1950s Home Decor
Everyone who knows Pam Kueber wants to see her kitchen. It’s aquamarine and steel and would easily turn June Cleaver green with envy. When people of a certain age first take a look around, they get a little unhinged: This Berkshires home is a time warp. This is the kitchen of their childhood; they can almost smell their mother’s pot roast. The younger generation just thinks it’s a little wacky and very hip. But regardless, everyone wants to hear the backstory.
Kueber’s cabinet set is a 1963 model from Geneva Modern Kitchens. Originally installed in a cooking school run by nuns in New York City, it was saved from the Dumpster via the miracle of the Internet. It took Kueber five years to find it, a quest that would take her from midcentury-curious homeowner to period expert to blogging queen. She now runs the wildly popular Web site retrorenovation.com, where more than 200,000 unique visitors each month research midcentury resources to do their own period rehabs.
She never saw it coming. When Kueber and her husband, a high-school teacher, first started looking for property in the Berkshires in 1999, they thought they’d get a classic New England house with a wraparound porch. But then, in 2001, they scouted this 1951 “colonial ranch” just a few blocks from the center of Lenox, Massachusetts, and they couldn’t resist its charms, location, and price. It had that classic single-story ranch layout—two bedrooms, kitchen, dining and living rooms all on the same floor—and quality details, including dentil moldings and cherry built-ins adorned with Early American–style hardware.
“It had great features,” Kueber says, “but the bathrooms did need freshening up, and the 1970s kitchen cabinets were worn out.” The kitchen could wait, but the bathrooms couldn’t, and Kueber resolved to go midcentury. “No matter when you renovate, it’s going to be ‘dated’ eventually,” she reasoned. “You can’t go wrong doing something historically appropriate.” And she began to see something like architectural integrity in the house. If she could see the beauty in a 1950s “colonial ranch,” maybe she could prove that these most common and affordable of American homes should be celebrated—not razed and replaced.
Easy to say, but she soon discovered that finding period finishes wouldn’t be so simple. The pink, green, and peach fixtures of the era were thoroughly out of vogue, and the Internet didn’t offer much assistance. But one Canadian distributor did have 1950s-style tile colors, and American Olean still offered a peach.
For the main bath, Kueber decided to go relatively conservative, choosing a heron-blue field tile, accenting it with retro wallpaper. “I remember thinking, ‘If I have to resell, the next owner can come in and make it look French Provincial or country pretty fast—rip out the paper and switch out the accessories,’” she says.
Kueber got more ambitious with her basement powder room: “I said, ‘Pink, I need that ’50s color pink,’ and people would tell me, ‘Oh, we pull that out of bathrooms every day—no one wants it.’” She eventually settled for peach, though she now knows where to get acres of pink tile, thanks to her readers: B&W Tile Co. in Gardena, California, which still makes classic “Mamie Pink.” And when Pam Kueber talks about other treasure sources—such as World of Tile, a family-owned New Jersey warehouse filled with “new old” (unused vintage) stock—she can’t hide her excitement: “It’s awesome—you’ve gotta visit—unbelievable, unbelievable!”
Once her bathrooms were finished, Kueber turned her attention to the kitchen. Fortunately, she found a decorating clue in her own garage. Tucked away in a corner were a few white metal cabinets, no doubt what remained of the home’s original kitchen. “I just knew that that’s exactly what had to go in there,” she says. Thus began the hunt for a complete set of period metal cabinets that would fit her 225-square-foot kitchen. Because she was working full-time, she didn’t have spare hours to spend scouring. Instead, she avidly watched eBay and Craigslist and hit estate sales in her free time, picking up midcentury brochures and builders’ catalogues along the way.