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. lynda says

    I really do like the way you have made me and many others rethink about remodeling. Even if it is necessary to remodel due to moisture problems, etc., I think it is best to keep the original home design in mind.
    You are right that remodels look dated so quickly. I like your motto of “Love the house you are in!” Keep up the wonderful work.

  2. Carol Belding says

    We bought a lovely little vintage 1957 ranch in Sarasota, to keep in the family, but to rent out for now. I was struck by the original bathrooms, kitchen, and terrazzo floors. True vintage homes in South Gate are getting more rare. The original kitchen cabinets had been painted beige (I’d like to someday strip them back to wood), and the non-original laminate counters had to go. The back splash had been tiled later with mismatched blue bathroom floor tile, horrible.
    I was on a very short time line, two weeks, to get the house ready for tenants. I agonized over counter top choices, but ran out of time and ended up with Home Depot pre-made laminate. For a couple hundred bucks, it will hold us until we decide on either laminate with metal trim, butcher block, or a simple quartz.
    I contacted Chippy from World of Tile and she shipped exact match pink tile for a repair of the master bathroom stall shower. When the tile guy opened the box, he groaned with delight!
    I asked Chippy what would be an appropriate back splash tile and she said, 3/8 inch tile. I picked out a white/beige tile and the kitchen looks fine for another few years. I bought enough tile to be able to change the counter tops when we are ready.
    tile:
    http://www.homedepot.com/p/t/202967990?productId=202967990&storeId=10051&langId=-1&catalogId=10053&cm_sp=BazVoice-_-QA_PSVP-_-202967990-_-x#.UX1HOuh5FPM
    counter tops:
    http://www.homedepot.com/p/Hampton-Bay-8-ft-Tempo-Laminate-Countertop-in-Tumbled-Roca-483538T8/202060862#.UX1H8-h5FPM

    CB

  3. Joe Felice says

    In general, when you remodel with a nod towards MCM, or even full-on MCM re-do, you will most likely never recover the cost. Plus, when it comes time to sell, you will most likely not find a buyer who appreciates the look like you do. This being said, always remember that you are remodeling and decorating for YOURSELF and your family, not for some mythical, as-yet-unknown, future buyer. Do what YOU like, within reason, and what makes YOU feel good. And have fun. That’s what it’s all about. I have been working on my kitchen & dining room for some time, little by little, and, using a lot of stuff found on this site, I’m getting there. Eventually, I would like my dining room to be a full-on mini-diner–JOE’S DINER! when I walk into my kitchen & dining room, a smile comes upon my face, when memories of good times are recalled. And this is what makes it worthwhile for me.

    I think the same would apply to a pink bathroom, and I sure wish I had one of those!

    • Cynthia says

      I absolutely agree, Joe. We are getting close (so close!) to finishing a mid-century kitchen project. We started with a large (12 x 20) room that had been a dining room for previous owners, then a playroom when our kids were small — so we had a big blank canvas upon which to paint the kitchen of our dreams. We’ve put in Geneva cabinets that we found on craigslist, Big Chill appliances, laminate countertops, and the pink vinyl banquette with a laminate tabletop and metal edging that was in my grandparents’ house — which we hauled from Milwaukee to back here Denver last summer in a UHaul, so attached was I to it (lots of memories of it being the “kids’ table” for holiday meals when I was growing up). None of this was done on the cheap — even that UHaul cost some money! — but we have been saving for this project for a long, long time — and for my husband and I, it’s money well spent. Every time we look at our new kitchen, we get huge smiles on our faces. We plan to be in this house forever — so for us, there is no resale consideration at all. Our kids can worry about it when they fight over our estate someday… ;-)

      • Joe Felice says

        This brought a smile to my face. If it makes you happy, it makes me happy! And wasn’t locating and obtaining the stuff half the fun of the project? I know it is for me.

        The contractor who was installing the glass tiles in my kitchen called them “hideous.” I just considered the source, and forged happily forward. (No one would believe what I had to do to locate and obtain the tile. All I have to say is “Thank God for the Internet!) He said “I hope you never plan on selling this place.” Well, whether I do or I don’t, I guess I’ll deal with that if and when it happens. In the meantime, I’ll feel good, knowing it makes me happy. Sometimes, I just stand in the kitchen and admire it, still in disbelief at how it all came together. The ironic part is that, when people see my condo, they almost-always say they like the kitchen the best! so, this will make it hard to sell? Ha!

