What I want in a kitchen is … lots and lots of colour

Turquoise and white kitchen with Northstar appliances that you see here.

I absolutely adore this photo, though I hope I don’t sound like a grump if I say it could stand to lose the little boy. A bright turquoise-and-white kitchen is exactly what I dream of for the Manse. This photo comes courtesy of a blog by the folks at Elmira Stove Works who make those brilliant (and brilliantly coloured) vintage-style appliances.

This past week, and not for the first time, I have been inspired in my Manse-renovation fantasies by something I found on the blog Retro Renovation. (If you’d like to check out the previous times when I’ve given a shoutout to this fantastic blog, a couple of them are here and here.) The women behind Retro Renovation, founder Pam Keuber and her managing editor Kate Battle, are my heroes. They post almost every day, and their love of all things midcentury is contagious. As you’ll see if you’re a regular reader, they love to shine the spotlight on renovation projects that give, or bring back, a gorgeous retro vibe to a home. (They are particularly fond of pink bathrooms.) They’re terrific locaters of sources of cool stuff; just recently I learned from them (thanks to a post here) about a company in Winnipeg (of all places), unbelievably named Acme Chrome Furniture (I can just hear the Roadrunner meep-meeping) that continues to make the glorious dinette sets we all remember from our childhood. And Pam and Kate do it all – and it’s got to be a ton of work – with a great sense of fun and encouragement to would-be renovators like Raymond and me.

Something they posted last week really got my attention, because it spoke to me – or more precisely, it helped me feel vindicated. You see, I seem to be one of the few people who can look at pictures of so-called dream kitchens, on places like Houzz, or Pinterest, or a million other renovation and design sites, and most of the time go: “Meh.” I’m talking about pictures like this:

Brown dream kitchen

“Dream kitchen” in brown and white, brought to you by Pinterest.

And this:

Beige and black dream kitchen

“Dream kitchen” in beige and black.

And this:

Beige and white dream kitchen

“Dream kitchen” and beige and white.

Why do these beautifully appointed kitchens fail to do anything for me? Me, the person who is so desperately in need of a kitchen renovation?

Because they’re beige. Or at least, that’s how they look to me. If you Google images for “dream kitchens,” you’ll get a screenful of brown and white and grey. Here – I’ll show you what I mean:

"Dream kitchens"

I’m afraid my eyes just glaze over.

It seems Pam and Kate feel the same, because they included this sentence in their entertaining report (which, once again, is here) on taking part in this year’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (an absolutely monster annual event in the renovation industry) in Las Vegas this month:


A super-cute yellow Aga oven (also available in other great colours) that caught Pam and Kate’s eye. Readers might remember that an Aga is my dream appliance for the Manse. Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

“Surrounded by a sea of quartz countertops and grey kitchens — yes, low-chroma greiged out everything still appears to be the ‘aspirational’ mass market norm — any booth that used color magnetized us.”

(I will confess I had to look up what “low-chroma” meant. According to one explanatory site I found, chroma is “the quality of a colour’s purity, intensity or saturation. For example: A grey colour is a neutral – an extreme low chroma. Fire-engine red may be a high-chroma red. Brick red may be a middle-chroma red.” To which I say: Hurray for high-chroma fire-engine red!)

I was delighted that one of the examples from the Retro Renovation gals of booths at the show that featured some blessed colour was none other than Elmira Stove Works of Elmira, Ont. Here’s Pam appreciating it:


Retro Renovation’s Pam Keuber enjoying Elmira Stove Works’ great retro-style Northstar appliances line, in Buttercup Yellow and Robin’s Egg Blue. Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

Red Northstar fridge

The vintage-style red fridge in the window at Bush Furniture in Tweed that stole my heart.

