• Catherine & Jonathan revive their vintage Geneva cabinets in this retro fresh remodel


    Jonathan and Catherine

    Jonathan and Catherine

    Reader Catherine and her husband Jonathan loved the original steel kitchen cabinets and tiled walls in their 1950 Cape Cod kitchen, but the room was feeling tired and needed some freshening up. After seeing Pam’s story recommending Azrock flooring as an authentic 1950s style floor choice, Catherine knew it was the right fit for her kitchen. After installing the new floor, painting their original Geneva cabinets, and adding new butcher block counter tops and a stainless steel sink — Catherine and Jonathan’s kitchen is ready for its close up.

    kitchen-remodel-beforeCatherine writes:

    Hi! A while back I saw a recommendation on your website for Azrock flooring for authentic 50s kitchen rehabs. You also stated that you’d like photos of completed renovations using this kind of flooring.

    vintage-kitchen-cabinetsvintage-kitchen-remodel-progressOur kitchen renovation, using Azrock Raw Silk, is complete– and it looks great! We also spray painted our original Geneva cabinets in the kitchen to coordinate, and added a butcher block counter top plus drainboard sink (both from IKEA), to complete that 50s feel.

    kitchen remodel vintage

    The house was built in 1950 (a Cape Cod, probably what you might call “colonial-revival”), and I believe all the tile in the kitchen and the bathroom is original to the house.  The walls are all plaster, so it would be an incredible feat to even try and rip the tile out to recreate it.

    kitchen-during-renovation azrock-floor-tilesThe tile in the kitchen is pure white, and the 4×4 backsplash extends throughout the room.  The man we hired to spray paint the cabinets said that the cabinets were originally white in color.

    butcher-block-counter-topThere were one or two broken tiles in the kitchen when we moved in. We weren’t able to find a 4×4 tile the exact same shade of white in the store, but when we moved the cabinets out to paint them, we just carefully removed one of the intact tiles behind the where the cabinetry had been and used that as our replacement.

    vintage-kitchen vintage-retro-modern-kitchen vintage-modern-kitchenThanks for all the wonderful suggestions on rehabbing we’ve received from your site.  It’s been an incredible resource of ideas for us!

    cabinet-pull-vintage(Also, we live in a St. Louis suburb, so finding missing hardware for our Geneva cabinets online locally here hasn’t been a problem either…)


    vintage-modern-kitchen-whiteCatherine and Jonathan — you did a great job breathing new life into your kitchen. Everything looks terrific — including vintage Geneva kitchen cabinets, the counter tops, the floors…. and it is very cool to see those original, ceramic tiled walls — we don’t showcase those often enough. Kudos to you for a Retro Renovation well done — and thanks for sharing  your results with all of us.

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    1. Wendy in St. Louis says:

      It looks great! Love the wall tile, and that exhaust fan is fantastic!! I have been obsessing over what floor I want to put in – did you lay and finish the tile yourselves? Who did the cabinets? I live in Glendale and need to have mine painted too.

      • Catherine says:

        Hi Wendy! We ripped out the old flooring ourselves, and then (because of time constraints– we were living in my parent’s house while remodeling!) we hired a handyman to lay the Azrock flooring. My husband then rented equipment to wax and finish the flooring. The cabinets were painted by Mark’s Spray Painting. They did a great job!

    2. This is lovely! I am very impressed with how clean and sleek it all is. Where is all your cra — oh! I mean, “stuff?” I think part of the reason your kitchen has such impact is the minimal decoration. There’s nothing to detract from all the perfect choices you made. Now my kitchen, on the other hand, is retro in the sense that it looks like a pack-rat grandma decorated it. I have lots of clutter and I can’t seem to make it disappear!

      Applause, applause to you and your kitchen!

      • Catherine says:

        Thanks, Chris! We’ve moved about five times in ten years– which is a great way to get rid of excess stuff! :)

      • I’d like to think when I see spotless kitchens like this that they put all their crap in the dining room to take the photos.

        • Robin, NV says:

          That’s what I do. I’m always torn when I declutter the kitchen. On the one hand, it looks so nice. But on the other, the fridge looks so forlorn without my magnet collection. I’ll take the clutter. I don’t want my house to look like a generic showroom.

