How to Update Your 1990s-era Kitchen

Swapping Out Old Trends for Contemporary Style 

Touches of warm grey and soft white throughout this kitchen paired perfectly with the oil-rubbed bronze finishes for a streamlined and classic aesthetic.

The 1990s doesn’t seem too far in the past. But the home styles of that decade were distinct and didn’t exactly land in the “timeless” category. Ultra-earthy tones, oak cabinets, and more were everywhere. If you’ve got a kitchen that was finished in the heyday of that time period, you’re probably dying for an update.

The good news is that kitchens like these aren’t total goners. There are so many ways to transition your space into that contemporary style you crave. Today, we’re highlighting four of our 1990s kitchen projects. We’re talking all about how we created updates that really packed a punch. Read along for inspiration and get ready to transform your own space into one you absolutely love.

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Green Heights Trail

BEFORE

Over the years, the owners of this home tried to update their kitchen. But unfortunately, the room was covered in 1990s style and earth tones. And paint and hardware could only go so far. Oak cabinets, rusty red walls, and brown granite took center stage. The finishes were all mix & match styles and metals that appeared disconnected and unfinished.

Oak cabinets and brown granite kept this kitchen stuck in the 1990s.
Oak cabinets and brown granite kept this kitchen stuck in the 1990s.

RELATED: Quartz vs. Granite, How to Choose the Right Kitchen Countertop

The darker earth tones in this kitchen made the space feel dark despite the large windows.
The deep earth tones in this kitchen made the space feel dark despite the large windows.
The island in this kitchen was functional, but rather than creating space, it felt crowded because of the dark colors.
The island in this kitchen was functional, but rather than creating space, it felt crowded because of the dark colors.
1990s-style light fixtures and appliances made this kitchen a mix-and-match room that lacked cohesiveness.
1990s-style light fixtures and appliances made this kitchen a mix-and-match room that lacked cohesiveness.

RELATED: How to Update Your 90s Era Lighting

AFTER

Our goal was to brighten everything up and keep a cohesive classic vibe. Doing this, we knew we could completely shift the look and feel of the kitchen. Out went the oak cabinets and the outdated colors. In came warm white cabinets paired with a soft grey center island in an upgraded and refined shape (with plenty of storage beneath). The granite countertops blended warm and cool tones, and a warm grey backsplash connected the space.

AFTER – FINISHES

For finishes, we kept things simple and classic. We used oil-rubbed bronze for the faucet, light fixtures, and cabinet hardware. Paired with this, we opted for sleek stainless-steel appliances with the refrigerator hidden behind cabinet panels for a sleek and bright look. Overall, the kitchen became a visual beauty. And beyond that, it was also a space with plenty of room to comfortably enjoy day-to-day tasks.

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A soft grey kitchen island pulled a touch of coolness into this space, offering contrast to the warm white surrounding cabinets.
A soft grey kitchen island pulled a touch of coolness into this space, offering contrast to the warm white surrounding cabinets. Design by: Carla Bast
A hidden refrigerator was positioned behind custom cabinet panels, giving the kitchen a cohesive and bright white look.
A hidden refrigerator was positioned behind custom cabinet panels, giving the kitchen a cohesive and bright white look. Design by: Carla Bast 

VIEW MORE ON THIS STUNNING TRANSFORMATION: Project Reveal – Prior Lake Remodel and Addition

Nevada Avenue

BEFORE

The oak cabinets, deep tones, and outdated countertops had to go. But beyond that, what this space needed more than anything was to be opened up. Separate dining spaces were popular in the 1990s. However, the open layouts of contemporary design are much more user-friendly in today’s world. The owners definitely wanted their home to feel more connected.

