Dear PoPville – How to Renovate a Kitchen/Bathroom so It’ll Be Timeless?

Photo by PoPville flickr user C. Michael Poole

“Dear PoPville,

One of the things that comes up a lot in PoP reader critiques of houses/condos for sale/rent is that the kitchens or bathrooms look outdated.

Is it inevitable that any kitchen or bathroom is going to look outdated in 10-20 years? Or are there any looks in kitchens/bathrooms that are “timeless,” or at least that age better than others?”

63 Comment

  • andy

    I think anything that seems up to date will seem like it comes from a particular period later. So you have to accept that much.

    But you can try to go neutral and conservative, with simple, high-quality colors and finishes, and it may at least be something people may want to keep 20 years from now.

  • Design trends come and go but modernist design has been constantly in vogue for literally the past 60 years. Go for a minimalist look with clean lines and you’ll be good to go

  • Subway tiles are fairly timeless, especially when they’re white.

  • Avocado green is the answer.

  • Like anything, the more fashionable something is, the quicker it will age.

    On the flip side: kitchens see a lot of use, after 20 years of daily duty even the most ‘classic’ effort is going to look a bit secondhand.

    As for right now: Stainless appliances are ‘in’ even at the low end, but the shiny smoked plastic trim and LED readouts will probably not age well.

    High-end commercial style kitchens are also ‘in’, I think they’ll age well because high-end quality appliances will last, and stainless steel can always be cleaned & freshened up more easily than painted appliances. Also because restaurant style appliances look industrial no matter ‘when’ they are, they’re less prone to age poorly.
    Think: Quality Never Goes Out of Style.

    The faux stone and/or iridescent glass tile back splashes on the other hand… in 20 years, they will be the butt of jokes the way checkerboard floors in primary colors are now…

    Depending on the type & age of house, the smart thing to do is probably just install something approaching period correct. There will always be a something a little ‘off’ about a super modern kitchen in a Victorian row house – but white painted wooden cabinets in the same house will always seem ‘right’ even if they’re a little old.

    • Excellent last point.

    • +1 on all points, especially the last. And thanks for stating it so well, now I don’t have to try!

    • “Quality never goes out of style.” That should be OP’s mantra in all of this.

    • Commercial-style kitchens in houses are already out of fashion. Nothing says 2005 like a Viking range.

      • +1

        We’re looking at houses now, and we really hate the “commercial kitchen” look. The worst are the places that have a huge Viking range in a little kitchen with no counter space: it’s clear that the stove is just there for show, not because anyone ever uses it.

    • I like the first point best, as well as the points about stainless steel. “The more fashionable something is, the quicker it will age.” True. Granite is popular because it signifies wealth or quality for the time being. If it becomes too ubiquitous, it can no longer signify a different, higher standard of quality.

      As far as materials go, I agree stainless is probably the most resilient for it’s being a glossy neutral. The gray goes with everything, a shiny finish goes with everything. It seems unlikely that a trend will ever develop towards universally dull finishes. I’d guess what you may see is a trend toward “bespoke” finishes on appliances — the same cherry as your cabinets, for example — or fridges that sit under countertops. That would certainly throw everything on it’s head — changes the appliance from being a point of visual interest and to something invisible when not in use.

  • You’re fooling yourself. No “style” last forever. They come, they go. Pick high quality materials and do a high quality job and it will last YOU a long time.

  • janie4

    For the walls, white subway tile. It’s very twenties looking, but it’s pretty timeless. You can leave a gap for accent tile (like a skinny row of glass tiles), and border pieces can be changed out on your whim (the top border pieces can be, for example curved decorative, floral borders, etc). Either that, or small white square tile 3 by 3 or 4 by 4- flat on the wall (bad tiling is awful. You can still do a border, but it should be smaller horizontal tiles. Except for the walls behind/in the tubs, go to about elbow height with the tile. Above the tile, that’s where you change the color to reflect the times – wall paper, paint, etc.

    Floor tile is harder – the hexagonal really dates to the 20s, and it can look dingy quick. A pedestal sink is attractive, but you lose a lot of storage, and space for makeup. I would recommend a very plain porcelain sink, but deep, and set a cabinet that can be refaced/recountered based on style. The furniture look is in now, or cabinets that are on legs, but legs mean cleaning under the cabinet – a pain!

