Retro Design Dilemma: Choosing colors for Michaela’s knotty pine kitchen

knotty-pine-kitchenDesignDilemmaReader Michaela needs no convincing when it comes to loving her knotty pine kitchen — yes, knotty is nice! However, she’s at a loss when it comes to some decorating questions. Smartly, Michaela is starting small by trying to figure out what color to paint the ceiling — bright white? Off white? Beige? She’s also wondering what color appliances would look best in the space, since she plans to replace them over time. And what about the table? Michaela says she would love to add some color to her kitchen somehow — through the appliances, counter tops or some other way — and she needs our help to decide which direction to choose. Opportunity to play decorator, dear readers!



Michaela writes:

Basically I’m looking for help not so much to redo my kitchen but to tweak it here and there so it just has a nicer, fresher feel. For example, the white vinyl vertical blinds will likely be replaced. I’m also replacing that grate on the ceiling and painting it white to match the ceiling. I’ve done a lot in terms of just cleaning up the look. Little things like replacing all the big white ceramic knobs on the kitchen cabinets with more original-looking antique bronze small knobs.

Knotty-pine-kitchen-cabinetsMy main question right now is which color white color to paint the ceiling to go with the knotty pine. I will also slowly be replacing the white kitchen appliances with black appliances. But for now I just want to start with painting the ceiling a shade of white, and there is a laundry room next to it where the ceiling needs to be painted as well.

knotty-pine-kitchenI have the same issue in the living room. The rest of the house has knotty pine ceilings. Anyway suggestions on the color of white would really help me a lot. I don’t want to be too creamy, and stark white may not be the best. But I just don’t know. Every white has certain color undertones and I’m unclear how to proceed. BTW I’m keeping the little vintage lamps you see in the first photo. They’ve grown on me. Just need to work on cleaning them. Lots and lots of cleaning!

knotty-pine-kitchen-wallsP.S. I’m on the fence about the table and chairs. They were there in the house when I purchased it. At first I h***d them. Now they don’t seem as egregious. Someone helped me arrange the chairs differently, taking some of the chairs away from the table which makes it seem more homey. But I’m being offered good money for this table and chairs. So advice on this will be much appreciated. Eventually I’d like to redo the flooring. But it’s in such good shape I can’t see replacing it right now. Eventually I’d like to replace each appliance with a black colored appliance as they die away. And I’d also eventually like to change the countertops to something other than white. Just because …. I like color.  I know granite may go away soon in popularity, but I picture a nice black brown purple eggplant type granite. I have it in my other kitchen…I think it would look great in there.

Ok readers — now we need your help. What color would you paint the ceiling? How about the appliance color?

Thoughts on window treatments or other ways to bring more color into the space?


Pam & Kate’s ideas for this knotty pine beauty:

knotty-pine-kitchenWhen it came to Michaela’s knotty pine kitchen — which has many original, fundamental features that we love! — the first thing Pam and I both agreed on was that it could be even prettier with the addition of more color. While we loved the table that was already in the space, we both felt it could be switched out to immediately bring more color/interest down to that end of the kitchen. Since Michaela loves and wants to keep her colorful slag-light pendants, those are the start for building out the color palette — and they are a great start.

We love the way deep emerald green looks with knotty pine, so I searched and found this vintage teal green and cracked ice table from Ebay seller siloview. The table’s decorative scalloped design mimics some of the scalloped woodwork in Michaela’s kitchen. The chairs — which are new reproductions of classic diner chairs from Vitro — match the vintage table beautifully and add more color and pizazz to the space. (Photo of green Vitro chairs from Classic Kitchens.)

