Sexy paint colors for Veronica’s 1976 black and white kitchen

1976 kitchenRetro Renovation readers had terrific ideas for paint colors for Veronica’s original 1976 kitchen. I agree with a great many of their suggestions, and also noodled the question on my own. First up, though, I gotta agree with lots of readers on this piece of advice: DON’T DO ANYTHING RASH, Veronica. Don’t move in and right away start ripping out or painting over original stuff – unless there are documented environmental, safety or serious quality issues to address.

.For example, you say that black-and-white kitchen feels stark and cold to you. But, we longtime Retro Renovators are not chilled by the look at all. We are accustomed to the graphic high contrast and can imagine how wall color, window treatments and accessories will warm up the whole room quickly and to great effect.. And assuming that the cabinets are sturdy and the laminate, in good shape — we’d call that kitchen: Stunning! So — don’t paint the cabinets. At least not yet!  Honestly, it’s all a matter of understanding the look and getting accustomed to it — this takes time, because you have not been educated by mainstream lifestyle media to understand or appreciate this 1970s look.
With that little introduction, I’ll give you three ideas for the approach I might take if this kitchen were my own.  First — I love the cabinets. Clean the heck out of them and leave them as is. I would not fuss with the appliances either – unless there are serious performance issues. (At some point, though, you will want to assess the energy efficiency of the fridge.) That kitchen is cohesive. For the walls, though, I would head straight for color — big, bold, saturated, SEXY 1970s color… How to choose? I know you are already on the way after scouring etsy for some artwork that speaks to you. That is the right method. Yes, continue to keep studying and putting your hands on pieces of art, fabric, rugs or other accessories that may provide the color inspiration you need for your walls.
Idea #1 — The first inspiration piece that came to my mind was the famous Picasso drawing — Hands with Bouquet. The drawing appears to be dated 1958. But, I went off to college in the fall of 1977 and when I did, I took twin “Hands with Bouquet” comforters with me — so there must have been a resurgence. Today, you could buy this poster, then start playing with the different colors of the flowers, with samples applied to your walls.  Oh, and be sure to torture your husband excessively throughout your color-selection process. Put 37 closely related colors on the wall and make him stand there with you and discuss them. At different times of day, in all lights. When he indicates he likes a color, immediately reject it; this is a good way to do process of elimination and is a crucial rite of passage in every marriage. Of course, since you are newlyweds, he might actually think it is fun. Repeat it 10 years later and see how it goes then. Or maybe, don’t repeat it 10 years later. If you want to stay married.
Idea #2 — Going through my ebay Saved Searches the other day, I spotted a fabulous, bold, colorful and graphic 1976 bargello pillow kit. The retro decorating gods sent it to me the DAY I started thinking about your kitchen. This kind of signal gets me really excited. I would build the interior decoration of my entire 1976 house around this pillow. But, I know you are not me, I have been mainlining retro for quite a while now.
Idea #3 — You could also turn to someplace like Marimekko and search their fabrics for inspiration. This is their Siirtolapuutarha fabric and again, you can see how the strong colors play well with the strength of the black and white. You could find the same kind of inspiration in wallpaper. Wallpaper is more expensive than paint, and you indicated you wanted to put off big money investments. But if you spend some time immersing yourself in wallpapers, you may find one that you want to add in the future — and meanwhile, use its colors to guide your paint choice today. In a large space like your relatively open living room/dining room, you could also use use your wallpaper on only one “focus wall”, with adjacent walls featuring one of the colors of in the wallpaper.
  • I’m totally agreeing with readers who said to live in your house a while — a year, even — before doing anything major. Okay – paint the walls, yes. But paint cabinets? I don’t recommend it.
  • Be sure to work with a professional to get a good environmental and safety inspection. Lead and asbestos are issues we often mention, but there are others. Start smart going in. Also, if at some point you want to rip anything out, consult with environmental/safety pro’s again — you will want to know what is in adhesives and underlayments etc. etc. before you start disturbing them. Stay smart as you gear up for new projects.
  • Energy conservation is a big issue today. If you are going to make energy-related improvements, it’s a whole lot easier when the house is relatively empty. Many states are currently running free programs to assess energy efficiency of homes, and offering huge incentives for weatherization. Take advantage of this — quick. Your best new investment may be a high-efficiency furnace, air sealing, and insulation. These are the big 1-2-3 punches of energy conservation of the Northeast.
  • I’m also agreeing with one reader who said take a look at the floor. My concern: If you are sitting on a slab down in that walk-out-basement-kitchen, that floor seems to me like it will be cold. And, that inset dining room wood or laminate does not appear to be a well-integrated design.  New flooring that is warmer underfoot and which is consistent throughout may also be a preferred longterm investment, for comfort’s sale, and for aesthetics, too.
Veronica — thanks for letting us play with your kitchen! Ultimately, it is you and DH who will live in the space, and you will want to make it your own happy nest. This post made me remember setting up house with my husband in our first home… it was a wonderful, bonding experience… a great memory in our marriage story. Let us know what you decide, and enjoy!
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  1. MrsPitcher says:

    I think it’s all a matter of the decade you prefer. Seeing as how the black and white is basically a blank slate, you can make any decade fit and work. Unless you were going for a 30’s kitchen, a smidge too early. If you want to stick with the 70’s vibe, I would go with shades of yellow. Maybe even light green if you wanted to keep the cabinets white. Leaving them alone is the best option. Love all the ideas and I hope to see the finished result whatever it may be! I just love putting my two cents in, and not the least offended if not taken seriously. 😉

    1. Patty says:

      I think bright yellow could be really fun! You could also add some happy face accessories — old and new.

  2. Patty says:

    I think it’s funny that someone suggested updating the floor when this whole website is about “back-dating.” If that floor is tile, I would bet it’s better quality than those cabinets.

    While the cabinets look fun, after you live with them for awhile, you may find they are not so much fun…the drawers may not glide nicely, etc. I would sit tight for awhile and you may decide you want to completely update this place to today’s lifestyle/taste.

    Except for the cabinet pulls, I’m not seeing a lot to love about this house’s past style. When I moved into my 50s kitchen, I loved it. But it was small and cramped and when push came to shove and I had money to spend on it, I went modern because I wanted a dishwasher, counterspace, etc.

    Sometimes the past just doesn’t translate well into the present.

    If those are laminate pressed fiberboard type cabinets, environmentally speaking, I don’t think that’s great either.

    Congrats on the house purchase!

    1. pam kueber says:

      Patty, I was among those who noted the floor. This site is not dogmatic about keeping the old stuff. If something doesn’t work for today – change it. But, we do encourage homeowners to live with things a while to figure that out — especially if their initial reactions are about a previous era’s aesthetics. Regarding the laminate cabinets — I agree, it’s possible they may not have the longterm quality a homeowner would want. But regarding the environmental issues — NOT changing something is generally much better for the environment, unless what you are manufacturing significantly save energy during the “use phase” — such as a high efficiency furnace. But regarding stuff like cabinetry, there’s “embodied energy” in what is already there. Manufacturing new cabinets or “stuff” — even if you try to call it “green” — is generally worse in terms of environmental impact. In this sense, keeping the floor as is would likely be better for the environment as well — unless it is so cold that you have to keep the heat cranked up all the time, I guess… Sorry, I know this response may sound defensive. Just want to make it clear in particular that I am not against taking stuff out that is “outdated” in the sense of the word that means there is a current improved-quality or improved quality-of-life replacement…or even, if you just really don’t like it. These are our houses and we want to make them our own…. there will be as many different answers as people.

      1. Patty says:

        Pam, long before being “green” and using the word “green” was in vogue, environmentalist warned of the dangers of value priced particle board cabinets because formaldehyde was used to manufacture them.

        I was referring to environmental issues on a very personal basis …..ie in relation to people who are highly sensitive to chemicals in their home and have had serious breathing issues living in houses with such cabiinet…or those who worry about such things for their children.

        Here’s an article on more recent laws concerning the manufacture of cabinets and furniture today and the use of formaldehyde.


        My floor comment was really meant to be kind of tongue in cheek.

        1. pam kueber says:

          Thank you, Patty, and for the article, too…. Yes, “off-gassing” is another issue folks can familiarize themselves with…

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