    Fixtures can run $300 for a fancy faucet. I recommend chrome/stainless steel – ceramic screams deco, gold screams 80s, brushed nickel or copper screams 2010. They’re easy to change out if you have a standard size. restoration Hardware equipment does not hold up – Moen or Kohler is the way to go on a budget (and yes, I know, they’re not cheap, but it’s better than Waterwords)

    My take on things people like that are universal? Storage – if you have room for a built-in cupboard or closet, put it in. Pay money to have it look good – but it will pay for itself on resale (and you’ll love it too). A recessed medicine cabinet is good. Light is key. The sconce thing is big now, or a light over a mirror. Recessed lighting is also good. A slightly higher end fan with light built in is worth it.

    Also – a showerhead that falls into the gray area of the new low-flow rules is always appreciated (you can find them with multiple heads in one shower head, and they’re still legal.)

    • where do you get your opinion on restoration hardware not holding up but Moen or Kohler being quality? I used high end Kohler to renovate a bathroom and honestly it’s a bunch of crap. The device that flips between shower and tub faucet it stuck on shower (which is fine since we never use the tub, but obviously would be a problem if we ever did). The sink faucet’s chrome is eroding. Junk junk junk. We recently bought restoration hardware fixtures and although we have not had them installed yet they are very obviously high quality workmanship. Didn’t cost much more than the Kohler crap. On what basis are you making your claims?

      • Ive been very happy with kohler. Im not sure why you’ve had problems.

        • I like my Kohler toilets a lot and went with the Grohe faucets. Very nice German stuff. Also have a Mica faucet that has performed well in our now 10-year-old kitchen. Wow, time for a redo!

      • Grohe or Hansgrohe are both good. Expensive, but worth it. If you bought it at Home Depot, it’s probably not “high end,” regardless of the price. My advice: Go to a local plumbing supply store, talk to someone knowledgeable about the varying quality levels, then try to find the stuff you like online for much less.

        • did not buy the kohler at home depot; yes it was junk.

          • Kohler makes some items specifically for Home Depot and Lowes and admits they are lower quality (hence the lower price there.)

        • Interesting. Kohler is priced pretty similar and is sold at your local plumbing supply store.

          Typical response here to assume that if its at home depot, its crap.

      • janie4

        I’ve used restoration hardware fixtures, and the finish has been a disaster to keep clean, and the design is lousy. I’ve had Kohler and Moen stuff that stood up for a long period of time, but perhaps I’m out-of-date – quality can change at a manufacturer.

  • janie4

    My above discussion was totally about bathrooms. Subway tile is a great look for kitchens. Hardwood floors can also work in kitchens. Counters and cabinets are tough – I would recommend working with a planner to do a layout that really works, and then it doesn’t matter so much. If you have a ton of cabinets that go to the ceiling, and are well-made, you can change the doors or paint them if they don’t match your taste. Ultra-modern really only appeals to a small number of people, so I’d go with a more traditional box. Granite is going to be strongly associated with the 2000s. Low-end stainless steel will wear out quickly, but the look has been around since the 40s, so I don’t see it going away. White appliances can also be attractive. You get tired of appliance colors – neutral is best.

    • what would you consider a more ‘timeless’ material for countertops? I agree that granite will be dated in a few years.

      • Granite is a natural material, with a similar sort of appeal as wood grain. Verging on timeless. (.02)

        • i agree. stone countertops in general are pretty timeless.

        • + 1.

          Its relatively recent turn to ubiquity as a standard-issue construction material aside, it’s durable, looks good, and is a natural material. Absent some further substantiation of this story about its radioactivity levels being worse than we thought, I think it’s here to stay.

          What are we going back to, anyway? Laminate?

          • I could imagine an LED-laced countertop material — looks like an inconspicuous frosted white or blue glass when not in use. When “on”, an array of thousands of tiny LEDs emit a very low level of light which colors the surface whatever you want. Heck, maybe the LEDs could form a dabbled pattern reminiscent of granite.

            Who knows?

          • well, big things in countertops right now are concrete, glass and recycled composite castings.

            if i had money i’d do soapstone or marble.

