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Modern Function, Vintage Flair

Borrowing from the pages of This Old House, these savvy DIYers gave their nothing-special kitchen a better layout and a stylish new retro look

Modern Function, Vintage Flair

Photo by J. Curtis

When you work all day in a high-tech job, it's nice to come home to a warm, nostalgia-inducing kitchen. But don't let this one's vintage-look cabinets and old-fashioned touches—or the relaxed air of homeowners Eric and Elizabeth Ryterski—fool you. Behind the handsome, oil-rubbed bronze hardware lies the soul of a smooth-running machine, where every detail was carefully plotted by Eric, an electrical engineer, and Elizabeth, who turned the dining room into a hall of inspiration by lining the walls with pages torn from TOH.

While their Louisville, Colorado, house was built circa 1930, the kitchen dated to the 1980s. "It wasn't old, just outdated," says Elizabeth. It had little storage, and its layout was counterproductive too.

The Ryterskis had major ambitions and a microbudget, so their six-month redo would be strictly DIY. They mapped out an open plan in which all the modern conveniences would be hidden. "It's an old house, and we both like older things," says Eric. The first step was taking down the wall that separated the cramped kitchen from the adjacent dining room, giving the family one big L-shaped space.

Pendent lights: Hudson Valley Lighting

Stools: Target

Cabinets and Countertops

Photo by J. Curtis

After amassing dozens of articles on kitchen redos, he says, "little by little we whittled the clippings down to particular features we liked, and those were our design inspiration."

Eric built and painted the Shaker-style cabinets, inspired by ones on the cover of a certain magazine. That part of the job alone took six weeks, working nights and weekends, says Eric, "and probably saved $30,000." He also constructed an island that serves as a prep space and divides the kitchen from the dining room, with cabinets that open on both sides. The idea for the honed black-granite countertops came from TOH as well.

Wall paint: Pratt & Lambert

Cabinet Paint: M.L. Campbell

Countertops: Heritage Granite and Marble Inc.

Cabinet knobs and pulls: myknobs.com

Rolling Ladder

Photo by J. Curtis

Three big ideas set the stage for the vintage look: the cabinets, a rolling ladder originally designed to gain access to library shelves, and a freestanding oak Hoosier cabinet base that evokes early unfitted kitchens.

Having lived without enough storage for years, the Ryterskis craved floor-to-ceiling cabinets. When they spotted a library ladder in a kitchen in TOH, they called on a company that had been making them for more than 100 years.

Homeowner tip: Eric Ryterski, Louisville, Colorado says, "If you have more wall space than floor space, opt for shallow, to-the-ceiling cabinets. You'll get plenty of storage with no need for costly interior pullouts."

Ladder: Putnam Rolling Ladder Co.

Sink and Tile

Photo by J. Curtis

An apron-front sink, similar to one seen in TOH, became a period-look centerpiece complemented by old-fashioned subway tiles and a wall-mount faucet.

Sink: Whitehaus Collection

Tile: American Olean

Chrome faucet: Kohler

Freestanding Furniture

Photo by J. Curtis

Before built-ins, kitchens were furnished with individual pieces. An example in TOH inspired this blend of form and function: a salvaged oak Hoosier cabinet base topped with butcher block.

Eric and Elizabeth refinished the oak floors. Twice. "The first time, it just didn't look right," says Eric.

Paneled Fridge

Photo by J. Curtis

Those are a few quirky custom touches the family came up with on their own, including a way to avoid buying a pricey built-in fridge with a custom panel to blend in with the cabinets.

Eric shopped for a salvaged five-panel door, figuring he could cut it in half and affix it to the fridge's front. To reduce the door's weight, he planed it. ("That took the better part of an afternoon," he says.) Then he used screws and wood strips to create cleats to attach it. The fridge is boxed in to look like an old-fashioned pantry, with space above for air to circulate. He finished the small cabinet doors up top with vintage ice-box hinges.

Refrigerator: KitchenAid

Refrigerator door knob, icebox hinges, and hutch latch and pulls: Grandpa Snazzy's Hardware,Denver, CO, (303) 778-6508

Swing-out Strobe Light

Photo by J. Curtis

The Ryterskis love to host informal get-togethers, and the new layout practically invites kids and grown-ups alike to get up after dinner and dance. To get the party going, Eric installed a strobe light, found at the mall, on a foldout arm in an upper cabinet. As for music, he added a sound system—hidden in a cabinet, of course—with ceiling-mounted speakers disguised behind salvaged heat registers.

Built-in Vacuum

Photo by J. Curtis

Eager to give the room a true period look, they camouflaged present-day trappings, such as the trash compactor, microwave, and dishwasher, behind false cabinet fronts.

And where there are kids, there are cookie crumbs, so Eric rigged up his own spin on central vac, using a $40 shop vac and some ingenuity. After hanging the canister from the basement ceiling, he threaded the hose up through the floor and into a bottom drawer in the island that faces the dining area. A drawer front flips down to reveal the hose and wand, and a switch built into the cabinets turns it on. Now the kids take turns vacuuming as part of post-dinner cleanup.