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posted: 7/10/2011 12:01 AM

Remodelers embracing homes' bygone eras

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  • In a 1950s or '60s home, you don't have to build a "time capsule" kitchen, but you can still stay true to the style of the original house during a remodeling project. DDS Design Services remodeled this bungalow in Oak Park.

      In a 1950s or '60s home, you don't have to build a "time capsule" kitchen, but you can still stay true to the style of the original house during a remodeling project. DDS Design Services remodeled this bungalow in Oak Park.
    Photos Courtesy of DDS Design Services

  • A retro kitchen can involve selecting older-looking tile and classic cabinets for your kitchen renovation.

      A retro kitchen can involve selecting older-looking tile and classic cabinets for your kitchen renovation.

  • Many traditional ranch homes constructed throughout the suburbs during the postwar building boom are still in need of rehabs.

      Many traditional ranch homes constructed throughout the suburbs during the postwar building boom are still in need of rehabs.

 
By Arlene Miles
Daily Herald Correspondent

One could call it a yearning for yesterday, some may say it's an appreciation for a bygone era. Yet others see it as a way to be environmentally conscious. Sometimes it's even a combination of all three.

Think percolators, not drip coffee pots, and June Cleaver pearls or funky printed window treatments from the "Mad Men" era. What we're looking at is retro kitchens. Like most remodeling trends, the passion for "what is old is now new" begins on the East and West coasts of the United States and works its way inward. Retro is only beginning to make inroads into the Midwest, but it's a swell trend that's coming.

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At its essence, retro kitchen renovation is being true to the era in which your house was built. In other words, if you have a house from the 1950s or 1960s, why not renovate your kitchen to reflect the look from that era? That's how Jeff Kida of DDS Design Services in Villa Park began doing renovations of this type.

Kida took on a kitchen renovation for clients Jo-Ellyn Dorsey and Tom Swanson, who had a 1930s era bungalow. The kitchen appeared to have been renovated one time in the 1970s, but as the project progressed, the owners wanted a combination of retro stylings and green options.

"There were a lot of Shaker-style moldings in the house," Kida said.

DDS worked with that look, but at the same time, looked at eco-friendly options such as alder for kitchen cabinetry that would be a compatible fit for the reddish cherry wood look of the era, yet save the homeowners 10 to 15 percent off the price of comparable eco-friendly cabinets.

The project turned out so well that Kida decided to incorporate the same elements into a redesign of his own home kitchen in Villa Park, located in a 1959 tri-level home.

"My wife was always complaining that she had the worst kitchen around," Kida said.

Renovating a kitchen to a retro style isn't entirely about fitting the area completely with appliances and other items that are true to the era. After all, some of today's innovations are definitely more eco-friendly and downright practical. What it is about is aesthetics.

Aesthetics is something Pam Kueber knows a lot about. From her home in Lenox, Mass., this baby boomer runs www.retrorenovations.com. Kueber calls this website a blog, but it's really much more than that. It's a source, clearinghouse and testimonial for all kinds of retro stylings. Whether it's kitchen, bathroom or general furnishings, chances are you can find it here, or someone on the site can point you to it. What's more, Retro Renovations also features stories from homeowners across the United States who have retro style decorating in their homes.

"People are starting to embrace their postwar homes," Kueber said. "A lot of these homes remain in their original condition with the original features because they were just made really well."

Kueber indicated that some people specifically look for an older home and renovate accordingly, while others somewhat fall into it and realize what a jewel they have in their possession. Yet others, because of economic conditions, opt to embrace what they have and work in their renovations accordingly.

Another factor that plays into this is what once was passe is now in style and now appreciated. Attribute it to the passage of time.

"Fifty years have passed and what was once past is now worth keeping and preserving," Kueber said. "Each decade of vintage houses comes into its own and that's what we're seeing with the 1950s and 1960s houses. We're even seeing that a bit with the 1970s houses, and a little bit with 1980s homes."

What's worth keeping is often the architectural detail of the home. What this means is renovating the area, often including state-of-the-art appliances, while maintaining the retro look of the room at large.

Kida did this with his own home through several techniques. First off, he used crown moldings that are reminiscent to the era. Cabinets were expanded and placed higher, going from 84 to 90 inches in height. A dark wood would have overwhelmed the kitchen, which is only about nine-feet wide, so a middle range color was selected. The chosen color palette was also an early 1960s pastel, but this was offset by a vibrant tiling pattern in a diamond-shaped black, white and gray pattern.

"We knew we could get too bland with the pastel palette," Kida said. "So, it was important to go in and jazz it up with the tile."

Like any renovations in older homes, surprises can happen, simply because of the home's age. Crucial elements such as electrical lines or plumbing may not be in locations where they are assumed to be. More commonly, multiple renovations where elements may have been added and ultimately must be deleted slow down the renovation process more than anything. Kida noted that once walls are opened and changes made, homeowners must bring all elements of that work, including electrical, insulation and the like, up to current code standards.

Considering code requirements, fitting your home with genuine retro appliances may not be a good idea, depending on the work involved to get them into place and keep them running, For one, they simply will be less energy efficient than today's models, not to mention what renovation work would need to be done regarding the code requirements.

Kida fitted his renovated kitchen with Bosch appliances, including a quiet, ultraefficient dishwasher and a dual fuel stove. In addition, the flooring is made of Adura tile, to make the floor appear retro, but with the feeling of a fine product such as Travertine.

Flooring is one area where it's largely inefficient to use true retro materials. The exception is remaindered wood, which is used for effect in contemporary as well as retro-look renovations. Many manufacturers of flooring as well as countertops and other kitchen items carry products that mimic retro looks, but with contemporary features and wear. That's why Kueber features stories on her site on contemporary sources for renovation elements as well as places where homeowners can buy items such as old metal kitchen cabinets.

Window treatments as well as accessorizing are big elements of the retro look. Kida included a display area in his kitchen where his wife would be able to show period pieces such as pots and pans and '60s type knickknacks.

Although some people go all out when performing a retro kitchen renovation, Kueber said this isn't necessary.

"It doesn't have to be a time capsule kitchen but you have to understand the aesthetics of the home," she said. "It's wise to understand the way the house was built."

Kida agreed.

"If you're going to do a retro renovation, do it in the style of the era in which your house was built so it fits in," he said.

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