          Great job Catherine! I like that you preserved the original features but also brought in modern elements that work for you. I’m going for the “retro modern” look in my kitchen too.

          • Mary Elizabeth says:

            This kitchen looks so lovely in cool white with the warmth of the butcher block counters and dark table and chairs. I wonder why they put tile behind some of the cabinets? Maybe there were freestanding cabinets there at first, and the Genevas came in after the family saved up for them. No matter, a lucky and skillful save on your part to find the tile back there and reuse it. I hope you saved a few more, just in case.

            As for tchochkes/memorabilia/clutter, yes Chad and Robin, when we post photos of our renovations on our web page, you have to picture my husband Bruce behind the camera and me just one step ahead of him scooping up whole piles of stuff and sticking it elsewhere. After each project, our room has looked like Better Homes and Gardens 1959 for, oh, about one day after completion.

            You can see in some places I wasn’t fast enough. To get stuff out of the way. See http://www.condoman.us/142GLB.html for a slide show.

            • Lisa Compo says:

              I was nosey and looked at your pictures. You have a very cozy and inviting home. I have the same bed as in your guest room but it’s at my Mom’s, she uses it. Your kitchen cabinets are very pretty. Just so you know..I only saw one pair of shoes laying out so you aren’t as cluttered as you think. :) Love your cats.

              • Pat Wieneke says:

                Wait! There’s more? How can I snoop around in your house too? If the kitchen is this cute, the rest must be also.

    3. This is beautiful. It manages to both suit the 1950 Cape Cod perfectly, maintaining a period feel, and yet is as “modern” as anyone could want their kitchen to be in 2013!

      Nothing seems out of place—not talking about the admirable lack of clutter!—everything balances, stainless appliances with vintage cabinets with retro floor with original tile, it all works together seamlessly. I especially like the warmth of the butcher block countertop, again providing balance.

      I love it!!

      • Catherine says:

        Thanks so much! Gray is a cool color, metal a cool material. The warmer butcher block does help balance it out. I was somewhat concerned about how butcher block would hold up (we had granite in our last kitchen). After over a year, though, the butcher block has done just great. IKEA sells a glaze for the butcher block, to help maintain it’s appearance, which we’ve used only once.

    4. I too think you did a perfect remodel job. You kept the great old stuff and added the new stuff to make the new kitchen just right. I like the clean look, but I enjoy looking at the clutter in other kitchens too. If a kitchen is “done right” it just looks right no matter what style is used.
      Good job in not getting rid of the wonderful things in the kitchen! I too like the exhaust fan. Azrock really looks great in the room.

    5. Jennifer Kepesh says:

      What I love about the kitchen is that it looks fresh but also timeless, and usually that means “cold,” especially with white and stainless, but here, it comes off as warmer. I don’t know why that is–perhaps it’s a combination of the rounded/recessed handles and the wood countertops, the fridge tucked in…whatever it is, you balanced everything perfectly.

    6. I love it when folks love the vintage features in their old kitchens and incorporate them into new modern kitchens. I like how the fridge is recessed in the alcove between the two doors. The white all tiled walls give me an impression of a kitchen older then the 1950 date of the house but admirably fit your modern aesthetic.Very nice indeed!

      • Robin, NV says:

        That was my thought too, that the kitchen looked older than 1950. The white tile says “1940s” to me. Almost a throw back to when kitchens were meant to look “sanitary.” But it makes sense that some of the 1940s aesthetic carried over to 1950.

    7. Hi–your kitchen is gorgeous! Wonderful job. :) Could you give some information about your exhaust fan? Original? New? Brand? Thanks so much.

      • Catherine says:

        Thank you!! The exhaust fan came with the house. It says “Ilgette” on the front. It has always been in good working order, so we haven’t done much with it, except try to polish up the front. My husband also cut a filter down to fit the inside.

    8. What a great job. I love that you kept your cabinets and the wall tile. I am so tired of seeing complete gut jobs where they think everything has to be brand new.
      I also admire your restraint with clutter; I am afraid I fail at that!
      One question: the story says there is a drainboard sink from IKEA? I don’t see it.

