Before & After: This 1960s Kitchen Gets an Update (but Still Feels True to the Home)

published Jun 23, 2022
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"before" photo of a kitchen under renovation. There is a fridge, a stove, some a blue tile backsplash. The cabinets are all dark wood laminate. There are cords hanging from the ceiling. To the left of the photo there is bowl of apples, a tea kettle, a saucepan, and a box of facial tissues. Orange “BEFORE” flag is in upper left corner
Credit: Monica Grue Steffensen

Renovating a kitchen is a delicate balance: You want to make an of-the-moment space, but you also want to honor your home’s original architecture and era. Staying true to your home’s origins not only ensures that the new kitchen will look at home, it’s a way of future-proofing your renovation. One Danish family struck the perfect balance with their light-filled summer home’s kitchen in Rågeleje, a seaside town north of Copenhagen. 

Originally built in the late 1960s, the one-story house was an ideal weekend escape for the family of four, but its interiors had barely been updated over the years. When they set out to renovate, they placed a priority on improving the space for cooking, dining, and gathering with friends, which meant a big investment into the open-concept kitchen.

Credit: Monica Grue Steffensen

The family opted for a mix of cabinetry from Reform, a Copenhagen-based maker of design-driven kitchens (which PS has distribution in the States). For the majority of the cabinets they chose BASIS, the brand’s best-selling in-house design and for the island they went bolder with the MATCH by Muller Van Severen cabinetry in a brilliant green. The resulting kitchen is fresh and fun, but designed in such a way that it feels like it always could have been there.

Here are five lessons for how to make a retro kitchen new–without going overboard:

Credit: Monica Grue Steffensen

Don’t overly tweak the original layout 

The layout of the original kitchen and the new one are almost the same. “The early sun rays flow through the small kitchen window and we loved that about the old kitchen,” says the homeowner. Keeping the same number and proportion of kitchen elements is smart because they already fit the architecture. Plus, you’ll save a ton of money if you’re not moving plumbing, gas lines, and electricity.

Credit: Monica Grue Steffensen

Choose period-appropriate cabinet doors

Cabinet fronts are often the biggest visual surface in a kitchen, so it’s super-important to get them right. Look to period photographs of kitchens similar to your own for inspiration for the silhouette. You don’t have to do a literal recreation of the doors you see, but try to nod to the era; a slab door like the Reform cabinet seen here is a great choice for most mid-century homes, while a Shaker-style design will feel more appropriate in a turn of the century home. Cabinet pulls are less important because you can easily change them, but if you opt for a built-in or cutout pulls like these, be sure you explore all your options before you commit.

Credit: Monica Grue Steffensen

You can’t have too much storage

Storage space was very limited in the house, so the family strategized ways to add more to their new kitchen. While they kept the island placement the same, the new island is a storage powerhouse with storage on two sides. The family also added coordinating cabinets to the far wall and adjacent entryway to max out their storage. A side benefit of ample storage? You can hide away those modern-day conveniences like the InstaPot and your blender that might look aggressively 21st-century in a retro home.

Credit: Monica Grue Steffensen

When in doubt, go subtle with counters

In mid-century homes, countertops are a particularly difficult element to find the balance between past and present. The period-appropriate material might be laminate, which are somewhat out of fashion (though there are very cool options in this category). Today’s popular choice of natural stone or a stone-look-alike quartz may not feel quite right in a space that sticks to its ’60s style. This family found a happy medium with two different surfaces: almost invisible stainless on the wall cabinets and Reform’s solid surface Match on the island. “In my opinion, the ultimate best countertop for durability is a 5mm stainless steel. It gives the design both contrast and character,” says the homeowner. 

Credit: Monica Grue Steffensen

Don’t sweat the color choice

While color can point to a particular era, like the white-tiled kitchens of the turn of the 20th-century or the avocado green of the 1970s, color is less important to the design feeling timeless than the bones of your kitchen — in part because you can often change it. Weave in color through the walls or cabinets: You can always paint them at a future date.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: Before & After: 5 Lessons for Creating a Timeless Kitchen from a 1960s-Inspired Makeover