retro kitchen renovation
The Whippiches hoped to recycle their kitchen cabinets at the local salvage center but they turned out to be site built, which meant they didn’t have backs or in some cases, sides; when the contractor pulled them out they fell apart. The vintage-look pulls are from a big box store, the metal edging from Lansing Linoleum and the breakfast nook light fixture from Lamps Plus.

When Portland-based graphic designer couple Karen and Jon Whippich found their first-ever Midcentury Modern ranch (part 1), they rolled up their sleeves to address previous remodel disasters, going from bad ’80s updates to upscale 1950s kitchen.

A remodeler friend gave them a good bid on redoing the kitchen and two baths. After demoing the kitchen and leveling the floor, he got too busy with his own houses, so the Whippiches received quick tutorials on laying VCT and ceramic tile and took on the tasks themselves. Another friend heartily recommended big-box-store cabinetry, but after waiting nine weeks, the components arrived damaged and the largest ones were too big to fit through the slight 1950s kitchen doorway. “The company said our installer would have to cut them in half and reassemble them, which we didn’t feel good about and we didn’t want to have to pay for the extra work,” Jon recalls.

scalloped molding in the dining area
In the dining area, the coat closet retains its scalloped molding but corner spindles that boxed in the planter were removed.

“And there was a huge gap, like an inch, between each door; it wasn’t a butt fit at all like we asked for,” Karen says, counting up the additional deficits. “They told me, ‘That’s normal. That’s a butt fit.’ ” The couple returned the order and started fresh with a local company, Huntwood Custom Cabinets. Five more weeks without a kitchen …

For the countertops, they chose laminate with a metal edging and black granite tiles for the backsplash. Because of a curved counter section, it was a challenge to find an installer for the edging, but after lots of calls, two craftsmen familiar with coved vinyl baseboards brought it off. The Whippiches chose dark neutrals for the backsplash and counter instead of trendy colors or a boomerang pattern, thinking it will help keep the space from looking dated in a few years.

“We didn’t want the kitschy, fuzzy-dice, jukebox, black-red-and-teal look, but we liked the touch of metal,” Jon says. “We wanted it to look like an upscale ’50s kitchen with some vintage details like the soffits and the rounded display shelves,” Karen adds. “When you just have an empty room with a plywood floor, it’s hard to picture what it’s all going to look like. It’s not easy making the choices.”


1950s Kitchen Down—Rest of the House to Go

The choices continue as the Whippiches tackle the rest of the house. Follow along in their renovation journey in Part 3.