Reader Sara is mid-mod-mad, but she is biding her time in a rustic farmhouse while she and her husband finalize their plans to build their retro ranch house on the same, large property. She can’t wait any longer to get her fix, though: She has been in the farmhouse for five years and wants a jolt of retro in her kitchen NOW.

So, Sara  has asked the Retro Renovation community for our suggestions on how to retro-fy the kitchen without spending a lot, as they will not live in this house for a lot longer. The cabinets are from an old chicken coop, she has been told. That sink is original. Oh, and wait til you see the highly sought after Armstrong 5852 flooring. She’s also provided an “inspiration photo” from our archives.

What are your ideas, Sara asks: Paint the countertops? Paint the cabinets? Paint the bottom cabinets? Change the wallpaper border? Change the wallpaper all together? Paint the window casings? Curtains? What about painting the lower cabinets and the counter red to match the sink and replacing the wallpaper with a small print that has red and aqua in it (have the turquoise fiestaware)?

Go to it, readers! I’ll wrap it up on Tuesday with a mood board.

Here is Sara’s inspiration photo:

Click on the first thumnail to start the slideshow. There are descriptions below each photo, along with arrows to move you back or forward:

And here is some more background:

Hi Pam. I’m so grateful (in advance) for all the practical and down to earth decorating advice I’m hoping to get from fellow “love the house you’re in” folks. We’ve been here 5 years now and it’s been a lot of work inside and especially out. Nature can take over pretty darn fast when a place is left vacant! Anyway, I’ve included a lot of photos so you can pick through them. Just thought you might like some outside ones to get a feel for this place. As you can see, the setting is beautiful. And you know my hope and plan is to build a mid century modest home to live in for the rest of our lives (next 40+ years). This place has no foundation, old everything, and not one of those “solidly built” homes you have back there plus we worry about the fact that it’s basically kindling. And with one bathroom off the utility room and 4 bedrooms upstairs it doesn’t suit an aging couple. It is actually the 2nd home to be built on this property. But in the meantime, I want to enjoy it. It is my husband’s dream property and he’s always wanted it. So for us it’s all about the location and the lifestyle it gives us. We will be making a smaller footprint by taking down (recycling old wood) the house and outbuildings and building smaller.

Hey, this place was “retro” when “retro” was modern! I’m thinking a western direction would work. Keep thinking how everything “western” was so cool in the 50s. Movies, clothing, ranches, even the Mickey Mouse Club had a western story line. I’m a little overdosed on the whole “lodge” theme. My grandma went from a farmhouse to a pink mid-century modern home. I think I know where she was coming from! I hope people have fun with it.

Many thanks! Don’t know anyone else who doesn’t want to gut something and put in “updates”.


  1. Sara in WA says:

    Thank you Larry. I needed that! Wish I could have everyone over for some homegrown beef and apple crisp. Long story about how we acquired this place. We are blessed to be here. I do envy things like concrete and double paned windows though! 🙂

  2. Sara in WA says:

    Under that wallpaper if particle board with seams. I could do a texture on it though which I did over paneling and wallpaper upstairs. Might as well have some fun with wallpaper in this house though.

  3. Vanessa Bugge says:

    LOVE the Sink!!!!
    First Color~
    I’d go with the Red of the center of the sink doors, Turquoise, and Yellow (a bit lighter than the canisters in the inspiration pic.)
    I would repaint the island turquoise and the wall behind the microwave Yellow. If you are taking out or painting over the wall paper I’d go with the same yellow there too, but not paint any more of the wood. If you are near Portland check out Metro paint, if I remember correctly they have a nice yellow that I think would work. and it’s recycled and really resonably priced(I saw you are going to stick under $200 which I think you can totally do)

    Then (if you can sew or have a friend that will do it for you) I’d do a scallopped valance in the kitchen in a red or yellow fabric, plain cotton or cotton poly blend comes in lots of colors so you should be able to find the right ones and it’s not cost prohibitve, oh! you could even do one side red the other yellow so it’s reversible if you get bored and you get a peek of the other color when you see it gathered onto the rod, or a red edge on a yellow curtain . I like your curtain on the cabinet you could keep it or make a similar one to the valance above, or closet curtain I am about to describe. For the closet I would put a curtain that goes straight across above the top of the opening (you’ll have to move the pic and scoot the clock up. I’d use the red n yellow with a sort of scalloped edge border along the bottom maybe 12 inches, where the top fabric has a scallopped edge that is stitched on top of the lower edge piece (i’d use red at the floor and yellow for the rest cause the floor edge will get dustier faster and the red will hide that better than the yellow) wish I could find a pic of what I mean. you can put a hold back on the side of the opening near the canning shelves to hold the curtain out of the way when you need it.

    *optional depending on cost* I think it would also be pretty to put new laminate on your counters, you can go right over the top of old laminate and I would use turquoise, but leave the island with a wood grain top since the bottom is (in my imagination) already turq. I’d do turq on top of the dishwasher as well to unify the outer cabinets as much as possible, not sure that would fall in your price range but it would be pretty! 🙂

    then I would get red dish towels and potholders etc to pull the red around the room as the primary red will be the sink (which I love and think should be featured!) might be a hard red to match so splashes of red around the room might work better than another large red area. A vintage table cloth would be pretty on your “perfect” table, placemats and that sort of thing in the 3 colors would be fun too.

