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.

  2. Catherine says:

    Angela, I’m the same Catherine who posted before, who has the same kitchen tile and cabinet color scheme. Looking at your pictures this second time, I really think that the tile *is* your kitchen your decoration. You are 75% of the way there–90% after you replace the floor. Mine is the original, which is mainly off-white with some dark gold in it–looks great with the walls. You just need to get some curtains and replace the missing cabinet pulls and light fixture.

  3. Angela says:

    Hello Everyone, I still haven’t touched the kitchen yet. I am having a hard time trying to decorate around that yellow wall tile. I have decided that I do not want wallpaper, and I would like to put in a peel and stick vinyl tile floor. Thinking about “refinishing” the wall tiles in white, painting the top half of the wall a blue color, laying down a black and white vinyl floor and using red as an accent color. Still thinking about counters, but I did get a sample of white with blue boomerangs that might work. This is the hardest project so far trying to figure out what to do..we had to put this project on the back burner due to unexpected repairs that come up all the time in these old houses. If you have any suggestions or comments, I would love to hear your thoughts!

    1. Catalina says:

      Before refinishing all of the tile, try just refinishing the brown border tile, the kits usually come in white or almond. The light border will mimic trim or a chair rail, and perhaps you will like the look of the yellow more. I think it would look gorgeous with the blue color you’re considering!

  4. Jan says:

    Love the kitchen – if you decided to take out the tile, you could send the yellow my way as it is an exact match to the tile around my tub! Just kidding – I really think you should leave the tile. It can look surprisingly different with the introduction of a third color. I would either paint the upper walls a robin’s egg blue, aqua or mint green, or paper with one or more of those colors in the design along with a yellow.
    I’d also leave the laminate counter tops, if they’re in good shape – they’re so neutral, and really would do better justice to your lovely kitchen than anything looking like stone. I like so many of the ideas already put through.
    My parents’ 1962 kitchen had stainless appliances that came with the house (not the garish ones available today, but lovely and balanced), but I think if you were to change out appliances, a copper, brown, aqua, green or even yellow would fit the tone of your kitchen better.
    I, too, would take the spindles out and add a cut-out over the window. Good luck with whatever you do!

  5. Joe Felice says:

    I actually like the “simple” look of the “before.” Maybe with a little color on the wall and soffits. An appropriate light fixture is needed. The black range sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s the first thing I noticed in the picture! Another thing that needs to go is the copper switch plate by the door, since there is no other copper in the room (unless she ties in in with a copper light fixture). Also, a yellow sink is needed. What would really be cool is if she could find someone to paint the appliances the same color as the tile. A corner booth would be OK, if she could match the wood to the cabinets.

    1. Angela says:

      This is how the kitchen was when I bought the house in 2005..the black stove was already here..I have painted over yellow walls with Kilz as in the pictures waiting for suggestions on a wall color..I want a new stove and fridge (no taller than 64 inches unless I want to rip out the upper cabinet and I do not) I also think the L shaped table should be wood that matches the cabinets and will probably have to hire a carpenter to make it for me..

        1. lynda says:

          I agree. The range is nice–a classic, slide-in, black glass with a stainless top. If it works, the range looks like it was a high-end purchase at one time. (and it has been taken care of, it looks spotless!) Although I am not a stainless fan, a fridge with black sides and a stainless front might blend nicely with the range. The cute retro ranges and refrigerators are quite expensive and I am not sure they would look quite right in this kitchen. I think they look more like a cottage look, and this is not a cottage style kitchen. Or maybe the fridge should be painted with black chalkboard paint like some on the blogs have done. It makes a bit of a statement without spending a lot of money. Check Craigslist for banquette or bench style built -ins for nook before hiring an expensive carpenter. If you are handy, you may be able to use over the refrigerator cabinets from Ikea to build an L shaped bench and add cushions. I have done this before. Just look at Google images for ideas.

    2. TerriHD says:

      Am betting the copper switchplate matches the copper pulls and hinges. Personally I’d keep the white sink, but a SS sink would coordinate nicely with the stove — it would be a bit more of an early ’60s look, but authentic nonetheless. I’ve also seen that paired with copper — my grandmother’s kitchen, remodeled in ’64 by previous owner just before she bought it.

  6. Jim says:

    My last suggestion (I promise): Leave the kitchen intact, dowels and all; the dowels on the island tie the overall country design of the kitchen together (for the holidays you can decorate or hang greeting cards on them). Leave the walls white for now. Rip out the carpet and paint a white and pale yellow checker board on the floor with extra large squares on a diagonal. Use all your other money for a really well made country style L bench and table.

