Quick Kitchen Refresh (AKA the Magic of Contact Paper)

When you move into a fixer upper, you don’t always have the time or funds for the kitchen update of your dreams (at least not right away). You might need to find little ways to freshen up your kitchen while you wait for that big remodel.

Luckily there are lots of easy things you can do to modernize and brighten up your kitchen, like adding fresh contact paper, houseplants and hardware.

Here is my mid-century kitchen roughly as it looked upon move-in. Someday I want to take out the cabinets along the dining room wall to open it up to the windows in the back of the house.

Mid-century kitchen before remodeling

At this point I’m making smaller updates, just enough so that I can fulfill my role as Thanksgiving and Christmas hostess. Let’s see what a little creativity can do for us (along with a new appliance or two).

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Mid-Century Modern Contact Paper

I started by scrubbing down the insides and outsides of the cabinets and removing the old contact paper. The paper pulled up nicely since the glue was older than I am. Some of the shelves were stained or sticky from old contact paper, begging for new liners.

Finding mid-century modern or retro contact paper is no easy task. While the mod look has grown in popularity, there are some areas where the market hasn’t caught up yet. I’ve noticed that modern drapes, planters and contact paper can all be hard to come by, at least in an affordable price range.

Update! Since this post, I’ve found several affordable modern planters now available.

Quick Updates for a Mid-Century Modern Kitchen: Modern contact paper lining drawers.

After some late nights of searching Pinterest and Amazon, I found a geometric contact paper in gray and white that I liked, so I ordered a bunch. This pattern is no longer available, but I also discovered these fun retro contact paper options below.

Modern geometric contact paper
Retro geometric contact paper
Mid-century modern grasscloth contact paper
Grid contact paper

5-14 days later my contact paper arrived and I got to work cutting it to fit my shelves and drawers. I laid it from the front to the back of each drawer and side to side of each shelf, using a plastic putty knife to smooth it out as I removed the backing.

Contact paper has a lot of forgiveness, so you can usually pull it up and reapply it if you get any bubbles. The results sent me into a contact papering frenzy, and I finished the kitchen in record time.

No More Landline

Next I tackled this blast from the past. Younger readers might need to be informed that this is what we used to call a phone, attached to a landline. I unscrewed it from the wall, leaving a large and unsightly hole.

Mid-century kitchen with Lucy art

Eventually this will become a drywall and spackling project, but since we’re prioritizing our projects at this point, I came up with a solution to get me by. Looks like a perfect place to hang an “I Love Lucy” metal poster that I had in my Lucy collection.

With a hammer, two nails and a level the poster was up, complete with a fully functional old-school blender courtesy of Eric’s parents. Check this corner off the list.

Someday the floor will be a project, too, when we replace it with something a little more mod. For now a good mop job shined it up nicely.

Restoring your fixer upper? See my home improvement guide >>

Era-Appropriate Hardware

While I was making these updates, Eric and Andy replaced the handles on the cabinets and drawers with mid-century boomerang drawer pulls.

Since the width didn’t match the previous handles, they had to fill in the old holes with wood putty, drill holes for the new handles and then screw them in. Major PITA and not nearly as fun as contact papering, but the results were nice.

Boomerang hardware on mid-century modern cabinets

Fridge Drama

Meanwhile, Eric and I were living with a sad mini fridge since the house didn’t come with a refrigerator. Before we moved in I thought this would be no problem because getting a fridge would be a quick fix.

So. Not. True.

If you’re working with a small or awkward fridge space, it might be awhile until you find a suitable fridge to fit. And then it can take weeks to get it shipped. Meanwhile, you’re living with 1.3 cubic feet of mini fridge space. That was our experience. Lots of dollar menu living during this time.

The allotted fridge space in our kitchen was small by today’s standards. I guess in the ‘60s people didn’t know about double-doored fridges with freezer drawers. Or the awesomeness of Costco stock-up trips.

I measured the space and had a hard time finding a normal non-mini fridge to fit. The space is counter depth and many new fridges are deeper, but I finally found one and ordered it.

A few long weeks later, the new fridge showed up. Eric and I slid it into place, only to find that it was a few inches short on each side and half a foot short on top.

I don’t know how this happened. Honestly, I took calculus and I can do math, but something went wrong in measuring the fridge space. I think I couldn’t find anything to fit exactly, so I went a little smaller not realizing how sad it would look. It seemed a waste to not fill the already small space, so I measured again and got back to shopping.

Finding the One (Our Fridge)

Finally I discovered this counter-depth beauty in the perfect width but a little too tall. Eric said we could make this work, so we ordered it. He and Andy cut into the cabinet above the fridge space, making the cabinet a little shorter but still perfectly functional. They moved the bottom of the cabinet up, shortened the doors and reattached them.

Then one happy day the fridge arrived. Just look at it.

Modern stainless steel fridge

I didn’t know a major appliance could make me smile so much, but after living with mini fridges for a few months this was an exciting upgrade. Here it is in place. It keeps my food cold and looks good doing it. We even fit in the double doors and freezer drawer.

I added houseplants to the kitchen window—even found modern planters—and we were ready to host the holidays. A few cheap updates plus a fridge make for a cozy new kitchen.

Here are more kitchen makeover ideas for you:


Quick Kitchen Updates

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