I think I found Lauryn from one of her comments. I chased after her when she said something about the new countertop she’d just had installed… and crikey, it wasn’t just a countertop, she and her husband Dennis had just completed the most charming Retro Renovation of their 1939 kitchen. No — the kitchen in all these photos is not original. Almost all of it is new — with the ‘updates’ including linoleum floors, an undercounter Big Chill fridge (bye bye, dishwasher) and new cabinets put in place to solve for a variety of issues that Lauryn and Dennis had been living with for a while. What a wonderful job! Read on for their complete story — and 20 photos courtesy their friend Radim Schreiber — a professional photographer, so these are awesome photos. Oh, and there’s more: Lauryn and Dennis are a singing-songwriting duo aka Truckstop Souvenir, so we get a concert at the end. I love this story in so many ways. –>
The kitchen “before” its Retro Renovation:
As I’m sure is the case with many of your readers, my husband Dennis and I are what you might call accidental retro-renovators. We’re a songwriting duo who left Seattle for a simpler life in Fairfield, Iowa (the coolest town in the universe), and we both had our hopes set on a lovely Craftsman, of which there are so many gorgeous specimens in Seattle. We were unable to find one, but instead fell in love with a little Minimal Traditional cottage from 1939, knowing nothing about that era nor that style of architecture. And while we have always had a penchant for older things, particularly from the 30s and 40s, we did not set out to do a retro-renovation on our charming but tiny kitchen, we just wanted it to be more user-friendly (we actually use our kitchen) and were already into the process when we came upon the whole notion of retro-renovating.
When we first started, one of the main issues was the breakfast nook, which while adorable, was freezing in the winter and hotter than blazes in the summer. Not to mention that it was a bit cramped for my long, tall Texan husband. Another was the space that housed the stove and the refrigerator: no room for countertops, no food prep space, the (cold) refrigerator inefficiently placed next to the (hot) stove and just enough space in between to catch all sorts of grease, dust, pet fur, and dirt but not big enough for a broom or a mop to clean it. We had limited storage, and I couldn’t stand the off-white ceramic floor tile — hard on the body, cold in the winter, and never clean. The final issue was old wood drawers that I had to brace my feet on the cabinets while sitting on the floor to open.
We talked to a few designers, all of whom had crazy ideas about knocking down interior walls, moving basement staircases (yes, really), pushing out exterior walls, and putting the stove or sink in the breakfast nook, but we didn’t like any of their ideas (and especially didn’t like the price tags that would have accompanied them). We originally thought of (gasp!) replacing the original cabinets so we could accommodate an apartment size fridge on the sink side and build new cabinets around the stove, but when, like good little homeowners we trekked off to our local Menard’s, we left the place a bit numb. Neither of us said anything on the ride home and then both of us practically burst out with “I just can’t do it” (me) and “how hard can it be to build a box?” (DH). The idea of ripping out the original cabinets was suddenly horrifying to both of us, so it was back to the drawing board.
Which was when we made a radical commitment to both our kitchen and house by doing something every realtor would be appalled at: We decided to remove the dishwasher, put in an under-the-counter refrigerator in its place, and have new cabinets, built to match the old, installed around the existing stove, resale value be damned. It was our kitchen, after all. We already had a chest freezer in the basement and who really knows what’s in the back of those behemoth refrigerators? We found a local carpenter to match the cabinets (who also sanded and evened out those pesky drawers) and got the remodel going.
In the meantime, we ripped out the breakfast nook bench. It was not an easy decision, as it was part of the original kitchen and had the original naugahyde on it. But previous owners had ripped out the back of the bench and replaced it with flimsy cushions, then painted a good chunk of the burgundy naugahyde white. And the space was drafty and uncomfortable so out it came. With the help of a friend, we insulated it, dry-walled it, and the temperature of the kitchen went up ten degrees (in an Iowa December).
But it wasn’t until we hit the countertop decision that we officially became retro-renovators. We had access to free (yes, free) granite. We looked at soapstone and quartz and butcher block and countless other surfaces but no matter how many countertops we looked at, I just kept saying, no, it’s not what our humble little kitchen wants. What it did want, I had no clue, until on the way out the door one day, my husband said, “What about those old diner style countertops?” And that was it. I jumped on the computer and found cracked ice and boomerangs and metal edging … and I knew we had found the countertop my kitchen wanted. And of course, it was how I stumbled upon your wonderful site.
And the rest unfolded over time, with me spending more hours than I care to admit looking at ads from the 30s and 40s, checking your site daily, and agonizing over the faucet and the sink and the fact that the new cabinets would not accommodate a larger vintage stove, because we didn’t even think about vintage stoves when we started.
Some of the highlights (for us) are the countertops, made by a local craftsman (in the end we did not use cracked ice, the replicas being nothing like the real deal, and choose to use a Nevamar linen-y thing)…
…our vintage Kohler sink, which a friend had found years ago by the side of the road and had been using as a goat trough out at his farm, but which cleaned up rather nicely; our cracked ice table (the perfect size for our nook), found on a road trip at an antique mall we stopped in on a whim one day…
…the exceedingly cheerful Bradbury & Bradbury wallpaper (which offers a nice counter-balance to our tendency to ponder the dark side of life in our songs); and my cafe curtains (my first foray into sewing curtains).
It took an extraordinarily long time, with me unable to make up my mind about so many things, never mind being the world’s worst procrastinator and not the best DIYer. But eventually it all came together and in hindsight, given that our duo’s name, Truckstop Souvenir, was inspired by old diners and truck stops from childhood road trips, we really couldn’t have done anything but a retro renovation. We can actually cook together without stepping on each other’s toes too much and we eat just about every meal in the little breakfast nook, which, with east, west, and southern exposure, is almost always sunny.
I will admit one thing, though: We’re still not always sure what’s in the back of our refrigerator.
Let me know in the meantime if you have any questions on anything in the pictures. Your website was a constant source of inspiration for me as I went through this process.
Thanks again! xoxo, Lauryn
P.S. Because you are clearly a dog lover, I’m including a picture of my dog, worn out by the initial decision making process!
[And Lauryn follows up with another email]: Hey Pam, I just was going through a file full of artwork I found when I was visiting my parents and looky here, I found my first foray into Retro Design!! My husband and I had quite the chuckle over it and thought you might get a kick out of it too. I’m guessing I was probably in 3rd of 4th grade, judging by some of the other artwork from that “period” (hee hee). I have no idea whose kitchen this is … think it was just my fantasy kitchen!!.Lauryn
Products used in Lauryn and Dennis’ 1940s kitchen remodel:
- Cabinets were painted Belvedere Cream (Sherwin Williams), walls are Alabaster
- Big Chill Refrigerator (we had already picked out our under the counter unit and I got on Big Chill’s site to pine away for what we couldn’t have and lo and behold, there it was, less than a week on the site!)
- Minka Aire Acero ceiling fan (sadly, we have only one original light fixture in this house)
- Red Amaranth Marmoleum floor
- Nevamar Serene Stardom laminate countertops with aluminum trim from NY Metals
- Rejuvenation’s Rufus porcelain light
- Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpaper’s Sunnyside wallpaper from their Modernism: Post-War Era collection.
- Hickory Hardware American Diner pulls and knobs in satin nickel
- Moen Muirfield faucet in chrome
- New Hudee ring from Kohler
Finally, here’s that concert I was talkin’ about… are we having fun yet?: