Updated kitchens are big business these days, but sometimes leaving well enough alone suits homeowners just fine. A little patina on original designs offers a certain vintage charm.
There aren’t any gleaming granite countertops here, just tile, Formica and zinc. No glass-fronted Sub-Zeros, just antiquated, but working, appliances. No large, central islands, but cleverly conceived details.
In fact, these original kitchens are as functional now as they were in the era in which they originated.
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While many residents in their Ward Parkway neighborhood have remodeled the past right out of their kitchens, the Burd family has lovingly held on to theirs. “When we bought the house, I didn’t want to fight against it, to make it something that it wasn’t. Quite the opposite. I loved what it was and wanted to celebrate that,” Lee Smithson Burd says.
Lee and husband Jeremy bought the home in 2006 from the family who originally built it in the late 1920s. Most of the cabinets are original, although Lee painted them and the cork tile wainscoting jade, a near-match color she found on a wall in the basement.
The original sink and counters are made of zinc and have the patina of time, a fact the homeowners relish. “It has life in it,” Lee says, adding, “I could have put in granite countertops, but this works beautifully.”
A restored 1928 cast iron stove that weighs around 400 pounds makes a mean Thanksgiving turkey.
“It’s the real deal,” Lee says. “How many stoves made today last almost 90 years? To me, there is something so wonderful about that. The skill and investment of time and materials have my respect.”
Although the stove would certainly have been all white originally, Lee had the edges painted black, matching the trim around the doorways. That’s one nod to Lee’s personal touches for the home.
“I never felt the need to make it exactly as it would have been in the past, but its history is the driving aesthetic,” she explains.
The fridge is a modern replica made by Northstar, which specializes in vintage-looking appliances in historical colors from candy apple red to olive green. Lee made an exception for the 1950s style for the simple reason that refrigerators weren’t common in households at the time her house was built.
Lee likens her house to a time capsule, but one that is as livable today as it was nearly a century ago.
As a real estate agent and lifestyle blogger, Sarah Snodgrass knows her home’s limitations. Her 1939 Cape Cod is darling, but it’s on a busy street.
Understanding full well that any money spent on renovations wouldn’t be recouped, she and husband Clayton have worked with what was there, continuing to live with the hexagonal tile countertops, shallow farm sink and limited storage space.
“You get used to what you have,” she says. “But I have my moments.”
Still, the young couple have made simple updates that have improved upon the decades-old design without compromising its vintage charm. “We wanted something that made sense with the style of the house,” Sarah explains. “We’ve restrained ourselves, but we’ve made it represent our personalities.”
To extend the life of existing materials, they refinished the hardwood floors, resurfaced the walls and cleaned up tarnished cabinet pulls. The original swinging door still separates the kitchen from the dining room. “I’ve always loved the octagons on the door,” Sarah says.
The most eye-catching alteration is the bubblegum pink cabinets, a paint color suggestion Clayton actually made, from a formerly all-white palette. Paired with gray walls below pink trim, the look immediately harkens to a bygone era.
The couple had a marble slab cut to fit atop existing cabinets and purchased retro-style barstools online to make an eat-in island. New lighting brightened the space.
Clayton also hung a peg board above the stove to openly display the couple’s most-used cooking utensils. Sarah gives Julia Child credit for that one, but surely Child didn’t have a spot on her board for an iPad, which the Snodgrasses use to look up recipes online or check up on 14-month-old son Bobby through the video monitor.
Any major renovation ideas they’ve toyed with are more about increased space and functionality, not a wholesale change in visual aesthetic. As it is, nothing impedes them from living the good life. The couple cook at home every day, just as people did 80 years ago, gathering veggies freshly picked from the garden and eggs from the backyard flock of hens.
This is a place the Snodgrasses plan to stay and raise their family. No overhaul necessary; with just a few tweaks for the modern era, their vintage kitchen is up to the task.
Rod Parks, owner of Retro Inferno, a Crossroads retailer of high-end midcentury artifacts, works and lives in the perfectly preserved past. His home is a 1965-designed Bruce Goff residence known as the Nicol house.
The historically significant octagonal footprint is laid out with eight rooms, each with eight sides and four triangular windows — and it’s all in mint condition, even the linoleum flooring and Formica countertops that homeowners today are usually so eager to replace.
Parks doesn’t often cook, but the original stove, double ovens, warming plate and warming drawers are in working order. The stained Japanese ash cabinets custom-cut to surround the triangular windows supply proper storage, and the circular nature of the room provides even flow.
Goff’s ideas for this house were undoubtedly progressive. “There’s lots of tricky, cool stuff,” Parks says. “It’s really smart design.”
Not many modern kitchens have the same level of detail: push-open cabinet doors, pass-throughs, dividers, drop-down panels connecting rooms, a built-in table and five stools, and even a slide-out ironing board concealed below the double oven.
That last one Parks thinks is a little “janky looking,” and he thought about removing it before deciding otherwise. “I like the idea of being a steward, a custodian of this house. That’s why I restore it,” he adds.
He did update one detail: the faucet, a Kohler with an articulating arm. “I like the way it mimics the triangular shape of the windows,” he says.
Although a half-century has passed since its conception, the house is timeless. “The thing about this house is that it always gives you more, visually and emotionally,” Parks says. “The more time goes on, the better it gets. It feels like I’m catching up to it.”