Ann recreates the look of vintage steel kitchen cabinets — in wood

retro kitchen



Do you love the sleek look of vintage steel kitchen cabinets — but don’t want to undertake the rocky journey to find a set to fit your kitchen, then restore the cabinets, etc.? Well, that was reader Ann’s dilemma. She recently purchased a 1965 condo apartment. The original kitchen was failing. She loved the look of vintage, but did not want her kitchen to be an epic. So, instead of hunting down the vintage, she found a clever and patient cabinet maker who recreated the look of vintage steel to a tee using wood, and then finished them with special high gloss paint. Ann did use a New Old Stock vintage tile — both the floor and backsplash tiles are from World of Tile, of course. And there’s even another twist — Ann used a *famous* historic kitchen featured here as inspiration for her redesign. What a spectacular story — and kitchen. Read on for the complete story, more photos, and all of Ann’s resources.

before kitchen

Ann’s 1965 kitchen “before”


… an all-new vintage style “after”

Ann and I had several email exchanges. I edited her responses, for flow. She writes:

I didn’t have the time/resources to find a vintage steel kitchen, but wanted the look. So I found a custom cabinet maker here in Bucks County PA to create one in wood — Millworks LLC. Boy, did they come through!

A view of the Koravos family kitchen. Courtesy of Historic New England. Used on this site with permission.

Ann’s design inspiration: The Koravos family kitchen — a “time capsule” kitchen salvaged for museum use. Photo courtesy of Historic New England. Used on this site with permission.

My kitchen design is a replica of one I found through you — (the time capsule Koravos kitchen rescued by Preservation Massachusetts for historic purposes [shown above]. Millworks LLC researched every minute detail and with impeccable, high end, old world craftsmanship, delivered precisely what was requested. It occurred to me that a portion of your readership might be interested in doing this as well, especially with the resurgence of mid century architectural plans.

world of tile imageBoth the floor and backsplash tile came from World of Tile. I was dazzled by World of Tile, as I know you were too. It’s an amazing place. Can I offer some advice? I will anyway heehee. If you go with vintage tile, do yourself a HUGE favor and glue the sheets to new fiberglass mesh before you begin. The old mesh/paper/whatever-they-used will disintegrate when it hits the wet adhesive and you’ll be crying for the entire installation.  It took us three weeks to lay the kitchen floor. If we had replaced the mesh it would’ve taken but a few days.

It’s taken eight months to get to this point! My boyfriend Ron and I did most of the work ourselves. But it’s finally coming together.

I was born with the retro in my DNA, and in my attic! My dad was a bomber pilot in WWII, and my Mom was a glamour girl. ALL Dad’s war gear and many of Mom’s best dresses, skirts, seamed stockings, hair rats etc were up in our attic. As a teen, I wore them to school. I also combed thrift shops back in the 70s and acquired an impressive collection of bubble dresses, swing jackets, clam diggers, you name it! I loved anything and everything 40s, but 50s mid mod — hated it! It was a slow seduction that began with my sister sharing links to your photos of Time Capsule houses. Within those photos I began seeing styles that went far beyond kitschy diner. I began to collect pieces here and there, and found it went beautifully with my (then) obsession with Middle Eastern/West Indian decor. Finally, when I bought a 1965 Condo last year, my appreciation of mid-mod blossomed into love!

aqua kitchenThe condo had its original kitchen and bath. I was prepared to love the kitchen, but it had a long, hard, sad life, and was unsalvageable. The kitchen had the much desired gold-flecked laminate counter tops, and I did my very best to save them. ( Alas, black mold infiltrating the substrate defeated me. Badly neglected, cheap-to-begin-with cabinets also needed replacing. The bathroom, however, with its cast iron tub, console sink, and mud-set mosaic tile floor were saved. Yay! Now there’s a retro kitchen to match!

Thanks so much for creating your website. Without it, I would never have found my dream kitchen!!

