Before & After: Yellow Cabinets and Retro Countertops Give This “Tired” Kitchen a Sunny ‘70s Makeover

Subway tiles in kitchen before renovation.

Over four years ago, designer and ’70s decor expert Estelle Bilson set out to give her “very tired and dated” kitchen in her ‘70s-inspired U.K. home a makeover. It had been installed over 20 years prior and looked like it was still set in that era. And even though Bilson, who loves interior design from decades past, wanted a retro kitchen, it wasn’t exactly what she had in mind.

While the original kitchen wasn’t necessarily Bilson’s preferred style, it had good bones. “The kitchen itself was in good shape; the original units were made by KutchenHaus and were still structurally sound; it seemed silly to rip out a perfectly usable kitchen when we could update it with some paint, a snazzy countertop, and new handles,” Bilson says. And that’s exactly what she did.

Bilson embarked on an updating journey to transform her galley kitchen into a colorful, mid-century modern-inspired space that blended seamlessly with the rest of her home — all without renovating the space. At first, she was met with skepticism, and people thought that her temporary fixes wouldn’t last. But over four years later, “it still looks in great condition, despite being used and abused daily,” she says.

Colorful kitchen after renovation.

But just over $600, a little imagination, and “lots of man hours” from Bilson helped to create gorgeous, colorful, durable, long-lasting changes. Here’s how she gave her kitchen a ‘70s-influenced makeover.

Because Bilson was mostly making cosmetic updates, she decided to make changes in stages (it took her around four weeks from start to finish). She started with the cabinets: She took down the cupboard doors and drawers one by one, and painted them with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Tilton and Old White.

Colorful kitchen countertops.

The next area to update was the countertops, which Bilson wasn’t particularly fond of. “I really hated the slate gray countertop; it sapped any joy from the room,” Bilson shares. “I did some research and found some flooring-quality contact vinyl, which I had printed in a retro design I commissioned, which we could apply ourselves.” To finish the space, Bilson found chrome handles reminiscent of the ‘70s and added a supergraphic on the wall across from the cabinets.

Colorful kitchen countertops.

“I am so pleased that I completed the job, as it really changed the way I felt about my kitchen,” Bilson says. “Before, it was a cold and dismal place to be; afterwards, it was happy and cheerful.” Even though Bilson admits that this isn’t her “perfect or forever kitchen,” it’s a great example of how temporary upgrades can have long-lasting and striking effects on a space.

White faucet in colorful kitchen after renovation.

“For a small sum of money, it prolonged the life of an existing kitchen for a few more years and it brings joy to me when I am using the space; it feels more … me,” Bilson says. If you’re a fan of ‘70s decor, you’ll want to see the rest of Bilson’s gorgeous Manchester home. It’s like taking a step back in time — in the best way possible. To see more, visit the full home tour on Apartment Therapy.