Now, I’ve had my eye on those Elmira Stove Works Northstar appliances for the Manse for quite some time. It was back in September 2013 that I spotted a gorgeous bright-red retro-style fridge in the window of Bush Furniture in the village of Tweed, just down the road from Queensborough. When Raymond and I made inquiries of friendly proprietor Robert Bush, we learned that the Elmira folks also make stoves, dishwashers and microwaves in that great vintage style and in an array of fabulous colours – including the one you can see in the photo with Pam, which is called Robin’s Egg Blue but that I prefer to call – yes, you guessed it: turquoise! The colour that the kitchen walls of the Manse were painted in my childhood in this house (you can watch a video here of my brother John exposing them after many a year of them being hidden behind 1970s “wood” panelling), and the colour that I would like to bring back to our kitchen. Turquoise and bright white, like the photo atop this post; I love it! Perhaps with some red accents thrown in for good measure, something that, again thanks to the Retro Renovation team, I’ve learned might work beautifully.

If you’d like to see lots and lots of photos of real-life kitchen renovations that feature wondrously bright colours, I strongly encourage you to spend some time poking around Retro Renovation. For starters, click on the posts here and here and here and here. All that colour will cheer you up, I promise.

And finally, I also want to share yet another way that Pam and Kate have made my life better. You see, the reason they were at the huge Las Vegas kitchen and bath show in the first place was to help the Wilsonart company promote a new line of retro-style countertop laminates that they designed for the company! And they are beautiful!


The countertop laminates produced by Wilsonart in collaboration with the folks at Retro Renovation. How cool is that? Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

Here are a couple of closeups that allow you to see the great colours and the funky boomerang pattern:

First Lady Pink, Retro Renovation

First Lady Pink, which the Retro Renovation folks describe as “a warm pink colour popularized by Mamie Eisenhower in the 1950s.” Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

Retro Renovation Delightful Jade

Delightful Jade, inspired by the jadeite kitchenware we surely all love and some of us collect. Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

You can read all about these funky laminates (and where to get them) in the Retro Renovation post here, but I wanted to share three reasons why I think they will be perfect for our Manse-kitchen renovation.

  • They are not quartz, or marble, or granite. I know that kitchen countertops and islands made of those materials are all the rage at the moment. But I would be terrified of installing them because, to put it bluntly, I am a klutz. There would be endless breakage of crockery and glassware in our kitchen if it contained those supremely hard surfaces. Also: quartz, marble and granite tend to fall into my generalized non-preferred colour category of “beige.”
  • Just look at this photo that Pam and Kate posted featuring the Aqua Ripple option!
Aqua Ripple Retro Renovation Wilsonart laminate, with Blue Heaven plate

Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

People, the pattern on that saucer is none other than Blue Heaven, a popular midcentury style that was produced by the Royal China Company of Sebring, Ohio. Thanks to our love of antique barns and flea markets, Raymond and I have a pretty good collection of Blue Heaven plates, bowls, cups and saucers, and we use those sturdy and funky dishes at almost every meal. I had to smile when Pam and Kate used Blue Heaven in their photo of the Aqua Ripple laminate. Can you say: “Meant to be?”

  • They are all about colour. Colour, colour, colour. Which is what our kitchen needs. And will have – eventually. I can’t wait to show you!

In which I am convinced that turquoise and red can work

turquoise and red kitchen from retrorenovation.com

I love the floor, I love the kitchen, but most of all I love the look of those vintage red chairs in that turquoise-and-white kitchen. Don’t you? (Photo by Brian McHugh by way of Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com, posts here and here.)

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers! And hey, what could be better for a Valentine’s Day post than one about decorating with the colour red? Well, I’ll tell you what could be better than that: a post about decorating with the colour red and the colour turquoise!

Longtime readers will know that turquoise looms large in our plans for the renovation of the kitchen of the Manse, mainly – actually, solely – because underneath the godawful “wood” panelling that was installed when my own family lived in the house back in the 1970s lie restorable plaster walls painted turquoise. Those turquoise walls were just a fond memory from my early childhood – I was four years old when my dad, mum, sister and brother and I moved to Queensborough and the Manse – until, as you can watch in a little video in this post, they were partially uncovered by my brother John. You can tell from the video how thrilled I was to see them again after all those years.

That discovery, or recovery, or whatever you want to call it, also led to my passion for turquoise, which I’ve since written about several times, including here and here and here. The Manse’s kitchen is flooded with light thanks to all the big windows in it, and once it has turquoise walls, bright-white restored wainscotting, and a white tin ceiling (all of which is currently still in the dream stage), it will look amazing. I promise you’ll see many photos!