          • hahaha even if the radioactivity level were what is guessed now, its so far from harmful, everything will be just fine.

      • If you’re going for 1920’s style, darker wooden counters would probably be ok esp if you maintain them well, since those were relatively common back then (just don’t actually use them as cutting boards, even if they’re called “butcher block”–they’ll look old fast). I’ve seen some stained concrete counters that look like they could fit into an old-style kitchen…maybe they wouldn’t look dated 20 yrs from now because they’ve never really been stylish?

      • Emmaleigh504

        To me marble is timeless, think marble topped tables. But I have a strong marble counter top bias. My grandmother had marble counters forever, since the old bank in her town was torn down and she went and got the counter tops. I think she got them in the early 50s.

        • Marble is gorgeous for countertops but it will easily stain if you’re not careful. I guess it all depends on whether or not you’re going to be comfortable with the “patina” of stains you’re likely to get with marble after decades of use.

          • janie4

            I agree – and I love marble, so it’s what I want. I have a bias towards stone in general, but I didn’t want to get overly personal. Granite is a great counter, all the stones are – just not sure if granite will be timeless for a while. Marble really is timeless, but it’s high maintenance, so I didn’t want to recommend it.

  • It depends on the house. I happen to think that certain houses can be updated and have modern conveniences yet still look fantastic and appropriate to the house. If I had a 40’s or 50’s era house, I would totally get a fabu restored stove, and work around that.

    I happen to like simple ceramic tile, wood or tile floor, period-appropriate cabinets. I also like white, stainless or neutral fixtures, and add (easily changable) colors by accessories, accents, art, etc.

  • I honestly think that a kitchen with basic white wooden cabinets with simple silver hardware, marble or soapstone counters, white subway tile backsplash, and hardwood floors or black & white linoleum (running on the diagonal, please) is as timeless as it comes. Something like this:

    • I want to paint our kitchen cabinets white so bad……. but I am kind of afraid to do it. They are relatively new light maple and while they really are clean and simple and we get compliments on the kitchen they just aren’t exactly my style. And I am afraid they are going to look dated in a few years. They came with the house so I didn’t get to pick them myself. I love the kitchen you posted and mine could be close if I just had the nerve to paint the cabinets!

      • Do it! We did it in to our crazy maple cabinets b/c they were so awful w/ the old square yellow tile plus changed out the hardware. Amazing the difference it’s made to lighten up the room –much easier to live with until we save up for a complete re-do.

        The trick is sanding them down well and doing several light coats. Oh, and rehanging them straight, which was our particular challenge.

    • EXACTLY -tho a very pale gray on the walls would have been nice. VERY pale gray…

  • I think the super glossy, super busy granite that is popular these days will look terrible in a few years.

  • the architecture of my house looks dated, and i like it that way.

    why can’t a kitchen look dated?

  • If you use products that mimic the period of your house, it will never look out of style. Remember little things like cabinet hardware really make a difference. So many people comment on how our new kitchen cabinets have the same hardware as the original butler’s pantry.

    All that being said, I know pedestal sinks are “period” accurate for my house, but I can’t wait to replace mine with something with storage. Because at some point, functionality is more important.

  • Do you know how valuable a good answer to this question is worth? Seriously, that’s what you pay people for.

    • I disagree. You can spend a lot and get less than optimal workmanship. If you have the skills and patience you can economize on labor. I agree that I wouldn’t cheap out on appliances, though there are plenty of good midrange options that look like more expensive lines (ie Jenn Air).

      • for real? appliances are some of the most over priced things people put in kitchens. You think that a 1000 oven is only 1/4th as good as a 4000 oven?

        My advice is to go cheap on the appliances if you need to cut corners, you can always replace them later.

        Get something that is neutral and that you like for hte floors, cabinets, and countertops. Consider not even getting a backsplash.

  • A kitchen — any kitchen really — is going to depreciate, no matter how “timeless.” Unless you’re planning on selling in a short time, go for something you like that’s not too outrageous. Most importantly, don’t err on the layout (especially structural changes) or placement of key systems (especially plumbing). A buyer may want to rip out an existing kitchen, but an experienced or knowledgable buyer will know if they need to replace within a generally workable framework or make drastic structural/system changes that require a major over and expense

  • This is an interesting thread. There isn’t one formula to answer this. I think you have to look at the home and see what works for the space. Gourmet kitchens look nice and have that “wow” appeal – nothing wrong with that. If the home can’t carry it, then it will look ridiculous. Timeless is what works in a particular space and honouring the integrity of the space. All spaces do not seek gourmet-style kitchens.