This separate formal dining room was spacious but felt disconnected from the activity of the kitchen (and as a result, was not used as much).
This separate formal dining room was spacious but felt disconnected from the activity of the kitchen (and as a result, was not used as much).
In this 1990s-era kitchen, oak cabinets and laminate countertops took center stage, making the space feel bland and in need of a revamp.
In this 1990s-era kitchen, oak cabinets and laminate countertops took center stage, making the space feel bland and in need of a revamp.
Appliances lacked cohesion thanks to updates over the years, and the owners knew they wanted a more curated look that felt complete.
Appliances lacked cohesion thanks to updates over the years, and the owners knew they wanted a more curated look that felt complete.

RELATED: How to Work with Your Honey Oak to Update Your 90s Home

AFTER

We made the biggest change by opening up the dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room. This connected each area and increased movement throughout the space. We opted for darker stained cabinetry for a sophisticated look. Then we contrasted these with a warm white kitchen island (and plenty of extra seating!). We chose finishes and hardware in stainless steel and brushed nickel. Furthermore, we used clear pendants above the island to keep things feeling light and airy. From cramped to classic, the remodel instantly transformed this kitchen.

Stainless steel appliances and brushed nickel finishes kept things cohesive and classic in this kitchen.
Stainless steel appliances and brushed nickel finishes kept things cohesive and classic in this kitchen. Design by: Carla Bast Design
A coffee bar offered an extra storage nook in this kitchen, using wall space strategically and functionally.
A coffee bar offered an extra storage nook in this kitchen, using wall space strategically and functionally. Design by: Carla Bast Design

Oak Drive

BEFORE

This kitchen was open to the adjoining dining and living room spaces. Yet it was still outdated with its light maple wood cabinets, dark granite, and sharp angles. The green walls were a bit too warm and muted as well. Overall, the space needed a contemporary upgrade.

Warm green walls and light warm cabinets kept this kitchen feeling a bit too 1990s in style.
Warm green walls and light warm cabinets kept this kitchen feeling a bit too 1990s in style.
An open layout was convenient for this home’s owners, but the sharp angles and dark tones made the space feel cramped.
An open layout was convenient for this home’s owners, but the cumbersome island configuration made the space feel cramped and closed off.
Black countertops were a bit too much of a contrast against the warm wood cabinets, and made the space feel much smaller than it was.
Black countertops were a bit too much of a contrast against the warm wood cabinets, and made the space feel much smaller than it was. The awkward divider wall on the island further closed off the space and limited the island usability.

AFTER

We kept the general layout the same. After all, the biggest need in this kitchen was a brighter aesthetic and more contemporary finishes. So, we opted for a modern farmhouse look. We installed a reclaimed wood island, a built-in dining banquette, bright white subway tile for the backsplash, and warm white cabinetry. The result was a bright and airy space that felt both open and fresh.

RELATED: Are White Kitchens Timeless or Trendy?

Warm white cabinets paired with bright white subway tile instantly made this remodeled kitchen feel lighter and more open.
Warm white cabinets paired with bright white subway tile instantly made this remodeled kitchen feel lighter and more open. Design by: Carla Bast 
Reclaimed wood pops in the dining room table and built-in bench seating gave this kitchen a modern farmhouse aesthetic.
Reclaimed wood pops in the dining room table and built-in bench seating gave this kitchen a modern farmhouse aesthetic. Design by: Carla Bast 
A focus on lighter hues in this newly remodeled kitchen helped the already-open layout feel even more welcoming and spacious.
A focus on lighter hues in this newly remodeled kitchen helped the already-open layout feel even more welcoming and spacious. Design by: Carla Bast

RELATED: Subway Tile Inspiration

Pheasant Ridge Road

BEFORE

This kitchen had some nice elements. But the owners wanted to ditch the two-tiered kitchen peninsula. There was ample room to cook, certainly, in the original design. Yet, the space still felt outdated and too dark. And as we know, that was a hallmark trend combination of the 1990s.

The owners of this outdated kitchen wanted to open things up and make the space feel more contemporary overall.
The owners of this outdated kitchen wanted to open things up and make the space feel more contemporary overall.
A center kitchen island coffee bar took up a lot of floor space in this 1990s-style kitchen.
A center kitchen island coffee bar took up a lot of floor space in this 1990s-style kitchen.
A two-tiered kitchen peninsula made the countertop space feel diminished and blocked the view around the room.
A two-tiered kitchen peninsula made the countertop space feel diminished and blocked the view around the room.

