Outdated Kitchens – Love em’ or hate ’em, let’s update ’em
I woke up this morning, crimped my hair, threw on my fanny pack, and made a fresh cup of Sanka on my white tile countertop in my kitchen. Just joking. I didn’t do any of that, because I don’t live in the ’80s (Instead, I went to Starbucks in my Uggs with my Stanley cup). However, you might feel so inspired if your kitchen was designed 40 to 50 years ago and hasn’t been updated since.
But don’t worry, I’m here to help. While you won’t be able to FULLY update your kitchen without a full remodel, I’ve got some great ideas to save some money and transition your home to a better place. A place that adds emotional value as well as MONETARY value to your home.
After doing a series on 2000s kitchens and 1990s kitchens, I knew there would be a big gaping hole if I didn’t touch on the 80s.
Why do the 2000s, 90s & 80s but not the 70s?
I only use photos from my Online Paint Color Consulting clients. I don’t always have enough photos to create a fully fleshed-out blog post on one particular topic. If you have a ’70s kitchen that needs an update, SEND PHOTOS (clothing optional…just joking). If I can get enough 70s kitchens, I can roll out a full blog post and use YOUR HOME as a case study!
Let’s start with a list of finishes found in the average 1980s home…
COMMON KITCHEN FINISHES IN THE 1980s
While your kitchen might have its own unique set of features, I’m sure a few of these will sound familiar…
- Oak cabinets hit the scene hard with some cathedral, arched, and flat panel doors with ‘router’ details in them (like a thin line carved into the door like a border).
- 4×4 tile countertops.
- Formica/laminate countertops, usually in some type of white, beige, cream, or otherwise warm color.
- 4×4 tile backsplashes, often with a decorative motif or pattern.
- A lot of exposed, slightly decorative hinges on cabinets.
- European-style cabinet doors (white or off-white with a built-in oak ledge along the bottom that served as the handle).
- Sheet-vinyl/linoleum flooring was pretty hot, especially with muted beige or blue tones (maybe a touch of pink for fun).
- Peninsulas with upper cabinets hanging over them divide the kitchen and dining room.
- Fluorescent cloud lights.
- 12×12 tile floor started popping up more than it did in the 70s.
- No over-the-range microwaves – hooray! This may or may not be because they weren’t invented yet.
- Black and white appliances, although some white appliances had a lot of black on them (especially the stove).
So, what’s one to do with all of this 80s glory? Keep on reading…
WHAT SHOULD YOU UPDATE FIRST?
In the ideal world, you could start from scratch and create the kitchen of your dreams. You wouldn’t NEED to accommodate any 1980s features at all!
However, in the real world (which is what my blog is about), you gotta work with what you have and make smaller, smarter choices as you go.
Heck, if you’re remodeling your 1980s kitchen and blowin’ it all up, you don’t need this blog post – you need more modern inspiration.
This blog post is about honoring the bones of your 1980s home while making thoughtful updates; ones that are maybe a few months, or even a few years apart – as the budget allows.
But where you start on your remodeling journey depends on you, your home, and your budget…
- Which finishes in your kitchen are the most outdated? Are they outdated, but in good shape? Are they outdated and at the end of their useable lives?
- Are some finishes more worn out than others? If something is falling apart, it could jump to the top of the list, regardless of looks.
- Which finishes do you like the least? They might be in great shape, but you might be over them.
- What type of budget do you have? If a finish is worn out, but you don’t have a budget, replacing it isn’t an option, regardless of want or need.
Seriously, updating a kitchen can be like throwing money in a dumpster and setting it on fire. And I’m not even being dramatic. If you don’t spend the right money, in the right spot, you can end up with a hot mess on your hands and won’t be helping your home be its best self.
While this isn’t a kitchen, this 1980s bathroom is rockin’ its decade hard (I’ll do a bathroom blog post too, don’t worry)
LUCKY FOR YOU, you have a wee little Ginger in your back pocket (great toosh, by the way) who’s going to help you along the way.
So, let’s talk about the top dogs in a 1980s kitchen and how and why you might update them.
