Step Back in Time—Inside Kitchy Kitchen's Bright and Bold 1950s Home in California

Updated 04/18/19

Morgan Walker; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

As soon as Claire Thomas, chef, food stylist, author, and founder of The Kitchy Kitchen (she also co-owns the popular cake shop, Sweet Laurel) first laid eyes on this mid-century masterpiece in Brentwood, California she fell in love. Having renovated a few single-owner mid-century homes before, she was familiar with the delicate art of infusing modern design sensibilities while honoring the past. But the history with this house was "on another level" she tells me, and it definitely tipped the scale towards preservation over modernization. "I walked in the house and didn't want to change anything," she explains. "It was like a perfect time capsule of 1953 Los Angeles. I loved it so much I even kept the 65-year-old drapes."

Thomas set about maintaining the essence and heritage of the house in a bid to honor its previous owners, Jack, and Marilyn who had lived there for 65 years without changing anything except the wallpaper. "That's rare," says Claire. "Usually someone gets bored and decides to make everything Southwestern or they tear out the kitchen and add some terribly clunky '90s monstrosity instead. Not in my time machine." Rooted in Danish modernism with Art Deco references from the 1940s, the home still has all of the original wood-clad walls, a hidden bar, room dividers, and a chrome-edged streamline kitchen. "This was Jack and Marilyn's dream home, and it showed," she adds. "I have photos of them digging the dirt as the building process started."

Read on to learn more about Thomas' design approach and see inside this incredibly preserved 1950s mid-century home.

Midcentury living room
Morgan Walker; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

Thomas is really drawn to spaces with a strong architectural style and this typically forms the foundation of her design process. "I try to draw out as many references and textures that resonate with the original point of view of the home," she says. "I take the history of the space and then innovate and update it in a vibrant, modern way while trying to maintain the integrity of what was there."

For this house, Thomas didn’t want to "get in the way of what was there." Having worked with a few older homes previously, she says they usually have "a clear logic when it comes to the relationship between furniture and architecture," and custom pieces were common, where the furniture and architecture felt integrated. "Frank Lloyd Wright would make beautiful chairs and couches for his homes, and I love the idea of a space feeling entirely cohesive," she adds. "I tried to bring that similar energy to the decorating here. Every piece I brought in looks like it could exist in 1953, but it has a modern feel."

Modern mid century living room
Morgan Walker; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

Thomas says she has a terrible habit of underestimating furniture size, "I always go too big, and this happened with the gorgeous Eliot chairs from Joybird. James, my son, is obsessed with climbing over them—they’re so generously proportioned." Originally Thomas planned on creating a classic conversation set–two chairs facing a couch across a coffee table–but it didn’t work. "The room had a weird flow and everything was scrunched up against the fireplace," she continues. "I moved one of the chairs to the side, creating more of a square shape to the layout, and it made such a big difference. The flow is great and actually conversational. It’s cozy without being cluttered."

Claire Thomas—mid century design
Morgan Walker; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

Fining the right rug in the living room was a big challenge for Thomas. "It’s such a long, narrow space," she says. "Luckily Caroline from Coco Carpets sourced an uncut rug (most Moroccan rugs are trimmed into western standard sizes, but start out quite narrow due to the shape of Moroccan homes). I love the soft blush hues. The rug mirrors the natural tone of the brick and the pink built-in cabinets."

If you’ve ever had to buy drapes before then you'll know how expensive they can be. So Thomas was thrilled when she saw the original drapes were still in great condition. The hardware was worn down and needed to be replaced but she reached out to The Shade Store and they carefully reinstalled all of the original drapes on new hardware. "The drapes are 65 years old and have to be carefully vacuumed," says Thomas. "if I had them cleaned they would disintegrate."

Claire Thomas—1950s home
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

Decorating the fireplace was "especially fun" for Thomas. "The narrow shelf lends itself to an eclectic mix of items, and I love getting to blend items we’ve collected on trips with books and objects from my parents and grandparents," she says.

Kitchy Kitchen—mid century bar design
Morgan Walker; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

There’s so much to love about this home, but the hidden bar is one of Thomas' favorite things about it. "It’s not just a bar closet (there are actually a lot of those in 1950s houses), it is its own room, with a little sink and neon light too," she explains.

Mid century home design—California
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

The other bonus is the "crazy amount of storage" which finally gave Thomas space for her vintage glassware collection. "Apparently the 50s were my decade because the storage situation really matches my collecting habits," she laughs.

Kitchy Kitchen—mid century dining room
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

Across from the bar is the dining room, which has an amazing hanging room divider. "I’m not sure what kind of material it is, but it filters the light beautifully and is such a cool statement," she says. "I’m yet to use it, but maybe when I have a dinner party?" Let's hope she sends MyDomaine an invite to that.

Midcentury dining room—California home
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

The built-in cabinet was already a gorgeous blush pink hue, but it needed a refresh so Thomas color matched it to Light Carob by Dunn Edwards. "I filled the cabinet with vintage and Heath ceramics, and then placed oversized glassware below," she says. "The one addition was the Astoria chandelier by Hudson Valley Lighting. I wanted to add a light fixture that felt period appropriate but added a bit of drama." 

