Open thread: Real-world advice to consider if you’re NEW to your OLD house and contemplating a kitchen remodel

1960s-modern-kitchen-remodelSo this week I made a new Retro Kitchens Page aimed at helping helping readers get started with a kitchen remodel. Importantly, it shares some of my experienced aimed in particular at folks who are NEW to their OLD house and contemplating a kitchen makeover. My kinda major focus is… take your time. I came up with eight items. But, I want to make this the best page/advice possible. So today, OPEN THREAD: Readers, what else can we advise folks who are new to their old house and who are contemplating what to do with the kitchen? Above: Reader Rebecca recently finished a retro remodel; her story is in the pipeline. I bet she can add to the 411.

Here’s my start at it:

Some of my thoughts if you are NEW to your OLD house and contemplating a kitchen remodel:


  1. Environmental and safety issues come first. Vintage houses can contain vintage nastiness such as lead, asbestos, and more. Consult with properly licensed professionals to know what is in your house, and how to make informed decisions about how to handle.
  2. If you are new to your old kitchen — go slow. Before you proceed thinking you need a gut remodel, for instance, get to know your kitchen first. Live in it a year to get to know its flow. Get to know its original style and features. Get to know your “Retro Kitchen Style” — because not all retro is alike. It may turn out that, once you learn about the original features in your retro kitchen, you might come to love them — and you may not need to spend the money, and endure the aggravation of a major remodel.
  3. vintage-formica-catalog 1938Consider updates that are in harmony with the original architecture of your house. Sure, an original retro kitchen may be “dated.” But every kitchen is dated. For example: Don’t kid yourself: Put a 2013 kitchen in your 1955 house… and in a few years that 2013 kitchen will be “dated”, too — and, dated to the wrong year. But, put in a kitchen that is harmonious with the original 1955 architecture – and at least its date will match the date of the house. “Yes, but what about ‘resale’?” folks always ask. Well, my point of view is: Mid century houses are now old enough to be considered “historic”, either officially or non-officially. “Historical restorations” or period-appropriate remodels are desirable to folks who are “into” old houses. And, you can do a period remodel that isn’t “over the top” — one that’s kind of “flexible” (this is what I did with my three bathrooms.) On the other hand, going back to our example, a 2013 kitchen in a 1955 house is unlikely to appeal to a shopper 10 years from now who is into what’s new in 2023; in reality, your financial loss* (*See item #5, below) on your fabulous 2013 kitchen remodel will only grow each and year thereafter, especially if you put in “trendy” 2013 stuff.  And finally, mind you, “trendier” has a shorter lifespan every year. Disclaimer, thought: All this is IMHO, do not consider this financial advice, this is something you need to do your own research and consult with your own professionals on, based on your market conditions.
  4. edges-for-vintage-laminate-countersHumble materials – This point kind of goes with the one above. Many — probably “most” — mid century and older houses were decorated with materials that *today* would be considered kind of… low brow. Things like: Simple wood kitchen cabinets… laminate counter tops… vinyl flooring… even knotty pine. This is pretty much opposite of what the “mainstream market” wants to sell you today — (more expensive) granite… marble… blinged out cabinetry. I personally found it a relief not to have to spec out my kitchen to “Keep up with the Joneses.” My kitchen “fits” with the rest of my (humble materials) house. And by skipping the luxe, I think I saved a lot of money.
  5. money pitRecognize that most major remodels are a bad financial “investment”. Data indicate that most homeowners will not recover the cost of a major kitchen renovation when they to go re-sell. Read my story looking at the annual research — and be aware.
  6. Save your time, energy and money for the final fix. Unless there is a safety or environmental issue involved, I am not one for putting a drop of money into a space as a “stop gap measure” while we agonize over the big picture plan. Okay, I might paint the wall (off white), so that I can “see” the space better so I can figure out what I want. My husband is really good about reminding me: An old house is a time and money pit constantly presenting costly surprises. Be careful about squandering on half measures. ‘Invest’ in making plans that will endure for years… and then spend the time, energy and money — once.
  7. Get a subscription to Consumer Reports. When you are in spending mode like this, your head will spin. As far as I know, Consumer Reports is the only resource out there to do testing to try and really triangulate to “value”.
  8. Disclaimer and clarification to all of the above: I am not a contractor, an architect, a designer, a real estate expert or variant of some such profession. I am writing this from my perspective as an owner of four old houses over my lifetime, and as a blogger who has been writing on this topic for about six years. Do your own research… identify and engage your own properly licensed professionals… make thoughtful decisions that are right for you.

As you can see, I’m focused on the “planning” stage — not on prescribing specific solutions or “what to do’s”. Readers, I welcome your thoughts and experiences!

Readers, what else can we advise folks who are new to their old house and who are contemplating a kitchen remodel?

  1. Evie says:

    Great timing for me on this article. We’ve decided to move from our 1958 ranch to a 1965 ranch hopefully by the end of summer. We know the house as it belongs to friends. I remodeled our 1958 about 14 years ago and still love it. There were so many issues with the old kitchen that we did a total reno with new maple frameless cabinets, blue glitter booths and counter high stools, formica, checker board corn/wheat VCT–still love it. Can’t take the furniture to the new place, won’t fit. I initially thought I’d have the 1965 kitchen ripped out–non-standard counter height and no place for a dishwasher right now. I’m having second thoughts about ripping it out, just don’t want to spend the money and don’t want to lose the vintage formica counter tops. I’m resigning myself to no dishwasher (pssst, don’t tell hubby). The cabinets are really dark stain and that is really depressing to me. Thinking about painting them but the corgi jumps at them and there’s no stopping him. Not sure what I’m going to do, but I’m not going to rush into it! I’ll continue reading here for all the great advice and info!

Leave a Reply

Commenting: Information

All comments are moderated, generally within 24 hours. By using this website you are agreeing to the site's >> Terms of Service, << which include commenting policies, and our >> Privacy Notice. << Before participating, read them in full.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.