Before & After: This Dated Kitchen’s Colorful Remodel Honors Its Retro Roots

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Professional Designer: Abigail Braden of August Interiors
Clients: Meredith and Shadrach (a retro-loving couple) and Ellie and Rufus (corgis) Location of Project: Alameda, California
Whole home size: Approx 1200 square feet
Years Lived In: Owned 16 years (for Meredith), 6 years for Shadrach

The homeowners are a couple in their late 30s/early 40s who are living their best life with their two corgis in a small bungalow in the Bay Area of California. The house dates from the 1920s and has some great old features, including a pink-tiled bathroom. But the kitchen was old, and not in a charming way. The clients had actually put in new flooring when they moved in, but that was already 15-year old linoleum and it was quite dirty. Worse were the counters, which were tiled — I can’t think of anything worse than grout (and white grout!) in a food preparation area. The sink was an old chipped ceramic one, and the faucet had its day in 1982. The sink task lighting was fluorescent. It all needed updating. The only thing in good shape were the cabinets and the clients did not want to go that far with the renovation, so those were painted and got new hardware.

Inspiration: The initial inspiration for the kitchen’s overall design was the homeowners. They loved the history of their 1920s California bungalow, and have a fun and retro sensibility that they wanted to carry over into the new design. So the challenges here were to modernize while keeping things retro! I made design changes on a functional level: new porcelain tile flooring (easy to clean!); new quartz counters (durable); and a new sink and faucet that don’t compete aesthetically with anything else. We switched the giant fluorescent light over the sink with a new flush mount. Everything else got a revamp to keep the design with the new floors and counters cohesive, and to make it into a fun retro space.

I found the tile (on the backsplash) early on and the clients absolutely loved it, so that tile essentially became the inspiration for the actual design in terms of color scheme and feel (a little retro and a little offbeat!). I pulled the deep blue from the center circle of the tile pattern for the cabinet color, the mint green/blue I matched for the walls, and we went with light gray counters to echo the (faint) light gray lines in the tile pattern. The darker green from the tile got pulled into the custom window treatments (which also include the two blues, the bright yellow, and a pink just for fun).

Credit: Joy Coakley

Additionally, the clients already had the ’50s-style diner table and chairs (though we replaced those chairs), so I took a cue from that and focused on having a retro-style vibe. To keep the space fun and retro, I used a palette of bright colors and mixed patterns. The new backsplash tile, the new window treatments, and the floor tile all have different patterns, kept cohesive through the color scheme. The window treatments are from Spoonflower, where we worked with the lovely Hang Tight Studio to create a custom color palette from one of her designs.

Favorite Element: My favorite element is actually the pop of yellow! It wasn’t in the initial design, which just incorporated the colors pulled from the backsplash tile. But once I convinced the clients to change the light fixture over the sink (which was a hideous four-foot long fluorescent) I couldn’t decide what finish I wanted to put there. I was aiming for chrome to echo the (new) hardware. Then I went back over my client notes and remembered that she said she loved yellow and would be open to keeping it—the “before” walls were a light, buttery yellow and that’s what she was referring to. That shade of yellow would die against all these other bold colors we were now using, but I found the bold yellow light fixture and that was it! From there we brought in the new retro-style dining chairs in the same intensity, and added that yellow to the window treatments.

Credit: Joy Coakley

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge was the floor. The aforementioned backsplash tile was initially supposed to be the flooring! However, it is cement tile, and while cement tile is great, it does require some maintenance (routine sealing, etc.), and the clients and I decided that wouldn’t work with their lifestyle, as they weren’t interested in working to maintain the new floor in that way. So we decided to use it as the backsplash, where potentially-neglected maintenance wouldn’t affect its durability and patina as much as on a high-traffic floor.

We’re all really happy with the compromise to use the cement tile on the backsplash. But then we had nothing for the floor! For awhile I tried to convince them to use penny tile, which is decidedly retro and was the original backsplash choice. The other retro choice was a two-toned checkerboard pattern, but that is what the old floor was (albeit in linoleum), and we all wanted a bigger change.

Credit: Joy Coakley

Their biggest catalyst for their kitchen reno was that the floor had gotten so filthy from their dogs, so they were very concerned about the new floor not being too light and not having too much grout (as with the penny tile). So we decided to use bold colors again on the floor, and I must’ve drawn up over 15 different patterns that we could use! We ultimately decided on the pinwheel pattern, in the deep blue and minty colors from the rest of the kitchen. We grouted it in gray to match the new counters and to not show dirt/stains. The new floor tile is porcelain tile, which is super durable and super easy to clean, and the darker colors and pattern make it harder to see dirt.

As far as timeline and money, I was hired in late June of 2019 and the kitchen was finished in late October-early November of 2019. It cost about $15k, of which at least half went to tile labor (“the Bay Area markup”!). The clients actually did a lot themselves with this project, to keep costs low. They ripped out the old flooring (several layers of old flooring, in the end!), demoed the old counters and backsplash, and painted the cabinets. They had never done a lot of this type of work before so we were all quite proud!

Biggest Indulgence: Nothing on this project was actually very indulgent! I think the backsplash tile was probably the most expensive, but since the square footage to be covered for the backsplash was minimal, it was okay. In terms of time indulgence, the floor tile ended up being a custom order in the colors we chose, so we had to wait eight weeks or so for that to be fabricated.

What’s your best home secret? My best home secret is to be honest with yourself about your lifestyle and how you want to use a room, in terms of getting the best materials, furniture, design, etc, for you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with admitting you don’t want to take on the problems of having marble counters, for example. Getting them anyway because they’re so pretty is just setting yourself up for frustration. There are design solutions to everything, but they can only be found when we know the problems they need to solve.

Credit: Joy Coakley



  • Cabinets: Benjamin Moore 2062-30, Blue Danube, in High Gloss Enamel
  • Wainscotting: BM OC-117, Simply White in eggshell (these were not repainted for this project)
  • Walls above wainscotting: BM 2040-50, Hazy Blue, in eggshell


  • Backsplash — Cle Tile Big Spin
  • Floors — DDS Tile, DW Series 4”x8”, in Aloe and Twinkle (to the trade only)


  • Chairs — American Chairs, Mary Sunshine Diner Chairs
  • Table — Client’s own, but there are similar options on American Chairs



  • Over-sink light — Dutton Brown, Color Ballsy Flush Mount in Ochre


  • Pulls — Rejuvenation, Mission Drawer Pulls and Bin Bulls, in Chrome


  • QuartzStone quartz, in Apollo Gray

Thank you Abigail for sharing this AMAZING project! And thank you to your clients for sharing their home (and being willing to go bold and colorful in their kitchen!). You can see more after photos on the August Interiors website.