What to Know before Restoring Your Historic Kitchen

Although Melissa and Jon Bolinger fell in love with their Cape Cod-style house on first sight, it took seven years of renovations to transform their 1925 home—including its vintage kitchen—into a livable space. Throughout that long process, they uncovered useful truths about renovation, covering everything from concrete to contractors to kitchen counters.


colorful kitchen

Photo by Bret Gum.


The Cape Cod-style house had character—wood shingles, located in a historic beachside community lined with palm trees and the refreshing scent of the ocean wafting through the air—but also inherent structural problems, including a river-rock foundation with eroded mortar that needed to be substituted with good ol’ concrete. “Every function of our home had to be replaced,” Melissa recalls. Nevertheless, Melissa and Jon began renovations undaunted. “We love the way architects and builders of days gone by trusted their instincts and built from the heart,” Melissa says. “They were often artists who had a gift for understanding proportion and charm. In certain new developments, you see faux everything. There are nooks and crannies and archways that add nothing but visual chaos and doors that are too tall for the structure. I don’t think the average builder or architect works from the same place of heart that they did of yesteryear.”


kitchen appliance

Photo by Bret Gum.


Here’s what Melissa has learned about dealing with the average builder or contractor of today:


  • Don’t choose a contractor by price alone—get references.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Go for the best quality you can afford; it will pay off in the end.
  • Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars.
  • Know your limitations, hire experts to help you get the best outcome on a project; you will save time and prevent costly mistakes.
  • Choose quality over quantity.
  • Collections: A collection is best shown off when it is not scattered all over the place. It will be most visually pleasing and impactful if it is displayed together. Also, too much of a good thing is not a good thing! If a collection gets too big, edit out the less-special pieces.


kitchen appliance

Photo by Bret Gum.


When restoring her kitchen, Melissa wanted a space that feels vintage but looks fresh and modern. She achieved the effect through her color palette of white with pops of color from accessories, including green serving pieces, contrasting black hardware, and fresh fruit and flowers. All the hard work has paid off. “I love every room in the house,” Melissa says, “but the kitchen is most people’s favorite.” To get a snazzy, highly-functional kitchen with high-quality performers, take Melissa’s advice:


  • Find a vintage centerpiece. Melissa and Jon’s kitchen features a classic O’Keefe & Merritt range, which they “rescued” from a house in their old neighborhood and restored. It fits right in with the period when the house was built.
  • Splurge on key appliances that you use every day. Melissa is a huge fan of her Sub Zero Pro 48 refrigerator. “We love it because we love food!” Melissa laughs. “We spend a lot of time cooking with our friends and family, so our kitchen is not only the heart of our home figuratively but also literally, as it is located in the center of our home.”



By Meryl Schoenbaum

Photography by Bret Gum

Styled by Jacqueline deMontravel and Valerie Spelman



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