The Picture of Domesticity

Confession: I love 1950s/1960s kitsch. I do. I’m not really talking about classy, Mad Men-style glamorous here. I’m talking like crazy atomic barkcloth, wacked-out color schemes, and toadstools as a decorating motif. I know, right when some of you thought I had decent taste. Hear me out.

The good news for our apartment is, I don’t really want it in the living room, bathroom, or my bedroom. I have no intention of living in a time capsule, despite our inclusion of vintage furniture and otherwise retro stuff. I respect people who go balls to the walls mid-mod, and I feel like I could be friends with a modern-day rockabilly, but a modern mix is more what I suppose we’re after.

Except in the kitchen. God, 50s kitchens are cool. Those ladies were organized, they had cute stuff, and between sneaked sips of the cooking sherry, they really seemed to have their shit together. They did weird things with eggs and they could ice a cake with their eyes closed. I want to get in on that. Between you and me, I’m pretty excited for Eva to move in and thoroughly creep her out with exciting casseroles, the leftovers from which I’ll then “refresh” into different exciting casseroles on subsequent evenings. We’re going to have a blast.

Our undeniably 1980s kitchen is sort of primed for the retro treatment, too. Which is a good thing because 95% of the stuff in it came from the incredible Regina, Saskatchewan thrift stores. And I’m exceedingly proud of my kitchen stuff. Once, I saw the matching tumblers to my ice bucket holding scotch for Don Draper on Mad Men and I almost peed myself.

Back to our kitchen. Almost everything is some shade of washed-out pink. The countertops are pink faux-marble formica, the cabinets are a vaguely pink laminate, and the floor is  12″ square pink and grey faux-marble ceramic tile. Sometimes I wish it was pinker. Like, come on kitchen. Commit. Go big or go home. Like this lass:

Photo from Retro Renovation.

Like I said, the kitchen is totally 80s and a little ugly. I think trying to force any sense of cool, beautiful modern in there would just be sort of lost on it. So even though the bones we have to work with aren’t quite so amazing as that picture, I’m not sure I can stop myself from incorporating a few lessons of 50s kitchen design in the hopes that the kitchen accepts them gracefully.

For instance, check out the avocado green paper holder I stuck to the tile wall with industrial-strength velcro! I love it, and it makes my shameful paper towel use oh-so stylish. It also holds tin foil and parchment paper. In a perfect world, this would be built into the wall like my grandmother’s or Louis Armstrong’s.

See, Satchmo himself had one in his swingin' 60s kitchen. Photo from Apartment Therapy.

Moving around the room, we find this strange little built-in next to the stove. For about a month I had no clue what to do with it and then I had the most tremendous epiphany. It’s perfectly sized for the tacky tins that hold my baking ingredients!

Snug as a bug.

Please ignore that hideous mound of grout where the pipe goes through the floor. Something must be done about that. But it’s kind of like the shelves were just made for those tins, right?

In a display of very questionable decision-making, I also affixed these ceramic toadstools next to the fridge. You can’t see them when you walk in the door, so it’s kind of like a special surprise when you actually walk into the kitchen instead of just through it and into the living room. They may or may not stick around. I think I’m going to replace the beige switch plates with cheap aluminum ones, only in the kitchen though. It’ll cost like three dollars and I’ve convinced myself it’s the right thing to do. Speaking of things I’d like to change are these really boring knobs. I’m thinking some shiny polished chrome would really liven up the place.


Okay, enough with the crazy. As I mentioned, one of the things I admire about vintage kitchens are the organizational tactics. But when vintage isn’t coming through for you, sometimes you have to go to IKEA.

I’m pretty please about this little organizational innovation. The Rationell baking sheet holder is supposed to be hung on the interior sides of the cabinet, but this seemed like a better space-saving solution.

And I’m completely smitten with my Rationell Variera spice racks. They’ve been bookmarked on my computer since Anna installed them at Door Sixteen a year and a half ago. Yes, these are the things I dream about. And now they’re mine!

Glamor shot

Anna has far cuter handwriting than I do, so I bought some little round labels from the Paper Source and used their handy Word template to print these out.

So that’s where things stand. The kitchen needs a lot of work. There’s nothing on the windows and it hasn’t seen a lick of paint. I’m thinking about a color. One that isn’t pink.

About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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  1. 7.17.10
    Melinda said:

    I’m totally with you on the 50s kitchens – they are cool!

    About five years ago I went absolutely mad on eBay buying 50s kitchen paraphernalia – mostly in that great candy pink (like the cupboards in your pic).

    My new kitchen will be white, mirrored and modern, but I intend to incorporate some of my retro finds to give it character.

  2. 7.17.10
    Danyelle said:

    I think you kitchen looks lovely thus far. Did you screw those spice racks into the cabinets?

    • 7.17.10

      Thanks! Yes, they’re screwed in with short screws.