    I also must say I ADORE your canning shelves and all your gorgeous jars of lovingly canned foods!!!

    Well I don’t mean to sound bossy just trying to say what I envision.
    Best of Luck and have a blast!!!

  4. Belinda Gomez says:

    I vote for vintage cowboy, too. Black wrought iron latches and pulls, bandana curtains, cowboy granite-ware, and a bunch of little buckaroos galloping around!

  5. MrsErinD says:

    I have to agree with Gavin, I wouldn’t change much at all!

    I would absolutely Not paint the cabinets, they are gorgeous, love the handles too, and the red sink base is great too, I would only paint the pinkish island base since the color is off, or cover in wood like they said.

    If you want aqua countertops like the inspiration pic they have that aqua boomerang laminate at home depot, that would be real cute, but otherwise I would stay more 50s early american rather than mod. You could even just put it on the island for an accent.

    I think the curtains are fine, it depends on whether you rewallpaper or paint, I would rather see cute kitchen wallpaper but I know vintage style is hard to find nowadays I was looking for new 50s inspired and couldn’t find any (does anyone know of any?) but if you decide to paint (I’d do aqua) then I would bring a pattern in on the windows, any cute vintage style you like with red and aqua, that fabric on the sink skirt looks cute.

    My other two suggestions are 1~ some vintage accessories, you could find a clock similar to the insp. pic on ebay easy, vintage or new and some cute planters for the windowsill, etc.
    2~ I think above your dining room table, which is beautiful by the way, if you can, a early american style pull down light would be great!

    You have a beautiful kitchen to start with, I would keep most as is and just add a tiny bit to make it more like your insp. pic!

  6. midmodms says:

    I agree with everyone above that says don’t paint the wood if it’s not already painted. It’s pretty classic mid-century as-is, plus, personally, I love the look of aged, varnished wood. Take out the wallpaper, and especially that border. It’s at least thirty years newer and doesn’t fit the fifties look you want.

    I couldn’t tell in the pictures whether the counter-top was real wood or a wood-grain laminate, or something else. If it’s not real, you might consider replacing it with red laminate to match the sink. I like an island that’s different from the rest of the cabinets, too.

  7. Red says:

    If you are not going to live there much longer and want to snaz it up on the cheap, I would paint the island base the same turquoise color as the plates and replace the below the sink curtains with either turquoise and white gingham checked or turquoise and white country plaid fabric. You could also paint the backsplash a brilliant white to brighten up the kitchen and made a nice background for the turquoise and red.

    If you wanted curtains at the window, you could use lace curtains with turquoise or red tiebacks. Lace would match your doilies and would also let in the light.

  8. CindyD says:

    Sunflowers in a pail on the counter and call it done! You have a charming, authentic, one-of-a-kind kitchen!

  9. Alison Marie says:

    I’m coming to this party really late, but I think the kitchen is pretty fab as it is….and I have to say that as a quilter, your color combo of red and aqua is right on trend. If you search quilting fabric websites, you can find some great, washable fabric for new matching curtains, valances, and sink curtains (and potholders!), even in retro floursack or 30’s depression fabric prints. I have actually seen several photos of farmhouse kitchens in design magazines with curtains below sinks and on lower cabinets. And as a child, my parents had an old red & white enamel kitchen table which would look great in a kitchen like yours (ours was from the 30’s and my mom sold it at a garage sale in the late 80s for a song- mistake!) I agree with a lot of other commenters that just eliminating a lot of the more 80s country accents would immediately strengthen the retro feel.

  10. Dawn says:

    There is a great book by Country Living magazine about country kitchens. There are many retro inspired kitchens in the book….even vintage red kitchens!! Instead of changing anything in your authentic kitchen….just accessorize. Colorful fiesta ware on the countertops will tie in the red sink. A black and red Kit Cat Klock on the wall would be fun. You could buy some vintage table cloths on eBay and sew them into cafe curtains. A pattern with red in it will work with your color scheme. I wouldn’t change much in your kitchen. It is already retrofabulous and, as Pam says “love the house you are in”.

  11. RENEE says:

    go with white cabinets and red gingham curtains, 40s style, the fiesta ware will look fine. the walls can be white or a very tiny print paper to match the gingham. you can also use white swiss dot curtains trimmed with red, they should be very full and gathered, though.

  12. angie says:

    Ooooh Sara I am beside myself with envy over your big red enamel sink!
    I wish these things were still made; they are so completely functional:
    Sink, storage, drainage,all in one big happy unit! I have an old one from the late
    40s/50s that I use in my basement “workshop” to hold paint supplies and all
    that kind of stuff.
    Love the curtain you have to hide the under-sink storage; this is actually quite
    faithful to kitchens of the past–at one point I was so frustrated with my own
    kitchen remodel/restoration that I considered ripping off all my lower kitchen
    cabinet doors & replacing with a curtain treatment myself!
    I agree with all the other posters here to comfort yourself for now with temporary
    infusions of mod-ish stuff until you build your Modern Modest palace!
    And your woodcabinets are really mid-mod, faithful to the era.
    Or, as my mother would say: urly amerrrican.

  13. Sara in WA says:

    Yes I did MANY of your ideas all of which were so helpful/inspirational. Pam has info and photos. Went “retro Cowboy”. wallpaper, paint, sewing, cleaning . . . so happy with it.

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