Retro decorating ideas for Angela’s 1956 kitchen

retro decorating ideas 1950s kitchenAngela’s 1956 kitchen is a charmer — and today she wants our help with paint, flooring and retro decorating ideas to make it the happiest family space possible.  Yes: It’s Retro Design Dilemma time — let’s hear what you think she should do with this space.

retro decorating ideas for yellow brown kitchen1950s kitchen retro decorating ideas

Reader Angela’s 1956 home was in original condition when she and her family bought it from the original owners in 2005. Since then, the family of five has been working to retain the original details, while putting their personal stamp on the house one room at a time. Angela kept the original tiles in the bathrooms and also wants to keep the original yellow and brown tiles in the kitchen. But, she’s looking for our help with retro decorating ideas that will make sense given this color palette. She wrote:

Hi Pam and Kate,

My name is Angela and my husband, Jim and our three sons have lived in our 1956 ranch since 2005.  We lived in our “starter” home for 17 years and when we outgrew that house, we found this one.  We doubled our living space and got a great deal, it was an estate sale and the previous owners never had children and did not change a thing since the house was built.  It was truly a “time capsule house”. We have updated every room in the house and saved the kitchen for last because I just don’t know what to do with it!  We kept the original tiles in the bathrooms, so I would like to keep the tile in the kitchen, even though I really don’t like yellow tile and brown trim, but it is in very good condition, so I can’t see ripping it all out.  We are also going to keep the plywood birch cabinets.  I bought a wood cleaner and they cleaned up very nicely.  I had to use a wood bleach on some of the cabinets to get rid of nasty black stains that I assume are from the metal handles and water over the years. I plan on rubbing on a stain to blend in with the rest of the cabinets and then putting a coat of poly on them to protect them.  As far as the copper handles and hinges, going to take them off and spray paint them black and put them back on.

Original-yellow-and-brown-kitchen-mid-centuryWhere my table is in the corner, I was thinking of getting a L shaped bench with a square table and 2 chairs on the other sides.  One other thing, I will not be putting the wooden dowels on the island back up, they also match the “valance” that is across the top of my window.  I would like to have a shaped wood valance like I have seen in other mid-century homes.  Maybe I can find a reader who will trace an outline of theirs so my hubby can make me one!

Mid-century-wood-kitchen-with-tile-backsplashSo, here is my question, what color should I paint the top half of my walls, and what kind and color of floor should I go with?  I would like a floor that is low maintenance and kid friendly..(I have two teenage boys, soon to be three!)  I wanted to go with a granite counter top in a dark color, but we may just go with Formica that looks like stone because of the cost and the low maintenance.

Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated!


Thank you, Angela — what a happy space!

Kate’s retro decorating ideas for Angela’s kitchen — Sunny and Sweet

yellow and aqua mid century kitchenAngela mentioned that she wasn’t a fan of the spindled valance over the sink — and I agree. Substituting the spindles for one of the scallop designs available from Randall Manufacturing — from Pam’s story — Scalloped wood molding — 6 ready made designs for retro cornices — would be a great solution. Angela mentioned changing out the countertops for a dark granite or laminate that looks like dark granite. I would not recommend doing this — adding dark countertops in the kitchen will make it feel darker — and I quite like the laminate counter tops that she currently has — which look to be a beige linen pattern. If those counter tops are in acceptable condition, I would not touch them. However — there will be an issue if Angela is removing the wooden spindles from the curved section of counter top — as this removal will leave square holes in the laminate. To solve this problem — Angela could either try to carefully patch the holes with something — wood, another laminate, cork — or have just the top of that counter redone in a laminate that coordinates with the original counters. If the laminate is in bad shape — I would choose a light colored laminate style — perhaps in the light beige, white or tan family.

yellow and aqua mid century kitchenWhen it comes to the walls, I would make the space cheery by painting the upper part of the walls a light aqua. To tie in this new color — a rectangular dining set with a light topped table and aqua chairs like the set above — submitted from a reader in our vintage dinette uploader — would add some cheery color to the room. One of the short ends of the table could be placed up against the wall, creating a booth-like set up that would still allow for 5 chairs to be placed around the table. For the floor, a medium colored cork tile — like this natural colored cork from Home Depot — would not show dirt and would stand up to all the foot traffic. Then it is just a matter of bringing in some cute vintage accessories in aqua and yellow to complete the look:

 Pam’s retro decorating ideas for Angela’s kitchen — Atomic Doodle DinerMid century kitchen with wallpaper and original tile


Bradbury & Bradbury wallpaper – Atomic Doodle in Taupe

You know me, when it comes to adding color and pattern to a vintage kitchen, I am a ginormous fan of using wallpaper.  And happily today, due to the dramatically increased popularity of mid century modern and modest decor, you can find an abundance retro wallpaper patterns both vintage and new — see all our stories in the Wallpaper Category.

In my first mood board, above, I immediately thought of Bradbury & Bradbury’s Atomic Doodle wallpaper in Taupe. You’ll need to order a sample to check in the real environment of the kitchen, but I think the color ways and design of this wallpaper pattern would be nifty in this kitchen. The Doodle is a googie pattern – so it would inject some space age into this traditional space, which I think is just fine. Also, that looks like a really nice stove — you lucked out there. For wallpaper, I would try to find a pattern that picked up on the strong graphic of the black in the room. For the floor, I thought of 6′ wide sheet — the Corlon pattern reader Nancy recommended in this story. Mind you, I have not seen this terrazzo-mimic flooring live, but it looks like an excellent possibility for our retro houses. I liked the light look of the Limestone colorway with your kitchen, at least online. Finally, you will see in this first mood board, I thought to paint the fridge black — or buying a counter top depth fridge in black — or a Big Chill fridge, even — to coordinate with the stove. And, I like the idea of painting the coppertone hardware black. Again — going “graphic” usually appeals to me.

Like Kate, I would not spend money to change the counter tops. In “humble” mid century kitchens like this, I think “humble” materials like laminate just seem so much more appropriate that luxe granite (or faux luxe granite). I recently created a new page all about retro kitchen design, in which I talk more about this issue. In addition, your laminate counter tops sound like they are in excellent shape. And, while I do not have data to prove it, I really think the “old” laminate was stronger and more durable that today’s laminate. Also, the beige color is so perfectly neutral — so easy to decorate with.

Sources for Pam’s first mood board above:

Mid century kitchen with wallpaper and original tileAbove: I love your idea of a booth — or even a small round diner-style table. I might go for black and white — you could even pipe in some yellow! One thing, though, I would not choose a unit that seemed too “big” or else it might looked jammed into the space. Getting the right scale will be important to making this work, aesthetically. You can see, I chose smallish chairs to spotlight. However, depending on the size of your three teenage boys, you might choose to go bigger — for comfort. Make it comfortable space where everyone wants to hang out — first and foremost!
Disclosure reminder from Pam: My recommendations include some products from current advertisers (Bradbury & Bradbury, Hannah’s Treasures, Heffron’s and Big Chill.) While I am grateful for our advertisers, my including their products in mood boards like this are not included as part of their advertising deal. They did not and do not pay for me to write about them or include their products in these stories; there is no quid pro quo for editorial coverage. Read here about how we make money on the blog..

Pam’s second mood board of retro decorating ideas for Angela’s kitchen — Yankee Doodle DandyMid century kitchen with wallpaper and original tile

Same idea as above, except this time, I found a kitschy 1950s vintage wallpaper from Hannah’s Treasures. It looks like it has all the right colors (interestingly — including the same blue that Kate chose for her paint color… blue and yellow work well together, it’s clear)… appropriate graphic punch… the scale looks right… and it’s a homey hoot.

Mid century kitchen with wallpaper and original tileSo there are our ideas…

Readers — what are your paint, flooring and retro decorating ideas for Angela’s kitchen?


  1. Nathan Ventura says:

    Love the half wall with spindles, shame that so many in the HGTV crowd today wanna tear em’ out for no reason other than to “Open the space up” blah, phooey. Gimme walls please.

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