Margie Grace creates a perfect little kitchen for her 1940s house

vintage kitchen

Margie-HR-blog-crop2-1024x1024The minute we saw this 1940s-style kitchen remodel in our recent uploader, we suspected that there was someone with serious design skills involved. Indeed: Margie Grace — an internationally-renowned landscape designer based in Santa Barbara, Calif. — designed this slice of kitchen perfection for her 1948 home along with her partner, Dawn Close, and a little help from their friend, interior designer Kathy Bush. Accustomed to rolling up her sleeves and digging in, Grace even installed the show-stopping kitchen tile “rug” by herself! [All the beautiful photos: By Holly Lepere Photography.]

vintage kitchenGrace and Close own and operate their own successful design and build firm, Grace Design Associates — and the outdoor spaces they create are exquisite. In 2009, The Association of Professional Landscape Designers named Grace International Designer of the Year — the top honor in the field!

Even though Grace now works on projects in one of the highest-value real estate markets in the U.S., her own 1948 home is of its era, modest in size and materials. Over her 30-year career, she’s lived in and renovated many historic homes, so with this home she took the same route: Respect the original architectural style. She also lived in the kitchen not one — but 20 years — before changing the kitchen.

kitchen before

Grace’s kitchen originally held knotty pine cabinets — but it was time for a change. “I was ready for some color!!!!” she told me in an email follow up. “I’ve decided that everything around me that’s ‘stuff’ needs to bring me joy…  While there were a few knotty pine cupboards from the original kitchen, half were from the 70’s and weren’t of the same quality of the originals.  I refurbished them once (by me, 20 years ago), but they were getting tatty again and it was time for a face lift — I kept the cupboard boxes and used the best of/original doors in the pantry…”

After lots of research — including consulting the stories here on Retro Renovation — Grace designed the kitchen herself — with Bush holding her hand — and engaged local contractors to help with most of the work. The rug is composed of 12″ VCT tiles. Grace would have loved to have done inlaid linoleum, she told me, but these days it’s immensely difficult to find someone who can do it. A lost art. Sans the Big Chill refrigerator and vintage Magic Chef stove, which she already owned, the entire project cost $15,000.

“Just one bride”

vintage kitchen

Why do we love this kitchen so? Art-major Kate set up this story, and before I took over she analyzed the design:  There are so many great design elements working together in this kitchen starting with the showpiece: the patterned VCT flooring. Laid out to look like an area rug, the floor pattern picks up the colors of the pottery collection, tile and countertop and gives the otherwise calm space a little bit of zing. Because the kitchen is fairly neutral and plain otherwise — white cabinets, that awesome vintage stove, a white Big Chill refrigerator, pale creamy yellow walls and light yellow countertops — the floor pattern doesn’t compete with anything else in the room, which really allows it to take center stage. We also love the way that Margie Grace has peppered her vintage pottery collection around the kitchen — especially the way it has been displayed on the corner shelf and the specially made lighted “soffit shelf” over the sink.

Yes, Kate and I both loved the floor — and even more so, because recognizing what a strong design element it is, the rest of the kitchen was “dialed back” accordingly.

Talking to Grace on the phone, I gave her this compliment. She knew exactly what we were talking about and quickly piped in: “There can be only one bride — the rest are bridesmaids.”

YES: Editing what you put into a room is so very important. Try to put in everything, and unless you really know what you’re doing, the design can quickly get “discordant.”

vintage kitchen

Resources for Margie Grace’s 1940s-style kitchen:

Margie-HR-blog-crop2-1024x1024Thank you, Margie, you rock our world!

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  1. lynda murray says

    Wow thanks for sharing this kitchen . You did a fantastic job. I love every detail. Your kitchen reminds me of my workroom. I will be sending pictures to pam soon. I just nedd to get a little more organized. I also made a design with VCT , (Mine is more of a basketweave.) so I can appriciate what a lovely job you did. It must have been very difficult to cut , and install the small black squares.

    • says

      I learned the trick on the small black squares 35 years ago from a guy who was ancient at the time. You lay out whole tiles and glue them down. Then you cut the piece you want to insert to size. Then you lightly heat the area you want to insert the inset piece into (in this case, the small black square); heat until just softened up a little. Then slap the piece you want to insert down and use it as a template and cut around it with a sharp razor knife. If you do it right, you’ll have cut cleanly through the tile below and it’ll still be soft and you can lift the cut pieces out with the tip of the razor knife. Then just put adhesive on the insert piece and insert it. (It took a little practice til I got good at it!)

  2. Jenny S. says

    This is just fabulous! While reading, I noticed the name of your partner- same as someone I went to school with in HP. If so, tell her hi though I’m sure she doesn’t remember me! Lol! I don’t stay in touch much with anyone except Jane and Sherry. We are going to see Jackson Browne at Ravinia! Great kitchen and can we see the rest of the house?

