Retro 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 newleyweds, 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 this 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!