Our Retro Kitchen Renovation on a Budget

Our newly re-retroized kitchen, with vintage Sunbeam percolator on counter
and under-cabinet Black & Decker toaster oven.
You could call it a botch job. Moving into our 1949 ranch, we found a new tile floor poorly installed, cheap plywood cupboard doors slapped up sometime after the house was built, and new hinges that didn't fit or work right. Neither retro nor modern, this kitchen needed help.

We considered replacing the cupboard doors, but a router borrowed from a neighbor, a sander found curbside, and mistake paint from the local paint store's "bone yard" spiffed up the sad, sagging things.

We used original Mid-Century Modern 1950s wallpaper from Hannah's Treasures on the bulkhead. The pattern complements an original painting by a family friend that hangs above our vintage oak table. My mom's Christmas gift to me was hanging the wallpaper. Didn't she do a good job? (Thanks, Mom!)
Porcelier teapot, vintage chrome toaster.
Vintage hinges, knobs, and drawer pulls from a thrift store, estate sale, and Pitsch Wrecking - a local demolition firm that runs a gem of an architectural salvage shop - replaced newer ones that weren't nearly as well-made. It took a few years to assemble the hardware we needed (were I less patient, shopping Etsy would've found me what I wanted much sooner). 

It took a decade from the time we moved in for Calin, my husband, to remove the tiles on the floor (mostly due to my indecision). Because we strive to be a zero-waste family, we didn't want to use flooring that would need to be torn out and thrown away eventually, so we opted to sand and refinish the spruce subfloor. It turned out beautiful! 

Our home boasts a little phone booth. We got rid of our vintage rotary dial phone when we ditched AT&T a few years ago, since it could no longer make outbound calls (a sad day), so we switched to this retro touchtone phone:

We found the perfect counter-height oak table for our kitchen at City Antiques in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but it was for display, not for sale. We left our contact information with the clerk just in case, and a mere month later, we received a call saying we could buy it! Soon after, we scored a set of Amish-made oak and tree branch stools at a garage sale. Finds like these make treasure hunting fun!

Arrowhead "Brookpark" melamine dishes, Mid-Century mismatched stainless flatware.
A retro kitchen renovation can be both charming and cost-effective. In all, we spent under $500 to complete the project (not including the kayak I promised Calin if he completed the project by the new year), with the wallpaper and floor refinishing our biggest expenses. I'd love to increase the cost with the perfect retro stove, but if we wait long enough, our stove will be vintage, right?


  1. The finished product is absolutely darling. I really love the total look. I can't believe you did it all for under $500. All I can say is that you and Calin did an amazing job! (I love the kayak bribe-I wonder if that would work with my husband?)

  2. Laura, your kitchen redo is great. I like all the trouble you took to maintain the vintage and not waste anything to boot. Your floors are beautiful. Great job!!

  3. Great wallpaper. Gotta stop by to get a first hand look.

  4. You forgot to mention that your husband is a genius and from Romanian descent. I am glad that I am one of his BESTest of friends

    1. Steve, I've mentioned that elsewhere, but it didn't exactly seem applicable here. I suppose I could've mentioned that the idea that he should finish it by the new year came from you, though!

  5. Fantastic! I need to come visit this new kitchen soon. You did a beautiful job!

  6. Your kitchen looks fabulous! What a great job on the rennovation. The flooring is really a treasure. Very nice, Laura and Calin!

  7. Well done! I like the wallpaper and yes, Mom did well!! Your cabinets remind me of mine which I plan to paint someday..probably after I remove the turquoise plastic tiles from the walls and back splash. I love that you uncovered an amazing floor!!

  8. Amazing ! Right out of a magazine ❤

  9. It was such a joy to see your amazing kitchen yesterday! Though unsure, you stepped out of your comfy creative place and executed a very daring and different look. It is lovely, and I am so thrilled for you! It's a chic, usable and inviting space! My applause!

  10. i think i have your new stove!

  11. Was it Pitsch Wrecking where we learned the word "belligerent" about 37 years ago? Surprised to see the positive call-out for this establishment.

  12. Your kitchen looks great!! Kudos to your mom for hanging the wallpaper. She did an awesome job.
    Thanks for mentioning us in your post!
    -Marilyn of Hannah's Treasures

  13. Great looking kitchen, Laura. Those floors are beautiful!