retro kitchen; after
Photo: Dominique Vorillon

What You'll Learn

  1. Retro Redo
  2. Where to Find It
For 10 years, almost from the moment they moved into their 1934 Spanish Revival house in Los Angeles, Karen Bodner and Michael Olecki contemplated redoing their kitchen. “It had a lot of character but too few work surfaces and too little storage space,” says Karen, the cook in the family. A major concern was preserving the kitchens charming period tilework: How could they update the space without ripping it out? “It takes time and commitment to pull off a surgical redo,” says This Old House host Steve Thomas. “Most people would have told Karen and Mike to gut the place.”

By a stroke of luck the owners were able to create a new, more functional kitchen without losing the old one's period character when their architect, Raun Thorp, of Tichenor & Thorp, found a company that manufactures the same yellow and aqua tile.

The only change Thorp made to the room's 10-by-11 footprint was a 27-inch bump-out into the adjacent laundry room. With the refrigerator relocated to that corner and a small pantry removed, the homeowners gained a stretch of real estate they could dedicate to the new, spacious prep area Karen desperately needed. Steve approves: “Stealing space from a neighboring room is an easy and often overlooked way to effect a change.”

Similarly, relocating an arched doorway to the breakfast room made space for a newly tiled wall enhanced by a feature common to 1930s homes: a telephone niche. Pale-yellow painted cabinetry, custom-fabricated to replicate the original, along with hardware from architectural salvage sources, reinforces the period authenticity. Underfoot, black linoleum flecked with color recalls period flooring. “What's great about this renovation,” says Steve, “is that the kitchen is a better, more functional version of the original without anyone being aware of the changes.”

Storage Solutions

As shown here, every spare inch of the Bodner/Olecki kitchen was tapped, from the smallest nooks and crannies in cabinets and drawers to a tiny wall niche. “Inventive storage opportunities exist in any kitchen,” says Steve Thomas. “You just have to work at finding them.” Obviously, the time to reserve space for slide-out trays, deep drawers, and other specialized storage is when you're planning a new kitchen. “Before ordering cabinetry, take an inventory of every item you want to keep in the kitchen, and think about where and how you'll use them when preparing meals. That will help you create a place for everything,” Steve says. To maximize space in existing cabinetry, pull-out baskets, wire bins, plate racks, drawer dividers, and other organizers can be purchased in the housewares section of a department store or kitchen specialty shop and easily retrofitted.
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