1. LET’S TALK 1980s COUNTERTOPS
Countertops from the 1980s are most often tile or laminate (Formica was the big brand). Let’s start with tile countertops.
Replacing your tile counter should be your first investment. There’s no saving them or making them look updated. If the budget is tight, stay away from quartz and look at an affordable, modern-looking laminate countertop.
As for 80s laminate countertops, chances are the edges have chipped off and you have a few faded and/or burned areas. ON THE OTHER HAND, if you have a Unicorn and your countertop’s in reasonably good shape, it might be something to change down the road, and you can explore other updates.
This was a super budget-friendly, DIY 80s kitchen update
This is because laminate countertops from this decade, more often than not, are a relatively simple neutral. Sure, there’s the odd riotous orange, but for the most part, you’ve got creams and beiges. And as far as updating a kitchen goes, neutrals are great to work with as they can accommodate new finishes much better than many colors. If this sounds like you, you might move along to the next ideas.
But (this is a BBL-sized one), there are affordable ways to update your countertop, whether it’s dated and worn out or not.
As far as ‘kitchen remodels’ go, a new, modern laminate countertop offers a great bang for buck without having to hit the street corner. That’s right, I said ‘MODERN laminate countertop’.
Gone are the days of laminates that look like renditions of golden-toned granites. Oh wait a minute, those still exist. However, alongside these, you’ll find a wide range of modern, trendy, attractive laminate countertops made to look like granite, marble, soapstone, and more.
A gorgeous island color and new hardware gave this old laminate a new lease on life until the homeowner could budget for a replacement.
For example, in one of our previous homes we were on a tight budget and an all-quartz kitchen was out of the question…
Instead, we chose a gorgeous earthy blend from Formica called Soapstone Sequoia and I LOVED it. We then spent a bit more to get a solid-colored, coordinating quartz on our island, which was a great balance for our budget.
There are tons of beauties, including this one below that looks like black granite but at a fraction of the cost (literally)…
And of course, there are laminate counters that mimic the look of marble, which is a hot look these days in laminate and quartz…
Long story short, you don’t have to spend a ton to update your kitchen countertop.
Quotes are free – or if they’re not, find a new supplier.
Seriously, get a quote or two. Even if it’s not for now, it’s nice to know what it might cost down the road when you have room in your budget.
Now, if you’re in the market for quartz, I’ve got some beauties for you. The great thing about 1980s kitchens is that often, the cabinets are in reasonable shape – they might just need a coat of paint (or three, to be honest – there is no one-coat coverage).
But, painting your cabinets is a topic that we’ll be hitting shortly – let’s stay focused on countertops – DON’T DISTRACT ME!
As mentioned earlier, we updated our 1990s kitchen with laminate countertops on the perimeter and quartz on the island only…
You can also mix and match counters with butcherblock (Ikea has some great, affordable options). Look at this lovely little 1980s gem with her painted cabinets, penny tile, and butcherblock countertop…
Seriously, the cutest kitchen!
Thank you for understanding that not all of my photos are perfectly clear or magazine-ready. I don’t ‘borrow’ from other Creators and only use photos from my Online Color clients and followers/readers.
WHAT COUNTERTOPS ARE THE BEST UPDATE FOR A 1980s KITCHEN?
That’s a great question. A lot of it comes down to what you’re keeping and what you’re changing. Here are some general tips and considerations…
- If the finishes that you AREN’T updating are at all busy or have a pattern, choose a low-pattern quartz or laminate countertop – no busy granite.
- Stick with neutrals – avoid greens and blues.
- If you’re keeping your wood cabinets, look for white or off-white countertops, again, with moderate to minimal visual interest. This is even more important if your cabinets have a lot of grain or detail on them.
- If you’re painting your cabinets, you can consider any depth, but I’d still stick with neutrals.
At the bottom of this blog post, you’ll find links to my favorite laminate and quartz countertops.
This next 1980s kitchen happens to have new, lovely, oak cabinets installed. However, even if the original cabinets were there (I assume they’d be oak, judging by the wood trims and floor), the countertop and backsplash are super smart choices…
WHAT’S TRENDY FOR TODAY’S COUNTERTOP?