When it comes to the appliances, Pam and I were concerned that black appliances are too dark for the space. We’d much rather see Michaela use almond, white or if she’s game — vintage appliances — in her kitchen. Pam reminds us that there are plenty of 30″ vintage electric ranges — like this vintage Kenmore electric stove — out there.

full-swing-textiles-juniper-barkclothTo pump up the color even more, we suggest that Michaela consider window treatments using barkcloth like that from Full Swing Textiles Moonlight in the Pines barkcloth in Juniper to make some valances for the over the sink window, patio slider and large window by the dining area. This pattern is great because it picks up the green from the table and chair set, the yellowy orange of the knotty pine wood and flooring and has pops of red and black to help tie in accent colors in the room — such as the vintage lights that Michaela has grown to love. It also brings home the “woodsy” feel that we suspect Michaela likes — we saw the moose tray hanging on the wall near the table.

Michaela, you also can hunt for vintage fabric or vintage valances…. and be check out our story, 7 places to buy barkcloth, for more barkcloth possibilities at a variety of price points.

For the patio slider, the valance will help cover up the very practical vertical blinds on the patio door. On the other two windows, making cafe curtains from the same barkcloth will help spread the color, pattern and softness throughout the room. . If Michaela needs further light blocking on these two windows, a roller shade can easily be added underneath the valance.

One final thought: Decorator Pam says she is thinking all the window treatments in this room would look better if they are boxy and tailored, rather than gathered and flouncy. “Box valances” can be pretty easy to DIY.

Practical Pam has been reading about window treatments and energy-cost savings:

And, Practical Pam says: If you completely box in the top of the valance, you can help prevent drafts. How? A completely blocked in window valance (top part and sides both enclosed) blocks the movement of hot air being drawn from behind the top of the the curtain or other window treatment on to the window glas . When this occurs — and when conditioned-warmed air hits any part of a cold window — that’s convection: The warmed interior air gets cooled as it hits the glass… then falls to the floor… your heating system kicks in to warm the air again… the air rises to the ceiling as it is warmed… it gets pulled by convection toward that cold window… and the whole cycle occurs over and over again. This why it feels “drafty” by windows.

Convection that creates drafts can be diminished if you tightly cover a window in a window treatment — but you need to seal the top (behind the curtain), the sides, and the bottom, too. The very best window treatment way that Pam knows of to to prevent drafts — and to cut heating costs, too: Solutions like Window Quilts that totally seal that window up so that no conditioned-warmed air can touch that cold window. Virtually every other window treatment is going to let that cold air seep into the house to some degree — that conditioned-warmed air will flow to the cold window through the open folds and gaps in window treatments…


paint by number paintings vintage

Read our big story about the history of Paint By Numbers. Above: Reader Troy shows us how massing to create an awesome display is done!

Okay. Back to decorating. Speaking of the moose tray that Michaela has hanging on the wall in her dining area, we think that it — and the small painting on the opposite wall — are too dinky for the wall space — those big walls offer a terrific opportunity to add color and personality! One idea that could suit this retro kitchen: How about starting a vintage paint-by-number collection — like these vintage paint-by-numbers from Ebay seller dayzeemaydog and hang them in a gallery-wall like installation on each wall. This will add interest and more color to the space, plus it gives Michaela something fun to collect over time.

Another way to pump up the color in Michaela’s knotty pine kitchen — bring in a second color from the light fixture by adding some colorful dinnerware like fan-favorite Fiestaware in scarlet red. Be careful, though, Michaela — with most any design palette, we’d recommend going slow with the addition of color. Start with two colors — one is a ‘main’ accent color — in this case the green… the other — in this case, the red — is the secondary accent color. The risk if you start bringing in more colors is that it becomes… chaotic. Take it slow.

knotty-pine-kitchenWhen it comes to the ceiling color, we think the stark white shown above might be a leettle too stark. To be sure, a brite white ceiling is going to reflect the most light back into the kitchen. From a practical, “I want light”, “I need light” standpoint, a #1 go-to solution is to paint your ceiling brite white and bounce a lot of light on to it. In the kitchen work area — that for sure is happening now. But, the question is… with all that lovely warm knotty pine, can we knock the white down a bit and still have enough light in the space? You could try it –>

knotty-pine-kitchenAbove: Instead, Pam suggested we try a light beige color for the ceiling, perhaps something along the lines of Sherwin Williams biscuit, which is a beige with warm orangey undertones similar to those in the knotty pine. If we didn’t want brite white, we would try a color like this. Note: Pam says that in her downstairs family room — which has original cherry paneling — she painted the ceiling S-W Beige from the Suburban Modern Palette (use the Search box in the header area at the top of any page to find our stories about this important go-to palette). The S-W beige looks great — the ceiling actually reads as “white”. BUT, Pam’s family room was designed to be overall dark and cozy — not  a space she wanted to be lite and brite. So that is the trade-off you are playing with when making this color choice….

