Ideas to decorate Alan’s vintage green tile kitchen – Vitralite ooh la la!

midcentury-kitchen-BEFOREretro design“We have been told that the kitchen is a cross between ‘Betty Crocker’ and a morgue,” reader Alan says, adding a “haha” in his email to us. But maybe… not so funny. So today, a Retro Design Dilemma: Let’s help Alan with ideas to make his 1953 kitchen more homey, less clinical. Ooo la la: Lookie all the Vitralite glass wall tile — this one will be fun!

1950s Vitralite tile kitchenAlan writes:

Help! We have an original 1953 kitchen featuring Apple Green Vitralite glass tile. The tile is in almost perfect condition — but we’re at a loss as to what to do with it. Part of me says “gut” and start over, but many tell us to “save the Vitralite.”

vitralite wall tile

(This shot above is from before they closed on the house.)

1950s Vitralite tile kitchen

We’ve been in the house for five years and have been stumped for five years as to what to do with this kitchen! The green Vitralite is so overwhelming — even though we’re used to it. We have been told that the kitchen is a cross between “Betty Crocker” and a morgue.  haha.

vitralite wall tile
Above: Adjacent laundry room, with more of the tile, and some black trim.

Nom nom, we adore that vintage Vitralite! Hmmm… We spy a very interesting-looking clock in the initial photos that Alan sends and ask him for some closeup. Oh my word, look at this stunner:

vitralite kitchen tile Alan replies:

And yes, the clock in the soffit… omg, it’s wild. At 12, 3, 6, and 9, it shows pictures of what families in the 1950s should be doing!  3 p.m. is playtime… 6 p.m. is dinner… 9 p.m. is dancing… and 12 p.m. is sleep!

vitralite kitchen tile

I’d love you to help update this kitchen by giving us some ideas about countertops and floors! Currently, the counter tops are a Formica that is probably late 70’s — off white and a mess. The floors are a “plastic” laminate – trying to look like hardwood.

1950s Vitralite tile kitchen

Our thought is to replace/upgrade the counters with stone (but we can’t figure out what that would go with the green vitralite), replace the cabinet hardware, remove the original light fixtures and install can lighting, replace the gold dishwasher for stainless, replace the white stove for stainless and call it a day! We just cant figure out what to do with countertops and the floor.

Vitrolite bathroom!

vintage glass tile bathroom

Ooooh, check out this creamy ivory-yellow and green trim Vitrolite bathroom. From our story about this Time Capsule House. Photo: WiSign Photo — Lynn Darnieder, owner

Readers, let’s hear your ideas for this Retro Design Dilemma:

  • Okay, readers: Let’s hear your ideas for this dilemma! We will be back tomorrow morning with our design board and analysis.


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  1. Alan says

    Oh…and for those familiar with the movie “Silence of the Lambs”…there is a scene in the movie where the FBI agent is in the county morgue. And guess what is on the walls? My green tile!

  2. tammyCA says

    Ok, I’ve never seen that movie & never want to so I’ll think of this…looking at your kitchen I picture a big well-worn vintage wooden bowl filled with green, yellow, red apples..that color combo is classic, cottagey and fresh (apple green is featured in the latest house beautiful magazine)..see Michael millers retro fabric on etsy, the one with the ovens, mixers, etc. for a similar color combo.
    I wouldn’t do a black counter as that seems it would drag it down & soapstone, I can’t help it, always reminds me of awful biology class & cutting up frogs & creepy things in jars so…ewww. I’d either do good ole ceramic tiles, in cream, or light yellow with green liners. The floor would be a linoleum (considered eco friendly & it’s been around since palaces even)..using some combo of those colors, green, yellow, red, or cream in a unique pattern.
    The cabinets and pulls are lovely & I wish I had some like them & all the unpainted wood is great & makes for a cozy kitchen.