But as I confessed quite some time ago in a post here, much as I adore turquoise and want it for my kitchen, my true favourite colour is…red. And I’ve wondered off and on about whether one can mix red and turquoise in the kitchen of one’s dreams. I ventured into that territory most notably in posts here and here, in which I showed you the refrigerator of my dreams, a retro-styled red beauty that I discovered in the window of Bush Furniture of Tweed. (If you live in the Queensborough-Madoc-Tweed area you will already know that Bush Furniture is a great, longtime-family-owned business, with outlets in both Tweed and Madoc, where you can find good furniture, quality appliances, and excellent, friendly service. If you don’t live in our area – well, Bush Furniture is worth a trip!)

My Madoc friend Brenda was the first to assure me that turquoise and red could mix beautifully in a kitchen, and even brought me a photo to prove it. It was a photo of the kitchen from her own childhood featuring just that colour mix, and I stupidly failed to dash upstairs to my printer and scan it when she showed it to me. However, thanks to a post I’ve just discovered at Retro Renovation, my new favourite website/blog (I’ve already mentioned it a couple of times, like here and here), I now have gorgeous proof for you.

You’ve seen the photo at the top of this post, so you know what I’m talking about. The photo was used most recently at Retro Renovation to illustrate a piece (which is here) on vintage-style flooring, linoleum and otherwise, with which you can achieve that wondrous midcentury look. As a fan and advocate of linoleum (which I’ve written about here and here), I was of course most interested in that post; but what really made me sit up and take notice was its picture of the turquoise-and-red mix in the Nashville kitchen of Brian and Keri, which you can read a full entry about here. (Which you should do, because they did a great midcentury kitchen renovation for only $7,000.)

Everything about Brian and Keri’s kitchen is, in my midcentury view, to die for; but the absolute best part of it is the mix of bright-turquoise walls and a classic dinette set featuring the most gorgeous red chairs ever. Here’s another view:


The dinette set in Brian and Keri’s kitchen. (Photo by Brian McHugh by way of a post at Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com.)

Now, the Manse kitchen’s walls are not, and will not be, anywhere near that bright a shade of turquoise; while I love it in the photos of Brian and Keri’s kitchen, it’s a little too bright for me. But I am just thrilled at how that splash of red in their kitchen looks so great against the aqua blue of the walls and the white of everything else in the kitchen.

I think the prospects for that red refrigerator ending up at the Manse are getting brighter all the time.

An idea for putting our hallways to good literary use

Disclaimer from Katherine: For the second time in recent days (the first is here), I’m using some photos that I found on the home-renovation site houzz.com. While I’m grateful for the photos (and the renovation ideas), I am kind of appalled at the quality of the captions that come embedded with the photos from Houzz. Unfortunately there’s nothing I can do about them, so please ignore the gibberish below the photos here and just enjoy the pictures themselves.


As regular readers and those who know us are well aware, Raymond and I have quite a lot of books. I’ve written many times (like here and here) about that, and have even reported on some creative ideas (like here) for how to store them. But really the only solution for a lot of books is a lot of bookshelves; and even though the Manse is not a small house by any means, I think we both worry that there won’t turn out to be enough wall space throughout the place to set all the needed bookshelves against. Though of course we’ll give it a heck of a try.

One very good way to go about it would probably be to use the fairly substantial space given over to hallways at the Manse. You know how some houses seem to have lots of hallways running through them, and others none at all because one room just kind of leads into another? Well, the Manse falls very assuredly into the first category. Here is the downstairs hallway at the front of the house (all photos taken about three years ago, very early in our ownership of the house, by the way; that’s why things look a little empty – oh, and yes, that orangey broadloom will most definitely go at some point):

Manse downstairs front hallway

And here is the hallway immediately above it, on the second floor (and apologies for the darkness of the photo):

Manse upstairs front hallway

And here is a third, a nice long upstairs hall leading to the south end of the house where the sunny bedroom that my sister and I shared when I was growing up here is located:

Manse upstairs back hallway

Now, these hallways are not nearly so devoid of contents now as they were when Raymond took the photos in February 2012. But one thing they still do not contain is bookshelves – and that’s probably why the photo from houzz.com that’s at the top of this post caught my eye. (Well, that and the fact that the bookshelves in it are painted bright red, my favourite colour.) What a brilliant thing to do with a hallway! How nice our hallways would look if they were lined floor to ceiling with books on both sides (as in the photo at top) or even on one side, like here:


Houzz had other suggestions for hallways, like using them for closet space –


– and lord knows we could use some of that at the Manse, as you can read here; but I think the need for book space is more pressing.