        • Cynthia says

          I agree…that is very rude! Our contractors seemed a bit skeptical at first, but they are very impressed with how it’s coming together. One of them asked me today if I am a designer. I’m not (not for money, anyway) but that sure was a nice compliment! ;-)

          Our biggest hassle has been the countertops…we went with Arborite linen, with edging fro NY Metals, and while I love the look, and if you don’t look too closely, it looks great — if you get up close, you can see what a poor installation job it was. I think the subs that did this work did not have any experience with this sort of thing at all. Wish the GC had talked to us about that beforehand…we might have gone with other ideas or at least found someone else to do the work! We are at a bit of a standstill on that right now…GC agrees that it looks lousy, and is trying to figure out what can be done to fix it. Stay tuned…

      • Joe Felice says

        BTW, I would LOVE to see your kitchen. Since you are right here in Denver, if you would allow that, we could make it happen. If we are allowed to post e-mail addresses on this site, please give me yours, and I will contact you. I’m sure Pam and Kate have some method for putting us MCM fans in personal touch with each other.

  4. CJ says

    Where can I get lavender kitchen counter tops and where can I find retro style purple fridge and stove? –and what about lavender floor tyle? (In America please)

    • pam kueber says

      Welcome, CJ. Dig into the categories, above. There are laminate companies that do lavendar… and as for other purple — appliances and floors — you should be able to identify sources via the stories we’ve written.

  5. Shaernurse says

    Pam, did not sat there is a cabinet maker that still makes metal cabinets. Thank you so much. I want to do my home proud. But I am putting in a green onyx backsplash any idea for the counter top.
    Thank you Matt

    • pam kueber says

      Yes, see our Kitchens/Countertops category — we’ve covered their 100th Anniversary Edition Colors.

  6. Laura Robertson says

    For 16 years I have waited to restore my 1940s Montgomery Ward one-piece double sink, double drainboard kitchen cabinet. The cabinet is enameled, and the upper portion is porcelain– 5 1/2 feet wide. I carefully loaded it onto a truck yesterday and brought it the place where the guys miraculously restore the retro beauty of such things. They left it on the tarmac outside of their shop overnight, instead of bringing it back inside– and it was stolen. I am heartbroken. Is there a way to find a replacement? Can you help? This was the lynchpin piece to the whole house, and original to it…. crying here….

  7. says

    I bought a custom MCM with single pane windows throughout. The living room window is 8 foot by 12 foot square design with the bottom corners being louvered. The heat transfer and wind chill is unbelievable to the point I don’t open the blinds. I looooove the look of the brushed aluminum but can not find anyone who can remove the louvers and/or replace with dual pane. Can you help?? Everyone tells me to rip them out and put in vinyl but that just gives me a heartache.

  8. Terri says

    I have I huge box of pink kitchen plastic tile that I would like to sell. I have corners, ends, and of course full pieces. I have tried Craigs List and Ebay. I would be happy to send anyone pic’s if interested. They are 4-1/2 ” I’m not sure this is the proper place to do this but I do NOT want to throw this away I know someone could use it. I am located in the St. Louis area.

  9. eileen says

    I have a Geneva kitchen complete in mint condition and wanted to know a appraisal for tav purposed before I donate

  10. kim says

    Enamel table problem! While trying to repair the legs and where they connect to the table (the wood piece underneath) we accidentally made a hole in the top of a very expensive enamel kitchen table…any thoughts on making this look better? Very unhappy…..Thanks in advance.
    Kim

  11. nina462 says

    Oh my ….Pam/Kate – check this out http://www.fridgefronts.com

    For people who cannot afford to change their fridges out for a Big Chill – you can get these magnets for your fridge. And they are inexpensive – under $100.

    They have solid and retro designs (along with other designs). I’m going to try the cheery Red.

  12. Michele says

    I can not afford to remove the sliding glass doors during my kitchen remodel. Any ideas how to give them a vintage look??

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