- Neutral colors. White and off-white are the most popular. These are followed by a soft gray. Some black pops up, but it’s not as popular as the light shades.
- No 4″ backsplash made of countertop. While you’ll see it in the odd bathroom, it’s more popular to have full-height tile installed or cover the entire backsplash in the countertop material (countersplash). Sure, some people are doing the ‘part of the way’ backsplash with a little ledge on top, but it’s a trend (I wouldn’t do it for the average home).
- Quartz is the most popular choice, although quartzite is making a run for the title. Granite is not as popular (granite vs quartz). More people are choosing quartz and quartzite over laminate, but it all comes down to budget.
Get the Online Paint Color & Update Expert that DESIGNERS hire!
2. I BET IT’S TIME FOR A NEW BACKSPLASH
While any number of ’80s countertops and cabinets can travel through the decades (reasonably well), there’s only been one ’80s-style tile backsplash that I’ve fallen in love with or seen HUGE potential with (next photo). However, what if your budget won’t allow for ‘new everything‘ and you have to ‘make do’? Ooooo, have I got an idea for you!
BUT FIRST, let’s talk about replacing your backsplash. If you’re ready for a change, you need to know what’s trendy, but also what SUITS your remaining finishes, should some of them stay in place.
And let’s be honest, it’s not hard to create a beautiful kitchen when you’re starting from scratch (or hiring someone to do it for you) – it’s a whole different ball game when you need to work with what you have.
Some finishes need to be transitional – honoring the bones of your home while nodding at a new decade.
And seriously, there are SO MANY situations to consider. I work hard to think of different situations and come up with ideas and solutions that can suit the average ’80s home. If you have a situation I don’t cover, mention it in the comments. If it seems to have wide enough appeal, I’m happy to add a section on it!
1. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE GRAIN & THE STAIN
If you’re keeping your cabinets in their woody glory, consider the grain and the door style BEFORE you choose your backsplash. If your door style has a lot of detail or is heavily grained wood, your backsplash tile should be more SIMPLE and less detailed (eg. white subway tile with matching grout).
And knowing ’80s kitchens as I do, you’ll probably want a glossy porcelain or ceramic tile (NO GLASS) as the sheen will add some energy to your space (’80s cabinets tend to be a bit heavier/darker).
If you’re painting your cabinets, you still need to consider the door style and how much detail it has. Whether it’s a flat panel, routered, cathedral-style, or has noticeable layers, think about whether your tile could/should have more or less detail (I’m of the mind that less is USUALLY more, regardless).
The above kitchen looks great with white subway tile and a soft gray grout. The slightly enhanced grout works because the grain of these cabinets is pretty minor, and while the stain color is a bit strong, the door profile is square (not arched or cathedral).
2. CONSIDER YOUR FLOORING
While one can dream about wood floors, as you don’t need to pay much mind to them at all in your backsplash choice, there’s a good chance you have sheet vinyl or tile – either 8×8 or 12×12.
Having a tile floor or a linoleum/vinyl one with a pattern on it means your room already has ‘sumpin’ goin’ on’. And it’s easy to overwhelm a kitchen with too much pattern and texture. So, if you don’t have wood floor, I highly recommend keeping things simple with a 3×6 subway tile in a color that coordinates with your cabinet color and backsplash.
My next client didn’t want to paint all of her oak cabinets but wanted a little bit of a change…
With the linoleum floor having its own personality, she didn’t want to compete with it on the backsplash. Super smart white subway tile looks great with the new white quartz countertop and green-gray island. While I might’ve gone with a less busy countertop, she’s super happy with it, and it does look lovely!
3. THINK ABOUT YOUR COUNTERTOP
First, let’s assume you’re keeping your countertop. Assuming it has the 4 1/4″ raised back on it, you miiiiight want to hold off on replacing your backsplash.
Undoubtedly, either you or a new homeowner will want to update the countertop down the road. With the tile starting above the raised back of the countertop, you’ll have to do the backsplash AGAIN or, install the same raised backsplash on your new counter (which isn’t a trendy choice).
If your counter doesn’t have this raised back (Unicorn), well, then you can fill your little tile-lined boots.
