30 April 2018

Things You Should Know If You Own, Plan To Own, or Plan To Renovate A Mid-Century Modern House

Part IV: Interior Finishes and Fixtures - 

Kitchen Cabinets and Countertops

The fourth post in a five-part series.

by Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA

Countertops: The most common kitchen countertops of the era were Formica. (Fun fact: Didyou know Formica means ant in Latin?)  Those old Formica counters often had a metal trim edge. I like Formica in this setting. The continuous surface looks clean.
I'm not a fan of tile countertops, although they were often used in the bathrooms of the era.  All those joints house grime and are very hard to keep sanitary. I prefer a solid surface. Thin, squared-off countertops in quartz and new Formica are excellent replacements for old, worn-out laminate. The same goes for bathroom countertops.  I also like unusual materials that include a lot of recycled content.
Consider this, however: If the original Formica or other vintage laminate in your MCM house is in good shape and not a color that makes you queasy, consider keeping it to underscore the authenticity of the original design. The funky “retro” factor is another reason to keep it. For example, Some MCM houses come with laminate countertops emblazoned with gold speckles, starburst patterns, or little boomerangs (as pictured above).
If you’re really lucky, your MCM house comes with GE Textolite laminate from the 1960-65 period (vintage ad below). If these cool vintage countertops are in good shape, I strongly suggest treasuring them as delightful relics from a delightful era in design.  They really show your house’s authenticity.
Kitchen cabinets: Too many new MCM homeowners think the original kitchen cabinets must be updated, especially if the cabinets are flat-fronted wood, and even more so if that wood is plywood. Before your knee jerks in that particular direction, consider the following:
•       You may be the proud owner of solid wood kitchen cabinets that have been around for 50 or 60 years, rather than brand-new, particle-board-laden, formaldehyde-gassing, wood-veneer cabinets.
•       After World War II, plywood was a new, exciting, and affordable material, so there’s the historical aspect.  It’s one of my favorite materials due to its incredible flexibility (including bend-ability) and beauty.
If you must replace the old kitchen cabinets, I recommend flush overlay cabinets in natural wood. (No raised, “Shaker” or recessed panels, please!) The smooth planes and crisp lines are perfect complements to any MCM home’s kitchen and suit the “unpretentiousness” that runs throughout the millions of modest mid-century homes across the country.

In Part IV we’ll look at MCM kitchens  -- countertops and cabinets – and consider what to keep, what to update, and why.


ARIELLE CONDORET SCHECHTER, AIA, is a licensed, registered architect based in Chapel Hill, NC, who specializes in Modernist, energy-efficient buildings with a focus on passive houses, NET ZERO houses, her new tiny-house plans known as the Micropolis® Houses, and mid-century modern renovations, remodeling, and additions.  For more information: www.acsarchitect.com.

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