When Portland architect Michael Howells sent us pictures of our fixtures in a renovation, we asked him to guest on our blog and share his approach to using Rejuvenation products in contemporary settings.
When my clients, Carolyn and Bret Winkler, bought their first Portland home, they decided on an unrenovated house in a neighborhood they liked (Concordia). Choosing a house that had remained virtually untouched for decades helped them get it at a good price. They soon set about renovating it in a way that would really make it their own. They started with the kitchen.
This is a 1947 house—its style is often referred to as “Cape Cod” but really, it falls into a category I would call Levittown Modern (an early example of the American suburban subdivision home). As you can see from Before and After photos, there was nothing of the kitchen, remodelled in the 1960s, worth preserving. It was cheaply done, poorly-functioning, and not original to the house. We stripped it out and looked for a way to give the home some vintage flavor without pursuing a full-on reproduction or “retro” kitchen.
I understand why people like to turn back the clock and go for literal historicist restorations of older homes, but as an architect I don’t feel it’s quite right to pretend the intervening decades never happened. Nor am I a fan of design trends that bring a sleek, often soulless look to an older home. I think a careful blend of past and present is important. In my view, the best way to achieve timeless, classic design is by using an approach that is thoughtful and personal. Be mindful of the past but not a slave to it.
So how could we give some historic character to this home and also make it work for this owner and this era? Our idea was to use select early to mid 20th century details in an otherwise contemporary context. This is where Rejuvenation was crucial; without period touches the kitchen wouldn’t have much personality.
This house was built when both Deco and Mid-Century Modern motifs were relevant, so we chose light fixtures and pulls to reflect both moments. We used marmoleum flooring (also very much of the era) in Carolyn’s favorite color, lime green, and we replaced non-original windows with new period-sensitive windows. Historic precedents also played a role in ways so subtle they’re perhaps not noticeable, but they please me in their consistency: for example, the flat-face or “flush-panel” cabinetry reads as “contemporary,” but there’s a direct link to the Levittown kitchen and to kitchens of the ’40s and ’50s in general, when unadorned cabinetry doors and drawer fronts were in style—as opposed to the dropped-panel doors that appear in earlier Craftsman homes.
I think this kitchen shows how historical and more current aesthetics can co-exist harmoniously. The Rejuvenation fixtures are like little quotes from the past, reminding us of when the house was built. But this also a renovation that is very much of the present and doesn’t pretend to be otherwise.
My favorite way to use Rejuvenation fixtures is within a complementary context. Not only do they do the vital job of rooting this remodel in its origins, but I think they stand out more in a context different from their origins. For me, a Deco pull is more interesting to look at when it’s in a non-Deco kitchen, so long as the choice of that pull isn’t random or superficial. I feel the same about the lighting pieces we used. The choices shine—in more ways than one—when they don’t get lost in a sea of other repro/historic details.
Michael Howells, AIA/LEED, is the principal of Howells Architecture + Design. He works on the West coast and in the Mountain West on projects of a residential and light commercial scope.
Winkler kitchen contractor: Mike Andreyuk of ReCraft Home Remodeling.
Photographs: copyright Matt Niebuhr, all rights reserved.