Doug’s retro modern kitchen — stunning effects using inexpensive mosaic porcelain tile from Home Depot


In a recent Retro Design Dilemma — Retro design ideas for Cathy’s yellow and maple St. Charles cabinets — the retro modern moodboard solution used half inch tile mosaic for the backsplash. Reader Doug saw this tile recommendation and recognized it instantly — since he had just installed copious amounts of the exact same tile — Merola Tile Cosmo Pixie Almond mosaic in his retro modern kitchen. Doug says the half inch tile mosaic is a big hit with visitors — and he loves the tile so much that he is even using it in his ongoing bathroom remodel. The tile is neutral and reads as a subtle textural backdrop that allows Doug’s colorful cabinets to take center stage.

retro-modern-breakfast-barDoug writes:

Hi Pam,
Almost three years ago I bought a little low-slung concrete block house in Florida a block and a half from the beach (a “periwinkle,” in local parlance). If the previous owners had left the original kitchen alone, I would have been very content to “love the house I’m in” and probably would have done everything I could do to save it.


Doug’s kitchen before.

Sadly, sometime in the 1980s, out that kitchen went, and in went characterless and cheap oak-trimmed laminate cabinets along with a countertop that was rotting from the moisture from the dishwasher. So, when I sold my house in the Hudson Valley (not far from you, actually, in Hillsdale) last year I decided to treat myself to a new kitchen.

I’m not the type that has to have a kitchen in which everything is authentic and period perfect. When I told people I was renovating I said I wanted a kitchen like what the architect of the house might design today, if he had a better budget. While searching for inspiration, I came across a 1959 ad for a Hotpoint kitchen that knocked my socks off. It was both practical (tiled walls) and handsome, with a great punch of color from a tiled accent wall containing the turquoise (!) wall oven. While I ultimately decided a wall oven wouldn’t work for me, I think I’ve ended up the with a kitchen that honors the inspiration.

Remember Julia Child’s famous kitchen — with all her pots hanging on peg board, close at hand? With his pretty pot-hanging design, Doug is channeling a bit of the Julia, for sure — just be sure to keep the pots scrubbed clean!

retro-modern-kitchenBecause I live so close to the beach, salt in the air is a concern (this part of the Florida coast has the second highest airborne salt concentration in the world, next to Saudi Arabia), so I decided for practical purposes that I needed stainless appliances, and pretty good ones. (Plus, I like to cook and had determined I was going to treat myself to a good stove.) That meant that the logical way to bring the color I wanted in the space was through the cabinets. After looking at the big box places and realizing the compromises I would have to make in terms of color and size, I found a great local cabinet maker who actually beat their price and gave me exactly what I wanted.

retro-modern-kitchenThe color is Plymouth Green from Sherwin Williams’ sadly discontinued Suburban Modern collection, matched for my cabinet maker by Benjamin Moore, which makes a near lacquer-like product that results in cabinets that almost look like they were made from metal and is a very durable finish.

I called the cabinet maker — TCB Cabinetry in Stuart, Florida –to ask a little more about the finish that results in them looking like they’re metal. It’s a product called Plasticolor, which he then puts a clearcoat of conversion varnish on top of.

modern-retro-barBecause part of the kitchen is visible from the living room, one wall of cabinets is done in a cherry veneer, stained to blend with the American of Martinsville pieces I picked up on Craigslist. The vertically oriented tiles on that wall are a custom blend made by Clayhaus Ceramics in Portland.

retro-modern-barvintage-kitchen-faucetThe cabinet knobs and the sconces are from Rejuvenation. The faucet is a Kohler Clearwater wall-mount faucet (*affiliate link).

retro-modern-concrete-counter-topThe countertops were made from concrete by a local artisan, Bud Gilbert, aka the Cement Guy, in New Smyrna Beach.

Doug liked the small 1/2 inch Merola tile that he used in the kitchen so much that he used a similar style of tile from another maker (Wayne Tile, sadly discontinued style) in the bathroom. Doug wrote:

modern-pink-bathroomI also used a lot of 1/2 inch tile in a bathroom re-do. It’s not completely finished, but the photo will give you a feel. I saved the pink toilet and sink!

For me, it was definitely a selling point that there was a pink bathroom. I loved the fixtures, but the background tile was white with little dirty flecks in it, and over the years about six shades of pink had been involved as soap dishes, towel bars, etc. had been replaced. So I ripped out all the old white tile, tiled floor to ceiling with what you see, then put the pink fixtures back (minus the tub). The pink looks a lot better than it ever did against that white, which just read as dirty.

Doug, you certainly have a designer’s eye — one that knows how to exercise restraint to create a feeling of balance in a space. In both the kitchen and bathroom, it would have been all too easy to go overboard by choosing a more “busy” tile for your backsplash. The neutral color and slight tone variation in the half inch tile backsplash that you chose adds a subtle “wow” instead of smacking the viewer in the face with bold pattern. All of your color choices coordinate nicely, and the way you used vivid color in only a few places (cabinets, bar backsplash and a few bits in the countertop) while using neutral textures (tile, wallpaper in dining room, concrete counter tops and steel appliances) really makes the space feel cohesive. Kudos to you on a job well done.

Mega thanks also for sharing your kitchen and bathroom with all of us here on Retro Renovation — this is a gorgeous and inspiring space!

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  1. Cheryl says

    What a beautiful nod to your home’s past. Modern but with a strong retro vibe. Lovely and practical.

