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It’s a dilemma for homeowners everywhere who live in older homes: Can you have an up-to-date kitchen with modern appliances but still be true to the period of the house? Yes, says interior designer Karen Hott, who successfully merged old and new in this 1920s Virginia-Highland bungalow.


“The appliances really set the tone for the whole kitchen,” says Atlanta interior designer Karen Hott. A refrigerator, range, vent hood and dishwasher sporting a vintage look make sense in the older bungalow. This new-to-look-old line of appliances, called Big Chill, is best known for appearing in kitchens with Food Network celebrity Rachael Ray.


A walnut countertop adds warmth to the 8-foot island, while Black Zimbabwe granite covers perimeter countertops.

“The first thing people always comment on are the appliances, of course,” says the designer. The retro-looking refrigerator, range and dishwasher have a polished-chrome exterior — as if they came from a set of a 1950s TV show — yet, this Colorado-based appliance line, called Big Chill, manufactures all newly made products, combining modern capabilities with a retro look. And rather than choosing a kitschy color, such as turquoise, Karen designed a custom subdued gray, allowing the homeowner’s collection of Fiestaware to provide pops of color.

Efficient space planning plays another important role. This kitchen needed a complete redo and a little more square footage, so the designer borrowed some space from an adjacent dining room to enlarge the footprint. To get the vintage look they were going for, she selected cabinetry with Craftsman-style details, referencing an architectural style popular in that time period. The cabinets are a classic off-white, with glass-front doors on some of the upper cabinetry to show off those colorful dishes.


The microwave is tucked into the backside of the island for a neater look. A small prep sink in the island allows the kitchen to have two cooks working at once.

The custom island particularly exudes old-fashioned charm, with its walnut countertops and retro-looking pendants hanging above. “The pendants are actually 1950s milk jugs (still with tags on them), with the bottoms cut off that we had made into lighting,” says the designer. A microwave is tucked into the 8-foot island, which also features a small prep sink, giving it good marks for function as well as looks. Display shelves on the side can showcase cookbooks or other collectibles.

For homeowners wanting to celebrate the design of older homes, Karen recommends keeping things unfussy.


Craftsman-style cabinets in the kitchen blend well with the rest of the historic cottage. Because the kitchen is seen from the front door, everyone agreed it needed to fit in well with the rest of the house. The designer chose a light yellow paint color to complement — but not compete with — the colorful Fiestaware.


Roman shades created with Schumacher fabric (in a pattern modeled after a Williamsburg fabric as another nod to the past) soften kitchen windows, while the farmhouse sink by ROHL continues a cottage vibe. And, please notice the antique milk jugs made into pendants!


The designer carved out a small area for seating to create a more inviting scenario for the kitchen, using a vintage Morris chair the homeowner had inherited. “It’s now a favorite seat for them to peruse cookbooks or enjoy coffee while Sunday breakfast is being prepared,” says Karen.

“Cabinets and countertops should have clean lines without a lot of detailing,” she says. “The ’50s and ’60s celebrated simple designs. And too much color, such as bright orange appliances, can be overwhelming and kitschy, so stick to a neutral palette.”

Whether you want to recapture the good ol’ days, pay homage to your home’s historic roots or just love a specific decade, you can create a retro kitchen with a modern twist by thinking outside the box and looking to the experts for guidance.


Photography: Ashley Waldron Hope of AWH Photo & Design
Interior designer: Karen Hott
Appliances: Big Chill
Sink: ROHL
Window fabric: Schumacher


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