A 1950s two-tone kitchen - Nancy's inspiration

Glamorlux Nancy in Fairfax, Virginia, is updating her 50s kitchen and has her inspiration photo all ready to go. The kitchen is already quite nice looking – the overall feel of the space is terrific, and the cabinets are well-made. Nancy’s chosen her countertop and has her hardware… but she still is pondering what color… or colors… to paint her original 50s cabinets…and the accent – or not – for her new Azrock Cortina floor tiles.

Nancy's 1950s wood kitchen

Nancy writes:

Hi Pam,

I’ve seen on your site where you and your readers provide ideas for “remodeling” vintage kitchens and baths… Well, here is our kitchen, pre-restoration.

As far as I can tell, a lot is original – cabinets, GE Textolite countertops (golden beige twilight), and plastic “copper” tile backsplash. However, it is very late 50’s, and we prefer a “prettier” early 50’s look. I want our new color scheme to include: aqua (turquoise), pale yellow, red and white.

The original Textolite counters are sort of beat up and lack the metal banding, so we are planning on replacing them. We’ve already purchased the aqua boomerang Formica laminate and stainless steel banding to make the new countertops. Since the copper tiles are only over the range, we are planning on removing them, and then making a taller backsplash on the countertops.

The flooring is obviously not original. I ordered some samples off of the Azrock website, and they came within a few days! My favorite is called Cirrus V-785… (and I want to use this) for the majority of the floor, with a diagonal or random pattern of Azrock’s “Spearmint”, “Honey” and “Coral Reef”…. But, my husband said that might be too much with the boomerang countertops. Our kitchen will have a Mexican theme, so we’re going for a festive look. …

As I mentioned in another email, we’ve been going back and forth on whether to paint our 1959 wood cabinets. I’m really not into the wood look, although I know it was very desirable in the 50’s. Do you think we’d regret painting them? They are worn and slightly water-damaged in areas, so if I kept the natural wood, I’d have to refinish them anyway (which I don’t particularly relish doing). We are now thinking about painting the cabinet “structure” white, but then having the doors and drawer fronts yellow and/or coral. I’ve seen this done in vintage magazines… Do you like that look? The original Amerock cabinet hardware is gold, so I found the same style in chrome on eBay. Oh well, one thing I’ve learned from pouring over vintage “Better Homes and Gardens” magazines is that really “anything goes” when it comes to decorating a 50’s kitchen!

And, thanks for the compliment about the kitchen. It is definitely not a “chef’s kitchen” and the counter space is practically nil. We’ll be adding some shelving on the wall where the Cosco cart and microwave are now. Ha, ha – I wonder how many potential buyers took one look at the kitchen (and the pink bathroom) and decided the house wasn’t for them! I’m including some “inspiration” pictures I’ve collected, to give you an idea of what feel we’re going for. Any ideas are welcome!

Thanks so much,

azrock flooring samplesazrock flooring with formica sample

First of all, Nancy, I am so impressed with all your hard, focused work. You are someone who Gets Things Done. You go, girl! My thoughts on your questions:

  • Remember how Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that when you have a bad headache, you want to take just enough aspirin to kill you – but then back off a tad so that you don’t? That’s the way I tend to feel about decoration and color…. Lay it on, but then edit it back some and you will be happier. In that vein (if that makes sense): I vote with your husband. That Cirrus floor will look beautiful and has enough going on in its own right that you don’t need to add diagonals or other color punches. I also believe your eye needs somewhere to rest as it dances happily around your happy kitchen.
  • Regarding the cabinets: Go ahead and paint ’em and never look back! Another idea: Base cabinets one (darker) color, wall cabinets another (lighter) color.
  • And Retro Renovation Peanut Gallery: Be sure to chime in with your ideas, too!

All that said — Nancy, you seem to have great instincts and have really thought a lot about this. So don’t get too stressed out and ultimately – trust your own heart. We can’t wait to see the finished job – thanks for sharing!

  1. Barbara Kornacki says:

    Hi Nancy. Thanks for sharing your photos and ideas. I have wanted a vintage 40’s/50’s kitchen for years and am just now trying to pull it together too. As for painting your cupboards, it’s a big decision and it will sort itself out once you start getting things in place. You may want to check out this site to see another couples renovation although a different era: “Lauryn and Dennis’ 1939 humble kitchen”. Their kitchen speaks volumes to me, especially the cupboards. I will continue to follow your site to see the results. Have fun!

  2. Kristen says:

    I realize that this is a very old post, but I’ve seen a more recent post in which Nancy shared that she refinished her wood cabinets. Has Nancy posted her photos or information about her process anywhere? I am prepping to refinish my 1961 wood cabinets and would love some guidance and inspiration!

    1. pam kueber says:

      Hi Kristen, We do not have an update from Nancy, but check out this story from Mr. Modtomic, it may be helpful: https://retrorenovation.com/2012/05/23/stripping-paint-from-kitchen-cabinets-and-returning-to-the-original-1950s-wood-some-therapy-but-great-results/

      Please note, this is not a DIY site per se. I do think there are several ways you could do this… Perhaps you can find a professional to give you advice, including to check for vintage nastiness such as lead in old paints and finishes. Good luck.

        1. luis says:

          Hi Kristen

          I am buying a 1959 rancher here in springfield and would love to get some advice from you. As much as I like the kitchen it has seen some better days as the previous tenant did not take care of the cooktop. It is the original hardwick model installed.

  3. Kathy Davey says:

    I would love to get in touch with Nancy. We also live in Fairfax VA and have the exact same cabinets and oven arrangement. We are ready to improve our kitchen and would love to know how her great kitchen ideas turned out.

  4. Sarah says:

    I think I could go 1 of 2 ways with this, with the formica that you’re talking about, if it were me I would either sand and stain them a lighter color so that they aren’t as severe OR paint them, but paint the cabinet bases one color and the doors another it’s a very retro-Mexican look (that’s the way my grandparents kitchen was and it was an early 50s Spanish style house in West LA), with the color scheme that you’ve chosen my suggestion would be to paint the cabinets white and the cabinet doors turquoise.

  5. MrsPItcher says:

    I have similar tiles in my kitchen, but I think mine are metal. Those are one major thing I’m going to keep. I love my green tiles!

  6. futubu says:

    paint em’ if you want,. or don’t,. i think a 50’s light robins eggy pool blue wall color would make them pop. with copper accents somewhere,. perhaps the knobs? it’s those awful tiles for backsplash that need ta go! ouch! see julia childs kitchen from the early french chef shows,.a peg board wall would be very nice in this kitchen,. just my thoughts

    1. pam kueber says:

      I VERY MUCH disagree with you about the backsplash tiles, futubu. Copper backsplash tiles are very cool. Please also know, on this site, we have a rule, “No one can be made to feel bad for their choices.”

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