    9. Mary Elizabeth says:

      The way the sunlight shines on the counter, you have to look twice to see the sink is stainless steel, with two basins, and the stainless drainboard is to the right of those.

    10. Pat Wieneke says:

      What a cute little kitchen!
      I am not sure if it is because I am getting vintage, myself, but I have found that all the kitchen crap THEY say we need we do not….and I cook a lot, too, This little kitchen is perfect. There is a nice prep area and good work triangle. You did a great job of saving it from being remuddled some day.

    11. Lisa Compo says:

      I’m with everyone else on this…looks lovely. It’s like a breath of fresh air in there. I’m a clutter bug, too…so can you tell us all exactly what happens to your mail, pens, catalogs, receipts? Where do you hide all those things you need to keep? ;) I love the clean look and blend of old and new…thank goodness for IKEA. We found the perfect little shelf there last week. My Mom would “make” me put a valance at the window, but other than that…it’s just gorgeous. Nice job–be proud and enjoy. Looks fabulous, thanks for sharing I always enjoy the stories on here.

      • Catherine says:

        Thanks! Mail/catalogs/receipts go straight to the basement office. Otherwise they get carried away somewhere by the kids and we’ll never find them!! :)

        • Lisa Compo says:

          Well, I am glad to know you have a pile going somewhere…:) I bought a breadbox to hide some of that junk in and now the “gotta keep it awhile” pile is in front of that, too. hee hee hee Everyone has a little clutter somewhere I guess. Thanks for confessing LOL.

    12. Wow, your kitchen is amazing tasteful and well planned. Even the non-retro people couldn’t find fault with your design choices. How lucky you were to have the original steel cabinets AND hardware to add to them. We don’t find them as often in Canada. I’ve always felt that Ikea’s products blend well with MCM and retro style.

    13. I love it. Agree with the 1940′s sanitary tile observation. Full house tour, please.

    14. Janine Lee says:

      I read that you had no problem finding handles. I need some for my Geneva Cabinets. Can you tell me how to get in contact with busines you bought yours from.

      Thank you,
      Janine Lee

      • Catherine says:

        We actually got the hardware off Craigslist St. Louis. Someone was getting rid of an entire set of Geneva cabinets for a gut-overhaul of their kitchen. Their contractor had thrown the old cabinets into their backyard, waiting for someone to pick them up. Knowing how hard it was to find the replacement handles alone, we offered $150 for the entire set (this also allowed us to add more cabinetry space to our kitchen– we just painted the additional cabinets the same shade to match). There seems to be a lot of mid-century homes in the St. Louis suburbs. Consequently, there are a lot of random mid-century items available in the thrift stores and on Craigslist in this area. If you are willing to drive to St. Louis, I’d look on St. Louis Craigslist. Good luck!

    15. gsciencechick says:

      Fabulous! Congrats on such a great job. I really like the floor tiles.

    16. How did you paint the cabinets? I would love your advise.

      • Catherine says:

        After much research on the best technique/lowest cost for painting our cabinets, we ended up hiring a spray painting company called Mark’s Spray Painting (in St. Louis) to paint them. I take it a good portion of this company’s business is painting older metal cabinets. They came into our house and did everything (taping the walls and vents off, etc). It only took about a morning for them to finish the job, and then we left the cabinets to dry for a few days before using them again. The color we chose for the cabinets was Pearl River 871 by Benjamin Moore. The wall color is Benjamin Moore Nimbus.

        • I was wondering about the strips that would be there after the doors are removed. That answers all my questions :) I would love to do a retro gray. Right now they are like a green blue. I’m very excited about buying our new house. The kitchen was my only concern.

    17. Pat Wieneke says:

      Way before people rediscovered St Charles kitchens, I had some frineds who took theirs apart and had them painted by a car paint shop. they looked like new.

