Ann recreates the look of vintage steel kitchen cabinets — in wood

retro kitchen


Do you love the sleek look of vintage steel kitchen cabinets — but don’t want to undertake the rocky journey to find a set to fit your kitchen, then restore the cabinets, etc.? Well, that was reader Ann’s dilemma. She recently purchased a 1965 condo apartment. The original kitchen was failing. She loved the look of vintage, but did not want her kitchen to be an epic. So, instead of hunting down the vintage, she found a clever and patient cabinet maker who recreated the look of vintage steel to a tee using wood, and then finished them with special high gloss paint. Ann did use a New Old Stock vintage tile — both the floor and backsplash tiles are from World of Tile, of course. And there’s even another twist — Ann used a *famous* historic kitchen featured here as inspiration for her redesign. What a spectacular story — and kitchen. Read on for the complete story, more photos, and all of Ann’s resources.

before kitchen
Ann’s 1965 kitchen “before”
… an all-new vintage style “after”

Ann and I had several email exchanges. I edited her responses, for flow. She writes:

I didn’t have the time/resources to find a vintage steel kitchen, but wanted the look. So I found a custom cabinet maker here in Bucks County PA to create one in wood — Millworks LLC. Boy, did they come through!

A view of the Koravos family kitchen. Courtesy of Historic New England. Used on this site with permission.
Ann’s design inspiration: The Koravos family kitchen — a “time capsule” kitchen salvaged for museum use. Photo courtesy of Historic New England. Used on this site with permission.

My kitchen design is a replica of one I found through you — (the time capsule Koravos kitchen rescued by Preservation Massachusetts for historic purposes [shown above]. Millworks LLC researched every minute detail and with impeccable, high end, old world craftsmanship, delivered precisely what was requested. It occurred to me that a portion of your readership might be interested in doing this as well, especially with the resurgence of mid century architectural plans.

world of tile imageBoth the floor and backsplash tile came from World of Tile. I was dazzled by World of Tile, as I know you were too. It’s an amazing place. Can I offer some advice? I will anyway heehee. If you go with vintage tile, do yourself a HUGE favor and glue the sheets to new fiberglass mesh before you begin. The old mesh/paper/whatever-they-used will disintegrate when it hits the wet adhesive and you’ll be crying for the entire installation.  It took us three weeks to lay the kitchen floor. If we had replaced the mesh it would’ve taken but a few days.

It’s taken eight months to get to this point! My boyfriend Ron and I did most of the work ourselves. But it’s finally coming together.

I was born with the retro in my DNA, and in my attic! My dad was a bomber pilot in WWII, and my Mom was a glamour girl. ALL Dad’s war gear and many of Mom’s best dresses, skirts, seamed stockings, hair rats etc were up in our attic. As a teen, I wore them to school. I also combed thrift shops back in the 70s and acquired an impressive collection of bubble dresses, swing jackets, clam diggers, you name it! I loved anything and everything 40s, but 50s mid mod — hated it! It was a slow seduction that began with my sister sharing links to your photos of Time Capsule houses. Within those photos I began seeing styles that went far beyond kitschy diner. I began to collect pieces here and there, and found it went beautifully with my (then) obsession with Middle Eastern/West Indian decor. Finally, when I bought a 1965 Condo last year, my appreciation of mid-mod blossomed into love!

aqua kitchenThe condo had its original kitchen and bath. I was prepared to love the kitchen, but it had a long, hard, sad life, and was unsalvageable. The kitchen had the much desired gold-flecked laminate counter tops, and I did my very best to save them. ( Alas, black mold infiltrating the substrate defeated me. Badly neglected, cheap-to-begin-with cabinets also needed replacing. The bathroom, however, with its cast iron tub, console sink, and mud-set mosaic tile floor were saved. Yay! Now there’s a retro kitchen to match!

Thanks so much for creating your website. Without it, I would never have found my dream kitchen!!

