A family rebuilds and restores a 1953 kitchen to its former glory

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Luke and his mom Joyce (his dad Robert was behind the camera).

Reader Luke’s parents’ admired the 1953 ranch home next door to their house for 18 years, and the day it came up for sale, and they decided to make it their own. The home had fallen into disrepair over the years and would need lots of TLC, so with help from their son Luke — and grandma too — the family began their group restoration effort with kitchen. Instead of gutting the damaged original cabinets and replacing them with something contemporary, Luke and his father lovingly repaired the original cabinets, saving as much material as they could. The results are beautiful.

vintage-kitchen-retroLuke writes:

I have read your blog for about two years now, and I became rather interested in retro remodeling when I started helping my parents fix up their new-old house. My parents purchased a 1953 Ranch Home in Oklahoma about two years ago. The house they purchased was in a disastrous state… [including having been] flooded about three times in its life from a nearby creek. My parents had lived next door to the house for 18 years and decided to purchase the house when it became available. The house was larger and also was situated on a double sized lot which my parents liked. Looking at the photographs of the home when they first purchased it, I wonder why we were all drawn to the home. After repairing, fixing, and cleaning everything in the house it now is a happy home.

cabinets-before

Before: The cabinets had suffered severe water damage….

When my parents first purchased the home, we were all unsure what would be done about the kitchen.  The original wood cabinets in this kitchen were so old and not very well cared for that we had thought about gutting the entire kitchen and putting contemporary cabinetry in its place. However, we did not do that, and I am very glad that wasn’t done. I believe new cabinets would have ruined the character of the home.

We had also talked about just refurbishing the cabinets on one side of the kitchen where the fridge and stove sit.  After rebuilding those cabinets we realized that the whole kitchen really needed to be fixed.  Most of the cabinetry has new doors and new facing around the doors. (The only section of cabinetry that is 100% original is the section above the sink.  By the time we finished the other cabinets, we were really sick of all of it, so the cabinets above the sink were left and refinished.  They were actually in the best shape compared to the rest of the kitchen.)

My father and I removed all the old birch plywood facing, put new birch hardwood facing on, constructed new birch plywood doors, edited the layout of the kitchen a bit, and ended up with what I believe to be a pretty wonderful result.

kitchen-before-remodel

Before: Adorable oven, but quite small…

By peeling back of these old layers, we were really able to see what the original kitchen would have looked like.  The flooring was a white vinyl tile with red, yellow, and blue splotches.  The tile seemed like it would have coordinated well with the dark blue countertop.  The countertop also had metal trim with a grey rubber insert. The original kitchen had an electric cooktop and a beige electric wall oven, the oven was actually still in place when my parents purchased the house along with the copper colored Vent-a-hood. We might have repaired the oven, but it was so small you could hardly fit a normal sized cookie sheet in it. It sits in our storage shed; we don’t quite know what we could do with it. We also had a good reason to believe that the original kitchen was equipped with a dishwasher which would have been quite a luxury item.  We also removed three or four layers of wallpaper off the walls, all of them were beautiful vintage patterns.

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Before: Structure of the cabinets in good shape.. but it was time for new doors.

The pictures I am sending are of the original kitchen, a few construction pictures, and the final product.  The pictures of the old kitchen are from before we purchased the house and people were setting up for an estate sale. I unfortunately never took photos of the kitchen after it was emptied out. They really don’t show the extremely dilapidated state of the kitchen.  At one time there was about 20 inches of floodwater through the entire house.  All of the lower cabinets were peeling and splitting apart. The cabinets near the stove were coated in grease and it looked like there had been a fire in that area at one time.

Cabinet-ConstructionWhen we rebuilt the cabinets we took out the area for the wall oven and cooktop and put a normal slide in range in its place.  We also brought the fridge out of the corner because the doors on the fridge would not fully open when the fridge was up against the other wall. That was the largest change to the layout.  The rest of the kitchen stayed pretty much the same.  The construction photos show how we rebuilt our cabinets.  We removed the old exterior of the cabinets, we pretty much saved everything on the interior because it wasn’t in too bad of shape, and then we replaced it with new birch hardwood and plywood.

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Luke and family moved the refrigerator from its previous position, which abutted the wall, so that the doors could open fully.