    18. Kathleen Donahue says:

      Catherine, Your renovation is well done! It looks like you have the same Geneva cabinets that we have in our home. Ours are in good shape, but need to be repainted.
      We are debating whether to have them sandblasted and powder coated, or re-enameled. A contractor we visited with today said we may want to consider the latter. He said it is similar to bathtub restoration.
      Did you consider those options? What made you decide on spray painting?
      Thank you for your help!

    19. Thanks, Kathleen! I’ll try to answer your question as best as I can, as it’s been about a year since our renovation, and I can’t recall the difference between re-enameling and powder coating off the top of my head. I do know that I called a couple auto body painting shops prior to our kitchen renovation. They said they had done some metal cabinets in the past, and they looked amazing. However, one of the men I spoke with said they charged by the cabinet and it was so prohibitively expensive he recommended we just go with a spray painting company instead. The spray painting company we found (the first one we called) did an EXCELLENT job. It was a family company that had been around for many years, and the man who came out speculated that his father or grandfather had painted our cabinets decades before. When the paint job was complete, it almost looked like the cabinets had been re-enameled; I think they used a special kind of paint, because this was nothing we could have done ourselves. When you are researching spray painting companies in your area, be sure to ask if the company ever paints metal kitchen cabinets. If they have experience with metal kitchen cabinets, I bet they will do a good job.

    20. Oh, and to answer your question better, I don’t think we ever considered re-enameling if it is something similar to a bathtub restoration. That sounds like it would make the cabinets very durable. However, it’s been over a year since our cabinets were spray painted, and I can say that the finish is holding up beautifully. I don’t foresee any need to repaint them for many years down the road. My only other advice is DO NOT let the spray painting company paint any part of the handles. A previous owner to our home allowed someone to paint the plastic portion of our Geneva handles to match the cabinets, and the paint wore off in places over the plastic. It was not a good look. We had to find an entire new set of Geneva handles for our cabinets.

      • Catherine, Thank you for the insights. I definitely won’t let them paint the handles. We did have a sand blaster over last week to look at the cabinets. He wants us to use oven cleaner to test a small area of a cabinet inside door to see if the green paint can come off easily and the white still looks good. If it does, it does it may be advantageous for him to strip the paints and buff the cabinets. Wouldn’t that be amazing? He thought the white ones could be easily buffed.
        The contractor also wanted to see if insulation was used in the door, and he is going to check with another company to see if he can get a lead on spray painting similar to yours. I will let you know — it looks like it may take a few months, but I have waited this long.. we also have a handyman who is doing research. He and his wife have restored a home so he “gets it.”
        Thanks for the good advice — we will be sure to ask about prior experience. The “tub enamel” idea has gotten shot down. :)

        • pam kueber says:

          Do you know why they shot down the “tub enamel” idea?

          • Hi Pam: Sorry for the delay… I didn’t see your question on my e-mail until now. I need to follow up with the contractor again — I was on information overload. I called a company that does tub enamel but never got a return call. I will let you know when I find out. Kathleen

        • Our cabinets are white. I bet they are from the same timeline. I am getting anxious to get started but have to wait until after the holidays.
          One of the contractors was worried that powder coating could be risky if there is some insulation inside. Do you know if there is insulation inside the doors?
          We have Ikea closets in our bedroom. I wonder what was there originally. But I do like the baskets and the look.

          • Kathleen, you need to get your own properly licensed profession to assess your situation.

            • Pam, We really like your countertops. Did they come with the cabinets? Are they laminate? We did find licensed contractors who are really interested in our restoration project. Thanks for the great advice. Kathleen

              • pam kueber says:

                My countertops were installed new. Formica + New York Metals stainless steel edging — see the Kitchen / Countertops category for the details.

    21. Catherine says:

      It’s so exciting to get your kitchen redone! Were your Geneva cabinets originally white in color? If so, they may have been produced in the same year as ours were produced (1949/50). We didn’t have our cabinets rebuffed before they were repainted, but I can see how that would look great, especially if they weren’t painted properly before by a previous owner! You’ll love having the metal cabinets. They are so easy to clean. We had wooden IKEA cabinets in our last house, and though I liked the style, these are so much sturdier and easier to clean.

    22. Pat Wieneke says:

      Oh it looks better and better with each picture.

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