You’ll also notice that I removed the black and white checkerboard tiles in the kitchen back splash, which to us competed with the serenity of the knotty pine and read more as diner retro than the woodsy, knotty pine retro we are going for. Since Michaela is thinking she will replace the counter tops (and likely the back splash too) at some point, for now she could do a quick fix like reader Lori who painted her ceramic tile backsplash. If Michaela decided to take on painting her back splash, she could paint the black tiles the same color as the other white tiles so they blend in. P.S. Michaela, Pam says she kinda likes your counter tops. Ripping them out and replacing them will be costly and a hassle. So maybe… live with them at least a year… do more research here on Retro Renovation… and take your time in making this decision.

Armstrong Embossed Inlaid Linoleum flooringArmstrong #5352 — woot!

Lastly, both Pam and I immediately exclaimed how lucky Michaela is to have one of the most desired patterns of retro kitchen flooring in her kitchen — Armstrong #5352. Michaela, did you realize???? Again, we suggest that you study up on this design, then live with it for at least year to see if it grows on you like the light fixtures did — especially since you say that the floor is in great shape.

Though the most popular color way of Armstrong #5352 was the brick red, we think the warm golden color way in Michaela’s kitchen is just dreamy. Michaela — do you know some of our readers would do just about anything for that flooring?

All that said about this flooring, though: Precautionary Pam advises: There can be vintage nastiness in our vintage houses such as as lead and asbestos in the old materials and their layers — Michaela, this includes flooring like this — we don’t know what era your flooring is from, what’s in it, or what adhesives were used to install it; before you proceed, get with our own properly licensed professional to assess what you have so that you can make informed decisions. Readers and Michaela: No advice on this issue allowed in the comments — Get With Your Own Properly Licensed Professional to Assess What YOU HAVE So That YOU Can Make Informed Decisions.

More knotty pine love:

Great space, Michaela, let us know what you decide! Meanwhile, here are a few knotty pine inspirations from our archives, golly, we’re just basking in the honeyful glow of it all!:

knotty-pine-rec-room-with-sputnik-light-and-fireplaceAbove: The time capsule house with FIVE vintage pastel bathrooms also had this fantastic knotty pine basement!

beautiful knotty pine kitchen on retro renovation blogAbove: Knotty Pine and turquoise together — ‘Betty Crafter’ says, Yes to the Knotty Pine.

knotty pine kitchenAbove: Eartha Kitsch respectfully retained and revived the Knotty Pine kitchen in her 1956 ranch home.

vintage-knotty-pine-bar-basementAbove: This 1940 time capsule in Seattle had the same Knotty Pine loving owners for 70+ years — and quite possibly the most impressive basement we’ve ever seen.

knotty-pine-porchAbove: Jeff worked hard to add detail to his Knotty Pine den — finding a place where you can still buy scalloped, mid century style Knotty Pine cornices and molding.

knotty-pine-tikiAbove: Knotty Pine isn’t just for the kitchen — in this Retro Design Dilemma, we helped reader Jeanne come up with ideas to decorate her Knotty Pine bedroom with Tiki flair.

vintage-knotty-pine-kitchen-460Above: Back in 2010, we gave reader Tracy ideas for decorating the Knotty Pine kitchen in her 1962 ranch house.

knotty-pine-formica-1952Above: Back in 1952, Formica already knew that Knotty Pine was nice in this vintage advertisement.



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  1. Jonny says

    Not sure if anyone else mentioned it yet, but there’s no reason you can’t paint your appliances any color you want. I have the same fridge, I replaced the big plastic handles with some chrome ones and painted it red to match the rest of my kitchen.

