A modest 1956 house says goodbye to its mauve laminate kitchen

As someone fairly opinionated about color, I love a good hue-related challenge—and the owner of this sweet little 3 bedroom, 1 bath house has certainly brought me several brainteasers over the years.

This 50s house didn’t always look this way (outside or in)…

My exploits include helping change the home’s exterior colors from brown + white to deep red + banana cream + grey-blue (with a phase that required the old body color to work with the new trim paint).

Several years ago, I proposed a warmer color scheme with a little retro flair (to match the retro-shaped rhodies)

The exterior paint consult was a follow-up to one where I suggested interior colors meant to help offset a prior owner’s choice of deep blue wall-to-wall carpet in the living room and hallway. [Nothing could really overpower Big Blue, alas, but I tried.]

In the past, I tried to entice prospective renters to focus on the house’s vintage charm instead of the prior owner’s light-swallowing carpet (aka Big Blue)

Thankfully, the owner finally ripped out both Big Blue and some boring tan carpet in order to have the original oak floors redone. As my past paint picks still seemed good to go, I used the visit to marvel at how the home’s 1000 square feet felt a whole lot bigger and brighter. Credit where earned, though: that damn Blue wore like iron.

 I’ve also celebrated when I saw how good the home looked minus the carpet and with its original oak floors brought back to life

Yep, the mid-fifties beauty was looking good for its age. With one major exception, that is: the kitchen.

Naturally I was pleased to be involved when the home’s mauve laminate kitchen was slated for demo

Though I probably should have been more alarmed when the owner told me he hated the old kitchen’s column wall treatment and wanted to address that in the reno

When I was tapped to join the makeover team the workspace was gutted, new renters were dialed in and waiting in the proverbial wings, and I had only a few nights and weekends to move the owner from options to purchases. Yee-haw!

From Mauve to Modernized: The Owner’s Stipulations

  1. Ignore the house’s cottage vibes and play up its mid-century ones
  2. Work with new deep brown “transitional” style cabinets + existing bright white appliances + existing light-colored laminate floor (and take neighboring oak floor into consideration)
  3. Weigh in on: a granite counter (from 2 pre-fab options); a backsplash; a treatment for the column wall; faucet, sink, and cabinet hardware choices
  4. Propose choices/directions as fast as possible and from in-stock items only

I was brought into the project when (challenging!) color constraints were already in place: the existing white appliances and maple-esque laminate floor, new deep brown cabinets, and a choice of only 2 pre-fab granite counter colors (+ the neighboring oak floor)

As I knew from observation and experience that backsplash options were endless and overwhelming, I started pitching ideas. The front-runner: a vertical running bond (here seen executed in spendy, gorgeously variegated tile):

As the owner wanted to emphasize the home’s mid-century vibe vs its cottage one, I suggested vertical running bond for a backsplash and hauled out some inspiration photos with spendy, gorgeously variegated examples

Having viewed “my” two pre-fab granite slab options—a dark purplish brown with lots of movement or a lighter grey with much less going on—I voted for the grey and the owner committed to it.

At the time, it seemed the world was my oyster in terms of coordinating tile options. Ah, sweet ignorance!

Limited to tile that was no more than $5 square/foot and in-stock, the owner and I quickly found the road to vertical running bond was a dead end. Aside from echoing the rather…captivating…white appliances, the inexpensive shiny white selections did little for anything or anyone and competed with the highly reflective granite.

[Thus my preference for honed/satin finishes and/or relatively solid shades for counters….]

Searching for alternatives and coming up short, I proposed revisiting the vertical running bond inspiration photos from a new direction: the way all had a low-contrast ‘splash/counter color scheme.

L, super-reflective granite + shiny budget tile in colors that do nothing for the cabinets or counters = big fail; R, a quick turnaround and exploration of an in-budget tonal counter/backsplash solution

The matte grey/glistening grey solution was chosen, and the walls were swathed in 6×12 rectangles set in a stacked bond pattern. Given that the tile’s linear striations added to the growing patternpalooza, I suggested a coordinating versus contrasting grout.