AFTER

We kept the general layout of this kitchen the same since it worked overall. Then we made some significant changes that helped open up the space and add function. We first replaced the peninsula with a more contemporary rounded island. This eliminated the extra tier in the process. As a result, the countertop was much wider and the view was not blocked. In addition, we completely eliminated the center coffee kitchen island. Instead, we created a coffee nook in the corner, which increased the floor space.

AFTER – COLOR PALETTE

And finally, we brightened everything up with white cabinets, stainless steel and brushed nickel finishes, and a classic subway tile backsplash. With grey walls to contrast it all, it became an instant family favorite. It was fit for everything from cooking to entertaining. For more information about choosing paint colors for your check out our Best Paint Colors for your 90s-Era Home blog post.

A new rounded kitchen island with ample seating gave this kitchen a contemporary and open vibe.
A new rounded kitchen island with ample seating gave this kitchen a contemporary and open vibe. Design by: Carla Bast
Bright white countertops were built around a farmhouse-style sink for a classic and timeless kitchen aesthetic.
Bright white countertops were built around a farmhouse-style sink for a classic and timeless kitchen aesthetic. Design by: Carla Bast 
All-white cabinets and backsplash were paired perfectly with a sleek grey quartz countertop for a classic look in this open kitchen.
All-white cabinets and backsplash were paired perfectly with a sleek grey quartz countertop for a classic look in this open kitchen. Design by: Carla Bast 
A coffee nook was created to be both functional and stylish in this updated contemporary kitchen.
A coffee nook was created to be both functional and stylish in this updated contemporary kitchen. Design by: Carla Bast

RELATED: How to Create and Open Concept in a 90s Era Home

Ready to tackle that outdated 1990s-style kitchen? Pull a bit of inspiration from these projects. We guarantee your home will feel brand new and exactly as you imagined it to be. For even more 90s-era home transformation inspiration take a look at my Jordan Project.

OH! Be sure to UNLOCK YOUR PERSONAL DESIGN STYLE, take our fund and FREE QUIZ!

By Megan Johansson, Contributor to Carla Bast Design

9 Responses

    1. All of our designs are created to blend seamlessly to the rest of our clients homes. Check out the portfolio for more photos!

  1. I have a 90’s oak kitchen with the single arched doors…also, a LARGE stepped island, brown granite Can I update by painting island only and new one level island, or should cabinet doors be replaced too? So expensive! before

    1. Hello Jane!~ Yes, you certainly can only do part of your kitchen, the island would be a great place to add some color and contrast!

  2. I’m a huge fan of your idea of opening up spaces by getting rid of dividers and just making everything feel all the more spacious and liberating. I’m planning on hiring kitchen remodeling services to work on my childhood home and I’ll definitely have to steal that idea. I’ve always felt the place was cramped and too busy so it would be nice to go in the opposite direction and free it up a bit.

  3. Your design ideas are wonderful, Carla, We just moved and our kitchen is in need of a 90’s update. Wondering if you have any solutions for a U-shaped open concept kitchen with a sink that looks into the living room? The kitchen is a nice size but the cabinets are very shallow and the drawers are extremely narrow. If you have any pictures you might be able to share that would be wonderful. If not, I totally understand. Thank you.

    1. Hello J. Klein, Thank you for your kind words! I’m afraid without having photos and a general overview of the spaces I can’t make a recommendation. However, I do have an affordable Q & A Service that might interest you. Take a look at the Service page and go to “eDesign” > “View eDesign Services” > “Ask Me Anything Q & A” for more information.

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Hi, I’m Carla

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I’m glad you’re here! You are in the right place if you are feeling overwhelmed at the thought of embarking on a remodeling or interior design project. Living with an outdated home and don’t know where to start? I’ve helped families like yours update their home and create spaces that reflect what’s important to them for over 25 years.

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