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Mary’s retro kitchen renovation starts with simple white slab door cabinets — then she amps things up with color

kitchen-before-afterMary put a lot of love into the complete renovation of her kitchen 10 years ago — those vintage-looking cabinets are all built from scratch — but now love of another kind has her putting it on the market for sale: “That kitchen made me so happy,” she said, “but I gave it up for love. I guess a good man trumps a cool kitchen.” Congratulations, Mary! The kitchen got the glamour treatment for the listing photos, so let’s take a look — and Mary tells us about her planning process and the products she used. Thanks for permissions from realtor Paul Carper and realtor Bart Stockton, who took the photos, both of Carper Miller Real Estate Group.

Mary’s kitchen After:1950s vintage kitchen1950s vintage kitchenMary writes:

I love your site and I thought you might like to see pictures of my 1950s house. I renovated the original small 1950 kitchen about 10 years ago. I wanted to keep the 50s look, but open it up and add more storage. I had a blast researching home magazines of that era. The final product was bright and fun and I love it. The original bathroom is also in tact. It’s not pink, but it’s still the style of many houses of that time. I found some great wallpaper to watch the style of the bathroom.

1950s vintage kitchen 1950s vintage kitchen

I recently put the house on the market and I’m realizing it’s rare to find others who appreciate the style and retro fun of the house. The realtor described it as make everyday throwback Thursday. Haha. So far the feedback I’m getting from potential buyers is not so great. Most people don’t like the original bathrooms of that era and the retro kitchen is not their style either. It makes me sad that I can’t find anyone that will dig the style, but if it doesn’t sell in a few months I may need to sell it to someone who will gut it to an ordinary trendy style that will go out of date in 10 years or less (e.g. Travertine tile. don’t get me started….)

1950s vintage kitchen 1950s vintage kitchen

Mary’s list of retro kitchen resources:

  • Cabinets were custom made. It would’ve looked weird to try and retrofit the old cabinets with new ones so they gutted the entire kitchen with custom cabinets based on the elevations. Someone commented that my custom cabinets look like something prefab from the 50s.
  • Hardware came from Home Depot. As I mentioned before, some of the old classic hardware is still available at big hardware/home stores for not a lot of money.
  • Countertops — As I was researching the color palette for the kitchen I also thought about the counter color.  It was hard to find unusual colors at a typical showroom, so I found some great samples at my friend’s interior designer office. They have access to way more choices that your typical design showroom. Once I settled on an orange and yellow color palette I went with solid mango colored laminate. [ Editor’s note: See all our countertop research here, including our list of 10 companies that make laminate. ]
  • Metal countertop edging — I cannot remember where I got the metal trim. I guess my contractor found that. [ Retro Renovation’s research on sources to get metal countertop trim. ]
  • The double sink, typical for that era was special ordered from Home Depot.  You’re not going to find that stuff in the showroom, but if you know the look you’re going for it’s most likely still around. Faucet was also special ordered from a catalog at Home Depot. [ Editor’s note: Surely that’s a hudee-ringed Kohler Delafield. ]
  • The stove belonged to my grandmother. I still have the receipt from when she purchased it in 1953! It has since been restored and re-chromed to look brand new. That was not cheap, but I consider it a family heirloom that deserves to be taken care of. I was lucky enough to find someone locally who does that sort of thing. If you live in the LA area, Antique Stove Heaven is a good resource.
  • The Vent-a-hood is actually new. I didn’t want to try to find something retro for that so I just went with a simple white.
  • The floor is blue and black Armstrong vinyl tile. [ Readers: Remember to always check the Commercial section of websites — that’s where we often find what we want. ] I got the inspiration for the color and pattern from the book Inspiring Interior 1950s from Armstrong (affiliate link). [ Pam’s original “bible”.]
  • For the walls, I wanted something bright colorful, which isn’t necessarily a 50s thing so I went through lots of color and design books, like this: Color Idea Book. No need to buy the book. Check it out from the library for free! Also, paint stores have lots of color combinations for ideas.
  • Under-cabinet lighting — One of my favorite parts of the kitchen is the under cabinet lighting. They’re the simple hockey puck lights from Home Depot, but when you dim the halogen lights, the orange glow of the walls and counters is wonderful! It’s like a sunset.
  • Dinette — In the breakfast room, the dinette set came from a local antique store and the chairs are from Target. Several years ago, they were selling dinette chairs that I think were created by the same manufacturer as dinette sets in the 50s.
  • Pendant light is the KNAPPA from Ikea.
  • Art — I found a book  — All-American Ads of the 50s by Jim Heimann (affiliate link) — that features a bunch of 1950s advertisements and framed them in a grid.

I live in Dallas. It’s in a part of town with some older homes, some of which are have the retro flare. My realtor appreciates the style of the house and reassures me there are people who like this sort of thing. I just need to be patient. The market is slow right now though, so it will just take time. He agrees with me that he would rather sell it to someone who will appreciate it and not gut it completely.

It was a lot of fun researching and planning. The renovation was a PITA. It took 2+ months, but worth it. That kitchen made me so happy, but I gave it up for love. I guess a good man trumps a cool kitchen. The good thing is, we bought a great midcentury modern house that has a kitchen that needs some work. I already have ideas on how to renovate it to make it look great while keeping the style of the house. Can’t wait to do the same thing — update cabinets/storage and appliances while keeping the style of the architecture. This one has the groovy (but confining) pass throughs.

Only TWO MONTHS to renovation? That actually sounds fast to us 🙂 Wonderful job, Mary — and we can’t wait to see what you come up with at your new midcentury modern house! Thank you for sharing your home, and your story. We will keep our fingers crossed that a stylin’ buyer who appreciates period style walks through your door soon!