Mid century kitchen—Kitchy Kitchen
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

Every time Thomas has renovated a home previously, she has had to completely gut the kitchen. Typically, any kitchen from the 70s or earlier is fairly dysfunctional by design or but this is the first time she didn't have to. "The kitchen is too special," she says. "It’s an original St. Charles kitchen in gorgeous condition. In the 50s, you’d have a company like St. Charles do your entire kitchen: floors, cabinets, countertops, the whole thing. The cabinets are painted steel (I’m pretty sure mine are chiffon yellow), so they’re incredibly durable."

While Thomas never imagined herself having anything other than a white kitchen, now she loves the butter yellow hue. "It’s just so joyful and soothing," she adds. "The fact that I didn’t need to repaint my kitchen cabinets that are 65 years old is just wild." The small details are what really captured Thomas' heart and imagination—the lucite protectors on each cabinet, chrome handles, stainless steel panels on either side of the oven, and a special cupboard with retractable shelf for your mixer. After seeing only one power outlet in the kitchen, Thomas thought that would be the one thing she'd have to install but she soon found all of the plugs were hidden on the underside of the upper cabinets. Now that's thoughtful design.

1950s kitchen design—Claire Thomas
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

One corner of the kitchen she did update however was the banquette. "The original banquette was upholstered in a drab green vinyl, and the light fixture was from the 1980s," she says. "I had my upholsterer, Marianna from Leija Designs, rip out the banquette and cover it in gorgeous tween from Kravet’s performance line. It’s incredibly durable and has a soft, nubby texture that looks totally mid-century". Thomas also added the Kiki pendant by Mitzi Lighting and now the whole corner blends perfectly into the butter yellow and chrome kitchen.

Claire Thomas—master bedroom
Morgan Walker; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

Thomas loves the view from their bed so she really wanted to bring the outside in through color. "I painted the room a rich emerald green (Mission Jewel by Dunn Edwards) and centered the color palette on a painting by Michael Harnish of a floral arrangement by my dear friend, Yasmine Khatib," she says.

Claire Thomas—master bedroom design
Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

Thomas chose a vibrant marigold fabric called Bentley Daisy for the bed frame and bench by Joybird, and the rug is another great find from Rejuvenation. The stunning black and brass floating pendants are from Mitzi for above the nightstand which is a "great combination of modern but with a mid-century feel."

Green Master bedroom—Claire Thomas

In the corner of the room, Thomas reupholstered two chairs with Kravet velvet to match the dark walls and added a large leather ottoman by Joybird. "My son loves playing king of the mountain of it," she says. "It’s exactly toddler height for climbing." The floor-to-ceiling drapes by The Shade Store add "a bit of drama and stop the room from being so over-the-top green."

Midcentury bedroom—Claire Thomas
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

Thomas really played with color again in the guest bedroom. "Dunn Edwards has a historical color line that made recreating an early 50s style really easy," she says. "I actually watch a lot of classic films for inspiration, and the set design from the late 40s is just jaw-droppingly fabulous."

Bright red bedroom design—Claire Thomas
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

While Thomas would never have thought to paint a room red previously (we’ve all seen that Sex and City episode) when a sample of Spice of Life by Dunn Edwards really took her by surprise. "It’s rich and almost like a mood ring," she explains. "It changes in depth and hue based on the time of day and what’s next to it."

Red bedroom—Claire Thomas
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

One of Thomas' favorite color combinations from the 40s is rust and pink, so she really leaned into that combination. "I’ve gotten so many compliments on the color palette in this room, I’m so glad I took that risk," she adds.

Bright red bedroom—mid century design
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

And we're so glad she did. The natural light from the large open window fills the whole room with this cozy blush hue. What a fun place to stay.

Claire Thomas—mid century nursery design
​  Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

Thomas really wanted her son's room to be an extension of their home, just as he is an extension of their family. "I hate when a kid’s bedroom has nothing to do with the rest of the house," she explains. "I mean, I love whimsy and fantasy in a kid’s room, but it shouldn’t feel like you’re on a children's island when you walk into the space. I love the warmth from the original wood paneling, so I carried that throughout the space."

She pulled from the Pottery Barn Kid's mid-century inspired line to match the timber tones and found pecan wood frames from Society6 for the modern abstract artwork. "I wanted to keep the vintage color palette going," she says. "And although this isn’t at all what a 1950s nursery would look like—they had much bolder colors, like kelly green and butter yellow, or periwinkle blue and maroon, or bright pink and scarlet dominated children’s rooms—warm browns, soft blues, and neutrals were a common combination."

Claire Thomas—mid-century nursery design

When Thomas saw this rust-colored painting on Society6, she knew it would add a dynamic pop and really shift the palette. "I didn’t want it to feel too neutral or too much like a little boy’s room," she says. "I just wanted a warm, cozy space for James that matched the feeling of the rest of the house." She nailed it.

Claire Thomas—mid century home patio design
 Bethany Nauert; DESIGN: Claire Thomas

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