  7. Jim says:

    Also, I would stay away from a checker board floor. They’re too busy and dominate whatever room they’re in, which can become annoying after a while. On the other hand, a checker board of light brown and yellow that matched the wall tiles could be pretty (possibly painted on wood planks for an aged/distressed feel to it). Or maybe a neutral floor with an inset line border.

  8. Jim says:

    Hi Angela, I’m kind of late to the discussion and didn’t thoroughly read all the comments, so I hope I’m not just repeating them. I think before ripping anything out or expending alot of energy altering your kitchen, you might want to try a style and color scheme that work with the existing kitchen. As far as style, not everything in the 50’s was inpired by the space age. Lots and lots of design was inpired by the country farm. Your kitchen is clearly one of these. I would, therefore, steer away from space age inspired motifs/objects and lean more towards the country farm. In this regard, I think your choice in dining tables was excellent and would not change it so quickly. I would also keep the copper pulls as they are very country and match the copper hood over the range and the copper light switch plates. As for color; the basic color scheme of yellow and brown is not the greatest. The most obvious and probably the best thing to do would be to introduce reds, oranges, and yellows to give the room more color while still complementing this existing color scheme. With all this in mind, I would try a country apple or country rooster theme for the kitchen. For instance, I think the country accent rug you chose is on the right track, but the blues and browns are too dull. A country apple rug would be much brighter and give some contrast to the overall brown in the room. You can google country apple rug to see what I mean. Also, Overstock.com has lots of really beautiful accent rugs that would help brighten your kitchen. Overall, I think I would keep your kitchen pretty much intact. I think the wooden dowels over the sink are charmingly country and much better than a cut out. I’m not so sure about the dowels on the island; the island itself seems to serve no purpose other than to define the kitchen area and to disrupt the flow of traffic, which might be the reason for the dowels. The one thing I would definitely change is the floor. I would either paint it a dark red (as one of the better kitchen remodels did on this blog) or paint it to match the counter and live with it for a while before deciding on a permanent change. You can even paint in pretend color accent tiles to see if you would like them. I hope I’ve been helpful.

    1. Angela says:

      Hi Jim-It’s funny you mentioned apple, because my old kitchen had the apple accents and I saved all of it in case I wanted to use it again…When we first moved in we talked about completely gutting the kitchen and I am so glad we didn’t. I do not want take out the cabinets or move walls around. I just want to replace the countertop, the floor and paint the top of the wall. I have alot to think about! The floor we have now is brown carpet-looks like a 70’s update the previous owners did. I really don’t care for the copper, so I was going to paint the hardware, replace the switches and light…but I am going to save that for last and see if I like it after the other stuff is done.

    2. Mindy says:

      Wow Jim! a man after my own heart! I love your ideas!! I personally love pops of reds and I have done the apple theme in my kitchen. I also did a plaid wallpaper that had red in it-similar to one in Betty draper’s kitchen in Mad men. I also had commented earlier to bring in reds. I think whatever she does she cant go wrong it is a beautiful kitchen.

  9. lynda says:

    Hi Angela, Look at the Kardean Loose Lay vinyl plank. It is supposed to be laid so that it butts up tightly to the wall, no expansion area. I talked to a sales person the other day about the product. He said he has done a couple of commercial jobs that have turned out great. The planks just lay on the floor. One can be replaced easily if needed and if you have a water problem, you can just pick them up, let them dry and put them back down. He said nothing could be easier for a DIY job.

  10. Angela says:

    Thanks everyone for the great ideas! The walls are now painted with Kilz, they used to be yellow that matched the tile and it was too much yellow for me and needed to be painted again anyway…I like the idea of a breakfast bar but I don’t know if I would have enough room. Maybe if I found some of those rectangle seat stools-it might work. My husband said the same thing about painting the cabinet hardware-too many touchups. I don’t really care for the copper, but I can live with it…I think I will save that for last and see what happens. I am changing my mind about the granite-I saw the boomerang on here awhile back and I like that, so I am going to check it out! I also like the idea of a checkerboard floor..I need peel and stick vinyl because of having wall tile going down to the floor I can’t have any gaps with a “floating floor” and I think putting in a baseboard would look weird..I am trying for a modern update with a retro feel if that makes sense…I will keep you all posted and submit pics when finished…again thanks for the ideas!

    1. Mindy says:

      hi Angela! I just wanted to mention that we changed our cabinet hardware on the cheap by going to a used building suppy store. Were able to find boxes of hinges and pulls in really good shape on the cheap!

    2. Janet in CT says:

      Angela, in our last house, the island was in there pretty tight with little room to spare and we only allowed about a ten inch overhang for the countertop. I thought it would be tight but it was fine, but the stools didn’t tuck all the way in under the countertop. You can always check by sticking boards up against your peninsula to see how it works out before you make a decision.

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