Link Love:

  1. Dawn says:

    Hi Mary,
    I think you did a fantastic job with your kitchen! Although the masses might not appreciate it like we do, there is a lot you could do to help sell your home without changing much in the kitchen. I am a designer in the bay area of Ca, and what I would suggest, is to take out any furniture from the other rooms that is not retro. It is distracting from your beautiful home and it’s retro style. I would also suggest repainting the other rooms a neutral soft gray so that people can better envision their things in the space. The color gray would help draw in the younger, hipper crowd and goes well with your other colors. You can then re-stage those rooms using period pieces. The kitchen will then stand out as the “star”! You are right about a few more staging pieces in the kitchen/dining areas….Also, your backyard is very spacious, but I would lay down new sod (cheap at H.D.) and lay down a nice outdoor rug to hide the broken concrete. Then place a nice patio set on top.
    Good luck!!
    Dawn

    1. Christa says:

      I agree with your advice, Dawn. The kitchen is beautiful, but the bright colored walls all around make it difficult for buyers to imagine their own things in the home.

    2. Chris N says:

      Love this kitchen, and we’re considering updating (or “backdating”) ours as well. Dawn, would you know of any good, mid-century-sensitive kitchen designers here in the Bay Area? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  2. berrit says:

    i love it!!!! it is gorgeous! perfect. i would buy it in a new york minute!! you can come up north here and design our kitchen!
    truly.

  3. missbike says:

    What a beautiful kitchen! I’m truly impressed. I understand about people who don’t get it, I wanted a carpenter to make new doors for the bathroom vanity and a few other things in my pink original bathroom. They all want to rip it out and make it Home Depot ugly! No.

    Somebody will love your house as is. People who’d seen mine were stopping buy to rave about it’s original kitchen after I moved in – All broken appliances didn’t seem to bother them, LOL They’re out there…

  4. Tess says:

    Mary, you did an amazing job and it’s beautiful! I do agree with Dawn’s comment that simply changing the wall colors may allow potential buyers to see the home differently and in their own style while maintaining the vintage vibe. Paint is such an easy thing to change yet people can’t get past it in looking at a house. I wish you all the luck and so hope it goes to a buyer who will love it as much as we all do!

  5. Lisa Compo says:

    I am getting in on this conversation a little late, but I love to look at real estate listings all the time. It’s one of my hobbies (major time waster). I enjoy seeing how people decorate and the curtains, furnishings etc…I think you did a superb job on your kitchen renovation, it’s gorgeous. The only thing to point out is that not everyone has the love or tolerance or character for bold colors. What made you happy would not appeal to me, but hey it was your house–right? :). I am just a person who likes softer tones. Perhaps the orange is a bit bold for other personalities to accept. I guess in a long and delicate way, I am agreeing with the others who suggest painting. My choice would be a pale yellow to match the countertops and complement the dining area. That’s my 2 cents of free advice, but who knows….someone may walk in and say “this would look great if it were bright orange”. Best of luck on the sale, I hope the right person finds you. 🙂

  6. DJ says:

    I so love this kitchen! Even though I’m not an orange fan, I just paint the walls turquoise and be thrilled with my unique find! Someday we will finally re-do our so-ugly-it'[s-not-worth-saving 60’s kitchen (cheap cupboards with doors that fall off, poor layout, etc.) and maybe do something along this line. I know for sure I want that chrome trim along my counters, and then everything else will fall into place!

  7. DJ says:

    I realize this post is old, and I dearly hope Mary found a buyer who appreciates the creativity and fun that is her kitchen! And congrats on falling in love, as well! I’m totally thrilled with this kitchen and now I know for sure what I will do with mine- similar, but different- but the retro black/turquoise/white color scheme I now have in my mind will tie in perfectly with our back patio, which we started on last summer.

    Like my future kitchen, I was planning to make my patio a sophisticated, “grown-up” patio, but it ended up being colorful, whimsical, and fun. And people love it (as do we!) Since our kitchen is basically part of the patio, just separated by the sliding glass doors, why not bring the patio fun inside? So thank you, Mary and RR, for helping me realize what I wanted all along- a kitchen that matches the “real” me!

    As for complaining home buyers, I don’t do well with most home buyers and want to konk them on the head with a nerf ball (actually, many nerf balls). The last time we sold a house, all I heard was how we didn’t have (gasp!) granite counters or stainless steel appliances in our beautiful custom kitchen (granite and SS were not on the market for homes when we built), and how on earth were they expect to cook without them? Goodness gracious! The nearby cheapo subdivisions quickly added them to their cardboard houses, and even though they used cut-rate granite and disposable appliances, buyers ignored that the houses were crooked, leaky, and lacked insulation because they had *granite* counters and *stainless steel* appliances!

    Ugh! My agent wasn’t kidding when she said the majority of buyers had no imagination and wanted everything to be done for them. She also said that’s why beige on beige (on beige) was such a popular color scheme, as then people didn’t have to think.

    In other words, the typical home buyer is the polar opposite of Retro Renovation Readers! We enjoy creating and designing our own decor, we appreciate the unique and colorful, and we can look at a house and visualize what it could be, in at least a million different ways. We are artists and designers and people who are FUN! So build that Tiki bar, add a Bob’s Big Boy to the backyard, go orange in the kitchen, and who cares what the beige neighbors think of our flock of flamingos? We’ll take our umbrella-ed drinks in our pink elephant glasses and bunny-hop with our friends to Funland!

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