  3. Marjorie says

    I really like this kitchen – so spacious . I would try to add some lighting that complements the vintage…and remove the ceiling fan. Fresh Paint on the ceiling will also brighten it up too. I can highly recommend marmoleum linoleum tiles – much easier on your feet and knees than porcelain tile. I’ve had mine since 2012 and it still feels like satin under your feet and it’s super easy to clean.You already have a grid pattern on the walls so I would lean toward some accent tiles of black and green (that coordinates w/ the walls) scattered on a mostly solid color floor like a soft , pale, pale gray that picks up the tone of the chrome hardware and what appears to be the color of the grout lines on the wall tile….I think I would pick a gray tone for the counters but also consider appointing certain sections of the counter for butcher block or marble is you bake a lot- this is such a great room- too bad the windows appear to be white vinyl instead of wooden. They stick out like a sore thumb and would beautifully pull the room back in sync if they were the same as the cabinets.I would try to find some Black and White print fabric that’s similar to the little figures in the clock for curtains to disguise the white casing until you are ready to replace the windows.Perhaps get enough fabric for a table cloth. I would also replace the stove hood to match the stainless appliances you are planning or repaint this one to match until you get it replaced…..also assuming you are planning to change out the microwave to match…..I would probably change my light switch covers to a stainless or black or gray….

  4. Retroski says

    My first instinct is to preserve the tile and the wood cabinets; great bones in this kitchen! But there is a lot going on.

    Key is to balance the textures/colors. Color wise, you can do so much with the green! Go with pastel accents like Moderntone, or bold cool-tone shades like cobalt blue or cherry red. Or more “neutral” with white/grey/blk.

    Personally, I’d take inspiration from your ocean pic and go with blues/greens with coppery accents. Yes, copper!

    Floor: Marmoleum-retro and nice subtle textures!
    Countertops: laminate in red, blue or grey OR shimmery pale quartzite OR speckle-y recycled glass with color flecks in your scheme.

    The celing: too much going on. Unify lights with ones that reflect on ceiling, using led bulbs. Ceiling fans are useful but this competes.

    The grid of the inner window conflicts with the tile. The hood should match the stove. Depending on budget you could switch fridge and dishwasher but I’d focus on swapping the floor, counters and lights, and see where it goes!

    Once you know your color scheme, then you can figure on making it true retro or contemporary, but retro in spirit.

    Good luck! See for Marmoleum and countertop ideas!

  5. lynda murray says

    I think the Bathroom is fantastic! If you are not changing the bathroom . Why don’t you just leave the kitchen tile. First reason, Its so nice. And 2nd the whole house will have a nice flow with the similar tile. I like the Big chill appliances. They are pricy, But if your not changing the cabinets or tile… splurge! I would put a marmoleum floor. And a really cool retro countertop with a touch of that green color, from the tile wall in it. If the light fixtures are in good shape I would leave those alone. Then I would retro accessorize . I would pick an old dinnerware pattern and go crazy hoarding that for a few years . Display it all over. I would just forget about Silence of the lambs, and embrace the Betty Crocker angle. I really like the mantra of loving the home your in. Good luck!!!

  6. lynda murray says

    Oh, One more thing. It looks like you have plenty of space for some kind of interesting Island. You could have someone build a birch base , similar in style to your existing cabinets. (or look for a vintage base), Then Put a wood top on it, To warm things up a bit.( maybe an old bowling lane, restored).

  7. Beki R. says

    Maybe start off by popping the laminate floor up to see what’s under it. It’s either a horrible mess or a hidden treasure. If you end up liking it, you’ll have more money to budget towards other items and possibly some inspiration on how you want the room to look.

  8. Joe says

    Just getting rid of that ceiling fan would be a significant improvement. It’s just my opinion but, if the owners are really unnerved by how that tile makes their kitchen look like a morgue, they’re really not helping their situation by installing stainless steel appliances! I remember my parents talking frequently about their new kitchen that was installed in 1955. The main feature was the knotty pine installed on the bottom half of the walls. My mom insisted she wanted the green and yellow color scheme that was all the rage in the first part of the 1950s; she used that in her checkerboard tile floor. For the walls, everyone was pushing that Vitralite tile as “the” wall surface to use if you wanted to be fashionable (must have been the equivalent of today’s dark granite countertop fad). My parents thought that Vitralite was a horrible thing to use (they said it would make our kitchen look like a cafeteria, operating room or morgue). They played it safe and went with paint on the walls.

  9. Lana says

    Paint the cabinets white and new nickel hardware. Add counter tops made from recycled glass in white with bits of blue and green glass in it to tie in with the vitrolite. Hardwood floors in a light color. I would have all the appliances match, either stainless, or if he wants to hang on to the vintage stove, then I would match the refrig, etc. in white. Retro style appliances would be great. Does the vitrotile have grout? If so I would change it from the existing dark grout to white. Depending on how much the owner likes the vitrotile, I would keep it on the wall with the built in clock, and perhaps replace SOME of the walls with sheetrock. Personally I love it and it is so unusual I would keep most of it. The laundry room is cool, too.