    • says

      Hi Jenny — Yep. Highland Park. That’s gotta be my Dawn Close. Small world! RE: seeing the rest of the house — I’ll see what I can do. Not all the rooms are as groovy as the kitchen. When the front room is done I’ll send in some photos…

  3. Joe Felice says

    Love the floor. It has to be fab, what with all the white in the room. Yet and still, white was the color for kitchens in the ’40s. Then along came the ’50s and KABOOM! I ordered one of those light fixtures for the Joe’s Diner (my dining room), but it was discontinued. Now, we all know there are stocks of them somewhere, and, in days gone by, they would have tried to locate one for me, but not anymore.

  4. Carolyn says

    I am a huge fan of Margie Grace. I have coveted and appreciated her designs on the Houzz app. I truly adore this kitchen. I asked Margie for help in describing elements of her design and she ALWAYS responded,. So, add that to her professional and artistic skills…she’s a really nice person.
    I wish I had paid attention to her soffit shelf as I gazed at pictures of this kitchen many times. we kept our soffits as Pam suggested and have never regretted the decision. Who knows what lurks behind those architectural appointments! Could be something really icky like wiring or other unappealing structural details. Still, I wish I had taken a peek. I suppose it could still be done but, we’re calling our kitchen “good.”
    Between Retrorenovation and Margie via Houzz, I felt bolder about maintaining the authenticity of my 1940’s kitchen one of my tile guys said as he was installing my mid century B&W tile, “Hey, we’re usually tearing this stuff out!”

  5. Larry says

    Beautiful job! What is the make/model of the pulls on the cabinet doors and drawers? They look great with the countertop edging and seem art-deco-ish. I’m currently hunting for hardware for a 1940s kitchen with similar countertop edging and the wilsonart boomerang pattern laminate so I’m curious what you chose.

  6. Scott says

    This is amazingly beautiful and balanced. Its actually hard to stop looking at it, the black and white contrasts play off the color accents in such a way that your eye just wants to continuously wander around the room again and again to see all the thoughtful little details over and over.

  7. says

    Absolutely gorgeous. I loved the old kitchen too, but I have to say, the new kitchen is amazing. Being in the flooring business, I really dig the floor. We’re going to put VCT in our new kitchen and I was just going to do a checkerboard pattern on an angle like I did the last time–just trying to decide on colors–Depression green and cream, or grey and cream. But I feel really inspired now to do something a little more creative. That looks nice!

    • says

      Thanks Debi — don’t be afraid to rock out the pattern on the floor! There’s so much out there to work with. BTW – since you’re in the flooring business, can you tell me where the 1″x12″ VCT liner can be found? I can’t seem to find it anymore…

  8. vicki says

    What a fun floor! I am in the middle of trying to design a floor and have been living with just the subfloor for a couple of months. Ugh! This was a read inspiration to me. Plus, I love the counter tops and never even considered yellow. May do some rethinking. Thanks.

  9. Kathy says

    Such a happy place! I love this room so much. Question: did you make the curved shelving on the sides of the cabinets, or can you buy that somewhere? I’ve been wanting to tackle that as a DIY for ages but, at this point, I think I’d rather just have someone else do it!

    • says

      I drew up the curved shelves as in-fill for a little remnant space. I reused the original cabinet boxes in the old kitchen, except for a couple of “off the rack” cabinets I added over the stove. The rounded shelves “rounded” out the run of cabinets and gave me additional display space. I love the result!

      (PS – I feel you on the “get someone else to do it” approach. Other than doing the floor myself, and the design with a little help from our friend Kathy, I hired out the rest of the work.)

      • Pixxi says

        I also had a question about the curved shelving alongside the cabinets. It’s a design feature I’ve always loved, and I was wondering if anyone happens to know if that style of shelving (corner, exposed, curved) has a name. It seems to show up during the Art Deco era and through the ’40s.

        And Margie, I just love your kitchen’s cheerful, bright, clean, personality. As others have already pointed out, the joyfulness really comes through, even in pictures. I was just going to type something about the kitchen being like the “heart” of a home, and it just occurred to me how similar the words “heart” and “hearth” are. Coincidence? I think not! 🙂

        • pam kueber says

          These were/are called what-not shelves. See our stories in Kitchens / Steel kitchens for more examples…

  10. HOLLEY says

    Just beautiful. Quite the before and after transformation — the colors look wonderful and the little curved shelves are so cute and functional! The floor is amazing! Love the yellow countertops1!! Nice nice NICE!!!

  11. Jukesgrrl says

    I’m so glad this project was re-posted as I missed it the first time around. This kitchen is seriously wonderful in every way. True to the era without being camp. Great to look at and completely functional for contemporary cooking, hanging out with morning coffee, having lunch with a friend. Timeless perfection, Margie Grace.

  12. Julie says

    Hi Margie,

    The beauty is in your details! I love your chrome breadbox and have been looking for one for a while. Could you send the info on that? a all my other questions (lighting, knobs) were already answered.

    This is the best kitchen I’ve seen in my favorite era! You have oodles of taste, talent and style!


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