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1950’s Kitchen Reveal — Get The Look of New Cabinets with Old World Charm

This original 1950's kitchen restoration was a joy to bring back to life. The cabinets had a charming and unique look – they just needed a little love...

1950's Kitchen Makeover

From the minute I walked into the Currywood kitchen I knew I was destined to breathe life back into it. The details were magical and I could envision a million possibilities. I knew there was so much potential and if anyone was up for the challenge it was me.

Fortunately, the majority of the cabinets were original. With the exception of three, which still looked outdated. These cabinets were awkwardly placed above the stove and two of the cabinets wouldn’t even open. The rest of the cabinets were in pretty good condition with only surface damage.

Still, I knew it was going to take a lot of patience and creativity to pull this off.

Image of before renovation — four cabinets above the stove that were completely removed.

Making Design Choices

So with a small $4,000 budget, I started my mood board and shopping extravaganza! For me, designing starts with a lot of research. And, with this house, I really wanted to stay true to the 1950’s style, but incorporate some modern touches. Oftentimes it’s difficult to find a balance. But, with the Currywood house, its style was clear and I knew I could nail it (pun intended).

The overall vibe of the house really leaned towards mid-century modern. The living room was getting a complete make-over, while the dining room needed some minor renovations. With this home’s open floor plan, I set out to create a cohesive style that was carried from room to room.

It’s tough to get the finishes you want with such a small budget. But, the good news is that the appliances were fairly new so I didn’t need to spend any of the budget there. The countertops were granite so even though they were not the color I would have chosen, we opted to work with what was there. Countertops can eat up the budget pretty quickly, so replacing them down the road instead of right now helped save money.

Because the countertops were staying, I would not be touching the layout on the lower cabinets. However, I had a clear picture in my mind about how I was going to layout the upper cabinets.

Granite countertops will remain

Oh, demo day… Oh, demo day…. Oh, how I love you demo day.

And so the excitement begins… Getting into the trenches and ripping out the kitchen.

Well, it wasn’t as fun as it normally is – since only the upper cabinets were coming out – but, it was still fun!

I was losing three outdated cabinets already, and sadly the fourth one got damaged on it’s way down… So I lost all four that were over the stove. Now storage was really going to be an issue.

I also realized that the hardware was a no-go. All of the hinges, knobs, and the door

catches were throwaways – I didn’t want the door pulls and knobs anyway so this wasn’t a huge disappointment. There was also a lot of damage to the face of the cabinet doors and interiors.

Whew…what had I gotten myself into?

After removing the doors I noticed a lot of split wood and one of the cabinets was attached to the wall with only two nails and no screws at all. But overall, these were still the best cabinets I had seen for their age. They were solid and the bases were sturdy.

Finding All the Right Moves

I really needed to find balance with the positioning of the upper cabinets. And I only had four cabinets to work with instead of the eight I started with. And since storage was a huge issue I needed the microwave to stay over the stove. The best solution was to move the cabinet that was over the refrigerator and put it over the stove.

Now I had these chicken wire doors, which were probably really cute back then, but they were just a mess now. And they didn’t go with the clean modern touches I was adding. But the only salvaged doors I had available to replace them with were from over the stove. And all those cabinets were damaged and so were their doors.

The detailed original doors were able to be restored, however, they didn’t fit the opening of the cabinet I needed them on. This meant I would need to make some alterations to the cabinet, which ultimately I was able to do.

Sanding, Sanding, and More Sanding…

Getting a perfectly smooth finish was the most important part of making the cabinets look new again. These cabinets had layer upon layer of paint. So I sanded and sanded and sanded. I sanded down almost to the raw wood. But, I was extra careful not to sand too far down around the details so they didn’t lift.

Then I used DAP premium wood filler, from Home Depot which cost $10 for 16 oz. I patched the wood’s imperfections and the holes where the knobs used to be. Next, I primed them with Zinsser’s 1-2-3 Primer which blocks stains and seals them. That’s about $22 per gallon and one was more than enough for all the kitchen cabinets.

Let the Fun Begin...

These cabinets are old, I think I’ve said that a hundred times already.

And as we know, they’re the original cabinets from the 1950’s when the house was built. Which means the home has a lot of character, or in other words... a lot of imperfections. A great painting tip to remember is the lower the paint sheen the less you can see of the imperfections. I don’t ever recommend using a flat on cabinets for many reasons. One, is that it can be harder to clean. And two, you need some contrast between the walls and your cabinets. I prefer to use a flat or matte on my walls and I needed a little sheen but not too much. So I chose a satin finish, which is in between a eggshell and a gloss.