Besides, as a visitor to our house, wouldn’t you far rather peruse the titles of our books as you roamed the hallways than check out Raymond’s shirts and my shoes?

When it comes to no-maintenance herbs, I am an awesome gardener.

The herb garden

My growing-like-mad herb garden on the south side of the Manse; I am very proud of it. Note nice new sign! (A gift from Raymond.)

Having yesterday shared with you a gardening tale that may very well have no happy ending – that is, my wish that I could grow lavender here at the Manse – I thought that tonight I would post something about my big gardening success story. It is… my herb garden!

Which, as you can see from the photo above, looks extremely healthy indeed. It’s just what I hoped for when I ruminated long ago about my desire for a flourishing herb garden. And doesn’t its newly acquired sign (a gift from Raymond) just add the finishing touch? (Along with the nice bit of bright-red colour from the adjoining oil tank, of course.)

Yes, my tarragon, sage, marjoram, rosemary, basil and especially Italian parsley and oregano are doing very well indeed. In fact the Italian parsley has, unfortunately, overshadowed, overgrown and kind of killed off my previously happy chervil. And the oregano has gone nuts.

My one issue with the herb garden is one I’d never faced with previous herb gardens. It gets so much sunlight, and the soil seems to be so accommodating, that things are growing a little too well. In addition to the aforementioned Italian parsley and oregano, the curly parsley is showing signs of overgrowing and not being nice anymore. I now think I was supposed to cut back these plants a bit when they started to grow so well, to keep them under control. But since never before have I had a herb garden that grew so prodigiously, I was blissfully unaware of this requirement. It’s a lesson for next year.

Anyway, the best thing about my herb garden is that herbs basically need zero maintenance – aside, I guess, from cutting them back a bit when they get too boisterous. This means that when it comes to herbs, I look like a success as a gardener even when I’ve basically done squat.

Now that is my kind of gardening!

With spring come dreams of a bright-red yard tractor

Raymond and the red Massey Ferguson

Found: possibly the perfect little tractor for Raymond and the Manse!

As many of you will know from first-hand experience, spring seemed today to have, at last, arrived. As I drove home to Queensborough from work late this afternoon the sun was shining, the snow was melting, and the Corolla’s external thermometer was registering 13 degrees. (That’s about 55 in Fahrenheit, for you American folks.) After the brutal, bitter winter we’ve endured, this feels kind of like paradise.

Thanks to the sunshine and the pleasant temperature, the Manse’s front yard as of this writing is perhaps 35% snow-free. (Not so much the back yard, where snow still covers about 95% of it. But we’ll get there.)

But anyway, just seeing a bit of grass, yellowish and dead and muddy though it may be, gets one thinking about the summer months, when there is yard work to be done. I know I complain about yard work sometimes (like here and here), but right now, at the tail end of this obnoxious winter, I can hardly find anything more appealing to think about than being outdoors under the warm sun raking up leftover winter debris from the grass, or planting herbs, or weeding the flower garden.

Now, as I’ve written before, we have a fairly spacious lawn – which means there’s quite a bit of maintenance to be done. Our neighbour John does a great job of cutting the grass, but at some point maybe Raymond and I should get our act together and do it ourselves. (Or not.) And in the fall there are a lot of leaves and evergreen needles to pick up. And sometimes there are fallen branches or piles of dirt to move and – well, you get the picture. Yard puttering.

