you!!
Precautionary Pam writes back and reminds: Be sure to consult with professionals — you’ll want to know if there is any nasty asbestos or lead or whatever in whatever stuff you disturb. Jon replies:
Oh yes — we did some asking and all of this tiling was done in 2005, along with the vinyl floor we ripped up and all the bathroom “modernizing.” The realtors did it to try to sell the house, which was a foreclosure. All asbestos-containing material was abated at that time as well (some old tiles in the basement and upstairs, etc). So anything hazardous is thankfully all gone!
Good. So I ask, Jon and Trixi, what is “your Retro Renovation story.” Jon ponders and replies:
Well — the story is long and tangled, but to boil it down to essentials, I bought the house — a tiny 1962 ranch bungalow in Robbinsdale, MN — with my ex years ago as a fixer-upper in my old childhood neighborhood. The relationship didn’t last, but the house did — and when Trixi — is her name, is there a more retro name in the universe? — and I got married we kept saying “we’ve got to do SOMETHING with it.”
It’s a great little house in a neighborhood we both love, but we’ve always wished we had one of those mid-century flat-roof dream houses instead of our very modest mid-century modest. One weekend a couple months ago, we visited the home of our friend Jake Rudh. Jake is kind of our local mid-century expert, and he owns one of those gorgeous mid-century dream houses. He gave us the grand tour — it’s a time-capsule home in the best way. Original floors, original countertops, original everything.
The next day, my wife and I were lamenting about our own house, which had NOTHING original after a mid-00s “sell this house” remodel. I pointed out a little spot under the cabinets where the vinyl flooring was peeling. “Check this out,” I said. “Underneath this hideous vinyl flooring is the original laminate. Should I just yank this vinyl up a little?” And so I did, and so it began.
Once we started ripping up the floors, there was no stopping us. We stumbled across your website, and our little hobby became an obsession for both of us. Now we know everything there is to know about NuTone Food Centers and hudee rings and Dishmasters.
We’re about 1/3 into our remodel and we’re having a blast. We’ve gone from wishing we could move — to loving the house we’re in!! There’s a lotta work left — the cabinets need a total rehab, the walls need paper or paint, and we’re dying to find the rest of the avocado vintage appliances. But we’re determined!
Haha, this is my favorite line so far:
Should I just yank this vinyl up a little?” And so I did, and so it began.
Isn’t that ALWAYS how it begins? Before I get a report on the counters… I hear from Jon on the floors, too:
You can see the gorgeous linoleum, there, underneath the vinyl flooring. The ugly white vinyl was put in shortly before I moved there in 2005 by a realtor — he did a really shoddy job (didn’t even go all the way to the edge in places). He (thankfully) removed the previous layer of probably-asbestos-containing 70s vinyl flooring prior to laying this junk down — the linoleum, underneath a layer of flooring glue, is still clean and in great shape… You can see two layers of previous remodels. A horrible 70s remodel where they put in laminate cabinets and dark-orange tiles (there was a corner of one stuck to the formica) and then a newer “let’s sell this dog” remodel in 2005 that gave us those granite countertops and the new, white, plastic appliances. You can also see a roll of the original Formica I found in a closet in the basement — did a check, btw, with the Armstrong FAQ and it’s linoleum from 1962 and contains no asbestos. It’s like a NICE kitchen still exists under the layer of ugly remodel.
Hello, Pam! I sent you an email a month or so ago about our forthcoming kitchen retro-fication. We’re still proceeding apace — just wanted to shoot you an email showing you our FINALLY FINISHED floor! We stripped off all the ’05 vinyl flooring, and the old ’62 linoleum beneath looks magnificent.
Next step: countertops. We’ve been lucky that the realtor who sold us this (and did the remodel in ’05) did such a shoddy job — it’s been much easier to remove their work. The other interesting bit of news is that we noticed our tub was chipping a couple weeks ago. Being the person I am, I chipped away a bit more — and LO AND BEHOLD, underneath our white tub is a PINK TUB! I suspected we had a pink bathroom originally before the same ’05 remodel that got everything else, and I was right — I asked our next door neighbor, who’s been there since the late 60s, and she confirmed it, and was shocked to find all the pink had been removed!! So once we finish our kitchen, it’s onto the pink bathroom.
Yes, it’s coming back. We already found a pink sink at a salvage yard in the right shade, and noted (and you might want to note too somewhere!!) that Kohler *still has* a pink toilet in the correct shade of rose available! So we can get that retro look AND be environmentally conscious. And the paint on the tub from ’05 just comes off with paint stripper (we found a nice safe one with no fumes — no ventilation in there!) Anyway — once it’s all done (it’ll be a bit) we’ll send on photos, but I thought you’d get a kick outta those floors. What a pattern!