    I like your cabinets, your floors, and your light fixtures, and I think the ceiling can get a clean recoat of plain white. I personally would paint the stove, hood, and refrigerator an eye catching color (pink or aqua) and I’d either sell the table/chairs and buy a set with some real color, or I’d dye the vinyl to a brighter color (yellow or red maybe) and add color that way.

    Maybe some cool curtains and chrome handles with back plates for the cabinets to finish it all off. A weekend and a couple hundred bucks is all it’d take.

    • Laurie Louise says

      Jonny–Can you share details on painting your appliances? Auto body shop? DIY? We’ve just bought a house with lovely original wood cabinets and no working appliances. Can’t imagine black, white or stainless there, and may not be able to find suitable retro before we move in. Our kitchen is calling out for color and we want to oblige it!

      • Jonny says

        I have a pic of my repainted fridge on the giant uploader from a week or so ago if you want to see what it looks like, I’d post a pic here but I don’t think that’s allowed.

        The handles I used are grab bars from the back seat of a 1954 DeSoto car. If you go on ebay and search for “Desoto seat handles” you’ll find some. I screwed them right through the sheetmetal on the door and they still look great and never worked loose. I also swapped out the little plastic Frigidaire Gallery emblem with a big gold V and a generic but cool looking emblem (from a ’57 Chevy trunk and a ’62 Chrysler grille, respectively)

        As for the paint, I did it right in my kitchen with Rustoleum spray cans, cost me about $8. I filled in the holes from my old handles with auto body filler, but a snap-in plastic plug would have worked fine, too. I taped it off good (overspray will get everywhere), roughed up the shine on the original paint with a scuff pad (Scotch-brite), and sprayed.

        It turned out real nice. I love the vintage fridges and if I ever found the right one, I might buy it, but the new paint makes this one fit right in and it’s still efficient and quiet.

  2. Linda says

    Pam’s mock up is great. The teal is nice with the pine. If it were me, I would go with a buttercup yellow accent instead of the bright red. Super love the paint by number wall (or could do some other art collection…string art, gravel paintings, clocks, whatever). I’d vote for white appliances, white ceiling. In the interim I would paint those colored backsplash tiles the teal color so that its one solid stripe of teal. The current dining table is nice…but the color in the mock up one really pops. You could get the same effect with a tablecloth though. Happy vintaging!

  3. Jennifer says

    Lots of great ideas from everyone!
    Here’s a suggestion as you are waiting for appliances to die–go ahead and paint them now! I know you could go the powder-coat route, but if you want to DIY and you know it’s going to be temporary, and/or you want to try before you commit, we discovered that it was really easy to paint appliances with appliance paint with color added. (I got Rustoleum.) Now, the guy at your local store is going to be reluctant to do this because appliance paint isn’t the same formula as the paints for which they have mixed the shades, and so the color may be a little bit off from your original choice. However, if you get a small amount to test and you don’t need an *exact* shade, you should be okay–you only need a quart for all the appliances in one kitchen, anyway. (Perhaps if you are painting anything else, start with the appliances and then adjust other colors’ tones.)
    It’s not only easy to paint appliances, it’s cheap! And it totally jazzes up the space.
    Our choice for a not-cute, not-vintage, just tired fridge was a light jadeite color; the cabinets went to a jade/emerald hue as an accent with a similar jadeite on the rest. It looked homey and retro.
    Good luck with your decisions!

  4. lisa in Seattle says

    The blog YoungHouseLove just posted articles about both the grout paint AND appliance painting (they did the fridge). It was within the last two months.

    I know high heat paint is available for the stovetop, but personally I’m not sure I would trust it to wear well and not outgas when the burners are on. So, my suggestion is to paint the fridge and the warming drawer below the oven, and I would not choose black but instead a retro appliance color that goes with whatever you choose. Not sure what to do about the dishwasher since the white control panel will remain.