My cousin Bruce has suggested (in a comment on my post here) that the best thing ever for yard puttering (and snowblowing) is a small tractor. And in fact, a while back Raymond was eyeing a used (and modified) tractor that was for sale south of Madoc, but it’s long gone. I’d kind of tucked the thought away into the back of my mind, but was reminded of it this past weekend when we came upon the extremely cute bright-red Massey Ferguson tractor that you see Raymond with atop this post. Is that not just the bee’s knees, people? We found it at the display of very well-regarded local car and farm-machinery dealership McKeown Motor Sales of Springbrook (or is that Spring Brook? You can see my post on that topic, which references McKeown’s, here) at the Quinte Home and Lifestyle Show in Belleville. That adorable tractor had a front-end-loader bucket and a little wee backhoe; I can’t really see us needing a backhoe, but the good news is you can get it without it, and it’s (no surprise) cheaper that way. Meanwhile, you can also get other attachments, like a blade for plowing snow – and I wouldn’t be surprised if a snowblower was an option too. And you could have a trailer, and – well, just think of the possibilities!

Red truck and oil tank

As you can see, the Manse already has some nice red accents!

And on top of that, the tractor is the brightest red (my favourite colour) imaginable.

So not only would Raymond have a wonderful time putzing around on it, but it would match both his pickup truck and the Manse’s oil tank!

What could possibly go wrong with this plan?



Here is just what you need on a cold night like this.

Phentex slippers

Classic two-tone Phentex slippers – and some Phentex yarn! Photo by Araignee via Flickr.

If you’re anything like me, you are finding the sudden return of deepest winter that we’ve been experiencing here in Eastern Canada to be a bit discouraging. Happily, I may have the solution. What does one need for comfort and coziness when one is chilled by bitter March winds and snow? I’ll tell you what: Phentex slippers.

Do you remember Phentex? And Phentex slippers? I’ll bet you do, if you’re somewhere in my age range.

Phentex slippers pattern

Three pairs of slippers, but if you look closely I think you’ll see they’re all the same style …

As I recall, Phentex, marketed as a kind of miracle yarn – and inexpensive at that! – burst onto the scene somewhere around when the 1960s became the 1970s. It was heavily promoted in TV commercials, though I can’t remember the attributes those ads trumpeted – probably Phentex’s durability and washability and wide range of colours. The ads worked: everybody, and I mean everybody, with a pair of knitting needles latched on to Phentex. And what did they all make? Phentex slippers!

I believe the reason Phentex was so durable was that it was made of a synthetic material that was so synthetic that it put all other synthetics – like, say, polyester – to shame. I have discovered that this material – which, if you can recall Phentex, you’ll surely also recall felt kind of nasty to the touch – was called Olefin. Olefin, people! One thing I can tell you about Olefin is that it is a long, long way from sheep’s wool. “Olefin’s advantages,” says its entry in Wikipedia, “are its strength, colourfastness and comfort, its resistance to staining, mildew, abrasion (and) sunlight(,) and its good bulk and cover.”

Actually, “bulk and cover” is a pretty fair description of Phentex slippers. Because, you see, as far as I can tell there were not a whole lot of different patterns for Phentex slippers. I think there was only one, so that every pair looked like every other pair, the sole difference being the colour. (Or colours – some jazzy models mixed more than one colour.)

(Here is a lovely and informative piece called An Ode to Phentex Slippers on the blog Pinney and Pnut.)

Phentex slippers were quick and easy to knit, so much so that I am fairly sure that even knitting-challenged adolescent me, growing up at the Manse, produced a pair or two. I certainly remember having and wearing at least one pair – red, of course.

They were the least elegant things one could ever imagine. And I shudder to think what would happen if a pair of Olefin-based Phentex slippers were to get near an open flame. But, you know, they were comfy. They kept one’s toes warm.

And on an unseasonably cold night like this, what more could one ask?

From Kirkcaldy, Scotland, to the Manse kitchen, it’s – linoleum!