Ann shares the products she used for her Retro Renovation kitchen remodel:

  • Kitchen cabinets: Millwork LLC, Trubauersville, PA. The cabinets faces and doors are solid maple, and the boxes are lumber core veneer plywood, she says.
  • Paint for the kitchen cabinets: Benjamin Moore Tropicana Cabana in a special catalyzed paint with a high gloss finish coat.
  • Cabinet pulls: Top Knobs M390 Nouveau Pierced Pull Chrome (*affiliate link)
  • Counter topsPionite, Primary Yellow
  • Faucet: Chicago Faucet, same as Pam’s. “I was reading your archives,” Ann said, “saw you had that Chicago Faucet and asked you about it in comments. We absolutely love it. Talk about quality and worth every red cent!”
  • Refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave: Frigidaire Gallery from H H Gregg.
  • Oven: Brand new Kenmore Pro snagged on ebay for 1/4 the price. A closeout — picked up at a Sears in NJ.
  • Stovetop: GE, gently used from Craigslist for 1/3 the price of new.
  • Kitchen light: “… My crown jewel — a group effort!,” Ann explains. “I found it on ebay. It’s a Lightolier, and had been salvaged from a movie theater demolition. It was white enameled metal. Ron, my boyfriend, suggested we have Millwork LLC paint it Tropicana Cabana. Then they suggested we add the yellow to the trim parts.”

Ann, there is not much more for me to say than: This is a really ingenious kitchen — you did an amazing job — and yes, when Ron gets his second wind and the back splash is finished, you know we’d love to see the finished kitchen. Thank you so much sharing!

  1. Phil says:

    I want to know what special catalyzed paint to look for and what was used for the high gloss finish coat?

  2. Carol says:

    Great job! Love the color – I have an original birch veneer kitchen. I have painted all the fir boxes flat white and am refinishing the birch cupboard doors and drawers and reinstalling the original round copper concave pulls. Rather than refinish the inside of the doors as well I have painted them turquoise – that color makes me so happy!

  3. Bill says:

    Hi Ann-

    I wonder if you could give a bit more detail on the paint your cabinet maker used on the cabinets? I’m looking for a similar effect on a cabinet I’m building for my kitchen.

    I bought an oven and a separate cooktop on display close out, and I have a 44″ space where the original 1930s range stood. My intent is to build a cabinet to house my oven and cooktop that looks enough like a range of that era to fit in. I think a high gloss finish like you’ve done would look amazing. Any details you can provide would really help.

  4. DIY April says:

    Ann, I’m so excited after reading this post. I just bought a fixer upper that was built in 1956. It’s in a historic neighborhood… the first with central air in the country! The kitchen is awful and now I have hope. Thank you

    I love this too, “My dad was a bomber pilot in WWII, and my Mom was a glamour girl.”

    Read more: Ann recreates the look of vintage metal kitchen cabinets — in wood

    1. Annwesleyhardin says:

      April! I’m so glad you’re hopeful and inspired by my story. How utterly cool to have the first home with central air! Wow! Your home deserves a knock out kitchen. Go for it! I never tire of gazing at mine. And thanks for living the bit about my parents. Such good memories!

  5. Karin Jeffrey says:

    Ann, I am bringing pictures of your renovation to a contractor! I too live in an older condo (1971). I even went to Benjamin Moore to get swatches of Tropicana Cabana. What a great color for cabinets. I won’t copy EVERYTHING, though. I bought pulls from Rejuvenation and the counter, backsplash and floor will be different. Any suggestions for an alternate kitchen counter color?

    1. Ann Baker says:

      Hi Karin,
      How exciting!! You will love your Tropicana Cabana cabinets! If you have a smaller counter area like I do, you can use a nice bold color. Red maybe?? If you have a lot of counter space you don’t want the counter to take away from the cabinets, perhaps orange? What material are you using for the countertop? What color backsplash and appliances are you getting? I’m thrilled for you! Ann

  6. Mary Ann Williams says:

    I have an original 1947 kitchen with the aqua cabinets. Trying to save them, but some areas badly worn. Any ideas where to find the glossy paint? The oven is original and still works great. That paint is fine. Thanks

    1. Ann Baker says:

      Hi Maryann, so sorry! Just saw this! You can get the paint at any Benjamin Moore dealer. Just get it in a high gloss enamel. Also, my local Ace Hardware copies Benjamin Moore colors. Good luck!

  7. Mrs. H. says:

    I love your kitchen. I have a newer home so hubby won’t let me paint my cabinets. But I really dig your backsplash. I think this style would be a nice compliment to my kitchen. Super vintage. But the appliances are all stainless steel. (I really want pink/aqua) I have done NOTHING to my backsplash, except put contact paper on it until I can decide what to do with it. I just love your entire kitchen! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Ann WesleyHardin says:

    You guys are AWESOME!! I hope your dream kitchen comes true for you, and that you feel happy every moment you spend in it!

  9. Wow, this is the same color combo as my kitchen renovation, great minds do think alike! We’re currently in a state of kitsch collecting to make it more ‘us.’ I’ll submit photos when we’re done! -jeff

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