Mary and John remodel their 1980s kitchen with a fresh white retro modern vibe

before-3Mary and John built their house in 1983 and after 32 years of cooking in the same shades-of-brown kitchen — and inspired by a fabulous vintage Daystrom dinette from craigslist — they decided it was time for a light, bright retro transformation. And this story is another good example of how we all just love to do things The Hard Way: This project was six years in the making — time well spent in planning and $aving the money to fund the makeover — lots of it DIY, but some of it hired out to pros — step by step.

after vintage kitchenMary writes:

Dear Pam.

I am happy to tell you the story of our groovy little kitchen, because it actually starts with Retro Renovation.

vintage kitchen

About six years ago, I found a tulip table and chairs (Daystrom) on Craigslist. It needed some help, and I was googling refurbishing tulip table/chairs and found your blog! I have been hooked ever since. (Actually, we ended up paying a furniture guy here in Austin to do the work, and he did a great job.) Like many of us on this blog, over the years we have done some of the work ourselves or saved up to do the big things we couldn’t do on our own.

vintage kitchen

We are the original owners of the house and built it in 1983. The more I read your blog, the more inspired I was to get rid of the 80s stuff and renew the kitchen with a nod to retro style. After the tulip table redo, we paid to have hardwood floors installed to replace the 30-year-old 80s linoleum. We replaced the appliances as well.

moe-lightingMy husband John and I also refurbished a 1967 yellow princess phone — it rings and you can make calls, even dialing the rotary dial.

John installed the vintage lights I found on Etsy/Ebay. We are proudest of the NOS Moe tangerine honeycomb pendant light over the tulip table.

I found the atomic sunburst clock for $6.99 at a local Goodwill here in Austin. I could barely contain my glee when I plugged it in and it started right up. It keeps better time than any other clock we have! I read your blog daily to learn more about the retro decor. Your blog was an inspiration and a great research tool.

vintage kitchen

Time went on, and this year we were able to fund new countertops, paint the kitchen cabinets, and replace the hardware — all with a retro flair. I read everything on your blog about laminate countertops. I already had 32-year-old Wilsonart laminate — almond, of course. The 80s. Check out the u*** before picture [edited; Pam says: Mary, I don’t think your almond was u*** or a bad choice — it was what was popular in the 1980s — I think you just got sick of it before it wore out and because of the lack of any real color anywhere else in your kitchen — totally understandable!] New floors but u*** almond laminate.

I still liked laminate and wanted a fresher look. I ordered samples of retro patterns from Formica and Wilsonart. I read about the Brady Bunch orange countertops and even ordered a sample of Bittersweet from Pionite.  I knew where to look and what to look for because of Retro Renovation!

vintage kitchen

jonathan adler laminateI decided I wanted to paint the cabinets white with Amerock chrome hardware (found that on Retro Renovation too). John and I finally decided on white countertops with an orange backsplash. In the RR blog I saw White Ellipse from the Formica 100th Anniversary Collection (2013) and Greek Orange Key from the Jonathan Adler Formica collection (2015). Together they are perfect in my kitchen. We paid to have the countertop installed and the cabinets painted. John installed the sink, faucet, and garbage disposal as well as installing the brushed nickel retro style fan. Now we have the retro kitchen of our dreams!

Thank you, Pam and Kate, for inspiring the rest of us to love the house we’re in!

Happy Retro Days everyone!

Wow, Mary and John — that is quite a transformation, congrats! We absolutely LOVE how you used laminate on the wall as the backsplash, and in such a groovy color, too! The white — with all that careful use of orange: Looking at your kitchen is as refreshing as a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice at breakfast. We’re glad we could help you find the materials you need to get the job done and “Love the house you’re in!”

love the house youre in


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  1. Jukesgrrl says

    That dinette certainly is inspirational. The light you picked out for it is perfect and I love your choice of a backsplash. I’ve never seen that pattern before. I always wonder why people install backsplashes made out of materials that are impossible to keep clean. Nice job and I’ll bet you’re glad you didn’t go into a ton of debt to get the kitchen of your dreams.

  2. Steve H says

    I really love how the cabinets go all the way up to the ceiling. Those high spots are perfect for all of the dishes and things that only get used a few times a year.

  3. cc says

    We too were stuck with ugly 80s brown cabinets and almond countertops. We painted the cabinets white, added vintage “black strap iron” handles ( yes, from the colonial craze in the 60s), took the modern handles off the fridge, and replaced the flourescent light with vintage swag lights. Looking at this edo, My frugal side is now trying to justify getting rid of those still perfectly good but ugly almond counters!

  4. Geronomom says

    Nice job on turning “blah” into BOOM! We have vintage birch cabinets in our 1961 kitchen, which the previous sellers had painted white – they also installed plain white formica countertops and backsplash – where you guys were drowning in brown, over here we’re O.D’ing on white! Been toying with the idea of an orange laminate backsplash for quite some time now – your lovely photos might just give me the impetus I need to get off my bum and make it finally happen! Oh – almost forgot to mention – love your breadbox! We have the exact same thing in avocado green sitting on our kitchen countertop! Breadboxes seem to be a thing of the past – you seldom see them used anymore. Don’t know why – but we definitely use ours!

