Amber’s 1961 knotty pine kitchen before and after Retro Renovation

Wilsonart-boomerang-laminateknotty pine kitchenRemember Amber’s pink toilet trafficking antics during her quest to retain the vintage charm in her retro pink bathroom while also meeting current day water usage requirements?  Well, she’s been at it again — this time in her knotty pine kitchen, which had received a sad 1980s partial “update” from the previous owners. Thankfully, the knotty pine cabinets were intact, so Amber turned her attention to finding flooring, countertops, lighting, decor and even a vintage yellow sink to complement the wood and return the retro feel to her kitchen. No interstate fixture trafficking this time — but the story — and results — are just as happy.

before-and-after-knotty-pine-kitchenAmber writes:

We bought our house about a year ago. This is our forever home. We knew we wanted a well-maintained midcentury home, as “time capsuley” as possible. After a lot of looking and some disappointments, we finally found it — a single-owner home built in 1961, in great condition, with many original features. We’ve had quite a few projects over the past year (like my pink toilet adventure!) and have been taking things slowly, making changes as time and money allow.

knotty-pine-kitchen-beforeIn the kitchen, the original knotty pine cabinetry and paneling was a big selling feature for us! There had been some unfortunate “updates” done in the 80s or 90s, though, including really cheap, unremarkable laminate countertops and a really gross vinyl floor.

knotty-pine-kitchen5352-armstrong linoleumWith a new baby on the way we wanted to get the kitchen done, and we could not be happier with the results. There were some surprises along the way – such as a full four layers of flooring, the original of which appears to be the coveted Armstrong 5352 embossed inlaid linoleum. I work in historic preservation, and if there had been any way I could have saved that floor, I would have! But unfortunately, at some point there had been water damage in the area of the dishwasher and a large portion was cut out down to the subfloor. We love the look of the VCT, though.

We love our home and have some more projects planned for down the road, but the kitchen was the biggest hurdle and we are so happy it is done. Baby #2 will be arriving in about a month, and my husband and I are thrilled to raise our two boys in a beautiful home that one family loved for 50 years. Our 3-year-old can already school people on ranch houses, VCT, and laminate, so we must be doing something right!

Resource list to renovate a knotty pine kitchen:






vintage-knotty-pine-cabinetsknotty-pine-kitchen-cabinets-retroEventually we would like to replace the range hood, fridge, and dishwasher, but since all are working well, that’s not a priority right now.

Amber, you’ve done a fantastic job with your kitchen. I love the way the yellow in the sink, countertops and wall complement the warm glow of the Knotty Pine cabinets. What a cheery space you have created. As always, Pam and I are huge fans of your spunk, energy and willingness to go above and beyond to get the job done. While we are bummed that your Armstrong 5352 linoleum floor couldn’t be saved, the VCT you chose is an excellent option and adds a lightness to the kitchen. Kudos to you on a job well done — and thanks again, so much, for chronicling your renovation journey for all to share.

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  1. Angela says

    This is absolutely amazing! I’m in love with the kitchen! Wow! I had the same knotty pine wainscoting in my dining room and covered it up because I couldn’t find a color that matched well. Now that I see this kitchen, I’m sorry that I did it. This has given me some hope. Love it!

  2. Abby says

    A great job with an authentic kitchen! We’ve also lived in a MCM Ranch (circa 1952) for 25 yrs. Our kitchen wasn’t worth preserving but yours is great looking. We inherited original Knotty Pine walls in the basement Rec. Room. Since it was a lot to look at, we painted a White Washed with a semi transparent stain to soften the look.

  3. Joe Felice says

    Although I am not a fan of harvest gold, the sink coordinates perfectly with the counter top. “Butterscotch?” I like that better than harvest gold as a name. This kitchen has been returned to its original grandeur, except for the appliances, which is always a problem for all of us. If only manufacturers would make appliances in bright, retro colors. . . Ah yes, the ’80s & ’90s–the era of cheap imitations. Vinyl was an extremely-poor substitute for the linoleum of yore. I mean, really? Paper embossed with a thin laminate and coated with urethane, all of which tears so easily. Who came up with that? linoleum had the pattern & color all the way through. And yes, it is most-closely approximated today by VCT, thank God! Now, all that is needed is a retro dinette.

    • pam kueber says

      The vinyl floors of the day: Easy to keep clean. That was a huge benefit over linoleum, which needed to be waxed and then on a regular basis stripped and re-waxed yada yada yada forevermore. VCT today also need this polish/strip/repeat routine….