    Really like Sarah’s idea of reducing the “grid” look of the tile by painting the grout, and the YoungHouseLove folks made it look fairly easy — they did a floor, so a much larger area. You buy special paint made for the purpose.

  5. Dan T says

    This is a particularly challenging kitchen, I think, because there’s so much of the knotty pine — combined with the intricate floor and tile backsplash, it’s busy on busy.

    I really think Betty Crafter’s example leads the way here — I know the poster wants granite, but a bright, solid laminate like that continued from counter to backsplash gives the eye a place to relax from all the pattern and detail. And it’d be a lot cheaper! I’d spend the savings on the appliances, going with a color-matched vintage stove and stainless for anything new.

    Getting a good polish on that floor (no idea what to use, I’ll admit, but it can be done!) would go a long way, too.

  6. Randerson says

    I, too, would ditch the fluorescent lighting. In with cans, track, and undercounter lights. Vintage Coppertone appliances, copper accents, including the copper backsplash panels you can get at HD etc, and floor has to be Armstrong 5352 in red! All are findable, except the last one, waaaah!

  7. lisa in Seattle says

    Randerson, the copper backsplash is a very good idea. But I think a Marmoleum floor would look as nice as the Armstrong, maybe even nicer

    Another idea for this space is to go with every thing white except the pine and keep things rather plain except for a little cottagey ruffle or lace on the curtains..

  8. Scott says

    Call me crazy but color-freak Scott says play off those fantastical light fixtures and order up yourself a retro-diner set with one red, one green, one yellow, and one blue chair.

    Or if six chairs two each of red, green, and yellow. I have non-knotty original wood about the same color, sort of a honey shade, and found a big dose of bright accent (in my case red) really made the room come to life.

    • says

      thanks i do like red and have been experimenting with red tablecloths and runners to see how it works. i also bought $16 light teal curtains for the slider door/windows and wood colored horizontal blinds for the other window and am liking the change from the white vertical blinds (which didn’t work well anyway). still taking the slow and cautious approach. but thanks for all the feedback!!! ps although i can’t say i love my armstrong flooring (too bad i didn’t inherit the red version) i can say i APPRECIATE this flooring! original to the house 1945 and not a scratch or nick to be found on it. no worn area, nothing. wow. clean.

  9. Bree says

    I know I am going to get lynched on here, but I have this exact flooring and I want it gone! What is the best way to remove this type of flooring?

    • pam kueber says

      Oh well! Hey: Please know that the materials and layers in our old houses — including flooring — can contain vintage nastiness such as asbestos and lead. Please get your own properly licensed professional to help you determine what you have so that you can make informed choices. I don’t allow readers to answer these kinds of questions here — get your own pro. Good luck!

    • Anastasia says

      Again, to echo Pam & Kate, My dad (who is a building inspector) did an old house. The correct answer is, I kid you not, VERY carefully AND in accordance with your area’s regulations on the matter. & that’s just the throwing away part, removing it is another beast.

      Which is why the old Historic hotel in our area is taking SO LONG to restore, there’s more then most people think going on!

      & no lynching here.

  10. Marguerite says

    I’m a bit late to this party…but…I have a 1958 knotty pine kitchen and believe it or not the original wall oven, cook top and later 60s dishwasher were all grey aluminum that looked like today’s stainless steel. The fridge was white. I replaced them with almond fixtures in the 90s but now have retro looking stainless that looks much better than the almond did. If you could find a stove in a real retro profile I would stick with stainless..

  11. Kim says

    I have a 1978 kitchen that I would LOVE some advice about. It has ash wood cabinets that I really want to keep. They are in good condition, and I really like the look of real wood. It is hard to find suggestions on how to retro update without painting the cabinets. I have many collectibles, and had the wallpaper done in a more 50s retro color palette. I slapped in some very inexpensive (read cheap) white laminate counters, (in 1999!) and have done some appliance moving. My next project will probably be new countertops and backsplash, and I would love some advice on how to incorporate my original cabinetry into the plan. I know you get a lot of correspondence, but I would be thrilled to absolute bits to have some opinions from you and from readers. Thanks, Kim

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