Should Karen replace her original ceramic tile kitchen countertops?

Hey, tortured by being raised in a small, unrestored 1950s house, Karen’s three girls (Karen on the right) sure look like they turned out just fine. Better than just fine!

Here’s a good one — and a good followup to yesterday’s story discussing “when is it *okay* to let go of something original?” and introducing the Retro Renovator’s Creed. Karen wants our help. She wants to brighten up her 1954 kitchen … should she replace the ceramic tile countertops with something more sparkly? Read on for her entire story and question… then let’s confuse her some more with all our ideas and opinion –>

Pam, You ROCK! Thank you so much for hosting this retro reno PARTY!

I’m throwing my hat in the ring. While my dilemma is not new or particularly unique, I could sure use some help from all your retronistas. The simple problem is whether to replace a perfectly good, original, 1954 tile countertop with one that will add pizzazz.

We bought the house 20 years ago from the original owners. It had not been touched since a year before, and sneaking into it late one night, we were truly caught in a time warp. Back then, we were too busy raising three daughters to make any changes to a perfectly usable pink bathroom and all original everything else, apart from new carpet and the addition of a dishwasher. When I began to breathe and look around, I had no idea what I had or what to do with it.

brown saltman sideboardThen, I found this Brown Saltman sideboard in a dirty old junk store. It had amoeba handles and the glass top, and I HAD to have it. After we squished it into the dining room and I saw the flow to the corner fireplace, it truly hit me as an epiphany: This house was one of those fifties retro houses! Seriously, this is 15 years after we moved in.

Then came a year of mad ebay, yardsale and junk store shopping. I’ve settled down on the buying, but still pass the counter tops with a sigh. While replacing them seems sacrilegious, the grout is a germ magnet, and the colors are drab next to the gorgeous ash cabinets, well, they will be gorgeous once I steam and refinish them.

I have my eye on some of that new glass tile for the backsplash and maybe a black formica counter? So, help. What do you think?

Any suggestions are soooooo much appreciated.

Thank you, Karen. But no: You ROCK. Your house is just lovely!

What do you think, readers? 
Should Karen replace her original ceramic tile countertops?
If yes, with what?
If no, how to add the ‘pizzazz’ she seeks to this kitchen?

I will hold back and see what you say… but I for sure have some ideas.

  1. Barb says:

    I am a big fan of restorations! I live in the house I grew up in and have an old kitchen countertop with 3/4 in square tile, from the 1950’s. The tile has lost it’s shine and I’d like to find the same size tile and replicate it. Do you know where I could look for this?

  2. Elizabeth says:

    We have the exact same era house, the exact same cabinets, and an ORIGINAL teal blue formica counter. Have you considered going in that direction? It would essentially remain “original” to the style but be a whole heck of a lot easier to clean! My neighbors house, which is also preserved from 1954, has a lovely light buttery yellow formica counter. I just love both colors! (We also have pink tiled bathrooms, and even a maroon cast iron tub! Swoon!)

  3. Wanda says:

    Look, look, look at options everywhere.. LOOK inside yourself to find what makes your heart happy….Go with that. ?

  4. Janet says:

    I’m in the same situation. I have a 1910 Craftsman house that has tile in the kitchen. I’m not sure, but I think the kitchen may have been re-done in the ’50’s. It’s pink tile with a green trim. The pink is very light and looks like what is pictured here. I can’t seem to find matching tile, so trying to figure out whether to do new tile, or go with a solid surface. I have been told that soapstone was used in that period. Any ideas?

  5. Gerry says:

    Sorry, but I disagree with all of you that told her to keep the tile counter tops. My sister-in-law lives in her husband’s 1950ish house and she hates these tiles. You can read on the Internet how these are the worst things to have because they hold bacteria and germs. She actually uses clorox every day to clean them and no matter how much she scrubs them (yellow), they still require an immense amount of care. Unfortunately, her husband will not agree to change, wants them to stay like he remembers growing up. By all means, do something to the cabinets, which truly need some TLC, but shop around and get something that will blend in with your time frame home. We presently have Granite, which I h*** [edited], but in the new house being finished, we chose Quartz; there are so many patterns to choose from, but for goodness sake, get rid of that tile.

  6. Es says:

    OK, so I clicked on this story…because it’s NEW YEAR’S 2018 and featured on today’s RetroRenovation post…and where oh where is the picture of Karen’s kitchen which was finished four years ago???

    We want to see.

  7. Elisabeth McKechnie says:

    If you do tear out the tile, I want to buy as many whole pieces of the cinnamon trim! I have exactly your tile in my 1957 mid-century modest house and would love to replace some of the worn pieces, especially corners!!! Really. Contact me and I’ll buy some tile from you!

  8. Eunice says:

    Wow, glad I came a cross this thread because I have the same dilemma. We purchased our 1955 Modern Ranch almost 4yrs ago and we’re finally ready to start some work. 1 pink bath (which will stay) needs paint, flooring, 1 yellow bath (needs most work) but will also stay with the yellow tile and just needs new shower pan, paint and flooring. So my issue has been with our kitchen counters that are also yellow tile and I have thought about replacing to laminate because I too think about the germs in grout. But after reading all the readers suggestions, I think I may just keep, regrout and refinish cabinets. Thank you!

  9. Technicolor says:

    I am so glad you reported back. Have read half way through comments and didn’t post.

    My take was not to do anything with the tiles. Am so pleased you are embracing the history.

    Easy cleaning of grout is using an acrylic/epoxy. It can be wiped on over existing grout and creates an impervious water/ stain, etc. bond. My bath/shower surround was done myself over 5 years ago and haven’t had to touch up or clean other than a wipe down as one would for tile.

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