The challenge: Update a 1960s kitchen for the 21st century.

The designer: Carol Kornak, Crystal Kitchen Center,, 763-544-5950.

The catalyst: Appliance failure. Julie Henthorne’s longtime home, a split-level in Crystal, still had most of its original kitchen. “In 1961, dishwashers weren’t standard,” she said, so the Henthornes added a portable one. When it broke down, her husband suggested they replace it, but Henthorne wanted to do a little more — update the entire space from top to bottom.

Fresh start: Initially, they intended to replace their countertops, flooring, backsplash and lighting but keep their oak plywood cabinets, modifying them to accommodate a new built-in dishwasher. “We like midcentury modern style, and wanted to respect the era of the house,” Henthorne said. But Kornak wasn’t sure they’d be satisfied with that in the end. “Authentic midcentury modern things are almost historical,” she said. With the old cabinets still in place, “nobody would look at it and think it looked like a new kitchen.” So Kornak priced out two makeover options: one that kept the cabinets, and another that replaced them. “I was surprised the difference was not that huge,” Henthorne said. She agreed it was worth the investment to do a complete remodel “and have our dream kitchen.”

Increased functionality: Replacing the cabinets improved the layout. “When you replace the cabinets, you’re able to tweak the floor plan and make it better,” Kornak said. She added a peninsula to house the dishwasher, and replaced the old wall oven with a range and oven in one unit, which freed up space for 36 additional inches of countertop. “Before, what they didn’t have was counter space,” she said. “It was choppy, in pieces. Now they have bigger expanses. It’s much easier to work on.”

New materials: Kornak’s design evokes the spirit of midcentury modern style but uses fresh, updated materials. The starting point was the tile for the backsplash. Henthorne had seen tile she liked in a magazine; it was modern, geometric and off-white in color, with a mixture of textures, some smooth, some rough, some scored. “The detail is interesting, and it’s fairly timeless,” she said. Kornak located three similar tile options at a range of price points, and the Henthornes decided to splurge on the most expensive option. “We really love it,” Henthorne said. Kornak chose a darker grout, brown, to complement the new cabinets and accent the shape of the tiles.

Biggest challenge? “Always the budget — trying to find ways to hold the price down and still give them something stunning,” Kornak said. They did other things to save on the cost, including keeping the existing soffits and ceiling lighting, while adding under-cabinet lighting. Laminate cabinets in a wood-grain finish provided a look similar to wood but were less expensive.

The result: Henthorne loves her new kitchen. “It’s sleek and easy to keep clean,” she said. “Adding under-cabinet lighting brightened up the whole kitchen.” The wood-grain laminate cabinets “blend perfectly with the woodwork in the rest of the house,” she added, while the new white Corian countertops are maintenance-free. “Wipe it down, you’re good to go.” And the space is much more workable. “It’s so much easier to be in that kitchen and cook,” she said. She, her husband and their teenage son can all be in the kitchen without getting in each other’s way. “We used to bump into each other. It’s a small thing but it makes a huge difference day to day.”