  3. 7.17.10
    coreypat said:

    I am totally impressed…obviously there are problems, but everything is neat and in place.

  4. 7.17.10
    Mom said:

    If I go digging for some pictures, our first home looked eerily similar to the first photo. We had pink metal cabinets and grey laminate cross hatch patterned counters. We were the cat’s meow. Then we modernized….

    • 7.17.10

      You guys modernized from pink metal cabinets! Criminal! I’ll forgive you though.

  5. 7.17.10

    Are we actually the same person? I’m starting to think we need a TV show.

    • 7.17.10

      I mean, if we both get this worked up over spice racks, surely there’s more. I’ll have my people call your people.

  6. 7.18.10
    natasha said:

    Wow, what a great blog you two have, can not wait till the next post. And Dan your writing style is so refreshingly melting.

  7. 7.19.10
    Catherine said:

    OMG…what a fab idea with the Rationell baking sheet holder. How sick am I of my food trays and baking trays sliding down into the cake tins and much other meaningless tat in my cupboards. And I’m waiting for my new kitchen before I buy the spice racks…super cool. Great to see what you’ve done to the place and looking forward to future updates. Love your writing…so fresh. I am still trying to come up with a kitchen idea that isn’t a new glam kitchen. Love the mid-mod look and thinking vintage wallpapers and mad retro paintings? Any pointers?

    • 7.19.10

      Go for it! I know Bradbury & Bradbury makes some funky vintage-looking repro wallpaper that you might like, and there’s always the option of snagging real vintage from Ebay. The website Retro Renovation has a ton of information on the types of details that you might find in retro kitchens (hudee rings, steel countertop edging, etc) and where you can buy that stuff today. Rejuvenation carries retro looking cabinet pulls, including 3″-spread boomerangs that I think are great for pretty decent prices. And of course things like Pyrex bowls or Fire King bakeware are fun and it’s not too expensive to piece together a collection from individual pieces online if you find a pattern you like! So many options! As for the art, well, I love me a paint-by-numbers. And a sunburst clock.

    • 7.19.10
      Catherine said:

      Wow thanks for the heads up on all this. Will check it all out. I’m after a SMEG fridge but having a family…it’s not so practical, especially as there will be nowhere else to put a spare fridge or freezer. Maybe when the kiddos have left home? I have started to fall in love with Cathrine Holm enamelware but by eck you just can’t get enough of it over here. I do have a small collection of teapots from the 60’s/70’s with funky patterning and some storage jars. Will need to head to a few more charity shops and car bootys! I’m so wanting a starburst something…either mirror or clock will do…it will find me I’m sure of it. As for art t’other arf made a massive piece out of paint sample cards years ago so I have to save space for that but I’m also on the lookout for the pins and string stuff that I remember as a kid.

      D’you know what I think I might just pull it off…cheers for the words of encouragement!

    • 7.19.10

      Catherine Holm enamelware DROOOOL. GET IN MY KITCHEN. I want it now and I want it badly.

  8. 7.20.10
    JennyO said:

    It looks so clean and neat and then you notice the details and they are so charming and fun! I love your style!

  9. 7.21.10
    Dana said:

    I think Anthropologie knobs would complement the kitsch quite nicely.

  10. 7.23.10
    suzanne said:

    i think the color you’re thinking of is peppermint.

  11. 8.2.10
    kathleen said:

    I’m in love with your avocado green paper holder! My roommate hates clutter with a passion … which I’m on board with in general, but having to open a cabinet to get to the paper towels is kind of messy and awkward. Where did you get this wonder?

    • 8.2.10

      I bought mine from a Value Village, but they aren’t too rare in thrift shops and flea markets in various styles and configurations. Mine is the aptly-named “Beauty-Craft” brand.

  12. 8.30.11
    Liz said:

    Old post, I know, and you may since have changed your kitchen (or moved… I’ll have to check your newer posts.) Honestly, I really like your kitchen, and this is coming from someone who has an up-to-date kitchen. First, although 1980s stuff has long been vilified, my prediction is that we will soon be so far away from the ’80s that the stuff will come back into style (just as the clothes have, at least in urban areas.) But second, your kitchen, even without the accessories, does not scream 1980s to me. It actually looks kind of like the efficient kitchen in a European flat. I have a friend in Switzerland, and he has the same white melamine cabinets (and same big window in the same spot.) Of course his stove and fridge are more tiny, as is the European way, but the kitchen has a similar feel. Now that I am out of apartment living and have the ubiquitous suburban kitchen, what once seemed dated and lacking character now seems very character-filled to me. In retrospect, every single apartment I ever lived in had so much more character than my current house, even if they were kind of junky. While your kitchen limits your style to some degree, it also accommodates things mine wouldn’t… like all the kitschy accessories. I think it all works.