Ann shares the products she used for her Retro Renovation kitchen remodel:

  • Kitchen cabinets: Millwork LLC, Trubauersville, PA. The cabinets faces and doors are solid maple, and the boxes are lumber core veneer plywood, she says.
  • Paint for the kitchen cabinets: Benjamin Moore Tropicana Cabana in a special catalyzed paint with a high gloss finish coat.
  • Cabinet pulls: Top Knobs M390 Nouveau Pierced Pull Chrome (*affiliate link)
  • Counter topsPionite, Primary Yellow
  • Faucet: Chicago Faucet, same as Pam’s. “I was reading your archives,” Ann said, “saw you had that Chicago Faucet and asked you about it in comments. We absolutely love it. Talk about quality and worth every red cent!”
  • Refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave: Frigidaire Gallery from H H Gregg.
  • Oven: Brand new Kenmore Pro snagged on ebay for 1/4 the price. A closeout — picked up at a Sears in NJ.
  • Stovetop: GE, gently used from Craigslist for 1/3 the price of new.
  • Kitchen light: “… My crown jewel — a group effort!,” Ann explains. “I found it on ebay. It’s a Lightolier, and had been salvaged from a movie theater demolition. It was white enameled metal. Ron, my boyfriend, suggested we have Millwork LLC paint it Tropicana Cabana. Then they suggested we add the yellow to the trim parts.”

Ann, there is not much more for me to say than: This is a really ingenious kitchen — you did an amazing job — and yes, when Ron gets his second wind and the back splash is finished, you know we’d love to see the finished kitchen. Thank you so much sharing!

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  1. Chris says

    Oh wow! I love this! I like it even better than the inspiration kitchen — the bolder brighter tones of blue and yellow are wonderful. And that counter with the color of the cabinets? Yes, yes, yes!

    Very lovely!

  2. Jay says

    Heck! When I saw the first photo, I immediately thought of Pam’s kitchen and thought it was the inspiration. Seriously!
    Anyway, great job at recreating the actual inspration kitchen. Thanks for the resource list. There were some serious layout changes. I was surprised you could remove the exhaust fan and the high soffit w/light over the sink.
    Because of the slavish devotion these days to granite and stainless, many don’t realize stainless wall ovens and cook tops were “big” in the 50’s readily supplied by the builders of subdivisions.
    You have one very efficient layout / work triangle. Congrats!

    • Ann WesleyHardin says

      Jay, it broke my little baby heart to remove the original Miami Carey fan. It just wasn’t going to work with the design. We simply stuffed the hole with insulation and drywalled over it. I still have the fan, though, and someday, somehow, will find a way to display it!

      The soffits were just empty, framed drywall. A complete waste of precious space. You don’t want to know what was up there behind them. Eeek!!

  3. Nate says

    I’m assuming that the paint was sprayed on the cabinets? Such a beautiful, smooth finish with a great color. Something I might have to look into for the future.

    • Ann WesleyHardin says

      Hi Nate, Thanks! Yes the paint was sprayed. Because the cabinets are solid maple instead of MDF, a teensy bit of grain does peek through — something that can’t be helped. But I don’t mind that at all. They ARE wood after all! I figured it was better to pay a tad more (and I do mean “a tad” MDF is not that much cheaper) to get solid wood that a future owner could refinish to their own taste.

      • says

        Going retro but thinking about the future at the same time – brilliant. Even though steel cabinets would have been awesome, using wood and paint is the smart long term choice.

  4. Aurora says

    This kitchen is phenomenal! The aqua/turquoise color on the cabinets is to die for. Dream kitchen for sure! Enjoy, enjoy!!

  5. Annie B. says

    Ann, your “now” kitchen far outshines the Koravos kitchen, to me. I like your choice of vivid colors and dramatic, interesting tile patterns. I, too, thought Pam’s kitchen was your source of inspiration.

    You have inspired me to consider painting my dark and room-shrinking kitchen cabinets in that eye-popping aqua. Thanks to you and Pam for sharing all the great details. Congrats on an amazing renovation.