I finally started the daunting task of pulling up the ugly marble tile countertops. Everybody around me has been so overwhelmingly negative — I heard “Why would you want that ugly stuff?” about the Formica. I heard “there’s NO WAY you’re going to be able to pull that up yourself — you’ll need to call in the pros.” And most importantly and most often, I heard “there is no way you’re going to be able to save that old Formica.” But like lots of people on your site, I’m sure, I hate hearing “no you can’t” or “no you shouldn’t!” Enough people kept telling me it was an impossible task that last night, while waiting for my wife and daughter to get home, I started hacking away at it with the totally wrong tools — I don’t have a pry-bar (yet!!) so I just used a hammer and a Phillips screwdriver. And in ten minutes I managed to pull up half a tile and a bunch of the wonderboard. And apart from a few screw-holes (I’m already planning how to fill them and paint the pattern over the top — I can do it! I’m a designer by day) and a few minor nicks, the Formica underneath is STILL INTACT. And looking hot!
(OH — one last thing — if any of your Minneapolis readers are wanting a pink bathroom after the Pink Bathroom article in the Star Tribune a few weeks ago, point ‘em here: City Salvage. We went there to get our pink sink — and they’ve got like seven more where that came from, AND a pink toilet. It’s all in the basement — which is open, weirdly, despite being kind of creepy and dark. We got our sink for super-cheap — the guy is dying to get rid of that stuff. He also has, somewhere (I couldn’t find it, but he swears its there) old pink enameled METAL TILE — a whole box full. So if anyone’s wondering, point ‘em there!)
You get a good sense of what we still have to do — those laminate cupboards from the 70s were once blonde wood, like the kitchen you showed today. But we have a working vintage Frigidaire fridge — in Avocado!! Goal: all matching avocado appliances. We didn’t have our camera at the salvage yard! We haven’t bought it yet — waiting for this next pay period, but our plan is to head there on Saturday. The guy told me there wasn’t a lot of call for avocado sinks, so there wasn’t much risk of it selling before then. It had a hudee ring!! A little bent up on one corner but I have high hopes I can gently hammer it back.
Hey, Pam! So the first half of our countertop rehab went fine. Pic attached. Small screw holes — otherwise the laminate is in PERFECT condition.
The second half, though — there are TWO HOLES cut into the countertop. My wife and I spent half the day despairing — would we have to re-laminate? I cracked a hunk outta the laminate for one thing (it’s gonna take some gluing and patching), but these holes are daunting and we couldn’t figure out what went in ‘em. The left hole — it was the size of one sink section, but there was no drain attachment under the counter, nor any electrical. I finally figured out it was probably one of these here — a recessed cutting board! [Yes, Jon's tip led to my post - Pam] They make ‘em in EXACTLY the size we need to fill the hole, so even if it wasn’t, I’m getting one. I love the steel edge! Will match the avocado sink with a gloriously intact huddee ring we found at a salvage yard this weekend. The OTHER HOLE though — we knew it was something electrical, ’cause there was a capped-off electric cable underneath it. We agonized and agonized and searched and talked to the neighbor who vaguely remembered something “weird” being there, and realized what it once was — a NUTONE FOOD CENTER! Of course, we’re going to find one and put one back in there. How could we not??
The laminate on the backsplash is covered with a pretty daunting layer of thinset under those tiles — I haven’t found a decent method for removing thinset on the interwebs yet (apart from heavy sanding or chunking it away millimeter by millimeter with a chisel or something), but if I can figure something out, we’re game. Our fallback position is to find some subway tile or 1″ tile in a nice green tone or pattern that matches the rest of the kitchen.
Thanks again so much for your awesome site. If we hadn’t found it, I don’t know if we’d be this determined to do this, and do it right!! My goal is to build a ’63 kitchen SO AWESOME (well, and then a pink bathroom SO AWESOME) that you’ll wanna feature it on your front page. It’s what’s driving us!!! We’ll keep you updated. I do have to say — this is the most fun ever!
Thank you, Jon & Trixi. Yes: It’s all some fun, isn’t it. Hey, I have one question, though: Are you sure the floor and appliances are original to 1962? Reader Patrick did some research, which he shared with me, that indicates that GE did not introduce Avocado as a color until 1966. I am not super expert on dating colors and such, but if I had to guess, I’d say the floor and appliances came in the same time as your 1970s cabinets - although the Formica reads 1960s to me… In any case, I would definitely not change that floor and I love the avocado appliances. Fantastic job all the way around! Keep us apprised of how the Retro Renovation continues — and thank you for all your tips — I’ve been able to milk your emails for, like, five stories (two more yet to come).