On the finished kitchen my parents thought about going with the new GE artistry appliances, but they didn’t offer those appliances with features such as a water dispenser in the fridge door and a self-cleaning oven option.  If my mother had the option she would have picked turquoise appliances, but it seems that stainless is really the only thing on the market anymore.

copper-light-fixture-midcenturymidcentury-ceiling-light-fixturevintage-cafe-curtains The countertops I think were called Sea Glass, and I think they came from Wilsonart. It kind of has a muted pattern on it, but it adds a nice pop of color and keeps the kitchen from being so incredibly stark with all of the stainless steel. We stained the new portions of the cabinets to blend with the older portions and I think we did a fairly decent job matching the new and old. The paint was from Sherwin Williams and the color is 7692 Cupola Yellow.

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We love LoVe LOVE the cafe curtains made by grandma!

Finding window treatments for the kitchen was also a challenge.  My mother wanted something that wouldn’t hide the look of the windows and something that could easily be moved out of the way.  My mother thought about using woven wood shades or something similar, but she found the post on your blog about café curtains, and she went with the pattern that seems to resemble a keyhole pattern.  My mother picked the fabric and my grandmother created what you see in the pictures.

retro-blue-bathroom-tile vintage-pink-tile-bathroomWe would love to share more of the house with you and the Retro Renovators, but my parents are still in the process of moving and getting everything arranged. I am also going include two pictures of our two preserved vintage bathrooms, which we had professionally cleaned and grouted.

Your blog has not only been helpful in our remodeling and fixing of my parents’ house but also thoroughly enjoyable to read.

Luke, you and your dad did an excellent job repairing the original cabinets. Kudos to you for taking the time to think about what the house needed instead of just gutting the space and starting over. I love that this project was a family affair, that everyone pulled together — even granny — to help which makes the finished space that much more wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us.

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Comments

  1. Mary Elizabeth says

    Luke, Joyce and Robert, and Grandma, what a lovely kitchen! It seems like a perfect restoration combined with updating in the areas you needed. The new stainless steel appliances seem very much at home with the vintage-look curtains, the laminate counter and the stainless sink. Thank you for sharing it with us. Love the bathrooms, too.

    Contrary to your concern about the “before” photos, I think they did show in what bad shape the kitchen was–I could see the water damage and the way the cabinets were warped and couldn’t be closed properly. The rebuilt cabinets are “glowy,” with just the right mid-century finish. I’m curious what stains and varnishes you used.

    My favorite touches, besides the curtains, are the vintage canister sets and the red stepstool/chair–lovely.

    Don’t you all think that the kitchen is a generous sized one for the 1950s? There seem to be a lot of cabinets. I love that the peninsula cabinets open on both sides. Not all do. It’s a great use of the deep space and makes it convenient to store items that will be used in the dining area.

    Just remember, Luke, in my experience the family that renovates together–well, keeps renovating. It’s like an itch that needs to be scratched. Next time, maybe it will be your own house!

    • Luke says

      The kitchen cabinet space seems to be slightly less than the old house next door mostly because the soffit takes up so much volume. However, we have floor to ceiling cabinets in the laundry room which makes up for that. We do love the layout of the kitchen, it is very similar to the old kitchen next door.

  2. Wendy in St. Louis says

    What a wonderful job you all did! My favorite? Those cafe curtains! Really, really perfect!

  3. lynda davis says

    Very nice job. I can see days and days of labor in that kitchen. The cabinets should be an inspiration to others with cabinets like this. Great choices for the new kitchen. What did you end up using for the new flooring? You are all brave to tackle that big of a job. What is the finish coat on the cabinets? It looks like a gloss poly. Your parents are lucky to have you help with this project.

    • Luke says

      The flooring is a porcelain tile, I am not sure what brand… We had it professionally installed. The finish coat on the cabinets is a high gloss poly.

  4. Jay says

    Very nice indeed! Beautiful blending of the old with new. The appliance tweaking was a very practical choice and makes for a more worker freindly kiitchen. Stainless was a material used in 50s kitchens so it’s not an incongruous choice.
    Nice bathrooms! Hope your parents have many happy years in their new *old* house.

  5. Roundhouse Sarah says

    Great save! The wood is glowing it looks so great. I’m especially fond of the sweet scalloped detail above the sink. And even though we just got a glimpse of the bathrooms they look so sharp with the professional cleaning and grouting. Lovely preservation work! Did y’all’s old house next door have similar features? Was it from the same era?

    • Luke says

      The house next door is actually a few years newer than this one and was built by my grandfather. He was a contractor after WWII into the mid-1970s. The house next door had similar features only it was about 800 sq ft smaller. The great thing about this house is it has tons and tons of storage! This house was more of a custom built home in the 1950s and the house next door would have been a typical 1950s builder home.

