When we bought our 115-year-old heritage home a few years ago, we had to do a lot of structural work — you know, the invisible, non-glamorous stuff, like updating the electrical, plumbing and heating systems. The bones of our house were in great shape, including the original wood floors and moldings — but, man oh man, the kitchen was not pretty. Although our (depleted) budget did not extend to the kitchen of my dreams, I set out to create a budget-friendly, vintage-inspired, timeless kitchen that not only looked pretty, but was also family-friendly and functional.
Here are my tips for creating a timeless kitchen that will work in any home.
Paint your tired and dated cupboards
A coat of white paint is the easiest and cheapest way to update your old cupboards. In fact, painting anything gives you the biggest “bang for your buck.” Sorry for using that old cliché, but this is oh so true! My cupboards are painted Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, which happens to be the 2016 Color of the Year.
White will never look dated, but you can also get colorful! After living with all white cupboards for a while, I painted my bottom cupboards a dark gray, Benjamin Moore’s Burnt Ember. I’m still loving this look, but I know I can easily throw on a new coat of paint when I need a change.
To truly appreciate the transformation that a can of paint can provide, here is a before photo of the kitchen on the day we viewed the house for the first time.
A neutral — not beige — countertop will never look dated
It took me several years to replace our inexpensive laminate counter with our current solid surface (Corian Glacier) top. Once we replaced the truly hideous original avocado green ceramic tile counter with a black laminate with faint white speckles (see the before image), I was so relieved that I actually didn’t mind the fact that it was, you know, laminate and not fancy, like granite or quartz.
There are some very nice laminates on the market now, and they are inexpensive and quite durable. The key is to stick with a solid neutral color (not beige — try white, cream or black) or a solid with a faint speck. I beg you, do not allow the installer to leave the three-inch curved backsplash where the counter meets the wall. Cut off this piece. A square edge also looks more updated than the traditional round edge. I wrote all about picking timeless laminate in this blog post.
Subway tiles are classy — and cheap!
I installed my basic white subway tiles, probably the cheapest tile you can buy at Home Depot, 15 years ago. And guess what? They not only cost very little to install — it was about $125 for the whole backsplash — but they are still considered an on-trend, stylish look. Subway tiles, unlike trendy patterned accent tiles, will probably never go out of style. Google “vintage kitchens” and then check out fancy new designer kitchens — and there they are: subway tiles!
When in doubt, go white with your subway tile. It is much easier to add color by painting your walls than changing your backsplash. I used plain white grout, which has held up amazingly well, but gray grout looks amazing and would be even easier to keep clean.
Use a repurposed wood table as a kitchen island
Using a vintage wood table as an island is an inexpensive and unique way to add retro appeal and the natural warmth of wood to your painted kitchen. I installed four-inch-high wooden castors I found online to the bottom of the legs to bring the table to counter height. I also added four coats of water-based polyurethane to create a protective coating for the top, so that it can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. Inexpensive pine stools, painted a soft blue and voilà: a one-of-a-kind work and dining space.
Add vintage-inspired lighting, like a schoolhouse pendant
The classic and nostalgic schoolhouse pendant light is still going strong in the world of kitchen design. I purchased this 14-inch-wide model from a local building store for $120 several years ago, and I still love it.
Add nature-inspired elements to accessorize your kitchen
Nothing says timeless like nature. Wood accent pieces are pretty big right now, too. I picked up a couple of pretty little cutting boards and herb pots from HomeSense and re-potted a couple of herb plants from the grocery store ($4 each). I am still loving the white canisters I purchased about 10 years ago from our local Winners. Did I say white is always classic and timeless?
You can never go wrong with white wainscoting
Another timeless look — white wainscoting — is easy to install and very affordable, especially when you buy beadboard panels from a big box building store. Beadboard is also a classic look for a backsplash and a great alternative to subway tile.
Turn an old frame into a chalkboard
Chalkboards are everywhere right now, but they have been around a long time — think of your old classroom in grade school. My chalkboard frame came from an antique store and at one time held a mirror, until my family was severely traumatized when it fell and crashed onto the floor in the middle of the night (true story).
Not willing to give the frame a second chance with the care and handling of a fragile material, I visited the wood cutting guy at Home Depot and had a piece of Masonite cut to size. Then, I painted it with chalkboard paint, and now we have a spot for our “legendary family sayings.”
Our latest is, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” conceived by my teenage son after I was questioning — OK, grilling — him about his new girlfriend. He came up with this phrase after I told him that I just couldn’t help myself. Of course, I couldn’t help advising him that this motto works quite well for pretty well anything teen related!
My kitchen has certainly evolved over time, but one thing has never changed: It is still the place where my rambunctious, busy family — including two large dogs — always congregates during our treasured family gatherings.