      I understand why folks like the no-wax floors!

      • Joe Felice says

        No-wax floors seemed to be that way for about a year. After that, the high-traffic areas looked dull and were hard to clean, so they ended up having to be re-coated. We used to use Future. I remember “waxy yellow build-up” well! Yes, periodically, the coatings had to be removed. Also, mine seemed to be forever tearing or tearing every time I moved an appliance, so re-coating would have been preferable to replacing. I finally broke down and got laminate (a good quality one from DuPont), which is very durable, but, if I want it to shine like new, I still have to apply a polymer finish about once a year. Even hardwood needs to be re-coated once in awhile if you want it to look new. This is really a pain, since all the furniture has to be removed to somewhere. I guess there is no flooring surface that is perfect, but all things considered (including the fact that I have pets), I would give laminate the highest marks. Neither I nor the cats seem to be able to damage it.

        • pam kueber says

          I grew up in houses with no-wax vinyl floors – big sheets with embossed designs. I recall they lasted forever. I “know” because I washed them every Saturday of my high school years, at the least…. That said… These floors, even in the 1970s, may have been more durable than those today. “May have been” — I do not know.

          Funny you mention Future. I have bottle, and I have been using it on my VCT floor — with great results. I am not sure where I got the Future. Have I had it in my cupboard for 10 years? Have I carried it from house to house and had it for… 20 years? Did I buy it at an estate sale vintage? Did I buy it new and is it still available today? I don’t know! Need to add this to the list! Bottom line – so far I love it!

          • Joe Felice says

            Were floors in the ’70s actually vinyl, or were they akin to linoleum? My recollection of vinyl floors begins in the ’80s. All the ones I have ever had have torn and dented easily, so much so that I learned to splice in new sections with scraps I had saved. (And I am not “hard” on a house.) But the seam around the repair always turned dark and remained visible. I learned to go over this seam with clear nail polish. And yes, I have noted that the quality has gotten even worse over the years. Future used to be the only product that Armstrong recommended for no-wax floors, and it is still available, although it is not the same product (chemically) that it used to be. Not sure when it changed. But the old Future did build up, and did turn yellow. I still remember the commercials on TV in which housekeepers would decry “waxy, yellow build-up.” In the TV show “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” they often spoofed about this. And the build-up had to be removed periodically with ammonia. In addition to VCT, Armstrong now makes a vinyl flooring that closely resembles the old linoleum, in that the pattern and color permeate the entire thickness of the product, and there is no paper underneath. However, Armstrong does not call this product “linoleum.” I think linoleum was actually a brand name, and consisted of a specific manufacturing process, much like laminates. All “imitation plastic” products consist of varying combinations of polymers, as do coatings, including urethane. (Remember, before urethane we had varnish and shellac, which are still available, but not very popular.) And anyone who ever had a vinyl floor can attest to the difficulty in removing it, as the underlying paper backing would stick to the substrate, and often had to be hand scraped. I removed a vinyl floor in my parents’ ’80’s house in Florida, and the backing stuck to the concrete so tenaciously, we had to rent a torch and burn it off!

            • pam kueber says

              Hi Joe,

              Linoleum floors and vinyl floors are two very different things. Based on what I know, linoleum was on its way out after World War II — as soon as vinyl floors became available — for the maintenance issues I described in my other comments.

              If you search “linoleum” on the blog, I think I’ve written about it a fair amount. Linoleum is essential ground cork mixed with linseed oil and other fixatives… Vinyl is made of man-made chemicals, I believe — back in the day and continuing to today, we usually here about “vinyl composites” that include vinyl and other materials.

              Vinyl sheet flooring was massively popular in the 1970s and probably much early into the 60s. I have not tried to date its popularity onset, though.

              On all these old floorings — be sure to consult with a properly licensed professional to assess what is in them — and their backings and adhesives — so that you can make informed decisions how to handle.

