A “Drab” 1970s Kitchen Gets the Cutest Makeover (The Cabinets Look Brand-New!)

published May 1, 2024
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Wood cabinets in kitchen before renovation.
Credit: Kara Harms

Many designers and DIYers are inspired by faraway travel when it comes to designing the places near and dear to them. Photographer and artist Kara Harms incorporated Nordic influences from her summer in Copenhagen while reimagining her 1970s cabin in Arnold, California, especially its kitchen.

Credit: Kara Harms

Kara was renovating the entire house, and while the kitchen layout was “fantastic” with views of the trees lining the property, it wasn’t working aesthetically for her and her husband, Robin. 

Credit: Kara Harms

“The kitchen itself, like most of the cabin, was seriously outdated. It looked like it hadn’t been touched in at least 20 years. The cabinets were a mess — mismatched on top and beat up on the bottom,” Kara explains. “Plus, the oven was ancient, and the flooring was drab. It definitely needed an upgrade, both in how it worked and how it looked.”

Credit: Kara Harms

Even though Kara felt that the kitchen needed a facelift, she still wanted the space to honor the “mountain cabin charm.” Kara used Canva to create a mood board to imagine what her space would look like and pulled from her travels to bring a modern, whimsical vibe: A Copenhagen bakery inspired the green-and-white checkered floor, and the floral wallpaper is the same as that of a Quebec cafe she visited. 

Credit: Kara Harms

Once the aesthetic was decided, it was time to demo the original kitchen. Kara ripped out the upper cabinets and patched the remaining holes (she and Robin did most of the renovation themselves!). After the cabinets were removed, the “old dingy cream” wall color was replaced with a shade of bright pink to complement the incoming wallpaper. 

“I know mixing bold florals and checkered floors might seem unconventional, but I love how the contrasting patterns create a unique balance between retro and modern vibes,” Kara shares. “At the end of the day, our whole cabin is designed for the girls, and a bold pink kitchen is the hero room.” 

Credit: Kara Harms

“Hanging the floral wallpaper was a two-day project that required patience and precision for measuring, cutting, and pasting each panel,” Kara notes. “To hide the wallpaper edges, we added thin wood strips as trim around the windows.”

The kitchen cabinets also needed a refresh. To revive them to their original state, Kara removed the doors and drawers, sanded them, and used Minwax Stain in the same shade to give them their glow back — some new gold handles from Plank Hardware helped them look brand-new too. 

Credit: Kara Harms

Speaking of cabinets, Kara felt that too many upper cupboards made the room feel “clunky.” So she found a $20 plank from a nearby lumberyard and transformed it into open shelving to house their dishes. The dark brown stain helps it pop off the bright wall, too. 

Credit: Kara Harms

When updating the flooring, ceramic tiles were out of the budget, but Kara found an Etsy seller who creates custom PVC floor tiles, which she was able to color-match to the green in their living room. 

“Installing the tiles took some planning. I spent a day meticulously laying out the pattern, ensuring each square fit perfectly (sometimes requiring custom cuts for the layout),” Kara shares. “Finally, I applied multiple layers of polyurethane sealant for ultimate protection against everyday wear and tear, including dog claws, snowy boots, and rolling suitcases.”

Credit: Kara Harms

To finish the room, Kara swapped out outdated appliances for modern yet retro pieces (like the light blue refrigerator) that are also super functional, like the gas stove in case of power outages during the snowy winters. Kara loves everything about the space, but if she had to choose her favorite aspect, it would be “how the room feels when the natural light hits just right.” 

“[The light] streams through the window, bathing the kitchen in a soft, magical glow,” Kara explains. “The light falls beautifully on all the colorful elements, making it feel truly special. It’s my favorite time of day to be in the room.”

Credit: Kara Harms

And even though the home is “for the girls,” Kara feels that the space is appreciated by anyone who comes into her house. “I knew I was creating something special when the random service vendors (usually men) would step into our bright pink kitchen and immediately compliment it,” she notes. “Getting ‘This is so cool!’ from a random 50-year-old fireplace repair guy is oddly a very high honor.”

The kitchen isn’t the only jazzy room in the Harms home. In fact, every room bursts with bright colors and patterns inspired by her travels abroad — to see more, visit the full home tour on Apartment Therapy

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: Before & After: Striking Pink Walls and Floral Wallpaper Make This “Drab, Outdated” ’70s Kitchen Almost Unrecognizable