Frances and Doug’s warm and inviting restored 1950s wood kitchen

midcentury vintage kitchenAmerican-Goofballs250Frances and Doug became caretakers of a 1950s time capsule house two years ago. The couple already appreciated vintage style — Frances writes about vintage fashion on her blog Polka Polish — which is terrific! They loved the home, but the kitchen was feeling tired and in need of a refresh. On a tight budget, they looked to thrifty vintage finds and solutions to restore the kitchen affordably. After a few key fixes — including a charming vintage dinette set, Armstrong VCT flooring, and pom poms (!) — their kitchen once again feels warm, inviting and ready for another 60 years of happy service. 

vintage dressFrances writes:

My fiance and moved into a time capsule 50s or 60s house two years ago. Hardwood floors under ancient carpet, yellow and black tile bathroom, wallpaper, pinch pleat curtains, about nine chandeliers, the works. We don’t own it, but we’re its babysitters in a way (it’s an investment by his family while he and his sister attend graduate school), so while we work on improving it we’re trying to be thrifty and to strike a balance between modern sensibilities and what the house wants.  Naturally, Retro Renovation has been a huge help.

midcentury vintage kitchen

Once upon a time, our kitchen had salmon walls, a copper vent hood, copper drawer pulls, copper switch plates, copper contact paper with starbursts, and copper-sparkle linoleum. Unfortunately, time was not incredibly kind to our kitchen. By the time we got to it, the vent hood was broken, the linoleum was a sad and worn-down brown and muddy green, and someone had painted the salmon walls white. Unfortunately, the contact paper and floor had to go, but we did keep the sparkle laminate!

midcentury vintage kitchenmidcentury vintage kitchen

We worked with what we had.  Our starting points were the wonderful Thermador Masterpiece oven, the fantastic Ajax drawer pulls, the gold-flecked linoleum countertops, and so much Amber Shellac.  The goal was to keep the kitchen true to its origins and the style of the house while making it just modern enough to please the less-vintage-inclined.

midcentury vintage kitchen

The kitchen is quite spacious, so I was determined to find the perfect dinette for it.  I found mine via Craigslist, and (although I may be biased) I think it’s one of the niftier ones I’ve seen.

[Want to see more vintage red dinettes — see 23 here!]

midcentury vintage kitchen

The chairs were pretty badly torn up, so I reupholstered them with upholstery-weight cotton fabric from Spoonflower in my own copy of the original print.

midcentury vintage kitchen

With the Thermador as our centerpiece, we decided to go stainless.  When the fridge died we replaced it with a shiny stainless model.  When we finally decided to remove the copper range hood, a Whirlpool model from Lowe’s completed the set.  Now that we’ve scrubbed 60+ years of grime off the oven, it’s a perfect match!  The vent fan is strong enough that not even a burning tortilla will set off the fire alarm, so that’s always a plus in my book.

painting vintage cabinet pulls

I wanted to spiff up the peeling and worn Ajax boomerang cabinet drawer pulls so I had to first remove all 27 (!!).

I tried to polish the pulls, but the original copper plating was flaking and wearing off.  Since the centerpiece of our kitchen is easily the original built-in Thermador Masterpiece oven, it made sense to switch our metal choice slowly to stainless or chrome.  Early on I had tried redoing the pulls in silver leaf, but it was wearing off so I looked up spray-on chrome options.  You can get really dang expensive and fancy with the process, but I ended up just going with Rustoleum in the end.

painting vintage cabinet pulls

Each pull was scrubbed thoroughly, and I prepped a piece of cardboard with nails poked through as a little drying rack for my pulls.  Each pull went on a pair of nails, and everything got a good coat of gloss black.  Once that was dry, I spray painted metallic silver in light coats until they were shiny enough for my liking.

painting vintage cabinet pulls

For extra kitchen durability, everything got a coat of clear gloss at the end.  I let the pulls dry overnight before putting them back on, but if one could bear it, they could use to dry longer… a few of mine are dinged already from not being dry enough, and I’ll have to pull those off again and repaint them.

midcentury vintage kitchen

All in all, I’m really happy with the project and they give the kitchen a bit of new life.  Just don’t ask what I’m doing about the door hinges.

midcentury vintage kitchen

Red and aqua seemed like natural accent-color choices.  I had two pieces of color inspiration going into the project:  An art print of the Golden Gate Bridge and the collection of three plastic flowers hanging by the sink.  The red table solidified the choice, and I looked for other places to bring in those two colors as I went through.

midcentury vintage kitchen

I replaced the original roller blind with a custom-cut Levolor one, with scallops to mimic the original.

midcentury vintage kitchen

I added the red pom-pom trim myself after getting it home to inject a little more whimsy. The pom poms were just about the easiest part of the whole kitchen.

midcentury vintage kitchen

I just got a couple rolls of pom-pom trim from JoAnn fabrics (with the 50% off coupons, naturally) and hot glued them along the back side of the roller blind so that just the poms would be visible on the front. I felt like I should be doing something more high-quality to attach them, but the factory trim was hot glued so if it was good enough for them…

midcentury vintage kitchen

Following the advice of many other Retro Renovators, we went with Armstrong VCT for the floor. We were told there was a good chance our linoleum was attached with asbestos glue, so [Precautionary Pam here: I edited this part because I want every Retro Renovator to consult with their own properly licensed professionals regarding how to handle. Read more about the various hazards in old houses: Be Safe / Renovate Safe.] We ended up settling on Emerald Haze, a white base with dark aqua and pale grey flecks.  Installation was much more painless than I had feared, and the floor looks so wonderful and shiny!

midcentury vintage kitchen

So, for now, our project is at an end.  I just need some finishing touches—I would love some new floor mats, and I’m still holding out for a better light fixture to go above the table… maybe a cone light sort of sconce?


P.S. We discovered a bit of a Woddity while we were tidying up… our ceiling fan seems to have a night light!  I’ve certainly never seen anything like this before, but I am not a ceiling fan expert.

American-Goofballs500Frances and Doug — you did a fantastic job refreshing your vintage kitchen! The cabinets are so glowy, and the floor looks great and that dinette set is fabulous. Both Pam and I agree, we are IN LOVE with the red pom poms on the scalloped roller blind — absolute happy genius! Pam also says she adores your medium-tone wood cabinets — this is such a classic material and color — such a classic, livable, and here she wants to say it — a timeless 20th Century kitchen. Perfect!

Update — Immediately after this story published, we received a few inquiries about how Frances used Amber Shellac. She replied:

I have done absolutely nothing with the Amber Shellac. Yet. The recent Shellac articles on the blog led me to do a few spot checks and confirmed my suspicions that every bit of wood in the house is coated in Amber Shellac.  Floors, wall panels, cabinets, doors, trim… Everything.

Pam also notes: As noted in yesterday’s story (read the details to see how I-XL finished wood vanities) — and consistent with reader comments on this recent story about Amber Shellac — it seems like a best practice to make sure the shellac does not get affected by moisture may be to top it off with a coat of varnish, which is more water resistant. Do more research — something to consider.

Congratulations on a job well done and mega thanks for sharing your process and fabulous final results with all of us!

love the house youre in

  1. Carol says:

    The cabinets look amazing, and that oven is to die for. I know the hinges on the doors don’t match but I think maybe they should stay. The reason I say that is because I didn’t even notice the hinges in the photos until I read your comment and looked back in the article. The silver handles look great but if you have matching hinges, I think they will jump at you. Maybe this is a case where matching is not a good thing. I’ve never seen that done, but in your kitchen it works. My grandmother has a very similar kitchen with the hammered black hardware so the hinges are very prominent. I think everything is just great the way it is. The kitchen looks almost brand new or looks like a pricey retro reno. Love it!

    1. Frances says:

      I had the same thought about the hinges… the warm copper color just vanishes into the wood, so I think that they might stay for the forseeable future.

    2. Dan says:

      Regarding your hinges – they appear to be just like mine, which are new and in chrome. I used them on new cabinets I installed 10 years ago to create a midcentury look in my kitchen. I just found them at a local kitchen and bath hardware store here in the Chicago area. I am fairly confident you can find them pretty easily in your area, and I recall them being fairly inexpensive. Love what you did with your kitchen!

  2. Amy says:

    A question for the retro renovation readers, hopefully someone can answer it: where can I find cabinets like those? I know they’re old, but that style doesn’t seem to exist any more. All the new cabinets have trim, or the flat ones are the “slab” style made from mdf. Why can’t I find cabinets that look like this: http://www.cassellaskitchen.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/kitchen-cabinets-door.jpg

    and not like this:

    ?? Hopefully someone can help me understand this. Thanks!

  3. J D Log says:

    You both done a great job it looks like it’s got the 2 big factors for me cozy yet practical. The pom pom idea was great

  4. Shari Wilson Sullivan says:

    Love your kitchen, especially the table and chair set. I took one look at your ceiling fan and knew it was the same one that I have in my house with the “nightlight” effect in the upper lighted area. My hubby and I started building our house in 1987, which is about when our ceiling fans went in, so yours is probably from around then, too.

    1. Frances says:

      Awesome, good to know! I can spot a few things in our house that were replaced in the 80s (our fridge, the bathroom vanity…) so that might have been done around the same time!

  5. Sara of WA says:

    I am in LOVE!!!!! Wouldn’t change a thing. Seriously amazing. And so warm and welcoming. Not overdone – just wonderful. And I’m coveting your diamond paned kitchen window!

  6. Joe Felice says:

    There wouldn’t have been a ceiling fan back then. What would have been there was one of those pull-down lamps with a faux copper finish. But we do have to try to work things in to our mid-century rooms to make them work for us today. (Like the stainless-steel refrigerator.)

  7. Gracie Manasco says:

    There is nothing I love more than diamond window panes! Please please never change out your windows! Your kitchen is very similar to mine… I can’t wait to spruce mine up!

    1. Frances says:

      I love our diamond window panes too! Sadly, I think they WILL have to go at some point because they were poorly sealed and have built up so much haze and staining between the panes that it’s almost impossible to see out them… and the old-style hook closures let in a lot of flies!

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