  6. virginia says

    Congrats on this lovely restoration. Looks fantastic — and, yes, to those great, great curtains.

  7. Jennifer says

    I agree that you can work with stainless steel in a retro kitchen. And For those of you who want your modern appliance features but bemoan the lack of color, it’s definitely worth considering getting something powder coated or else simply using brush-on appliance paint that you have tinted. This doesn’t work for high-heat items (range, oven) but dishwasher, vent-a-hood, fridge can all go this way!

  8. Melissa L. says

    Those cabinets are beautiful! I prefer birch to knotty pine and so these are right up my alley. Looks like your folks got a wonderful house with many original features. I hope we see more of it.

  9. ineffablespace says

    It’s perfect: it’s “original” to the house but subtly adapted for current appliances and ergonomics. You are lucky to have the talents to make it all happen.

    This style of kitchen reminds me that there were transitional periods of different lengths of time related to geography–region and “city” vs.”country”. The style of this kitchen isn’t quite what comes to mind first when thinking of post-war MCM: the cabinets are reminiscent of the deco-moderne and streamline furniture of Heywood Wakefield from before WWII. It’s a very cozy comfortable type of modernism, imo.

  10. Andi says

    Oh my goodness, what a wonderful new life for a great kitchen! Cabinets look amazing…and like they were always there, not like replacements.

    Like everyone else I love the cafe curtains! I also like the pale blue countertops and yellow walls—you have rescued this sad kitchen and created a cheerful, warm, inviting space!

    I also loved seeing the two bathrooms—fabulous!

    Congratulations to the whole family on a job well done!

  11. Katie B. says

    My wall oven is very similar to your original one. The only difference looks to be the display and knobs. I have the matching GE cooktop as well as a Nutone hood that I think someone may have painted to match. I could see how the small size might be a hassle for some people. I have to bake each layer of a layer cake separately. :) I do love it though, and it works great otherwise. It’s the color of chocolate milk!

    I love the curtains and the simple decor they chose. Really puts those cabinets as the main focus.

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      I remember that no matter which appliance brand or which color you had, you could get a NuTone hood to match.

  12. tammyCA says

    Terrific kitchen..you all did an awesome job. See, this the kind of homey, cozy kitchen I love. I can’t stand all the huge sterile contemporary ones..there’s no character or warmth in them.
    I truly love vintage criss-cross windows and doors..I have some in mine. And, wowie look at that sink window sill! I wish I had that. That’s another vintage feature that I love and you never see them in newer houses.

  13. Paige says

    Wow, wow, wow! Absolutely gorgeous job, the cabinets turned out beautifully & I ADORE the bathrooms!!
    Your Grandmother did a fantastic job on the curtains, she may be getting some requests from people on this site!

  14. Luke says

    Thanks for all your wonderful comments! This kitchen was a lot of hard work, the rest of the house was too!

  15. Vaseydaisy says

    Beautiful job! I look forward to seeing more of the house!

    I’m curious if they did anything to prevent any further flooding on the property? It would be such a shame if the kitchen got damaged again.

    • Luke says

      Yes, the last time the creek flooded the neighborhood was 30 years ago on Memorial Day (yesterday). After that, the city bought out many homes in the area, tore them down and enlarged the creek considerably. The house now sits near a large park because of this. There has not been a flooding problem since.

  16. Sam R says

    Lovely restoration work there!

    What part of Oklahoma is this house in? Except for the drawer pulls, the cabinetry in this house (especially the large wooden “pagoda” pulls and the rather distinctive hinges) is very similar to the custom-built cabinetry in my 1954 house in southwest Missouri. Interestingly, the cabinets in the garage, laundry room (former office), and bathrooms have very different hinges from the kitchen.

  17. Elle says

    Wow! What an amazing job you all did. Kudos to you for embracing the humble beauty of your home. I cry a little when kitchens like this get ripped out, and want to sing praises to those who restore. The cupboards are amazing, and those curtains! Looks like the perfect kitchen to wake up, feel the sun, make a hot cup of coffee, and lounge in my pajamas reading a book. Very Nice!

  18. Florett says

    The work is wonderful! I’m particularly impressed with how you saved the cabinets and matched the new pieces to the existing structural parts. That was well done! The wood looks beautiful :-)

    And those cafe curtains – they are just perfect!

  19. Pam says

    I know everyone’s taste is different…but I find this kitchen & home refreshing – just wonderful! It’s a very nice change from the drab contemporary designs of today (incidentally, the ones that everyone else has). This is the home/kitchen I could see myself in! My spouse and I are retro-/mid-century conscious. In fact, our huge old metaframe, slate bottom aquariums would look great in a kitchen like this. Good work; beautiful curtains! Everything is just perfect!