              • Joe Felice says

                This conversation prompted a learning opportunity. I looked up “linoleum” on Wikipedia and got some interesting information. It was actually invented in 1855 in England. And, as with vinyl, there are differing thicknesses & qualities. Most interesting is the fact that linoleum is flammable, while vinyl is not. However, when heated above a certain point, vinyl gives off toxic fumes of dioxin. There is nothing inherently wrong with vinyl. It can be very durable, in fact. (“Vinyl” in the case of floors actual refers to polyvinyl chloride.) However, what most vinyl floors consist of is an extremely-thin film of vinyl on top of paper or cardboard, and then coated with urethane. Urethane, unlike vinyl, is not durable as a flooring surface. And obviously, the vinyl flooring available here and that which you were able to have on the east coast are of completely-different qualities. Armstrong’s newer vinyl flooring actually has a gel layer on top of felt, while other manufacturers use a foam, or even wood underlayment, so obviously, the quality can vary greatly, but I wonder if the actual film of vinyl and the clear coating are any-more durable. I still prefer laminate flooring over all others, but I would consider having VCT, based upon my use of it in commercial buildings that I have managed. Even with laminate flooring, however, there are varying thicknesses which affect durability. But no matter which floor I’ve had, I have ALWAYS had to re-coat with a clear polymer of some type in order to keep it looking new.

              • Joe Felice says

                PS. I just learned that vinyl flooring was introduced in 1933. But vinyl (actually a petroleum by-product) was in short supply during the war, so vinyl floors did not become popular until after that. This is very interesting, as most people continued to use linoleum. Seriously, though, the first home in which I had vinyl was one I purchased in 1976. Since it was a 1952 rancher, I now wonder what was under that vinyl. And in the kitchen, the sellers had installed carpet. I would not EVER recommend carpeting in a kitchen, even “indoor-outdoor” carpet, which this was. I hated the vinyl in the bathroom so much, I had carpet put down over that. Another BIG mistake. While the carpet was snuggly, especially on cold mornings, it was terribly impractical.

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      Joe, I ordered a sample of that laminate when I was deciding about my countertop redo, and I really don’t see any harvest gold in there. There are dark and light brown (kind of caramel colored) boomerangs and butter yellow. When you make butterscotch, beginning with the butter and sugar, it goes through these color phases–hence the name. The sink color I would call butter.

      • Joe Felice says

        So it’s just the way the color shows up on my monitor, I guess. Still I like the name and the taste of “butterscotch” (not knowing one thing about how it is made). You call it “butter,” but would you say it is the same color as “buttercup yellow,” which was one of the popular shades of yellow back in the day, along with canary yellow and daisy yellow? Regardless, it still looks great, and couldn’t be a better match to the counter top. You have a good eye for color coordination.

    • says

      The big problem with the vinyl floor that was in our kitchen was it was *impossible* to keep clean! Many vinyl floors are easy to clean, but ours was not a flat surface… it had all these little impressions/divots in it (by design!) which obviously just trapped dirt. So it was disgusting all the time. I don’t understand why anyone would design a floor like that!

      The sink is actually not harvest gold, it is a lighter yellow. It is stamped 1969 on the bottom… I think harvest gold didn’t come out until a few years later?

      As for a retro dinette – the one we have is from 1973, it belonged to my mom. I’ve had it for a long time now and I love it. It was the first piece of new furniture she bought for herself when she moved into her first apartment. :)

      • Joe Felice says

        Even better! Nothing is more retro than a family heirloom. Fond memories, I’m sure. When my folks passed, they were living in Florida, and I’m in Colorado. They still had the Danish-modern living-room suite that we had purchased in Italy in 1961, and it was in perfect condition. Alas, because of the distance, and the fact that their complex gave us only-one day to remove all belongings, I was unable to make arrangements to get the furniture up here, and my sister had to give everything away. Made me sick! Florida is a great place for old folks to be while they are alive, but, once they die, forget it. They want every trace of you out of there immediately. At the complex where they lived AND at the assisted-living place, they were the same–one day to get everything out. They wouldn’t even allow us to put items in the common area for other residents to take. They even said “And you’d better have the trash cans emptied, too!” I was so disgusted. Mom had a Hoveround that was barely used, and they wouldn’t let us donate that, either, nor could we sell it. We advertised that on craigslist, and everyone said “Why would we pay you half price for a used one, when we can get one for free through Medicare?” Sometimes, our society just makes we shake my head in amazement. I did manage to get a vintage lamp which we purchased in 1956 in Montgomery, an original Italian painting of the Bay of Naples from 1942, and an original painting my father had done. Everything else–every trace that those fine people ever existed on this planet–went to Goodwill or the trash. What a sad commentary on two lives well lived.