    • Ann WesleyHardin says

      Annie B, Do it! Do it! You won’t be sorry. Tropicana Cabana is the happiest color I’ve ever chosen, and it matches things way more than you would ever think! Historically, kitchens have repelled me. But this one draws me in and even makes me want to *faint* cook! 😉

  6. Robin, NV says

    Wow, great job matching the inspiration kitchen. I love the floor tile you picked. It’d be nice if we could see a close up of it next to the cupboards.

    I love the bold color choices too! The yellow counters and turquoise cupboards look fantastic together.

    • Ann WesleyHardin says

      Hi Robin, I’ve snapped scores of pictures of that floor–trying to capture its lusciousness in different lights–to no avail. Sadly, it’s not photogenic. Otherwise I’d be thrilled to email you a pic.

  7. Caroline says

    looks so great – we’re moving into a 1964 midcentury tomorrow with original kitchen and I will incorporate some of these ideas as we restore….but one big question. How did it end up costing?

    • Ann WesleyHardin says

      Hi Caroline, From what I’ve read here, this kitchen was about 5K more than what it would have cost us to hunt, transport and refinish steel cabinets. Not including labor or aspirin 😉

      Vintage tile can be pricey @ $13-17/sq foot. That was my splurge. To save money, we laid the tile ourselves, and did the tear down of the old kitchen as well as the prepping of the walls for the new kitchen. Laminate countertops are also budget friendly.

      Good luck with your renovation! It’s a ton of work, but so satisfying in the end.

  8. Wayne says

    Ann-Love your kitchen! I did the same thing as you when remodeling-I opted to pull out the range and install a wall oven with a cooktop. Looks much cleaner and truer to the period! I have the same dishwasher as you. Great minds think alike!

  9. Lauryn says

    Oh wow, kudos to you, Ann! What a vibrant, lovely space … and such a complete turn around from the before kitchen. Your cabinets are simply gorgeous. (And while this has nothing to do with the kitchen, I hope you don’t mind me saying that I love your hair! I get so excited seeing beautiful women who are not afraid to let their grey be grey. You look as lovely and vibrant as your kitchen!)

  10. Ann WesleyHardin says

    Oh wow you all are so generous and wonderful!! Thank you so much for all the lovely compliments. We’re absolultely thrilled and honored to be featured here and you’ve made it 10x more thrilling. Thanks to all, and especially to Pam!

  11. Jason says

    This really is great, beautiful job! I think cabinet makers are the way to go to get the style we want, most cabinet makers today are not flat panel doors, etc. This route really paid off for you – so great!

    • Jason says

      I meant to say – cabinet makers – as in woodworking shops as opposed to cabinet manufacturers who today are not making the retro look as readily as they make shaker, etc.

      • Ann WesleyHardin says

        True, Jason! I hunted extensively to see if I could get stock cabinets and make them work. No way. I’m gonna grab this chance to, again, give a standing ovation to MillworkLLC. They specialize in recreating historical cabinetry. This was their first Mid Century assignment and they took it and ran with it! Bravo!

  12. tammyCA says

    Very cool! Always love the combo colors of turquoise/yellow. Great job!
    Also, love where you described your parents…just finished a little book written by the wife of a WWII navigator. I’m always reading stories about others that lived during that time and wonder why I wasn’t born in the ’20s instead of my mom.

    • annwesleyhardin says

      Thank you TammyCA! I too am very nostalgic about that era, and in absolute awe of my parents’ generation.

  13. Zak says

    My roommate totally ruined my counter top today by scorching it with a pan. I’ve been bummed out all evening about it. Seeing Ann’s kitchen and amazing yellow counters made me excited for the upcoming renovation. I just ordered a bunch of samples from Pionite. Thank you for helping me see the silver lining!

  14. annwesleyhardin says

    Oh hey Pam, one resource for vintage tile I wanted to mention in case no one knew: Pool stores! Anthony and Sylvan in PA, for one, carries a decent supply. It’s expensive, but it is another avenue to explore.

