Preservation vs. Rejuvenation: Questions about updating older homes

Over the weekend, I was *THRILLED* to find that Apartment Therapy featured our DIY kitchen renovation on their blog.

I have never hidden the fact that AT is a huge inspirational blog for me, so it was really humbling to see our kitchen featured on their site. One thing that surprised me, however, was many of the comments. Namely, many people were surprised (some pleasantly, some not so) to see I kept the knotty pine cabinets rather than paint over them.

I can’t say I blame those curious commentors. In fact, when we first purchased our new house, I even wrote a blog entitled “Naughty Pine” all about how much I hate how knotty pine cabinets look. They were, I reckoned, dated and dark and dirty. The fact that I decided to keep them surprised me as much as anyone else. So, why did I do it?

For one, we didn’t have it in our budget to rebuild the cabinets or change the general layout of the kitchen. That certainly plays a significant role.

But why not paint?

It’s generally acknowledged that kitchens and bathrooms are the spaces in homes that age most poorly. Today, it’s all about granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. But in the ’90s it was mostly country chic that dominated the Better Homes and Gardens catalogs. The ’80s, dark wood trim surrounding stark white cabinets seemed to be all the rage. And in the ’70s, avocado green appliances were the standard. What I’m getting at is this: every era has had it’s signature look that ultimately becomes dated and disliked. Trends and fashions are cyclical and even if you renovate to achieve the most modern look possible, history says it will one day be out of style, old fashioned and in need of a yet another “upgrade.”

A traditional ’90s kitchen from

An '80s kitchen with lattice wallpaper

An ’80s kitchen courtesy Mirror80

So rather than try and completely modernize the kitchen, I decided to embrace the era in which the house was built–1957–but still give the kitchen some life and updated style. It’s why we bought a Big Chill fridge (my most prized possession) and opted to keep the classic, mid-century cabinets in their knotty pine glory while still bringing in a shiny and new countertop and back splash.  At the end of the day, a 2012 kitchen in a 1957 home didn’t seem like the best fit.

There are a handful of other blogs that reinforce this ideology. Retro Renovation, is one that very intentionally focuses on preserving the original integrity of older homes, and which has been a valuable resource for me. Check out some of their time capsule homes.


Courtesy: Retro Renovation

Another local blogger (and amazing photographer) that understands the importance of balancing history with modernity is Heather Banks of  Brady Bunch Remodel fame.


Courtesy: Brady Bunch Remodel

At the heart of it, what I’m trying to say is this: old homes have their charms and their flaws. And while it’s certainly tempting to demolish and reconstruct your home (if you have the means) to a more modern and magnificent space, there’s also something to be said for preservation. And I hope other caretakers of homes of other eras will find ways to enhance AND embrace the features that make those spaces a part of their city’s history.

22 Comments on “Preservation vs. Rejuvenation: Questions about updating older homes”

  1. joystateson says:

    I love your kitchen and the knotty pine cabinets. I’m glad you didn’t paint them.

  2. kmom says:

    Yup, sometimes it’s better not to fight but rather embrace/enhance. I think that what you did with the budget you had was a great decision and outcome.

  3. Jason says:

    Great post! It can be a tough one though.

    We bought a classic 1957 home in Melbourne and while the original kitchen still stood, it had fallen into a huge state of disrepair. We also needed to make the house work for our lifestyle and that meant pulling it all out and a little reconfiguring. While I would have loved to have recreated the original kitchen, it just wouldn’t have done it justice and also would have been impractical for our needs. I believed our renovations maintained the integrity and feel of the architects original design, although it is by no means a time capsule house!

    Keep up the great work!

  4. Lisa says:

    I agree with keeping your kitchen in line with the year the house was built. I have a 1912 house and when we redid the kitchen I tried to keep it in line with that year and I love it. Your redo is lovely. I especially love the backsplash and your refrig.

  5. Supriya says:

    I am in the exact same situation – do I or do I not modernise the kitchen. Thanks for sharing the post and all the different links. It’s going to be most useful to help me decide 😀

  6. Love this post, and your blog! We are currently in the process of acquiring and old home from family, and we can’t wait to do some work like this. We have flipped a house before, but nothing compared to what we are going to face with wood paneling etc… so many decisions!! Love your work, and those cabinets are gorgeous! Way to make them work with the whole new feel.

    • Thanks. I can’t stress enough how much I hated them at first, but the more I thought about it, the more they grew on me. Hope you have a rewarding experience updating your family’s home.

  7. Updating your old home into a new one is really fascinating to a lot of people. I think everyone who loves handicraft will choose Rejuvenation. What’s the point of having a new home if we can not make it different from before, my opinion only 🙂

  8. Holly says:

    I love what you did with the knotty pine! My grandmother has a wall of knotty pine in her house. I never knew it could look so striking!

  9. Danika Maia says:

    Oh my gosh this whole post reminds me of my mom. To this day she still only watches Home and Garden channel and before/after shows! Ah, some things never change.

  10. Julia says:

    So happy to have stumbled upon your pretty inspiring blog! I love what you did with your kitchen.

  11. maybemeghan says:

    I love love love this!! You did such a wonderful job. Now my wheels are turning and I’m wondering what I can do to change up the look of my home….. hmmmm 🙂

  12. lunaazelea says:

    This is so cool! So impressed by you all the time!

  13. segmation says:

    You are very creative. Love the colors you have used to enhance this home! Do you have a favorite color for home decorating?

  14. […] I recently wrote, for our renovation projects, it is important that we make era-appropriate style choices for upgrading our space. But that leaves me with a lot of questions for what to do […]

  15. I really like what you did with the kitchen! We’re in a rental and the pine is what killed me at first. I even considered asking our community manager if I could paint the cabinets! I ended up talking myself out of it because I realized it was just me nit picking. I’ve made due with what we have and added my own personal touch and thats what made me love it. It kind of reminded me of what you did here! There will come a day when I can have my dream kitchen, but for right now, a cosy DIY kitchen space is all I need.

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