We had planned the most beautiful, sophisticated kitchen renovation for our 1954 Florida ranch house. Quarter-sawn walnut cabinets would replace 1970s-era faux wood; sleek black Paperstone counters would supplant gold-whorled white laminate. All that remained was to sign the contract with Jason Straw, Woodworker. A maker of fine furniture and specialist in historic home renovations, Jason would ensure our new kitchen did not look like it came from a big-box store.
Then, late one Sunday evening, Jason called.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about your kitchen,” he said.
What a rare delight! A contractor as obsessed with our kitchen as we were!
“And I can’t do this kitchen.”
Whatever did he mean? Had he finally hit the big time? Was he moving to Hollywood to design fine wood furniture for studio moguls like we always suspected he would?
“You do not need a contemporary kitchen,” Jason continued. “The focus of this kitchen needs to be your stove.”
Our stove. The vintage 1950s Universal we had salvaged from our first home two years earlier, the stove we had unsuccessfully attempted to restore on our own, then U-Hauled seven hours to the experts at Antique Appliances, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains (see sidebar below).
“You need a 1950s kitchen,” Jason said.
I gasped. I squealed. A year before, at the start of our kitchen renovation journey, I had tried, unsuccessfully, to convince my husband, Will, of the need for a retro kitchen to match our fifties ranch house. Will didn’t buy it. His arguments in favor of resale value and the ethereal nature of fifties kitsch swayed me back to sleek and contemporary, a plan that made me happy, but not ebullient. Not squealing like a small child, like I was now, frantically emailing Jason my abandoned Fifties Kitchen Pinterest board. Now I had a co-conspirator in the resurrection of my midcentury dream. How would we persuade Will? He hated retro!
It worked. We had Will at “James Bond’s kitchen”. We threw out the contemporary plans and began anew.
And that is how our groovy blue boomerang kitchen came to be, with its retro WilsonArt boomerang countertops edged in shiny aluminum, boomerang door pulls, the backsplash’s glass tile angled in a boomerang-like box weave, and custom boomerang accents on the valance.
The wood cabinets look like vintage fifties steel but hide modern features like solid maple dovetail drawers that shut with a whisper. The white WilsonArt sink matches the retro theme with a modern twist – it’s an undermount, so water does not spill forth, and crumbs slide easily from counter to trash with the sweep of a sponge. Undermount LEDs allow us to actually see the food we’re preparing, and at night they illuminate the glass subway tile backsplash like Christmas lights. Our wall oven can handle Thanksgiving, and the fridge does not require fifties-style manual defrosting (that and energy consumption are the only factors keeping us from splurging on yet another vintage appliance).
Our stove feels right at home. So would the Jetsons. So do we.
*OK, so, technically … Barbarella, Bond and the Jetsons are sixties, not fifties. But like Atomic Age design, the Jetsons evoked the look we sought: not kitsch, rather, a past society’s vision of the future.
Jason Straw, Woodworker, Gainesville, Fla.:
Slightly changed layout to remove swinging door and cut opening to dining room with oak ledge, cutout edged in dark stained wood to match existing trim throughout house. Replaced casement windows above sink with single-hung vinyl. Moved fridge to back wall where kitchen table once stood. Installed wall oven and wall microwave, drawers below for bakeware and cabinets above for items used less frequently. Nearly doubled cabinet space while making kitchen appear larger and more open.
Painted flat panel wooden cabinets to mimic the style of old metal cabinets that Jason still finds in houses. Vintage look with modern convenience – extends to ceiling, solid maple dovetail drawers shut with a whisper, two two-tier lazy susans use previously dead corner space, hidden trash and recycling, adjustable shelves, spacious boxes large enough for pots, pans and baking sheets. Undermount LEDs allow us to actually see the food we’re preparing and light up the glass backsplash like Christmas lights at night. Plywood is domestic, formaldehyde-free using soy-based glues. Boomerang pulls are extremely difficult to find vintage, but Rejuvenation makes a reproduction.
Source, cabinets: Columbia Forest Products
Source, boomerang pulls: Rejuvenation
Custom-cut, aluminum-edged valance over the sink and boomerang pulls echo the overall boomerang theme also found in the countertop pattern and backsplash.
Aluminum edging wraps around the vintage edition boomerang laminate. Jason also placed aluminum edging on the top of the back splash and custom cut the aluminum for the valance to play off the boomerang theme, also found on the pulls. The WilsonArt sink is under mount, a wonderful touch not typically found with laminate counters. Again, the retro look avoids the drawback of actual fifties kitchens: Because the aluminum edging does not protrude above the counter and because the sink is undermount, sweeping crumbs off the counter is made infinitely easier.
The backsplash is a glass subway tile, turned 45 degrees, laid in a box weave pattern, subtly picking up on the boomerang theme. Easy to clean, reflects the LEDs like Christmas lights at night.
Source: Subway Tile Outlet
Recessed can lights in ceiling, LEDs under cabinets, space-age-looking shop fan. Three Astron Mid-Century Mondern Pendants over sink. Very Jetsons.
Source: Rejuvenation (pendants), white interior, Neptune Blue exterior
Sheet of Marmoleum, the precursor to linoleum, made of linseed oil and jute fibers. Easy to clean; hides the paw prints of two dogs who love their muddy yard.
Source: Indigo Green Store, Gainesville, Forbo Flooring. Color: Concrete