How to design a vintage-modern kitchen
A resourceful Portland designer reawakened her Victorian kitchen by combining the best of old and new
When Vicki Simon first saw the tiny laminate-clad kitchen of her future home, it inspired grander visions. “I once toured a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, and was so taken with its Victorian-style kitchen that I memorized every detail: the stand-alone furniture, the big pot rack,” recalls the interior designer. “It was beautiful but as functional as a commercial kitchen.” Simon kept coming back to that image as she remodeled her 1908 house’s kitchen, a process that involved restoring the original floors (despite contractors who said it couldn’t be done), trolling Craigslist, and scouring salvage yards up and down the West Coast—a 10-month labor of love that led her to declare, “If I ever move, this kitchen is coming with me.” vickisimoninteriordesign.com
Restore and re-create
To expand the original kitchen (pictured) from 125 square feet to 225 square feet, Simon knocked out a wall and adopted the space of a covered porch. She then took the porch’s drop ceiling back to the original rafters and added tongue-and-groove pine siding for a vintage look.
Champion the old
Some contractors were “afraid of the amount of work it would take” to rehabilitate the original Douglas fir floorboards covered by layers of linoleum, says Simon. Eventually, she found two carpenters who were up for it. She had them leave the original pockmarks in the floor for character.
Skip the built-ins
With her heart set on “a furniture kitchen,” Simon shopped flea markets and Craigslist for pieces that could work in lieu of standard-issue cabinets and counters.
Make big reveals
“I don’t like to hide things in the kitchen. Open shelving holds things I use every day—dishes, dry goods that I store in apothecary jars, plates, even my family’s silver,” Vicki explains of a design strategy that keeps useful items accessible and aesthetically pleasing.
Give treasures some love
Vicki handpicked hardware from salvage yards, then scrubbed each piece with steel wool and applied a brass ager to give them the same patina.
Go above and beyond
To create the exact lighting she wanted, Simon mixed shades by Schoolhouse Electric with salvaged fixtures from the ReBuilding Center in Portland.
Reflect personal history
In the breakfast nook, Simon combined a bistro table, Balinese chairs bought on her honeymoon, and a painting by her mother. “I like to have things that carry a story,” she says.
Acquire a dream island
This cherry-and-maple butcher block, which Simon had made for her old house in Seattle, is her workhorse. “I wanted a surface where I could cut to my heart’s content.”
Feature farmhouse functional
This reproduction sink has slightly tilted drainage boards, “which are almost like having counter space.”
Indulge in modern conveniences
Simon loosened her no-built-in rule in order to have an oven she didn’t have to bend over to use, along with a dishwasher and a tray rack.
Make DIY upgrades
Simon painted this two-piece hutch, made by a farmer in central Oregon, a warm neutral (Eddie Bauer Linen) to match the ceiling, and added crown molding to the top.
Be clever with storage
Vicki doesn't have a pantry, so this antique hutch serves as her food storage. "My favorite part is the big drawer that unfolds like a dishwasher and holds every last bit of my Tupperware,” she says.
Think outside the box
Simon creatively mixes modern applicances with vintage treasures. She explains, “I found this desk at an antiques show, topped it with salvaged jasper stone, and put a Wolf range on top.”
Get the look: 11 easy pieces
No renovation required: These easy pieces instantly charm up a kitchen.
Fun yet functional utensils
These spoons resemble treasures unearthed in Grandma’s attic but are much more utilitarian. Dining room measuring spoons, $24; anthropologie.com
Add a curvy bracket, and a basic shelf is suddenly stately. DuBois traditional wood bar bracket corbel, $24; knobsandhardware.com
This airtight porcelain jar is wittily disguised as a tin can. Seletti sugar jar in silver, $25; spitfiregirl.com
This fixture evokes turn-of-the-century style (minus the antique wiring). Waldorf pendant in matte bronze, $199; shade #BL-9878-12-4, $70; schoolhouseelectric.com
Filled with pantry staples, these jars (around since the 1800s) can be used to create a pretty tableau on a shelf. Kilner clip-top jars, from $25 for 4; williams-sonoma.com
The more you use these linen towels, the better; they get softer and more absorbent with every wash. Fog Linen kitchen cloths in natural blue stripe and red thin white stripe, $15 each; shop-foglinen.com
In cherry red and white, this prep set doubles as decor. Enamelware prep set, $108; schoolhouseelectric.com
This beautifully minimalist kettle feels at home in any style, any era kitchen. Enamel kettle, $140; alderandcoshop.com
This Shaker-style dining chair skews both down-home and contemporary. Salt chair, $99; dwr.com
Little details like brass and copper pulls go a long way in giving a room character. Classic bin pulls, $17 each; historichouseparts.com
Sea grass baskets are perfect for tucking away dishes and towels while keeping them within easy reach. Savannah utility basket, $39 for large size; potterybarn.com