Forbo linoelum tile, yellow and white

Is that a happy kitchen floor or what? This is linoleum flooring made by Forbo (a company with an interesting distant connection to us, as you’ll see if you read on), and I think it would look lovely in the Manse’s kitchen. Or maybe in turquoise instead of yellow… (Photo from Forbo Flooring Systems)

You know, it’s been far too long since I wrote on the subject of linoleum. But I am inspired to do so this evening by the very recent discovery that a friend of ours from the church we attended in Montreal grew up in the Scottish town that was – and perhaps still is – the world capital of linoleum manufacturing. (She shared this information having read some of my earlier posts, like here, about the vintage linoleum “carpets” that grace the bedrooms of the Manse, which I think are quite beautiful. I also wrote here about how much I’d like to re-create the turquoise-and-white linoleum floor that was in the Manse’s kitchen in my early childhood.)

The town in question has the lovely name Kirkcaldy, and you can read more about it (and its connection to linoleum manufacturing) here and here.

But here’s what our friend wrote, from her own memories:

“There were two companies in town by the railway station. The smell (linseed oil I think) inspired a famous poem about a boy on a train, that ends with “I ken mysel’ by the queer like smell the next stops Kirkcaldy”!  It’s posted as a piece of art in the station today.”

Indeed it would have been linseed oil – a key ingredient of linoleum, as I discovered in my research on the subject (reported here). That research also led to the discovery that even though linoleum is very retro, it is extremely environmentally friendly and, perhaps for that reason, is coming back into vogue after being displaced for all those late-20th-century years by wall-to-wall carpeting. So all the more reason for hanging onto our vintage linoleum carpets – and also, I hope, installing a linoleum floor in our renovated Manse kitchen!

And thanks to the tip from our friend, I think I have a line on that, and some cool ideas.

(Oh: were you wondering about the poem about the boy on the train? Never fear – I’ll get to that.)

I did a bit more poking around on the internet, looking up the company based in Kirkcaldy that is still making linoleum and, according to this BBC site, is one of only three producers in the world. It is called Forbo-Nairn (one Michael Nairn having been the founder of the operation in Kirkcaldy), but it’s mostly just shortened to Forbo in its marketing efforts, as far as I can see.

And this company has lovely linoleum flooring. Look!

Ah, this gives me ideas. And then there’s this one, which isn’t tiles at all but a deep red (my favourite colour) with a very nice decorative trim:

red linoleum with decorative trim

This feels so 1950s and so modern at the same time. Love it! (Photos from Forbo Flooring Systems)

But back to The Boy in the Train, because isn’t a little poem always a good way to finish a post? This is how the site rampantscotland.com introduces it: “This poem by M.C. [Mary Campbell] Smith is full of the anticipation – and questioning – of an excited child on his way to see his Gran in Kirkcaldy – which is known more for the smell from the linoleum factories than as a tourist destination!” You will have to figure out (or look up) some of the Scottishisms, but it’s very sweet:

The Boy in the Train

Whit wey does the engine say ‘Toot-toot’?
Is it feart to gang in the tunnel?
Whit wey is the furnace no pit oot
When the rain gangs doon the funnel?
What’ll I hae for my tea the nicht?
A herrin’, or maybe a haddie?
Has Gran’ma gotten electric licht?
Is the next stop Kirkcaddy?

There’s a hoodie-craw on yon turnip-raw!
An’ seagulls! – sax or seeven.
I’ll no fa’ oot o’ the windae, Maw,
Its sneckit, as sure as I’m leevin’.
We’re into the tunnel! we’re a’ in the dark!
But dinna be frichtit, Daddy,
We’ll sune be comin’ to Beveridge Park,
And the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

Is yon the mune I see in the sky?
It’s awfu’ wee an’ curly,
See! there’s a coo and a cauf ootbye,
An’ a lassie pu’in’ a hurly!
He’s chackit the tickets and gien them back,
Sae gie me my ain yin, Daddy.
Lift doon the bag frae the luggage rack,
For the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

There’s a gey wheen boats at the harbour mou’,
And eh! dae ya see the cruisers?
The cinnamon drop I was sookin’ the noo
Has tummelt an’ stuck tae ma troosers. . .
I’ll sune be ringin’ ma Gran’ma’s bell,
She’ll cry, ‘Come ben, my laddie’,
For I ken mysel’ by the queer-like smell
That the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!

Linoleum-floor ideas photos and a Scottish poem: thank you, Elizabeth!