  10. says

    This comment really depends on what is above the kitchen…


    Ditch the ceiling fan. It almost surely is not original, nor was it likely there was one (ceiling fans didn’t get popular until the 70’s). Reuse the existing wiring to instead install a vent fan that uses one of those cool NOS Emerson-Pryne vent covers (or find something similar). New fans that can use those covers are still sold.

    For this to be possible there has to be sufficient space above the kitchen for the fan, meaning an attic (1953…darn good chance), and a way to route some duct to an exterior wall or through the roof.

    Doing this will also allow you ditch the hood over the stove, which probably isn’t vented outside anyway.

    With the electrical already in-place, the hard part is done. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if hiding above that ceiling fan is an existing exhaust system that stopped working at some point in the past (the wide base of the fan allows it to cover a big hole).

  11. Lynn says

    Disclaimer: I’m not a purist when it comes to renovation of our MCC (Mid-Century Cheap) home.
    First impression: Too many wood tones; in fact, the tile is the second thing I notice when I look at your pics.
    Is the current layout working for you? If the cabinets are in good condition – Keep them! However, do you want a dishwasher or anything else? Those were some of the contributing factors when we renovated our stamp-size MCC kitchen. Yes, we gutted everything.
    A few other things – you have an excellent opportunity to address lighting and venting the hood. Ceiling fan in the kitchen? Why?
    Consider a counter-depth refrigerator (current refrigerator sticks out a lot) and unifying the color of your appliances. Appliance color/finish – your choice!
    Like I said before, I’m not a purist – I appreciate the details of some older homes, but that does not mean that I necessarily want to keep everything in 1959 just as I do not dress full-on vintage. That’s just me.
    If this was my kitchen…I would keep the tile (I think it’s gorgeous). I would keep the cabinets if they are in good condition and the layout works. If the layout doesn’t work, I would actually consider building custom cabinets to match the existing (say you want to add that dishwasher but don’t want to loose storage) and paint them (my choice would be white or a light gray)! I love the light fixture but I would add more lighting (recessed, under the upper cabinets, sconces, etc.). Also, I would address the different colors of the appliances. Flooring – I’m a huge fan of wood floors as they are more forgiving underfoot. At our home, we extended the existing oak floors into the kitchen. Lastly, ideally the windows would match, I would paint trim and doors white or black, and replace the countertop if it needs to be replaced. Since I’m not a purist, I would go with the material that best fits my budget and style. As for countertop color – If the cabinets remain a wood tone, I would go white/light (consider a lighter floor, too). If the cabinets were painted white, then I would go for black as a nice contrast to the tile.
    Whatever you do, have fun! After 5 years of living with a space you don’t enjoy you should plan a space that works for you and makes you smile.

  12. lisa in seattle says

    You didn’t ask for advice about the cabinets, so I assume you plan to keep them. With that in mind, here’s what I’d do:

    lose the fan

    put in a Marmoleum floor using the colors ash (dk gray), silver, sky blue & eucalyptus

    paint all the door and window trim white to match the windows

    consider a counter-depth fridge & install a dishwasher & hood to match. All white or all stainless. Keep the same retro-ish stove since it fits and a new one in that size is hard to find or pricey.

    get marble or marble-look granite or marble-look new laminate counters.

    put some shelving in the laundry area to compensate for storage lost to the dishwasher

    get a hutch or sideboard for the wall under the clock — should fit OK once you have the counter depth fridge in place

  13. Pamela says

    I have black Vitrolite in my (1959 ranch) main bathroom. The previous owner put a white sheet-vinyl floor in, which is in excellent shape. I painted walls a medium gray, the vanity and woodwork white, reglazed the original worn blue tub in white – it’s the BEST!

  14. Tom M. says

    Definitely would keep the original lighting and not doing stone counters. With such unique kitchen I think that the new should be seamless with the old. Any hiccups I think would be a distraction. Great kitchen mostly as it is I think!

  15. says

    I have the same color wall board in my kitchen on the lower half and as the back splash as your tile and the same cupboards, your cupboards are in better shape than mine. My counter tops are a lot older than yours though. I would love to see what you decide to do. I want to keep my green wall board with black trim as it is retro and I keep chickening out when I go to paint my cupboards white 🙂

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