How to Overhaul a Sad Vintage Kitchen

Chicago-based interior designer Claire Staszak shares her DIY story.

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When my husband Luke and I were looking to purchase our first home last spring, we had one item at the top of our wish list: a vintage character filled home. And that’s exactly what we got—with a kitchen so bad it was worthy of total gut remodel.

We had eight weeks to complete the project before Luke headed back to teaching in the fall. With a lot of elbow grease, some DIY skills, and my design knowledge, we achieved a total transformation.

If you’re thinking about tackling your own kitchen or buying a house in need of a major update, here’s what you’ll want to consider first.

Check for Hardwood Flooring

It’s amazing how many gorgeous original hardwood floors are covered in layers of linoleum.  Prior to buying the house, we made sure the owners could confirm there was hardwood running in the kitchen. Pulling off two layer of linoleum with a crowbar and sanding layers of tarpaper is not easy, but it’s totally worth it. There was almost no cost to achieving this rustic hardwood look. We rented a sander, and purchased stain, and polyurethane. That’s it!

Appliances Come First

This design tip should not be taken lightly! Cabinets can change in size easily, but your appliances cannot. Find the gas, water and electric in the kitchen and make sure it can work with a re-imagined layout. We were able to keep the stove and sink in essentially the same places while completely changing the layout of the kitchen. Not having to move gas or plumbing lines is a big financial plus.

Bigger is Not Always Better

In older kitchens, space is at a premium. We decided a smaller counter-depth refrigerator would work for us and allow the layout we preferred. The old fridge went in the basement, so there is still plenty of room for holiday feasts and party hosting.

Don’t Waste an Inch

When an appliance like the refrigerator is up against a wall, you need to leave additional space for the door to swing open. Instead of a false panel that served no purpose, we used a pull out (known in the industry as Rev-A-Shelf) to create built-in spice racks, which are so handy and help maximize storage.

Think Furniture

Most people assume only cabinets go in the kitchen, but adding furniture type pieces can create an eclectic, lived-in style. A repurposed vintage hutch from local vendor MegMade serves as a beautiful conversation piece and holds pretty dishes and other items on display. It adds character new cabinets throughout just couldn’t.

Hire Out When Necessary

Electrical, tile work, and dry walling are three instances where we hired out to ensure work was done to code, and with technical expertise. If you’ve never done tile work, you probably don’t want your first project to be the kitchen backsplash.

Hardware is Jewelry for Your Kitchen

Mixing metals is fine! You can wear silver and gold at the same. It’s actually a gorgeous look, and your kitchen will thank you for taking its hardware game up a few notches.


Just like any other space in the house, the kitchen deserves coordinating accessories. Whether it’s dishware, kitchen towels, baskets, or even the flowers you bring in from the yard, creating a cohesive look will really pull the kitchen together.

Adjacent Spaces

Don’t forget to give attention to nearby space, as well. The original window in our small mudroom had to be covered over for the new floor plan, but the original brick wall looks darling from the other side. Adding a black and white floor tile to coordinate with kitchen’s color scheme pulled both spaces together, and gave us a functional

breakfast nook

in the summer and mudroom in the winter.


A glimpse at the sad vintage kitchen before.

Design: Centered by Design, Claire Staszak

Prop Styling: Elise Metzger

Photography: Carolina Mariana