1970’s Kitchen Reno Tips

1970's kitchen renoI love older homes. I grew up in a 1950’s home with “character” in the form of original Thermador appliances (awesome actually) and pink toilets(not quite so awesome). what most older homes are missing in modern updates, they make up for in ample storage, higher quality construction, and retro style; qualities I’ve been pining for since the moment I moved into my 1999 tract home in 2010.   On the downside, older homes also come with fur downs (or soffits) over the cabinets, popcorn ceilings, cramped kitchens, and uneven floors; all of which we faced in our kitchen. Designing a modern Ikea kitchen around these typical 1970’s obstacles proved challenging and frustrating but our results were that much more rewarding in the end.    If you too own an older home, let me put your mind at ease with a few tips for a 1970’s kitchen reno that we could have used along the way.

Tips for a 1970’s Kitchen Reno

Fur Downs

“Fur down”, also called a soffit,  is construction speak for the drywall in-between the top of your cabinets and the ceiling.  Fur downs were very popular in older homes for both aesthetic and practical reasons.  Oftentimes the fur down provided an economical way to run ductwork, wiring, and piping throughout the kitchen.  The fur down in our house is really not a fur down.  It is actually part of the structural framing supporting the skylight in our kitchen, meaning there is absolutely no way we can remove it unless we are ready to spend some serious dough.  The affect is the same as any fur down though, we have an extremely low ceiling height above our cabinets and we can’t get rid of it.

The Problem with the furdown, aside from being ugly and making the kitchen feel closed in and small, is that you may not have enough height to fit in Ikea’s standard full height cabinets (probably will have the same issue with any non-custom cabinets).  In our case, we found out that the pantry style cabinets and the double oven cabinets were over and inch too tall.

This created some major design havoc since we were intending to install a double oven.

The Fix turned out to be even better than we could have imagined.  Thankfully we never intended to use a pantry style cabinet but we did want a stacked double oven.   Desperate double ovens, I decided to price up two standard Ikea built-in ovens to see how much of a cost increase it would be over the standard stacked double oven.  Shockingly, buying two single built-in ovens and their associated cabinets is actually LESS than one stacked double oven and its associated cabinet.

Here’s the breakdown:
Sektion cabinet for single built-in oven – $69 x 2 = $138
Nutid single built-in oven – $799 x 2 = 1598
Nutid double oven – $1499
Sektion double oven cabinet – $350 or more depending on configuration

The conclusion: Two single ovens for $1736  vs one double oven for $1849

1970's kitchen reno | Double Ovens

Popcorn Ceilings

Unless you are my mom, who is clearly very confused (love you mom!), you hate popcorn ceilings with a passion.  They are dark, dingy, and have got to be dirty too.  Despite all that, you are probably wondering what they really have to do with a kitchen renovation.  I mean, you can surely update your kitchen cabinets without messing with the ceiling right?? That’s what we thought. We were wrong…

Another lovely feature so common in older homes is the short cabinet bank hanging over the peninsula bar.  You know, that bank of cabinets that blocks your view from the kitchen to the eating area and immediately drives you completely crazy??

1970's kitchen reno |dreaded cabinet bank

The Problem is that not only is it visual garbage, it may also force you to remove your popcorn ceilings (probably a blessing in disguise).  Most likely when you remove those cabinets you will damage the ceiling. If you are “lucky” maybe it will only be a little damage that you can easily repair with a can of popcorn patch. On the other hand, you may be left with several 10 inch holes through your fur down like us.  In this case, it’s just really hard to imagine paying someone to re-popcorn your ceilings.
1970's kitchen reno | Popcorn Ceilings
The Fix, for us, was to cough up the money to have that popcorn removed and textured with a nice and simple orange peel.  Long story short, make sure you have a contingency in your budget for addressing damage to your popcorn ceilings, whether its to patch and repair or to completely scrape them.

Dark, Cramped, and Secluded Kitchens

Homeowners have moved away from compartmentalized, closed floor plans and onto the the open floor plan concept. Whether you are a fan or not of the open floor plan, they do usually allow for a larger, more spacious feeling kitchen than in older homes.  Another factor contributing to smaller kitchens in older homes is the formal dining room which has all but been eliminated in modern homes. Its square footage has been split up between the kitchen, living room, and informal dining which again results in a larger kitchen in newer homes.

The problem: The kitchens of older homes often feel cramped and secluded by comparison to modern homes.

Our 1970’s kitchen reno was no exception to this scenario. The kitchen was sequestered at the back of the house away from the living room and it had a pretty small footprint. Our budget doesn’t allow for relocating the kitchen but redesigning a more functional layout is always an option.

The Fix:  To overcome our small, dark kitchen on a small budget, we looked at a variety of options such as eliminating cabinets, downsizing the peninsula in order to create a larger walkway, expanding the kitchen into the eating area, adding additional lighting, and eliminating a doorway.  Each of these options presented their own set of pros and cons and in the end, our changes were smaller than they could have been but still had a huge impact.