        • Mary Elizabeth says

          Joe, this is one of the saddest stories I have ever heard. As if it isn’t bad enough to lose one’s parents, to have to dismantle their whole lives’ collections in 24 hours is downright inhuman. I am so not moving to Florida, even though there are some fine RetroRenovators on this site who live down there. Here in New England we like to reuse and recycle everything.

        • Jan says

          I know this is late for a comment but I wanted to tell Joe I know how he felt about the hover round. My mom got ALS late in life and Medicare got her a specialized motorized scooter. She only used it twice. That thing was $35,000, almost twice as much as I have ever paid for a new car. We saved it for my dad in case he ever needed it, but he did not. According to the court, everything had to be sold at auction so the proceeds could be divided amongst the three heirs. It only brought $150.

  4. Jill says

    Beautiful job on the kitchen! I have a very similar knotty pine kitchen circa 1958 that always gets compliments from guests. We even have the same dutch door too! Such a cozy warm kitchen, enjoy!

  5. Agatha says

    Love the fact that your historic preservation background kept the kitchen looking updated yet still definitely vintage! Very inspiring…

  6. Kathryn says

    Was the kitchen in my home the only one where that metal banding around the Formica edges had a space for a colored plastic (?) design detail (which eventually popped out)? That red plastic was the line of color for the kitchen!

  7. says

    This kitchen is nearly identical to the house I grew up in. My family still owns it. My father just passed, and we spent last weekend cleaning it out. It is in Atlanta, and I am now in Baltimore, but I really thought about gutting it and taking all of the cabinets with me to redo my kitchen, including the beautiful avocado wall oven, range and sink! The house is in pretty bad shape otherwise, so I feel like whoever bus it will simply tear the whole thing down and rebuild. Should I try and salvage the mid century goodness in that house?

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      C’mon, Kacey! You know exactly what everyone on this site will tell you–go for it!

      Is the house capable of being repaired for resale, or is it structurally unsound? Ask the real estate agent to advise you about whether or not to spend money replacing the Atlanta kitchen once you pull out the cabinets.

  8. Annette says

    Funny the things we remember, my Mom had that same Armstrong linoleum installed in our kitchen sometime in the mid ’70s.

  9. Jan says

    Also have the knotty pine cabinets but in a more rustic design. They have the exact same door handles. One day I went to Home Depot to look for new ones an old one with me. The guy at Home Depot talked me out of it, said to keep them or I would regret it later. So I did. Funny thing is I later found a box of them in an old garage, held on to them too.

  10. Lisa says

    Amber (and I love the fact that your mom had the foresight to give you the perfect name to go with your glowy kitchen :) ) I love all of your kitchen but I was really drawn to your countertops and metal banding. We are about to embark on our own retro renovation in our 40’s kitchen and I neeeeeeeed to have the metal banding. But reading other stories of the difficulty of going around curves has caused me to despair. Can you tell us how you did such a beautiful job (tools, materials, techniques) or did you have it done professionally.

    Again, awesome job! Now can you come over to my house? :)

  11. Eleanor says

    Do you know where a range hood can be purchased that will not stick out beyond the cabinets? Mine have a wooden scallop that I would prefer not to remove.

  12. Mary Elizabeth says

    A range hood is only one option for getting cooking smells and smoke out of the kitchen. Pam, what about a kitchen exhaust fan that mounts on the wall or the ceiling for Eleanor? You had a story about those a while back–you said can buy new ones and old covers.

    • Eleanor says

      We have a beautiful chrome fan in the wall now that works but freezing air comes in so we have it sealed up… and it’s not in a convenient spot so we can’t seal it and unseal it each time we need to use it. In the cold months, we just don’t vent….

  13. Helene Grossman says

    Wow, thanks for the inspiration. I just this morning put in an offer on my dream “time capsule” 1965 split level. Most of the kitchen is intact, save the awful faux granite countertops and laminate flooring.
    It also has one completely intact pink bathroom!

    I haven’t read through all the comments yet, but I am curious to know how did you find someone to do the metal banding on the counters?

    • pam kueber says

      Helen, we have lots of research on metal edging and where to get it. Use the Search box and/or go through Kitchen Help/Countertops category.

      • Mary Elizabeth says

        I think Helen was asking how to get a current carpenter who is able and willing to install it. I’ll bet she can do the research and then ask some carpenters who are part of an old family business whether they could do it.

        And revisiting this story reminds me–Amber, that new baby must be just over a year now, and the three-year-old is now four and probably in pre-K!

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