The final backsplash choice — tile — has striations that faintly echo the dark cabinets and tone in with the granite; the matte 12×12 tiles were cut into 6×12 pieces and laid in a stacked bond pattern

The rental’s reno’d kitchen kept its footprint, flooring, and appliances but gained a dishwasher, exhaust hood, undercabinet lighting, granite counters, tile backsplash, and deep sink — plus fresh cabinets, overhead lights, and faucet 

Hoping the owner had forgotten about making the column wall a major focal point, I proposed wrapping the jig-jag feature in the backsplash tile and calling it good. I mean given the movement/textural elements in the granite and tile, there was plenty going on already, right?

Let’s just say the result of the conversation was that I got busy studying up on pattern-mixing.

Asked to make the column wall “special” despite a granite and backsplash with plenty of pattern already, I studied up (here, a pairing by Chicago’s Claudia Martin)

Luckily my next idea—a mosaic that tied in cabinet, counter, and floor shades without being glaringly high-contrast—made it up onto the walls.

With the owner set on special treatment for the column, I proposed a low-key pattern mix: a rustic mosaic in grey, green, and brown used as a “bridge” between cabinets (and as a 1-row backsplash topper where needed)

The column’s busy tile is a bit of a secret until one enters the kitchen proper…and while the room has a bit too much texture for me personally and I’d prefer it with stainless appliances, I have to say the more maximalist scheme is growing on me (grey-haters are SOL, though!)

Now: stylistically this space is even more of a mutt than my own dwelling. But the owner’s happy, the new tenants didn’t flee, and I…well, as one who skews towards my own brand of visual minimalism I’m recovering nicely.

While those who hate it’s-a-great-backdrop-for-both-pales-AND-brights grey are out of luck, I think there’s a lot to love about this little kitchen ‘o neutrals—especially compared to its predecessor!

If you made it through all the photos and/or text: Congrats and thanks; this post didn’t take to being split into parts.

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8 Responses

  1. Good job, especially with the column treatment; it really improved the room. I like white appliances and miss mine, now that I’ve moved into a house with stainless ones that I dislike.

  2. Ms Brenda—

    First, I am way, way too behind on your life…can’t believe you’re in a new place. This is what I get for avoiding Facebook 99% of the time!

    Second, many thanks. As a selective control freak I find constraints both annoying and good for pushing my boundaries.

    IMO the kitchen could use a little playfulness, but the renters/future owners will have to provide that. There are some amazingly fun mid-century liner tiles out there, but all required ordering time we didn’t have, dammit.

    Like you, I like white appliances — just not so much with super-high-contrast cabinets. They are certainly easier to clean than most stainless!]

  3. I like the grey, and it does play up the mid-century vibe.

  4. Pseu—

    Thanks! I have to say I love the linear striations in the backsplash and was wishing I had the right place for it myself.

    There was much discussion about whether to run the lines “up or over” (or alternate placement for a basketweave effect +/- keeping the original 12×12 size). The owner went with the horizontal choice, but I’d love to see the tile used in other ways just because!

  5. Your re-design is a work of art. And you love what you do obviously. If only you could quit your day job and apply to all the design network channels. The ripping up of the blue carpeting made the home look like a mansion in comparision. And the kitchen vision you came up with and produced is really elegant. Now if I was only an architect that could hire you.

  6. Barbara—

    If only I could clone you and have over-the-top praise on tap! Many thanks for the comment.

    I totally agree about that carpet’s exodus. [If only there hadn’t been glued-down vinyl stuck on top of the wood Big Blue might have met an earlier death!]

    Like the carpet, the old kitchen had become another negative to getting quality renters in; I like to think this new one is a neutral-to-positive for most. Luckily for me someone just moved in so my theory doesn’t have to hold up immediately, ha.

  7. Looks very good. Very well done. Just a thought or maybe a musing here: I’d like to see the kitchen ceiling painted with a tint of the wall’s yellow color to warm up the space a bit more and reflect the warm wood flooring below. The continuation of yellow color would visually raise the the kitchen ceiling height, too, by not having a broken plane of color as it stands now with the stark white used. The white trim on the moldings would still tie in with the appliances, I think.

  8. Claudia—

    I love that idea and will pass it along for when the next tenant turnover occurs! Since the soffits visually lower the (8′) ceiling—but were full of plumbing so had to stay—continuing the color up onto the ceiling should offset that issue.

    I actually left a wall paint rec for a slightly lighter buttercream yellow with the owner as this one isn’t the best with the mosaic. Time ran out before it could be implemented, but I really think it would work to just use that shade on walls and ceilings. I’ll suggest both that and using a tint for the ceiling.

    Thanks for reading and the feedback!

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