  20. Scott says

    Heartwarming indeed to see a kitchen brought back so authentically that is just looks like a perfectly preserved original. The curtains finish off the room so perfectly that they look more like the starting point with everything else keyed to match them.

    And a pink bathroom bonus to boot. What a house! :-)

  21. Mary says

    Oh my! This could be the exact kitchen that is in the family home where I was raised. Unbelievable.
    This article has helped me decide to replace the doors on the cabinets at my home place and to use the exact wood product that was used for these. I have long debated whether to just replace the entire cabinetry but now know that I will keep the rock solid structure and simply re face and install new doors.
    Thanks so much for sharing.
    It was wonderful seeing another kitchen like mine…….even the color of the countertop!

  22. Danita says

    The refinished kitchen looks fantastic! The birch cabinets look so fresh and clean. You have done a wonderful job – congratulations. Hopefully you’ll send more photos on the bathrooms, the ones enclosed are such a teaser :-) Can’t wait to see more.

    I’d like to comment about the appliances. Years ago when I worked in a kitchen & appliance store, if a customer wanted a particular color appliance, they would order white and we would send the appliances to the local auto body shop to have them painted. The results were fabulous and really set the theme for the kitchens. If anyone reads this, please keep this in mind that you can get the color you want by doing what we did years ago. At the time, colors ran from yellow to orange edging, different greens, blues, etc. Hope this helps other retrorenovaters.

  23. RD says

    I have been seriously considering the seaglass countertop. It is a fabulous color. I was concerned that the high gloss surface might be high maintenance though. Is it working well for you guys?

    The entire kitchen is fabulous. I absolutely love everything!

    • Luke says

      Yeah, so far the high gloss hasn’t been problem. It does tend to streak after cleaning it, but window glass cleaner does wonders.

  24. says

    Wow, that looks absolutely beautiful! Plus it is great to know this can be done.

    Darling curtains, too. They are just perfect, and made by Grandma to boot? What could be better? Looks like your parents found a great house—and the house found great people. :)

  25. Linda Hansen says

    I love the pink bathroom!! I grew up in a house that had a pink bathroom and much more pink & grey throughout the house. My mother loved pink & grey. Your site is amazing and I tell a lot of people about it. Keep up the good work.

  26. Joe Felice says

    My goodness, what a beautiful place! I wish I had the carpentry skills to do that, or the money to hire it done. What color would you call that original oven? It sure is interesting. I think I would have kept it, if only as a conversation piece, in addition to the new one, maybe even integrate the microwave into the interior somehow. I have to say, I am not a fan of stainless appliances, and don’t happen to think they lend a mid-century atmosphere to anything. Too bad they don’t make chrome appliances. Or turquoise, which most of us would like. I still say, if manufacturers were to make appliances in bright colors, they’d sell like hotcakes: turquoise, red, yellow, lime, even–yes–pink! And this house has a turquoise AND a pink bathroom. Be still, my heart! I love that shade of turq. Oh well, I guess I’ll just drool from afar, as usual.

  27. BrennyC says

    Hi,
    Love it all! Where did your mom find that fabric for the curtains? I’ve been looking, but to no avail!
    Thanks!

    • Joyce says

      We purchased the fabric at Capstone Creations in Pryor OK. They have a facebook site and I tagged them when I posted this article to my facebook page
      . I am sorry that I can’t remember the name of this line, but it has several wonderful pieces. It is a small store and there is a good chance she will remember the sale (she had a pillowcase made out of this fabric in her vintage area). Hope this helps.

  28. Gerry Boucher says

    We had that same set of canisters growing up. Unfortunately my dad got them to put nails in them in the cellar. I did grab it when the house got cleaned out. I did find a similar set, in white not yellow, at an estate sale this past January. I also found the same design in a cake platter/server I quickly snapped up. Crazy stuff that means nothing to my wife but brings back such fond memories growing up.

  29. Angela says

    Hello, your kitchen is lovely! I was wondering what type of floor you put down? We are getting ready to retro renovate our 1956 kitchen and I am stuck on flooring. Thanks!

    • Joyce Hembree says

      We just went with a ceramic tile…Its okay. I really wanted terra cotta or brick but couldn’t find a good source.

  30. says

    The pink bathroom takes me back..gotta love it. It sounds like you kept the vintage bathrooms, I would love to see pictures. I typically renovate older homes, so I liked how you combined the old with the new and kept it simple.

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