    It might also be worth noting that stainless steel isn’t the easiest material to keep looking new and shiny and gleaming. The easiest are white appliances. Black appliances are challenging to keep looking clean and new also.

  • Just wanted to add one more 2 cents. I think the difference between “retro” and “dated” is that retro exemplifies the best iteration of a particular style — meaning all the components are brought together in a pleasing, cohesive whole. Artful combinations age well. So it’s not so much “cork vs. hardwood” as much as the sum total of choice of finishes.

    Dated is the effect you get when someone thinks “we can use these materials and it’ll look great”. Ever seen a tacky rich person’s home? I know we have on the GDoNs here. You can buy the most expensive shit in the world and still have a dopey looking kitchen.

  • Have good enough friends and good enough food and no one will even notice the kitchen.

  • I’m avaoiding vessel sinks and contemporary mosaic tile backsplashes like the plague, even though I kind of like them both. I don’t see those particular trends aging well.

  • Build and remodel your kitchen and bathrooms for yourself with function and utility in mind first, then what you can afford to pay, not what is “timeless”.

    Since your timeline is 10-20 years, build for your own practical use and to your own personal taste and satisfaction. The choices today in 2011 are extraordinary and have never been better. Then live it and enjoy it, unless you really care about what others think about your kitchen and bathrooms.

    Believe me, they don’t.

    In the past three years I’ve built, delivered and sold six units in Washington and provided each with granite slab countertops with under mount sinks, Wolf Ranges, Sub Zero Refrigerators and the latest Bosch Dishwasher.

    Most of these people I know can’t afford it, some never even cook, but they’re happy with their “timeless” kitchens and baths. And I’m happy and feel blessed to have provided them.

    In my home I still have good formica countertops and Sears Kenmore appliances and I’m happy with them because it’s my choice and have never played this keep up with the Jones’s stuff.

    I do care about the meals I prepare and serve to others and making them feel welcome in my home, but I don’t really care what others think about my kitchen or my john because I know they don’t give it much thought either.

    Live and enjoy your home your way, and leave timelessness for your time at church.

    • I don’t know if you’ll come back to see this but you’ve built and delivered places with kitchens with the works (granite, wolf, subzero…). I don’t understand your comment that most of these people can’t afford it, some never even cook but are happy with their timeless kitchens. If they can’t afford them, how can they buy the places?

  • I definitely do not recommend wood for kitchens. It wears so much more quickly than the rest of the house and will show wear from dings, water, etc. We have sanded-on-site floors, our neighbors have pre-finished and both look fairly used after 8 years but the rest of the wood in the homes looks almost perfect. Stick with tile.

    • janie4

      See, here was a place I was too personal – I kind of like the battle-scarred look. Shows someone lived there.

  • Efficient design with durable materials that are pleasing to the touch will never go out of style in a kitchen. Kitchens, fundamentally, are utilitarian rooms and get very complicated if you try to overdress it into something that it’s not. Like underwear: very functional purpose, but if you make it too frilly, it just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. And it eventually looks silly on top of being useless.

    “Style” is a manufacture of salesmen, marketers, and historians; it’s the extension from the royal class to the masses of the idea of what is “in fashion this season.” Identification for the masses via “style” was first done to clothing in the 1840s during the advent of American department stores. Fashion and style told American consumers that the two dresses that were perfectly fine for the last 12 years were out of style. You needed a new dress every year, not every decade (a brilliant development if you were a merchant).

    “Land of Desire,” by William Leach is a fantastic survey of the creation of style and fashion in American commerce and culture.

    The only psychological way to be “timeless” is to somehow withdraw from the social construct of “style.” And the best way to do that is within yourself. Say, and then believe, “I don’t care what ‘style’ it is. I like what I like.” That’s not a rejection of beauty, but a reorientation of who gets to judge beauty; you or the mass of dummies out there?

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