Jon & Trixi uncover a 1962 retro kitchen under layers of slapdash remodel

laminate-countertops-with-tile-on-top

jon-and-trixiI 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.

updating a 1960s kitchen

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:

tile covering original vinyl flooring

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.

1960s kitchen with avocado floor and refrigerator

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.

avocado vinyl flooring

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!

removing tile from a laminate countertopI 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.

1962 formica countertop

Hey, Pam! So the first half of our countertop rehab went fine. Pic attached.  Small screw holes — otherwise the laminate is in PERFECT condition.

hole for built in trivet and cutting board

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.

jon-and-trixi

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).

Be-Safe-graphic2.3

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Comments

  1. David izenman says

    Hi Pam
    This is my first email to yo and I hope you or your readers can help. I just bought a 1965 double wide mobile home in Palm Springs It looks like a Wexler or something out of the Jetson’s on the outside but the inside is a different story.
    I’m having the home releveled first. The seam has a hump at the “marriage” line.
    Now, do I want to put in hardwood floors or restore the linoleum?
    I peeled back the nasty carpeting from a corner to reveille beautiful 1965 linoleum. I know there will be nail holes along the wall from the carpeting and the middle where they come together will know doubt be shot. I’m willing to use good tile from one of the two bedrooms to inlay where the damaged ones are. Is this possible to do with a heat gun and a lot sweat. The bedroom I could carpet
    I also could find a tile that’s the same depth and do a black border all along the base if I find I don’t have enough for everywhere. Closets have linoleum in them that are like new and could be used, laced in as they say. I am assuming there is no asbestos , and if none could this work?

    • pam kueber says

      I do not know the answer to these questions, David, BUT I DO KNOW: BEWARE: There can be vintage nastiness such as asbestos and lead in the materials and layers of our old houses — before you move in and before you start messing with all those old materials and layers, get yourself your own properly licensed professional to assess what you have so you can make informed decisions. I see that at the end of your comment you are saying “I am assuming there is no asbestos etc.” — I am assuming this means you know that you need to get yourself a pro who can help you find out what you are working with.

      • david says

        Hi Pam
        As it turned out I had to put in new floors in my 1965 double wide. The counters are all white with gold flecks as is the back splash. The kitchen had all Coppertone appliances except for the dishwasher and the fridge. I doubt the place had a dishwasher in ’65 but I hated the boxy white fridge which is way too big.
        I found an ad on Craigslist for a mid 60’s coppertone Coldspot Refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom for $70. The inside was mint and the size was perfect. The seller said it needed a fan .I found the part and had it put in. Total cost was under $175 and it works like new! Now to find a dishwasher to match. is there a way to attach pictures of my before and after?

  2. Kelly M Avenson says

    Hi, I just found some old linoleum under some old ugly carpet, but it has a layer of tacky adhesive, any suggestions on how to remove that stubborn adhesive from the carpet pad? THANKS!

    • pam kueber says

      No, Kelly, we don’t typically delve into those kinds of tips. Note: There can be vintage nastiness in vintage materials including adhesives and floor tiles — consult with a properly licensed professional to assess what you are working with so that you can make informed decisions…

  3. Leanne says

    First my jaw dropped and then I smiled when I saw the pictures of the floor and counter top. My late parents home has this exact counter top. And the flooring is also the same design only it’s more of a gold color instead of the green. Both are original from when the house was built and have never been covered up with any remodel. I was just totally surprised to see that it still exists somewhere else too!

  4. Marilyn says

    My Uncle and Aunt had Avocado appliances in 1962 so you are right about the date! Hey good luck with your Kitchen and its lovely.

  5. Shannon says

    I love this story! The countertop matches the one my grandparents put in a house they built in about 1966. I think there was some mention of it possibly being from the 70’s, but I can confirm at least mid-1960’s.

  6. MissTrixi says

    Thank you all for your interest and kudos. As Pam mentioned in an earlier comment, we put the house on the market and sold it a few months ago. After bringing a bit of the 60s (and 70s) back into each room, we found out that we were pregnant! I gave birth to a sweet and funny little guy in December of ’13. It was a difficult decision to leave after all of the restoration, but we had a blast doing it and knew that the right people would come along that would love it just as much as we did. We kept the house mostly ‘as is’, and though it was a long journey the house found it’s new owners. We moved into our time capsule home dream home, chock full of original features (including gold fleck laminate in the kitchen!). Now instead of restoration, we just get to decorate (though there will be the addition of Retro Renovation Boomerang laminate in the baths 😀 http://retrorenovation.com/2016/01/19/wilsonart-boomerang-laminates-by-retro-renovation/ ) Happy Renovating! <3

  7. Robert says

    We have the exact same Formica counter-top design in our kitchen which was a remodel done in 1965 so I can attest to this being a style choice that came out in the mid-sixties. We just loved it when we saw it and have built the color scheme/kitchen theme around since we bought the house in 2009.

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