Our most controversial decision that basically everyone advised against doing was to eliminate the doorway between our kitchen and the formal dining room.  Our house has an informal dining area and a large eating area in the kitchen so a formal dining room just seemed redundant and not the most useful allocation of space for us. By eliminating the doorway which was located right next to the old stacked double oven (and not shown in the before picture) we converted the formal dining room into a study and we also picked up three feet of additional wall space in the kitchen.  This allowed us to implement the double oven configuration shown above.  The longer cabinet stretch on this wall also allowed us to create a new functional work area that really did not exist in the old layout.  Yes, we did have some countertop space in this area before but it was very small and cramped feeling and NOT somewhere you felt you could work.  Our critics (my mom) felt closing the doorway off created too much seclusion between the formal dining/study and the rest of the house.  To us though, a study should be secluded and so we don’t mind.

An easy decision with basically no drawback was to eliminate “the dreaded cabinet bank” over the peninsula. The cabinet bank provided minimal storage but was the primary reason the kitchen felt so cramped and secluded.  By removing it we greatly improved our site lines from the kitchen into the eating area and even into the informal dining/living room.  We were also able to add recessed lights to this area which has hugely improved the “dark” issue in the kitchen.

To further improve the peninsula and create a greater feeling of space, we opted to remove the raised bar.  I used to love our raised bar at our old house and it took me a while to realize that in our new home, it just wasn’t functional the way it had been before. The bar was sandwiched between the kitchen and the eating area and actually made both areas feel cramped.  On the kitchen side, the raised portion made the workable countertop space very shallow.  On the eating area side, the barstools and the table chairs often collided and made both areas feel cramped.  It also just looked messy from the informal dining/living room to look in and see a kitchen table, four chairs, and two bar stools.  It was just ALOT going on in a not so big space.

Our solution was to eliminate the bar all together and instead add several shallow drawers where the bar area used to be. We were also able to push the peninsula back a few inches into the eating area (but not as far as the barstools previously sat) to pick up more counter space in the kitchen.  The result is a single level, very wide work surface with additional storage.  Though not everyone saw our vision for this area in the beginning, I think it is east to see how it is contributing to a much more functional and larger feeling kitchen.

1970's kitchen reno | Single Level Bar

Our last significant change was to eliminate the upper cabinets on one entire side of the kitchen.  With the fur downs, and dark wood ceiling, our kitchen felt seriously cramped.  From the get go I wanted to remove the upper cabinets on the sink wall and instead utilize shallower open shelving. In the end, because we were able to gain significantly more storage over the double ovens, I was able to utilize upper cabinets on just one wall and eliminate them all together on the other side.  This decision was not only budget friendly but it has definitely had the intended result, our kitchen feels huge(and its not).  On the downside, as you can see in our progress photos, the kitchen still feels a little unfinished.  I’m hoping that will change after we install our backsplash and get some decor up.  If not though, I’ll definitely hang some open shelves!

I designed four different layouts in Ikea’s 3D planner before I finally worked through all the issues discussed above and came up with this floor plan:

1970's kitchen reno | Floor Plan

Uneven Floors

All homes move and settle over the years so it’s pretty much a given that the floors in your older home are uneven.  Furthermore, once you demo your kitchen you will probably find our that your flooring does not extend all the way underneath your cabinets.

The Problem is that it will be incredibly difficult to level your Ikea cabinets (or any cabinets) if your floor is drastically out of level.  Furthermore, installation of Ikea’s toe-kicks may be impossible, or at least a lot harder, if your flooring does not run all the way beneath your cabinets as shown in the picture below.

1970's kitchen reno | old floors

The Fix:   If you are keeping your original flooring but it didn’t run under the old cabinets, you will need to fill it in.  Our flooring contractor used a cementitious, self-leveling product since our home is single story, slab-on-grade construction to fill in the areas underneath our old cabinets and create a level surface for the install of our wood floors.  I imagine a plywood underlayment could accomplish the same purpose on a pier and beam foundation or second story if you could find the appropriate thickness. Regardless, spend the time to address uneven floors as best you can.  The Ikea adjustable legs on the cabinets will help you overcome a certain degree of unevenness  but they do have their limits and it will make the install more complicated!


At the end of the day, the challenges presented by older homes just contribute to a dramatically improved final product and make the time, effort, and money that much more worth it.   What are some 1970’s issues you have run into in your home? What do you think of our 1970’s kitchen reno thus far?


One thought on “1970’s Kitchen Reno Tips

  1. Wow! You have done a super creative job of transforming your 1970’s kitchen into a more spacious, contemporary and functional kitchen! Congratulations to you and Matt. I’m sure Caleb was in on it too – one way or another!

Leave a Reply