Kitchen Tour

Before & After: Aqua 1960s Cabinets Amazingly Transform a Bleak “Falling Apart” Kitchen

published Nov 29, 2023
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outdated kitchen with square tile backsplash and red stained wood cabinets before renovation

In 2008, when custom jeweled chandelier creator Helen Stickler moved into her mid-century modern home in Los Angeles, she knew she had her work cut out for her — especially when it came to the kitchen. 

It didn’t help that when she moved into the home, the existing wood kitchen cabinets were “falling apart,” and the tight layout didn’t accommodate a dishwasher or any cooking space. Stickler decided she had no choice but to reimagine the kitchen — much of it all by herself.

Credit: Leela Cyd

“I did all of the kitchen demo and installation myself; it was a gut remodel. I opened it up to the studs and put in a new framing for cabinet support,” Stickler said. “I even built the plumbing for the kitchen sink and hooked up the dishwasher myself.”

During the kitchen renovation — which took five years to finish — Stickler admitted that she became an “expert in mid-century steel kitchen cabinets.” She learned that steel cabinets had rounded corners, glass fronts (which are called ‘cabinettes’), and sometimes glass on both sides if they’re floating. Stickler wanted only the best for her new space.

Credit: Leela Cyd

Stickler spent five years sourcing the most period-aligned steel cabinets for her home and picked materials from seven different cities. Most of the cabinets were made by Geneva Kitchens (which she notes also outfitted the White House kitchen when John F. Kennedy was president) in 1960, which Stickler snagged from Craigslist. 

The two-toned cabinets, which Stickler says were a “short-lived” trend, are their original colors. The upper cabinets are a soft pastel pink, while the base cabinets are painted in vibrant turquoise. But the historic inclusions didn’t stop at the cupboards. Stickler also found and stitched together pieces of vintage Formica in “White Skylark” (designed by Raymond Lowey) for the counters in her kitchen. 

Credit: Leela Cyd

Stickler also found backsplash tiles from the late 1960s and early 1970s in the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Chatsworth to complete the vintage-inspired kitchen. “It originally had a rust accent tile throughout the mosaic, but I meticulously picked out all the rust tiles and created my own ‘scatter pattern’ with white tiles, which is an authentic mid-century design trend,” Stickler said. “It was my first attempt at setting tile, and it turned out great.”

If you’re obsessed with the mid-century modern kitchen in Stickler’s sunny California home, you’ll want to check out the rest of her space in the full house tour on Apartment Therapy