Choosing the paint colors was the most fun I had! The blue I chose is Benjamin Moore’s Blue Danube. I did purchase the Benjamin Moore Aura Satin, which I used for the front door, that’s another blog post. But, I really needed a super durable paint in a slightly different satin finish (I am really picky.) I always use Sherwin Williams Emerald Interior/exterior trim enamel for cabinets and furniture. This paint holds up for years through various weather conditions, so it makes it a no brainer to use on kitchen cabinets. On the upper cabinets I used the Sherwin Williams Emerald Interior/exterior trim enamel untinted. For the lower cabinets they custom matched the Benjamin Moore Blue Danube.

There were a lot of gray and neutral colors in the decor. And I wanted some color to bring the eye up towards the vaulted ceiling. So I decided to use the same Blue Danube in the Sherwin Williams Emerald designer flat for an accent wall. Which is more of an eggshell finish, so it was the perfect fit for the kitchen, easy to clean and the color matching was perfect.

Now the Magic Happens…

Now, this is my favorite part – the finishing touches.

Choosing hardware can depend a lot on the style and color of your cabinets. You also have to find harmony with your other decor choices. It’s not a faux pas to mix metal finished – but you better be sure it’ll work beautifully before installing them.

In this case, the stainless steel appliances were staying. But, I knew I could find balance with the right gold accents. I went with Goldernwarm 8.8” gold pulls for the cabinets. I chose the same Goldenwarm pulls in 50mm for the smaller drawers and a 7.5” for the longer drawers. They were perfect and they really added to the overall softness and style.

1950's Kitchen Reveal

I needed something to bring a finished look to the cabinet above the microwave. I also really wanted to bring in some warmth and modern charm. So I custom-made floating wood shelves for over the stove and the refrigerator. I purchased the LuckIn 8” Sturdy floating shelf brackets and painted them with Rustoleum metallic gold paint to add that little pop of gold.

I purchased the wood for the shelves from Home Depot. It’s southern yellow pine 2 inches thick by 12 inches wide and up to 96 inches long. I buy the same wood everytime because it’s the perfect depth for shelves and the grain is almost always interesting. But, it can take a bit of digging to find the perfect board without knots. I’m sure everyone at home Depot finds my searching annoying, but I always find the perfect piece.

They’ll cut the wood right there at Home Depot to the exact length you need. I always custom cut the shelving myself so I am sure I get it right. I chose a warm wood stain that complemented the flooring and would pull tones from the other rooms in the house. I used Varathane premium wood stain in dark walnut at a mere $10 – and worth every penny. And what I love best is that it’s fast drying so you are not waiting 24 hours between coats.

A tip I give all DIY-ers, never purchase a stain that already has varnish in it. I find it’s more difficult to work with and you have no control over the quality of the finish. In this case I used a clear satin from Minwax because it matches the finish on the cabinets perfectly. Varathane makes a really good one too, so get whichever is convenient.

It’s All in the Details

Now that we have a finished kitchen and.. oh, so much charm. It’s time to find our decor pieces to add to the magic.

I needed the perfect accents to bring out the colors and the gold tones. I found this amazing wine rack on amazon that had a perfect balance of gold tones and a modern feel. And they tie in nicely with the mid-century modern style and the gold accents.

And a book that really went with the young and fun vibe of the kitchen is “Eat, Drink, and Be Gorgeous” like this kitchen! Which I found at a yard sale for $1, just saying… You can find a lot of accent pieces for a buck or two at yard and estate sales. Another splash of color was in the bowls and that colorful set was a whopping $20 for a set of 4 at TJ Maxx.

1950's Kitchen Renovation Reveal

I also used some unique pieces I picked up at a kitchen store in Paris (see, I am always thinking about your design.) And all those little details really finished off the kitchen nicely. And in the end, I’m happier with how this kitchen turned out than I could’ve imagined.

It All Came Together Perfectly

Beauty and functionality is the name of the game. Well, also budget. And with these amazing original 1950’s cabinets, it was easy to do what I do best – bring charm, originality, and quality workmanship to this kitchen.

With the way it all came together, the cabinets now look intentional, and not like we were stuck using them. I solved many of the storage issues and brought in some personality with the design choices. The colors, wood tones, and details were woven throughout the home. And the total project was a success.

So whether you are ready to DIY with my help or have me do it for you. Now is the time to make your home a space you love to live in!

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