  15. Mstark08 says

    I did the same thing in my Kitchen but with MDF. Same pulls too! But I didn’t center mine – kept them to the corners. Fortunately I was able to keep my gold fleck counters and I did the cabs in Dorian grey ( sherwin Williams). I didn’t get quite the high gloss finish Desired but that was a contractor issue :-/. I had aqua cabs in my old house and miss them a bit but the grey is very modern and worth a try for those not quite so courageous as to go with a brighter color. :)

  16. Judy Pleasant says

    I have a 1955 house with failing cabinets and you have inspired me to start thinking about getting them replaced. Your kitchen is awesome and especially the paint colors! Love it! Love it! Love it!

  17. Bud says

    Looks awesome! You should run the back splash tile up to the ceiling
    around the kitchen window would look good and give a lot of height!

  18. Janice says

    Retro Reno Karma will come back to you, Ann, as your kitchen will now be the “inspiration kitchen” for many others. What a splendid job! I love everything about your kitchen and my eye zero-d in on that light fixture right away. What an amazing before and after!

    I’m getting ready to do the exact same thing to my bathroom vanity cabinets and if anyone has the perfect orange color to recommend, I’m all ears. The tilework is light grey and orange. Thanks!

  19. says

    Wow, this is the same color combo as my kitchen renovation, great minds do think alike! We’re currently in a state of kitsch collecting to make it more ‘us.’ I’ll submit photos when we’re done! -jeff

  20. Ann WesleyHardin says

    You guys are AWESOME!! I hope your dream kitchen comes true for you, and that you feel happy every moment you spend in it!

  21. Mrs. H. says

    I love your kitchen. I have a newer home so hubby won’t let me paint my cabinets. But I really dig your backsplash. I think this style would be a nice compliment to my kitchen. Super vintage. But the appliances are all stainless steel. (I really want pink/aqua) I have done NOTHING to my backsplash, except put contact paper on it until I can decide what to do with it. I just love your entire kitchen! Thanks for sharing!

  22. Mary Ann Williams says

    I have an original 1947 kitchen with the aqua cabinets. Trying to save them, but some areas badly worn. Any ideas where to find the glossy paint? The oven is original and still works great. That paint is fine. Thanks

    • Ann Baker says

      Hi Maryann, so sorry! Just saw this! You can get the paint at any Benjamin Moore dealer. Just get it in a high gloss enamel. Also, my local Ace Hardware copies Benjamin Moore colors. Good luck!

  23. Karin Jeffrey says

    Ann, I am bringing pictures of your renovation to a contractor! I too live in an older condo (1971). I even went to Benjamin Moore to get swatches of Tropicana Cabana. What a great color for cabinets. I won’t copy EVERYTHING, though. I bought pulls from Rejuvenation and the counter, backsplash and floor will be different. Any suggestions for an alternate kitchen counter color?

    • Ann Baker says

      Hi Karin,
      How exciting!! You will love your Tropicana Cabana cabinets! If you have a smaller counter area like I do, you can use a nice bold color. Red maybe?? If you have a lot of counter space you don’t want the counter to take away from the cabinets, perhaps orange? What material are you using for the countertop? What color backsplash and appliances are you getting? I’m thrilled for you! Ann

  24. says

    Ann, I’m so excited after reading this post. I just bought a fixer upper that was built in 1956. It’s in a historic neighborhood… the first with central air in the country! The kitchen is awful and now I have hope. Thank you

    I love this too, “My dad was a bomber pilot in WWII, and my Mom was a glamour girl.”

    Read more: Ann recreates the look of vintage metal kitchen cabinets — in wood

    • Annwesleyhardin says

      April! I’m so glad you’re hopeful and inspired by my story. How utterly cool to have the first home with central air! Wow! Your home deserves a knock out kitchen. Go for it! I never tire of gazing at mine. And thanks for living the bit about my parents. Such good memories!

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