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.

Project Marigold Paint: Reunited and it feels so good

Previously, I discussed how Mr Vix and I moved slightly forward in our exterior paint project by madly laboring on Labor Day Weekend. Since then, we’ve had many a quality after-work/weekend moment while attempting to finish the front side of the house before being shut down by the 9-month long rainy season.

While I generally dread exchanging sun for downpours, there’s nothing like exterior painting to make one joyously embrace nature’s rhythm. Though the majority of the house—as well as the front porch ceiling and floor—await prep and new colors, ’tis now the season where it’s too damp to do anything major.

And thus, not at all sadly, the Vix Household is on a painting hiatus.

Which means there’s technically PLENTY of time to take on the terribly uncouth front yard, should I fancy being an overachiever. Or just a continuous-loop achiever. But instead Mr Vix and I chose to call a timeout after getting the regrettably less-lush wisteria vines back where they belong.

Less-lush wisteria, back in the game

After a month of uncoupled non-delight, it’s great to see order restored, even if the (mangy) compare and (pelted) contrast is a bit hard to take. [As the wisteria is the only thing I miss about the original and in-progress-for-years front, I’ll cope. And tell myself that of COURSE it will rebound next season.]

Wisteria : repainting :: eggs : omlettes (but at least there’s a new larger, oh my stars CENTERED mailbox to offset the pain)

I’m not the only one happy about the minor landscaping effort. As the last of the leafy tendrils rejoined their wood supports, I swear I could hear strains of Peaches & Herb wafting through the air:

I was a fool to ever leave your side
Me minus you is such a lonely ride
The breakup we had has made me lonesome and sad
I realize I love you
‘Cause I want you back, hey, hey

Reunited and it feels so good
Reunited ’cause we understood
There’s one perfect fit
And, sugar, this one is it
We both are so excited
‘Cause we’re reunited, hey, hey

I have my fingers crossed that introducing an accent color I like to call “Old Scab” to the equation won’t disturb the lovebirds.

As we’d never noticed the raised detailing on the street-facing side, I used another accent color—aka Old Scab—to call it out

Whatever the wisteria thinks, at least the neighbors fall into two camps: seemingly okay with the changes or too polite/disinterested to comment otherwise. Some like the marigold best, some the blueberry yogurt, but all have been surprised to hear the latter is the same blue paint that’s been up there for years.


Based on recent conversations with long-distance friends and family, however, I’m thinking marigold/sunflower colors may be a Not Our Kind, Dear shade in other regions. Or other income brackets.

Around here, though, I see more pumpkin, goldenrod, saffron, and citrus paint than I can document. Bright, warm shades are part of my particular PNW environmental norm, so I never hesitated to select something similar to offset the gloom we get:

Another before and after set: L, a few years after moving in; R, it was a typically dark and stormy day and man, do we need to get back to landscaping

And truly, I’m not the only one….

Sunflower and marigold shades are an environmental norm in my neck of the woods

…whether used lavishly or sparingly

Apparently we weren’t vaccinated against Marigold Madness. Wish us luck!

Project Marigold Paint: Dispatch from the field

PNW ABODE. September 07 —

After more than 9 years of co-existing with a house painted in an always-dirty-looking mauve I’d gotten over my guilt for wishing the color gone, eviscerated, buried.

Dreary in the winter, bland in the summer, I found the shade entirely unlovable. But with so many competing priorities—the fraught kitchen and bathroom renos, the attempt to turn the yard into a blowsy free-for-all, the “not doing another g-d thing to this house!”—ole Dingy Mauve and I were in standoff mode.

Until this past weekend, anyway.

Funny how I reconsidered my dislike when faced with the reality of having to perch on a rooftop ladder to change the status quo….

How I Spent My Labor Day Vacation: Clinging to a roof support to scrub and paint...before moving downward

At least Mr Vix and I have always been aligned in our desire to repaint the joint. Because really: combine blackberry trim with a deep shadowy porch and you have a house that looks like it’s been on the wrong end of a bar fight.

L, Wintertime before-before; R, the third summer in found us with the same paint and a shockingly tidy yard moment

Back in 2008, blistered trim + the depressing façade kickstarted Project Marigold Paint; after 3 years, progress was minimal. But hey: at least we had time to acclimate to touches of bright and bold before moving forward!

[While the neighbors may have wondered why we had random patches of marigold that clashed with the body color, I like to think the Japanese maple and iris appreciated our effort to mirror their beauty.]

After winning the trim color battle, marigold (seen here on a typically drizzly day) entered the picture in April 08

Enter Labor Day Weekend 2011.