  5. Cynthia says

    Great job! Bright, tasty (love that orange) How is the open space to the side of the stove used…for a trash can? counter stool?
    So true that anything almond was totally “in” in the late 70s -80s…maybe an opposite reaction to late 60s-70s mega-colors harvest gold, avocado, and orange-red.
    (Realizing that “the 80s” was 30-35 years ago reminds me of my age!)

    • Mary Hutka says

      Hi Cynthia,
      The space under the cutting board to the left of the stove- we put an Ikea laundry hamper to collect our recycle and a cute metal canister to hold the dog food. There is a hard to reach cabinet so we installed roll out drawers from the Container Store. We keep our Cuisinart and the Kitchen Aid mixer there.

  6. Mintrad42 says

    Hi Mary and John,
    I have read that rotary dial phones won’t work with new phone company technology.
    Did your refurbish involve anything to do with that issue?
    Thanks for sharing!

      • Mary Elizabeth says

        We have a red wall phone in our kitchen with a rotary dial. It works just fine with the other phones in our system. You can’t do touch tone selection for most things (“To repeat this message, press 9”), but you can answer the phone and make calls. I use one of the touch tone extensions for everything else. There is no problem with the basic service.

  7. Mary says

    I love the look of laminate used as a backsplash applied directly to the wall. So much cleaner looking than having a separate backsplash piece made up and then applied to the countertop. Did you use anything to cover the line where the backsplash meets the counter?

  8. Trudi says

    Mary & John, I too have a eighties kitchen and you have inspired me! I love how you gave it a wonderful mcm feel using existing things and working in stages. Would you share what paint you used on the cabinets and did you replace the hinges? Thanks for sharing your beautiful kitchen!

  9. Jen says

    Pam and Kate, any chance of you two doing any posts about decorating 80’s kitchens? Though I live in a mid-century house, the kitchens were redone in the 80s. One I’m retro-renovating, but the other is functional and in decent shape–with solid oak doors (unfortunately, the finish is peeling).

    If the 80s are too recent for this blog, I understand. But I thought it might help more readers “love the house they’re in” (love that! It’s my new mantra)

  10. Dan says

    I love that backsplash and, like lots of other folks here, would appreciate your installation tips. Did you have trouble making sure the surface was even? How did you cut it and make the openings for the outlets? How did you trim the edges?

    For the answer to these nd other questions, tune in next week…..

  11. Mary Hutka says

    I’d be happy to answer the questions about the countertops, the hardware, and the paint. We hired professionals to install the countertops. I searched online until I found the best guy in Austin who only installs laminate countertops. This is all he does so he really knows laminate installation.. We previously had Wilsonart laminate so we kept the same electrical outlets and under cabinet lights that we had. Yes, we changed the hardware. It had been brass and we wanted chrome. We had to use the same style hinges we used when we built the house 32 years ago.The hardware is Amerock. I looked online and ordered most of it from Amazon. We had to get a little more that we picked up at Home Depot. We hired professional painters, the same ones that painted the kitchen walls 3 years ago. It’s Sherwin Willams Snowfall. They used oil-based semi-gloss enamel. The painters also took the doors off and sprayed the doors at their shop.

    • pam kueber says

      Wow, that’s so impressive that you worked to research and use proven pro’s. And oil paint! And took the doors off and sprayed them at the shop — nicely played!

        • Mary Hutka says

          No, the painters used latex eggshell paint. We hired a painting company highly recommended on Angie’s List. We picked the color and they chose the type of paint for each job: walls, cabinet drawers, trim. They painted the whole interior 3 years ago except for the kitchen cabinets. We hired the same painters this time. They used Sherwin Williams.

  12. Laurie Williams says

    Mary, my retro loving BFF, your Reno really brightened up your kitchen. It was exciting seeing the process and you brought me into loving the mid century modern look. I adore mid century Italian looks.

  13. pam kueber says

    I just want to add, officially for the record: That Daystrom dinette is one of my very all-time favorites. I saw my first one in the very earliest days of the blog. COVET big time! I like it even better than my Burke! If I ever see one, I will snap it up! Great find, great eye, Mary and John! I wanna come over for martinis, stat!

    • Mary Hutka says

      Come on by, the bar is open. When I first got the Daystrom dinette off Craigslist I looked at your kitchen Pam. I thought it was the most beautiful kitchen I had ever seen. I was coveting your Burke set! I was hoping someday to have a kitchen as wonderful as yours. thanks for the inspiration!

  14. SebastianPDX says

    Wow! That’s really smashing. Interesting experiment: do John & Mary intend to go through the house, room by room, to create a mid-century fantasy?

    That I’d like to see!

    • Mary Hutka says

      That would be cool, but we have eclectic taste and eclectic furniture/decor. If you look up Pam and Kate’s 11 Retro Design Archetypes we would probably fit into Trash to Treasure. We have a real mix, but we like it. We like to repurpose and rehab things. It’s exciting to see old things come back to life. Right now we are rehabbing a 1972 RCA console stereo, but we are not purists. We gutted it to put in speakers/bluetooth. Shocking, we are painting it too. We’ll post a pic when we are done.

  15. another mary says

    Great renovation! Painting the cabinets white transformed your kitchen into a light and bright space. And I love the the orange you used for your back splash. Using laminate for that is a great idea – so easy to keep clean. The under cabinet lighting is also a great touch. It gives it a warm glow which I bet looks nice at night too.

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