Retro Kitchen Products and Ideas

retro kitchenIf you’ve landed on this page, I bet the retro kitchen in your mid century or older house needs some TLC. Use this page as a gateway to help you find what you need — from new flooring and counter tops… to new and vintage sinks… to faucets and refrigerators… to re-porcelaining vendors… and much more… we are continuously scoping the products (old and new) that can help you renovate, remodel and decorate your retro kitchen in authentic vintage style. — Pam

Research on specific products you might need in your retro kitchen remodel are likely organized in one of these categories:

And more:

  • Kitchens FAQ
  • Vintage Kitchen Catalogs — Our archive of vintage kitchen catalogs — great resources for how it was done, back in the day.
  • Cabinet Forum — Oh and be sure to see our Forum, which is focused on buying and selling vintage steel kitchen cabinets.

Some of my thoughts if you are NEW to your OLD house and contemplating a kitchen remodel:

vintage-safety-poster

  1. Environmental and safety issues come first. Vintage houses can contain vintage nastiness such as lead, asbestos, and more. Consult with properly licensed professionals to know what is in your house, and how to make informed decisions about how to handle.
  2. If you are new to your old kitchen — go slow. Before you proceed thinking you need a gut remodel, for instance, get to know your kitchen first. Live in it a year to get to know its flow and how it works for you and your family. This includes getting a rich, deep understanding of whether there is a real need to alter the architecture. During this time, you’ll also be able to get to know its original style and features. You’ll have time to explore your “Retro Kitchen Style” — because there’s way more than one way to retro (?hey, I used “retro” as a verb, for the first time ever!). Wait a year — mull it over — and it may even turn out that, once you learn about the original features in your retro kitchen, you might come to love them — and you may not need to spend the money, and endure the aggravation of a major remodel.
  3. vintage-formica-catalog 1938Consider updates that are in harmony with the original architecture of your house. Sure, an original retro kitchen may be “dated.” But every kitchen is dated. For example: Don’t kid yourself: Put a 2013 kitchen in your 1955 house… and in a few years that 2013 kitchen will be “dated”, too — and, dated to the wrong year. But, put in a kitchen that is harmonious with the original 1955 architecture — and at least its date will match the date of the house. “Yes, but what about ‘resale’?, folks always ask. Well, my point of view is: Mid century houses are now old enough to be considered “historic”, either officially or non-officially. “Historical restorations” or period-appropriate remodels are desirable to folks who are “into” old houses. And, you can do a period remodel that isn’t “over the top” — one that’s kind of “flexible” (this is what I did with my three bathrooms.) On the other hand, going back to our example, a 2013 kitchen in a 1955 house is unlikely to appeal to a shopper 10 years from now who is into what’s new in 2023; in reality, your financial loss* (*See item #5, below) on your fabulous 2013 kitchen remodel will only grow each and year thereafter, especially if you put in “trendy” 2013 stuff.  And finally, mind you, “trendier” has a shorter lifespan every year, again, IMHO. Disclaimer, thought: All this is IMHO, do not consider this financial advice, this is something you need to do your own research and consult with your own professionals on, based on your market conditions.
  4. edges-for-vintage-laminate-countersHumble materials — This point kind of goes with the one above. Many — probably “most” — mid century and older houses were decorated with materials that *today* would be considered kind of… low brow. Things like: Simple wood kitchen cabinets… laminate counter tops… vinyl flooring… even knotty pine. This is pretty much opposite of what the “mainstream market” wants to sell you today — (more expensive) granite… marble… blinged out cabinetry. I personally found it a relief not to have to spec out my kitchen to “Keep up with the Joneses.” My kitchen “fits” with the rest of my (humble materials) house. And by skipping the luxe, I think I saved a lot of money.
  5. money pitRecognize that most major remodels are a bad financial “investment”. Data indicate that most homeowners will not recover the cost of a major kitchen renovation when they to go re-sell. Read my story looking at the annual research — and be aware.
  6. Save your time, energy and money for the final fix. Unless there is a safety or environmental issue involved, I am not one for putting a drop of money into a space as a “stop gap measure” while we agonize over the big picture plan. Okay, I might paint the wall (off white), so that I can “see” the space better so I can figure out what I want. My husband is really good about reminding me: An old house is a time and money pit constantly presenting costly surprises. Be careful about squandering on half measures. ‘Invest’ in making plans that will endure for years… and then spend the time, energy and money — once.
  7. Get a subscription to Consumer Reports. When you are in spending mode like this, your head will spin. As far as I know, Consumer Reports is the only resource out there to do testing to try and really triangulate to “value”.
  8. Disclaimer and clarification to all of the above: I am not a contractor, an architect, a designer, a real estate expert or variant of some such profession. I am writing this from my perspective as an owner of four old houses over my lifetime, and as a blogger who has been writing on this topic for about six years. Do your own research… identify and engage your own properly licensed professionals… make thoughtful decisions that are right for you.
  9. Readers’ ideas — I asked readers to add to my list — and they came up with many more, terrific tips on things to consider when you’re considering a kitchen remodel.

What’s your Retro Kitchen style? Here’s a little history of retro kitchen design, in 25 photos:

Tip to using slide show: Click on a thumbnail… it will enlarge… read the caption below… use the arrows below to move forward or back… you can start or stop from any slide.

Comments

  1. Rae says

    I have an early American kitchen in my mid century house just purchased that I am going to renovate; any ideas on keeping the retro charm while modernizing at the same time.?

    • pam kueber says

      I guess this all depends on the extent of “modernizing” you want. Are you talking decor? Appliances? The thing is: Pretty much everything functionally in a midcentury kitchen is modern — our way of life, or at least, of using our kitchens, has not changed much. Can you elaborate?

  2. Ellen says

    I received some posts, but they don’t pertain to what I’m asking. I just want to know where I can buy the plastic or vinyl material to redo my 1956 kitchen chairs.

  3. Alicia says

    I was cleaning out a garage in an old 1947 home and came across an old elecro sink center that was featured on the Dick Van Dyke Show around 1964. It appears to have all the parts there and is in really good condition. Does anyone know how I would go about selling it?

    Thanks!

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