TRY PAINTING YOUR BACKSPLASH TILE
If you don’t like your backsplash and are considering changing it, you’ve got nothing to lose by painting it! EVERYTHING is paintable – glass, tile, counters, bodies. It’s all in the prep and the quality of the paint you use on top.
My next client painted her 4×4 outdated tile backsplash to look like Zellige Tile…
See the WHOLE PROJECT
That’s right, that’s an old 4×4 backsplash tile that looks BRAND NEW for a fraction of the cost – just a little blood, sweat, n’ beers.
This next homeowner wanted to save money on her backsplash and hand-painted an off-white subway tile right on her drywall…
Now, let’s take a closer look at this next kitchen. It has a butcherblock countertop, likely added in the last 15 years, and a 4×4 tile backsplash with a mosaic on top. And just LOOK at those lovely 1980s cabinets rockin’ their sweet ole selves!
The above homeowner wanted to start from scratch, so the cabinets were removed (which you’ll see shortly). However, sometimes I look at a client’s before photos, knowing they’re planning on taking everything out, and I see the POTENTIAL to save money. Now, I’m not out to change anyone’s big plans, but if there’s real potential, I’m happy to toss out some ideas that will give some bang for buck without redoing the whole kit n’ caboodle.
So, for this kitchen, let’s play a little game of…
‘What would Kylie do…?‘
AFFORDABLE IDEAS TO UPDATE THIS KITCHEN
- COUNTERTOP. You could keep the butcherblock countertop, sand it down, and refinish it with a sealant. Alternatively, because it’s such a SMALL amount of counter, I’d recommend a more modern white quartz. Some kitchens cost a FORTUNE, and not that it will be ‘cheap’, but as far as square footage goes, this kitchen is in the low/affordable end.
- BACKSPLASH. Add a subway tile backsplash that matches the cabinet color. Gloss, no bevel, no detail, and nice and simple as the cabinet doors already have an interesting profile to them. I’d also take the backsplash up and around the window, so there’s no drywall up there.
- HARDWARE. Update the hardware with slightly smaller knobs on the doors and coordinating, more simple pulls on the drawers. Do all polished nickel as it’s lower contrast than black.
- CABINETS. Keep them the color they are. OR, some homes have the character to pull off a more interesting cabinet color, like a medium-toned blue-gray or green – this is one of those kitchens. In this case, I would do a white subway tile backsplash.
- Actually, with this layout, she could paint the lower cabinets and tall pantry cabinet a fun color and do just the upper cabinets white.
- ADD AN ISLAND. There’s space for an island which will add function and style!
And ALL of the above can be done on a very seriously affordable budget, especially if you swap out a budget-friendly laminate for quartz (don’t worry, I have links to all of these blog posts at the end of this one).
But as mentioned earlier, my client chose to do a FULL remodel, which I’m happy to share with you as she did a great job!
Look at that lovely and AFFORDABLE Ikea island!
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with blowin’ it all up and starting from scratch – it can be super fun! I’m just here to help you if you need some more transitional, budget-friendly ideas.
3. SHOULD YOU PAINT YOUR CABINETS?
Ahhhh, the question that divides households, marriages, and friendships. Again, good thing you have me to tell you what to do (wink wink). Seriously, your friends, family, and neighbors have opinions that are based on personal taste, and maybe ‘some’ degree of knowledge. I have knowledge, experience, and no emotional connection to you or your home (I mean, I love you all, but…). This makes it easy for me to look at your home and say ‘this is the best thing for it’.
And I do it all the time in my daily Consulting. A client buys a Cabinet Paint Color package (either the Standard or the Signature) and expects me to throw them some great cabinet colors – and I do.
However, about 20% of the time I get to say, ‘Have you thought about NOT painting your cabinets?‘
Some kitchens have great bones and great cabinets. While painting them might be a personal want, it’s not always a necessity for the kitchen to look its best. Take a look at this next kitchen…
While I don’t have real ‘afters’ of this kitchen (as my client tore out EVERYTHING and it’s a brand new space), there’s a lot we can learn from it.
