Giving your 20s cottage kitchen a renovation can help modernize the space while still retaining the vintage charm and character of the era. With some thoughtful design decisions and smart updates, you can create a kitchen that is both nostalgic and highly functional. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to renovate your 20s cottage kitchen from top to bottom.

Planning Your 20s Cottage Kitchen Reno

Careful planning is crucial when renovating a 20s cottage kitchen. Here are some key steps to take in the planning process:

Evaluate the Existing Layout and Features

  • Take note of the existing kitchen layout, including the location of appliances, windows, doors etc. Decide what layout changes make sense for improving workflow.
  • Identify any original or period details that you want to preserve, like built-in cabinetry, hardware, or tilework.
  • Assess the condition of all cabinetry, countertops, floors, and appliances. Determine what needs repair or replacement.

Set Your Budget

  • Get quotes for all needed updates, repairs, or replacements to establish your total budget. Factor in contingency costs.
  • Determine your must-haves versus nice-to-haves. Focus spending on functional updates and preserve original details where possible.
  • Explore financing options if needed, like home equity loans, cash-out mortgage refinancing, or personal loans. Have a plan to stay on budget.

Hire the Right Pros

  • Hire a kitchen designer to help optimize the layout and select finishes.
  • Contract licensed electricians and plumbers for any needed electrical or plumbing updates.
  • Find experienced contractors for the renovation work – ideally ones familiar with older homes.
  • Consult preservation experts if repairing or retaining significant original details.

Finalize the Design Plan

  • Work with your kitchen designer to make layout changes that improve workflow while retaining charm.
  • Select finishes and materials that are period-appropriate, like cabinet hardware and a farmhouse sink.
  • Incorporate modern updates like increased counter space, energy-efficient appliances, better lighting.
  • Create a detailed renovation plan and timeline from start to finish.

Best Layout Changes for 20s Cottage Kitchen Renos

Thoughtful layout changes can make a 20s cottage kitchen more spacious and functional without diminishing its vintage appeal. Here are some of the best updates to consider:

Open Up the Floor Plan

  • Knock down walls between the kitchen and dining room for a more open and airy floor plan if feasible.
  • If load-bearing, consider widening doorways or openings between rooms instead. Retain original moldings.
  • Limit upper cabinetry on shared kitchen/dining walls to enhance visibility and flow. Add glass cabinet doors.

Optimize the Work Triangle

  • Rearrange appliances and countertops to optimize the work triangle between sink, fridge, and stove for easier cooking workflow.
  • Ensure good clearance around appliances – at least 15 inches around refrigerators and 30-48 inches for cooktops.
  • Position the sink with a view of the dining or living area for socializing while prepping food or washing dishes.

Add an Island or Peninsula

  • Insert a kitchen island or peninsula to increase work and storage space. Keep it narrow to maintain an open flow.
  • Size appropriately – islands should be 4×4 feet minimum and leave at least 42 inches surrounding it.
  • Use base cabinetry that fits the period, like a butcher block or farmhouse style island.

Maximize Natural Lighting

  • Strategically add more windows throughout the kitchen space if possible. Size them well to balance charm and functionality.
  • Swap solid cabinet doors for glass ones to allow more light to filter through.
  • Install pendant lights or sconces to illuminate work areas without limiting visibility.

Selecting Period-Appropriate Finishes and Materials

Choosing the right finishes and materials for your 20s cottage kitchen reno is key to preserving its vintage character. Here are some period-appropriate options to consider:


  • Restore and repaint existing built-ins to match new cabinetry.
  • Opt for traditional shaker, farmhouse or cottage style cabinet doors. Avoid ornate detailing.
  • Use beadboard or tongue-and-groove panels for a period look. Paint or stain a neutral tone.
  • Include glass cabinet doors, particularly on upper cabinets, for a light and airy look.


  • Look for vintage-inspired bin pulls, knobs, and handles in brushed brass, iron, or nickel.
  • Stick to simple, classic shapes like oval, circular and rectangular without ornate details.
  • Mix and match complimentary hardware styles from the same finish family for an eclectic look.


  • Butcher block, limestone, and concrete offer budget-friendly natural options in keeping with the era.
  • For a retro diner look, opt for checkerboard tile or solid surfacing made to mimic it.
  • Quartz or solid surfacing are durable modern options that can mimic marble or travertine.


  • Subway tile, beaded board, or tongue-and-groove are classic backsplash materials. Use white or neutral grout.
  • For color, consider vintage-style geometric tile patterns or floral designs popular in the 1920s.
  • Carrara or black marble offer elegant natural stone options to accent neutral cabinetry.


  • Restore existing hardwood if in good condition. Refinish in a medium brown stain for versatility.
  • For a retro-inspired look, use black and white hexagon tile or vintage-style vinyl flooring.
  • Sheet vinyl designed to mimic checkerboard tile, terrazzo, or parquet floors are budget-friendly options.


  • Look for visible Edison bulbs, vintage-style pendants or sconces. Nickel or brass finishes.
  • Incorporate recessed lighting to brightly illuminate the full work area. Dimmers enable mood lighting.
  • Use under cabinet lighting to provide task lighting over key work zones.

Incorporating Modern Improvements

While retaining the cottage kitchen’s old-fashioned appeal, incorporate modern improvements to enhance functionality and comfort. Strategic updates to consider include:

More Counter Space and Storage

  • Remove upper cabinets to make room for more spacious countertops, especially around the sink and stove.
  • Add an island, butcher block cart or built-in banquette seating to expand work and dining space.
  • Strategically add cabinets, pull-out shelves, and drawer organizers for maximized storage.

Updated Appliances

  • Install energy-efficient models of similar sizes to retain the kitchen footprint. Add appliances like dishwasher or microwave if missing.
  • Hide refrigerators within cabinetry or panel fronts to match for a built-in look.
  • Add induction cooktops for modern convenience -easy to install in place of gas ranges.

Improved Ventilation

  • Install a powerful range hood vented outside to manage cooktop odors and grease. Use cabinet-flush style to preserve space.
  • Update old ceiling-mount fans with flush or recessed models with integrated lighting. Improve performance while minimizing visual impact.

Smart Organization Features

  • Incorporate pull-out trash/recycling bins, slide-out shelves, and custom inserts to fully utilize every inch.
  • Use shelves or racks specifically sized for cookware storage.
  • Add charging stations for convenient small appliance storage.

Preserving Original Details in a 20s Cottage Kitchen

Retaining original details adds vintage allure while new updates provide modern function. Ways to thoughtfully preserve the old-fashioned appeal include:

Salvage Existing Cabinets

  • Repair, repaint, restain existing built-ins to match any new cabinetry.
  • Replace worn hardware with period-appropriate handles and hinges.
  • Modify cabinet interiors as needed – add organizers, roll-outs, adjust shelving.

Maintain Architectural Elements

  • Repair, reglaze, repaint charming original windows and sashes. Replace only if absolutely needed.
  • Preserve or match existing trimwork, floors, ceiling details through careful removal and reinstallation.
  • Seek specialists to assess, repair, restore significant historical features like tilework or murals.

Adapt Vintage Accessories

  • Reuse antique kitchenware for a stylish period look – spittoons as soap stands, dough bowls for utensil storage etc.
  • Display vintage signs, canisters, pottery etc. for period flair. Coordinate colors with cabinetry.
  • Upcycle salvaged materials like remnant tile or wood from original built-ins removed during renovation.

Allow Character to Shine Through

  • Embrace charm marks like old sink stains and scratches on cabinets and flooring. Avoid over-restoration.
  • Work around slightly off-square corners or uneven floors/ceiling. Retain quirks.
  • Use interior design styles like cottage or farmhouse that highlight well-loved finishes and features.

20s Cottage Kitchen Reno Cost Breakdown

Renovating a 20s cottage kitchen requires a considerable investment. Here is an overview of typical costs:


  • New custom built-in cabinetry: $150 – $300 per linear foot, including installation
  • Refinishing existing cabinets: Approximately $100 per linear foot
  • New hardware for existing cabinets: $5 – $50 per handle or knob


  • Butcher block: $40 – $75 per square foot
  • Laminate: $10 – $40 per square foot
  • Tile: $15 – $50 per square foot
  • Quartz: $80 – $150 per square foot


  • Ceramic tile: $5 – $25 per square foot, excluding installation
  • Beadboard paneling: $15 – $30 per 4 x 8-foot sheet


  • Refrigerator: $1000 – $4000
  • Range: $600 – $1500
  • Cooktop: $500 – $2000
  • Wall oven: $1500 – $5000
  • Dishwasher: $500 – $2000


  • Farmhouse apron-front: $200 – $600
  • Undermount: $100 – $300


  • Pendants: $50 – $300 each
  • Sconces: $50 – $200 each
  • Recessed cans: $50 – $100 each


  • Restore existing: $300 – $600 per window
  • New custom windows: $500 – $1500 per window


  • Hardwood refinishing: $3 – $8 per square foot
  • New wood flooring: $4 – $12 per square foot
  • Vinyl tile: $2 – $8 per square foot

Plumbing and Electrical

Expect to invest 15% – 25% of total renovation costs on necessary plumbing and electrical system updates to support new layout and appliances.

With careful planning and strategic investment, renovating a vintage 20s cottage kitchen can result in a space that beautifully blends period charm with modern livability.

Common Challenges in Renovating 20s Cottage Kitchens

Renovating a kitchen from the 1920s era comes with some unique potential pitfalls. Being aware of these common challenges is key to avoiding them:

Outdated or Unsafe Infrastructure

  • Electrical, plumbing, ventilation systems may be past their lifespan and require extensive upgrades to support new kitchen layout and appliances.
  • Malfunctioning, damaged or deteriorating systems like old plumbing or knob-and-tube wiring can be safety hazards if not addressed.
  • Lack of proper grounding, dedicated circuits and adequate amperage for appliances may require rewiring the entire kitchen.

Preserving Historical Elements

  • Retaining character-defining cabinetry, tilework, windows etc may limit layout options and require painstaking restoration work.
  • Updating the space while respecting original architecture and structural elements takes careful planning and skilled craftsmanship.
  • Meeting building codes and integrating modern systems can be difficult without compromising period detailing.

Limited Space

  • The often cramped footprints of 20s cottage kitchens allow little flexibility in remodeling layouts.
  • Integrating improved work triangle flow, adequate storage and new appliances requires creativity.
  • Lack of space for amenities like kitchen islands or eating nooks restricts options.

Structural Constraints

  • Load-bearing walls, low ceiling heights and small windows may impede desired open concept renovations.
  • Bringing an older home up to current insulation and energy standards can be hampered by existing structure and materials.
  • Working around quirks like off-square layouts or uneven floors while maintaining charm adds another layer of challenge.

Stretching a Limited Budget

  • Upgrading outdated infrastructure and integrating essential amenities into a modest-sized space drives up costs.
  • Retaining and restoring original cabinetry, windows etc is labor intensive and expensive.
  • Striking the right balance between period correctness and budget can require compromises.

Careful planning and an experienced project team are key to successfully renovating a vintage 20s cottage kitchen within budget. Accepting some quirks preserves authentic charm.

Maintaining a Period Look In a Modernized 20s Cottage Kitchen

A renovated 20s cottage kitchen should retain the cozy, eclectic feeling of the era while offering updated conveniences. There are several ways to maintain the vintage aesthetic amidst modern improvements:

Preserve Architectural Features

  • Salvage and restore original windows, flooring, built-ins and hardware whenever possible.
  • Work around existing architectural elements instead of drastically altering the fundamental footprint and feel.
  • Repurpose vintage kitchenware, lighting and accessories for a dash of nostalgic flair.

Complement Old With New

  • Choose new cabinetry, counters and backsplashes that are reminiscent of the period style without replicating it exactly.
  • Blend new elements like updated appliances and pendant lighting seamlessly into the existing kitchen architecture.
  • Allow new additions like an island or banquette to reflect current needs without overshadowing original details.

Stick To a Color Palette

  • Use a base color scheme of complementary neutrals that highlight the kitchen’s natural textures and materials.
  • Incorporate accent colors typical of the era like pastel blue, cheerful yellow or calming green.
  • Add personality through eclectic vintage-inspired patterns on tile backsplashes, flooring or upholstered seating.

Strike a Decor Balance

  • Display some antique kitchenware but avoid going overboard into kitschy theme territory.
  • Mix in modern art, accessories and greenery to keep the room looking livable, not like a stale museum piece.
  • Add contemporary conveniences and technologies discreetly like hidden trash/recycling bins.

Provide Multi-Era Illumination

  • Install vintage-style filament bulbs in pendant lights or sconces to reflect the early 20th century ambiance.
  • Incorporate ample task lighting, recessed cans, under cabinet fixtures to support modern kitchen work.
  • Include dimmers to control mood lighting and brighten or dim areas as needed.

With a thoughtful, balanced approach, you can retain cozy vintage character within a refreshed, updated kitchen space.

Design Ideas for a 20s Cottage Kitchen Reno

If embarking on a 20s cottage kitchen renovation, incorporate era-appropriate charm through smart design choices:

Mix Vintage and Contemporary Cabinet Styles

Blending new shaker-style cabinets with restored original built-ins creates cohesion. Add glass-front uppers for lightness.

Install a Farmhouse Sink

A white porcelain farmhouse sink adds nostalgic function. Flank it with subway tiled walls and brass gooseneck faucet.

Opt for Hearth-Style Cooking

Cooktop and wall oven built into a brick hearth-like surround has a cozy, vintage vibe. Open shelving offers storage.

Add Paneled Appliances

Disguise modern refrigerator and dishwasher with cabinet-matching wooden cover panels for a seamless built-in look.

Incorporate a Breakfast Nook

Carve out space for a window-lined banquette nook for casual morning coffee and meals. Use a cheery checkered tablecloth.

Install a Back Splash

Subway tile, marble, or beadboard backsplashes complement the era. Introduce color or pattern through vintage-inspired accents.

Enable Open Flow

Remove upper cabinets and walls to allow light and views to filter through the kitchen. Create visual connections.

Include Multipurpose Island

Even a narrow island expands work space and storage. Style it with cottage cabinetry and butcher block countertop.

Add Architectural Interest

Salvaged wood, coffered ceilings, embossed tin tiles and mouldings add character. Display vintage bakeware.

Choose Eclectic Lighting

Mix pendant lights, sconces and recessed lighting. Go for visible filament, Edison bulbs. Use dimmers for ambiance.

A dash of nostalgia blended with smart modern upgrades makes for a highly livable, character-filled 20s cottage kitchen.

FAQs About 20s Cottage Kitchen Renovations

What are some typical features of an original 1920s kitchen?

  • Compact eat-in footprint with limited counters
  • Built-in cabinetry like hoosier cabinets or hutches
  • Porcelain farmhouse, clawfoot or cast iron sinks
  • Iceboxes instead of refrigerators
  • Minimal wiring and few to no appliances
  • Checkerboard tile flooring
  • Beadboard or tongue-and-groove wall paneling
  • Windows with metal sash locks and weights

What are essential updates to make a 20s kitchen livable?

– Adequate electrical service and grounded outlets