Having exhausted our capacity to procrastinate, the Vix Household made a commitment to say farewell to mauve and unify our trim on at least the street side of the place.

First we looked up and down our block and realized that in the years since we started planning, all the good colors were taken. We saw reds (terra and merlot), greens both sage and forest, bright navy, mocha, deep aqua, hearty purple, and smoke grey.

Out went most of our battered old paint chips.

Next we tested what we DIDN’T see around us on posterboard before trialing the second-round picks on the house itself.

L, testing colors on posterboard; R, committing to a day of in situ trial

~ Interlude ~

While the lighting isn’t a one-to-one match, I found it interesting that my knocked-around porch chairs—painted at least 8 years ago to match the inner trim and untouched since—looked so much brighter against the new colors than they did against the old.

L, Freshly painted in ~ 03 to match existing inner trim color; R, similar but not identical lighting + same chair after 8 years of exposure, looking more vibrant away from former body/outer trim

~ End Interlude ~

Then we narrowed to a front runner—after all, who in the PNW doesn’t love moss and a 70s color scheme?—and chose one of the rejects for an accent.

Testing the frontrunner against mossy tree bark

Ironically, I could have saved a rather significant chunk of time and effort had I thought to look at photos of the yard’s glory days.

Original house colors and the long-gone June 07 tidiness of the front walkway border: a subconscious color scheme inspiration?

Regardless: After 2.5 long not-exactly-a-holiday days of scrubbing and brush painting, we were starting to see results. My muscles may have been hating me, but at least my eyes were happy!

Putting the "labor" into Labor Day Weekend

Blistered trim's been removed in stages over the last 3 years, but it took a (start at a) new body color to yield true impact...and aching muscles

Although now it’s pretty clear we have to paint the green porch a different shade.


I don't know if the house is happier with its new colors, but I'm happier

That can wait, though, that can wait. For now I’m simply celebrating the fact that while this weekend was one small step for Project Marigold, it was one giant step for neighborhood harmony.

See more Project Marigold Paint progress and join me in eyeballing neighbors’ marigold choices

Barely Boho-ho

Apparently the love child of my two more staid style personas will not be denied: the Persnickety Bohemian wants her time in the sun.

Which is annoying and ridiculous because I’m not spending my summer lounging around a private cabana with ocean breezes ruffling my silken garb, nor am I wandering around an exotic marketplace picking up local jewelry and textiles.

I’m either working, or being provincial.

But the libertine heart wants what the libertine heart wants, which is how I’ve ended up wearing an increasing number of outfits which are (should one require a label) barely boho. There’s just something about the unholy mix of super-tailored items with their opposite that appeals to me right now. Greatly appeals.

After 3 months of steady wear, however, I wish I could either commit to dragging my kind of free kind of wow, Charlie sheer silk blouse in for a little tailoring, or learn to embrace its über-waftiness and semi-boxiness.

Undertailored (those arms!) Fairie in the Backyard top meets overtailored mullet shorts (chopped from twice-tailored work pants)

Normally I wouldn’t even BE wavering; as one with an H/Rectangle build and some proportional issues I’ve come to see boxy as villainous.

But o the damn shirt and its siren call! First, a gathered waist and curved hem created a hint of a peplum, and I’m a sucker for a peplum. Then, its transparency turned the copious fabric less boxylicious in most lights. So I rationalized buying it and am now rationalizing leaving it as-is.

[Since the dark grey/purple/rose color scheme fit in with the rest of my clothing, and the print seemed to meet my interpretation of stylist Bridgette Raes’ guidelines, I can’t say it was terribly difficult for the few ounces of silk to weasel their way into my closet.]

My Persnickety Bohemian side doesn’t like the arms in need of tailoring or the creases…but luckily when it come to my garden I’m more of a wild woman

Now given the state of my yard—which is teetering somewhere between “lush” and “blowsy”—I don’t know why I’m obsessing about the blouse’s semi-sloppiness. I guess it’s just a case of “Get your Persnickety out of my Bohemian!” “No, you get YOUR Bohemian out of MY Persnickety!”

Mid-July in the Vix Household backyard: going for lush but heading for blowsy and unkempt

Thank god the hat I usually slap on when I’m running around in the sun is not only a less fraught item, but an item that demonstrates that my legs are not as white as they could be.

Testing camera’s white balance with legs and hat…and trying to embrace a loosey-goosey top fit from all angles

I know my barely boho ensembles are neither fish nor fowl, truly I do. Yet I can’t seem to stop wearing them for work and play. They feel…just indulgent and devil-may-care enough.