PROS OF THE ABOVE KITCHEN
- AWESOME stained wood cabinets – muted brown stain with minimal grain – FANTASTIC. I’d pop off the decorative detail over the sink – woof.
- Half-hidden hinges (hidden is better, but this is better than fully-exposed ones).
- Wood flooring that can be refinished.
Yeaaaah, that’s about it.
CONS OF THE ABOVE KITCHEN
The thing is, if other pieces were in place, the above kitchen cabinets would be awesome and you ‘could’ keep them as-is. However, here’s why they need to be painted…
- The wood floor is too warm and orange-toned for the brown of the cabinets – they clash. However, if everything else were good, I’d restain the floor to coordinate. And really, that’s the BIGGEST reason for painting the cabinets, however, there are a few other considerations…
- The laminate countertop is stained and the edge is cracked (as shown in the first photo).
- With the dark wood cabinets and black appliances, this kitchen is DARK. This being said, stainless steel appliances, a new white or off-white quartz countertop, matching backsplash, and soft off-white paint color on the walls would do WONDERS for it.
- The layout can be way better and more functional, but that’s for another blog post.
Long story short, if a few of the foundation pieces were just a bit different, the above cabinets could stay wood. HOWEVER (you had to see this coming if you’ve followed me for a while)…
Just because it’s wood, doesn’t mean it’s good.
Let’s do a little case study of this next bad boy from the ’80s…
- There’s nothing wrong with the cabinets. If the floor were a more modern tile, they could stay as they are (although the stain color isn’t super modern and I might paint them anyway). Sure, they have a cathedral-style door, but remember, we’re not blowin’ the bank here, we’re making smart updates and replacing what we HAVE to and keeping what we need to.
- However, as the space stands, the stain on the cabinets clashes with the more modern look of the LVP flooring – the cabinets have to be painted.
- The cabinets are taller than many of those found in 1980s homes (which often have cabinets bumping into a bulkhead on the top, keeping them short and squat).
- This space has already been updated with a beautiful white quartz countertop and simple, slightly textured-looking backsplash (AWESOME SAUCE).
Now, let’s see which colors I recommended for my client…
With the cathedral-style cabinets and this particular layout, her kitchen could handle a two-color palette as it has a bit more charm. We went with Benjamin Moore White Dove upper cabinets, Antique Pewter on the lower cabinets, and Maritime White walls.
Original 1980s cabinets with a whole new look!
HOW DO YOU UPDATE OLD CABINETS WITHOUT REPLACING THEM?
If your cabinets are in reasonably good shape and you’re not ready to light a match, here are some updates and fixes to consider…
- If they’re in good shape and don’t need to be restained, do some basic prep and add a fresh coat of poly on top to bring back their natural color and sheen (satin is best).
- If any doors are crooked, take them off, fill the holes with a dowel, and start from scratch to get a nice tight fit.
- Replace hinges and knobs or pulls with a more modern look, but not TOO modern.
- If your cabinets don’t have knobs – add some!
- Of course, refresh the surfaces around them, including the paint on your walls, backsplash, and countertop.
- Remove any valances over the sink area/window as they weigh a room down.
- Take down overhead cabinets that hang over a peninsula to brighten up your kitchen.
- And last, but not least, PAINT THEM!
BEFORE YOU PAINT YOUR CABINETS WHITE…
If you’re thinking about painting your cabinets white and have wood trim, you might want to think twice.
For white cabinets to make sense, they need visual support – and more than just the white paint color on your ceiling. Sometimes, white cabinets with wood moldings and trims can make the trims look more dated, rather than updated. Often, homes with wood trim better suit cabinets with a bit more depth or personality.
For example, check out this next 1980s kitchen with honey oak cabinets…
If you paint the cabinets white, the wood trim is going to look VERY ORANGE in comparison and outdated – the trim would need to be white as well.
While this next kitchen doesn’t have wood trims, the depth of the cabinets is much better suited to them, should you want to give it a go…
Sherwin Williams Felted Wool
Well, that’s it for now! I’m gearing up to write a blog post on hardware and lighting updates, but in the meantime, these blog posts have some great options…
Get the Online Paint Color & Update Expert that DESIGNERS hire!