A minimalist modern kitchen design using vintage St. Charles cabinets

retro modern st charles kitchen greenRemember Pam’s post about the 1964 custom green St. Charles kitchen for sale in Chicago? They are not for sale anymore — owner Mark and his wife are in the process of gut remodeling the entire house and have decided they will keep these awesome reto kitchen cabinets for reuse one way or another. But can this couple incorporate these cabinets into the minimalist-modern kitchen design they have in mind? Read on for my suggestions…

This story is exciting for me — right up my alley — since my personal decorating style is retro modern. I jumped at the chance to help introduce a little retro into what would have otherwise been a super ultra modern kitchen design.

Mark writes:

The house is mid-century modern – built in 1949 by L. Morgan Yost. The architect studied Frank Lloyd Wright and knew him but didn’t “copy” his style. But he writes that his work is heavily influenced by FLW because he learned about all the amazing things he was doing at the time.

We are restoring the house to its original condition while, at the same time, modernizing all the utilities. We have removed all the plumbing, electrical and HVAC. We are installing heated ceramic/porcelain floors throughout the house  and replacing all the windows. We considered a flat grey concrete floor for the entire first level but, for the time being, have decided against it. This house has a strong Japanese influence and is truly unique in the North Shore of Chicago. The goal is install a kitchen that does not attract attention, but fits into the design of the home – and the design will be very minimalist. 
My wife loved your Frank Sinatra Kitchen story and has printed it and showed it to designers to support her ideas that these cabinets can be contemporary (again). We have considered concrete, glass and stainless steel countertops – but first we have to get the floors done and then drag the base cabinets back into the kitchen and start to get a feel for how they look and the configuration.
There are going to be some serious challenges – such as sink cabinets and incorporating wall ovens seamlessly into the design. 
The biggest challenge is the minimalist approach. We can’t have the kitchen stand-out. It must “fit” and we are building a large laundry room upstairs – so if the retro-kitchen idea fails, we will have a very cool “St. Charles” laundry room.

It sounds like Mark and his wife are very much into modern minimalist design, but since they have developed a love for these retro 1964 St. Charles kitchen cabinets, it seems like they could be persuaded to use them, if the right solution presented itself. It is always tricky trying to fit vintage cabinets into a different configuration.. That’s why, for this remodel, I’ve suggested combining the vintage green steel cabinets with wood kitchen cabinets in a complementary wood tone — to frame around the wall ovens, or make a pantry area, etc.. Keeping most of the rest of the kitchen neutral and light will appeal to Mark’s minimalist taste, while injecting some texture and a few bits of color and decoration here and there will keep the design from feeling too sterile. Here’s what I came up with:

retro modern st charles kitchen green

  1. A Nelson Sunburst Clock in multi color would be a perfect way to add a bit of bold color to the kitchen. Bonus — it helps repeat the green from the cabinets. Note: I don’t think the green has to match exactly, since the clock will be up on the wall and be separated from the green on the cabinets.
  2. A light aqua blue wall color like Sherwin Williams Green Trance would contribute just enough color to help blend the green with the other neutrals, without being too stark.
  3. For the box around the wall oven, and some additional cabinets (where needed) Omega cabinets with Dunkirk style doors in a light maple or birch would keep the kitchen feeling light and airy and also add the warmth of wood.
  4. For a durable and modern looking backsplash, Modwalls 2×8 subway tiles in Milk would do the trick.
  5. To inject a little more retro, consider adding some wall decor, such as this small white ceramic owl wall plaque from seller JackJetVintage on Etsy.
  6. This simple, ultra modern Kohler kitchen faucet in polished chrome adds to the minimal modern feel.
  7. You can’t get much cleaner looking than a simple white under-mount sink from Kohler.
  8. Another way to make the green cabinets work in the space, is to add more modern dishware, some in pristine white and some with pleasing green accents like this bowl from cb2.
  9. I’d keep the countertops white, but instead of choosing a flat white, these silestone countertops in blanco maple have flecks that create interest and texture.
  10. 1964 custom green St. Charles cabinets.
  11. This high end professional Viking double wall oven in stainless steel would add sparkle to the retro modern space, coordinate with the chrome and add to that shiny new feeling. You could always use a classic white.
  12. The new Omega cabinets that will be added will need some new pulls, but changing out the pulls on the St. Charles cabinets would also up their modern factor. I like this satin nickel cabinet pull because it looks modern, but the bow tie shape references many retro designs.
  13. Pam says they’ve already decided to put down porcelain floors. Initially they were considering concrete, so I used this Quartz perla light grey porcelain floor tile from the Tile Shop for the mock up.

kateI think this kitchen would fit well into a modern and minimal house — even with its retro touches. Alternately, if the light aqua wall paint color wasn’t their taste, a very pale grey would work well especially if Mark and his wife are using the Asian look of the exterior on the inside. With the light grey walls they could also add some small black and red accents, wall decor and dishware with an Asian feel.

Pam took a look at all my ideas, of course, and wanted to note that: Using a medium colored wood for cabinets can provide longevity to  your design. Remember this big conversation about what makes for “timeless design” ? One of the ideas that came through in the comments is that, usually, trends go with the extremes of light and dark — but a medium wood tone has staying power. So for kicks, I adjusted the idea board to show a medium wood tone as well, and hey — I like it, too! Another thought: If there are original, natural wood features in adjacent rooms of the house — match the wood in the kitchen cabinets, for a seamless transition compatible with your minimalist aesthetic.

st charles retro modern green kitchen

For the mood board above: I substituted the light maple or birch wood on the Omega cabinets for their sable finish.

Readers, do you have additional suggestions about how to blend the 1964 green St. Charles wall cabinets with a modern minimalist style?

  1. Andrew says:

    Hi Kate,

    I’m also in Chicago and live in Sandburg Terrace in Old Town. I bought an original unit with the metal Geneva kitchen cabinets. Over the last four years, I purchased three more Geneva kitchens to expand my kitchen. I’ve hit a sticking point with my Kohler under mount sink. I’m having trouble figuring out how to mount the sink inside the cabinet (so is my contractor). I purchased the under mount sink kit from Kohler, but there is a lip on the inside of the cabinet and the clasp will not lay flat. Can you share how you mounted your under mount sink in your kitchen? Thanks in advance for your response.


    1. pam kueber says:

      Hi Andrew, these were just design ideas. We are not experts on how to mount sinks … Also, I am not sure I even understand your question. An undermount sink mounts on to a solid surface countertop, not a cabinet, as far as I know…

  2. Matthew says:

    In my opinion stainless steel kitchen cupboards are the best type of cupboards to have in a kitchen as they are resistant to rust and easy to clean.

  3. Lisa says:

    Aw, looks like someone bought that cute little owl:) Can’t help but think it was a reader here, so it will have a good home.

  4. Morgen says:

    The second mood board reminds me a lot of what we are doing in our kitchen install (whiteish silestone, whites, green, dark woods). However, I’m far from minimal and can’t wait to add bright pops of color. I hope they figure out a way to keep those amazing cabinets and keep the design ascetic that they are going for.

Comments are closed.