  2. Jennifer Kepesh says

    Great re-do. The counters are absolutely fantastic. I love that in just a few years, so much innovation and artistic expression has come about in the use of concrete. (Now, if we could just find a way to make it a more eco-friendly outdoor surface and keep its low cost…)

  3. ChicagoMel says

    The inspiration pic from Hotpoint is very cool. I love how you have incorporated the vertical lines into your own kitchen. Thanks for including the bathroom pics, I have been thinking about using the grey or almond tile in a future bathroom remodel.

  4. Marcie Grant says

    I love it! What a great job you did in interpreting all the elements you love from the original Hotpoint ad and putting them into a modern design that makes sense with your mid century home!

  5. kelly brickey says

    Doug, I love what you have done here. I was afraid our cabinets (built in place in our 1962 desert house in California) were going to have to be replaced, but if paint can make them look like yours, I’ll try that first. thanks for the inspiration!

  6. gsciencechick says

    Love the space and the combo of both stained and painted cabinets with the fun counters.

    Hmm, I may just have to pick up those Rejuvenation knobs.

  7. Mary Elizabeth says

    Doug, what a lovely, inviting kitchen space you have created. Love the transition from kitchen to living room with the cherry stained cabinets and tile backspash with glass shelves. It divides the “business end” of the kitchen from the “entertainment end” while still creating flow. It looks like the kind of kitchen into which you can invite friends to help you cook while uncorking a bottle of wine from the wine cooler.

    Speaking of transitions, I especially like the fact that the colors of the concrete countertop say, “we are just walking distance of the ocean with sand, blue water, shells and seaglass.” But it doesn’t have the overdone seaside cottage theme you see all over Florida, Cape Cod, and other resort areas–you know, shells glued all over everything. :-)

    And the partly saved/partly reconfigured pink bathroom in progress is so cool. It looks a lot like the colors in my 1959 bathroom, which I have grown to love.

      • Doug says

        Eileen, I’m afraid the pot and pan hanger is one of a kind. My cabinet guy made the uprights, and I had someone local fabricate the stainless steel cross bars.

  8. Mary Elizabeth says

    Doug, I forgot to say kudos for using and mentioning the local talent–carpenter and concrete guy. People don’t realize that buying those cookie-cutter factory made but sometimes expensive cabinets often costs as much or more than hiring a real carpenter to build what you actually want.

    • Doug says

      I would definitely encourage people to seek out local cabinet makers, as Douglas Camin and Mary Elizabeth suggest. My cabinets were less than the quote from either of the big box stores I went to.

  9. JKM says

    All is beautiful – colors, cabinetry, tile – and I really like the countertop. Wow to all! I, too, thought the cabinetry was steel and was ‘sarcastically’ thinking as I read the part about high salt content and the need for quality stainless appliances, “Um, your metal cabinets are gonna rust before those appliances would.” Oops, lol! Simply gorgeous.

  10. Erin in Ohio says

    This is AMAZING. I often get really hung up on being totally authentically mid-century, but this story really opens my mind. Thank you for sharing your divinely executed projects, Doug. And thank you, Kate and Pam, for sharing with all of us! Great ideas in this story….oh, my mental wheels are spinning now! I can’t get over the way the cabinets are different colors/finishes based upon the viewpoint from which they would be seen…phenomenal idea! It also thrills me to hear that speaking with a local cabinet-maker might be the way to go.

  11. lisa says

    I need a new countertop and had settled on laminate. Now I wonder if Bud Gilbert has any desire to visit Seattle?

  12. says

    Beautiful! Just like everyone else, I really thought those were metal cabinets before I read the text of the story. Looks great, and I love the color as well. I have had that Hotpoint ad in my “inspiration file” for a long time now because I wanted to do that vertical tile backsplash in my own kitchen and in similar colors to the ones you chose! Now I have visual proof that it looks awesome. :)

  13. Robin, NV says

    I love the to-the-ceiling use of the 1-inch tile mosaic. Another tile that would look great in that application are the penny rounds. The Merola Tile website has (or recently had) photos of yellow penny round mosaic used as a backsplash. It looks awesome. Merola also makes the penny round in a bittersweet/paprika color that would make a really bold retro statement as a counter-to-ceiling backsplash.

  14. Alice says

    Doug – I agree that you have a great eye for style. Nicely done! Now, do you happen to have the recipe for the cake that is in that Hotpoint inspiration photo??? :)

  15. Ree says

    What a gorgeous, appropriate renovation for your house. Agree that it was great to give credit to the local craftsmen who made it possible. My son recently redid a kitchen and used a local cabinet maker who did a fabulous job and finished in a 3-week timeline. His price was $6,000 less than what it would have cost to purchase cabinets from a big box store or a design studio. Also, these are all wood – paint grade maple and poplar – no composite materials used. Another advantage is that no spacers were used and every inch of space is custom storage. Final price for a 20 X 14 kitchen including an island was $7,800 installed.

  16. Linda says

    OMG-I worked in Hillsdale, NJ for many years (Shoprite)! I grew up nearby in Park Ridge.
    Also moved to FL! Living on the space coast.
    LOVE this kitchen! I love how the pots and pans are out and also the colors are fabulous.
    Flip your glasses over! Glasses are NEVER meant to be on their rims! It is the weakest part of the glass and over time gets even weaker from the weight of the glass.
    Keep them on their bases, as they were made to be….and yes, you will have to dust them or wash them more.

  17. Amy R. says

    Love the color in the kitchen, and am glad to report that Suburban Modern and Plymouth Green are still on the S-W website, hidden under “Historic Collection” with an icon of a Victorian house. Totally jealous of your countertop and tile work! Fantastic job!

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