Custom creatures: lightweight purple wool sheath plus Missoni-by-the-yard cardiwrap

Especially since I can’t bring myself to pair the scoopneck sheath I had made out of a beautifully lightweight, medium purple wool with a traditional blazer or cardigan. Way too Barbara Bush for me and at odds with my workplace environment, I’m afraid.

My favorite cardiwrap tied Daisy Duke style, though?

L, Custom lightweight purple wool sheath and Missoni-by-the-yard cardiwrap. R, rather prissy taupe patent peeptoes and beloved/aging pale pink micronet stockings

Why I think I hear Bohemian Rhapsody playing softly in the background….

Don’t miss this Barely Boho bonus shot, which documents how I accidentally matched my T and ancient silk maxidress-worn-as-skirt to the porta-potties at an outdoor festival!

Condé Nast thinks my backsplash is a glamour do

In the Vix Household, we excel at turning renovation-related molehills into mountains. So by the time our (fairly) budget, seemingly endless, mostly DIY kitchen reno came to a point where form could take precedence over function, I was thrilled.

When choosing the flooring, cabinets, counter, hardware, and sink, we’d factored in lots of variables. Cost. Durability. Practicality. Design. But once those items were out of the way a tiny swath of L-shaped space remained in limbo: the backsplash.

I knew an easy, inexpensive solution (paint). And I knew a solution that was popular among those renovating older houses (white subway tile).

But I listened to my gut, and my gut said to go another way. So I did:

7-plus years after I grappled with thinset and grout, my pal Ms Eileen took this beauty shot of my fancypants SICIS iridescent tile and its companions (regular ole laminate counter, big box store cabinets, and generic sink/faucet)…now editors control its fate

And other than still wishing I’d done the install before I had to wind myself around a corner cabinet, I have no regrets about slapping up my pedigreed, school-of-sardines tile amongst my more generic items.

Fancy Italian tile + materials: $400. 7+ years of daily pleasure: Priceless!


I’ll admit I’m a little envious that my tile’s life always seems to be more exciting than mine, a hypothesis confirmed when a photo editor from Condé Nast’s Fairchild Books division recently asked if I would allow a shot of my backsplash to be used in their Foundations of Interior Design textbook.

Granted it’s one of their instructional publications, not Architectural Digest…but the invitation is still pretty exciting around these parts.

Especially since my tile doesn’t live in a sleek urban loft with high-end appliances and a thick stone counter, but in a funky 10 x 15 foot space with low-to-the-ground windows, 4 doors, and a beloved but problematic hutch that’s the only vaguely original built-in left in the joint.

And as most of our money went into boring structural things like plumbing and electricity, the bulk of our kitchen ingredients came from big box stores or no-frills warehouses with remnants from commercial jobs.

The tile was/is definitely the odd one out. See?

Vix Household Kitchen, Before and After (towards back door)

Vix Household Kitchen: Not up to NKBA standards, but lots of shiny plus a rehabbed hutch

Apparently there’s something to be said for spending one’s youth in narrow and/or tiny square’d kitchens with people and pets underfoot, because while our “after-to-date” kitchen isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with its efficiency, I rarely get aggravated when cooking in it. Guess it’s all just…wrong in all the right ways to me.

[Though I still wish we’d get around to a new back door!]

Of course dear, dear Condé doesn’t want to show students the whole hot imperfect mess—they just want a beauty shot of the tile.

Enter Ms Eileen, who happily agreed to a photo shoot though she had to be arm-twisted into claiming the accompanying photo credit should her masterpiece make it through the book’s final editing process.

Whatever the selections when the textbook goes to press, though, the luscious little blue-green zone will always be a winner in MY book. In fact, I’ve come to realize that my ‘splash has done more than brighten my kitchen—it’s helped change my closet. Call it backsplash therapy, baby, and color me a convert.

Kitchen-to-Closet Confidential: Lessons My Backsplash Taught Me

1. Mixing curvy with straight adds visual interest

2. Simple lines can make cheap look more expensive, and one pricier item can class up budget items

3. A little pattern elevates the Sarah, Plain and Tall elements

4. It’s worth spending time to figure out how—or if—to use low, medium, and high contrast

5. Whatever the other kids are doing, choosing colors that one loves AND that make one’s skin look like a million bucks ups the chance of long-term happiness

L, many of my current closet colors; R, the backsplash shows another of its many shade variations

Over the last 2 years I’ve slowly come to embrace purples and peeenks on more than just my walls

What can I say? Blame/credit the damn backsplash!

6. Self-defining my personal style as “Minimalist Magpie” and “Contrarian Classicist” (with their love child, the Persnickety Bohemian, wriggling in here and there) helps save time and money when shopping…and keeps me from taking the quest to dress myself too seriously!