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

vintage wallpaper
Vintage wallpaper from Hannah’s Treasures.

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. MissyN says:

    Hi Angela,

    You have a lovely kitchen! I would go for the Yankee Doodle Dandy/early American/Colonial look. Maybe “cool-onial” as Pam calls it! 🙂 Slightly updated and modern.

    First, leave the cabinets and hardware as is beyond cleaning/protecting. They’re terrific!

    Now this may go against some of the suggestions, but if it were me, I’d keep the spindles, both valance and counter, but I’d ebonize them and their frames with black stain. This will create a nice contrast with the natural wood tones of the cabinets. Then the spindles will pop!

    Then, you can either stain or paint your existing chairs black, or look for new or old black Windsors. They are easy to find (new or old). The straight fanback or comb style, rather than curved or bowback, is the way to go. These will echo and tie together with the black spindles of the counter and valance.

    You can even go a bit toward Danish modern with this look. These Tapiovaara spindle chairs are Windsor-inspired:

    as are the Paul McCobb Planner Group chairs in black:

    Similarly, you can go with a Danish modern-style table and it will still work with any black Windsor. Again, you want the contrast between the natural honey-toned wood of the table and the black chairs, so that the chairs will pop.

    Next, paint your range hood a black semi-gloss – you can even distress it a bit, but you don’t have to. You can paint the the hood of your dining table light fixture to match.

    Walls – the nautical idea is great, but the ship wallpaper might be too busy. You can echo the nautical and early American theme in things you put on the walls rather than commit to wallpaper. So find a light cream paint color you like that sets off the wood. Or maybe a soft light gray that sets off the yellow tile.

    Now decorate the walls with lots of color, accented with black. Look for vintage early American textiles, Scandinavian folkloric wall hangings and table linens, Wilton black metal trivets, 1950s framed textiles and tiles like the ones by Robert Darr Wert, early American kitchen utensils, etc. All this stuff is easy and inexpensive online.

    Like so:





    The soffit above the cabinets is a perfect area to display plates and platters in bright colors, again with a nod toward early American; your wooden or copper utensils would look great up there too. I would paint this another color to create some contrast, possibly echoing the sunny yellow of the tile. You could even paint the ceiling to match the soffit rather than keeping it white.

    On your little lower mini-shelf below the main counter shelf – vintage cookbooks with cast iron or copper bookends, or a brightly-colored ceramic planter and plant with a few tendrils hanging down.

    Curtains – bright colored whimsical early American print in a cafe or valance style. Something that lets the light through.

    Floor – wood, or linoleum in a tomato red or warm spring green.

    Lastly, small rag or hooked rugs. Swedish rag runners are great for kitchens – you could run one along the counter between the range and the sink. Even if you only have one small rug in front of the sink it will add color and texture as well as provide some comfort.

    Again, you can tilt the early American toward Scandinavian modern/Danish modern in a lot of these areas, especially furniture and textiles – these two styles complement each other beautifully.

    That’s it! The bright colors will make it homey and friendly and the contrast of the black accents will tie everything together.

    Have fun – it’s a lovely room and I’m sure whatever you do will be wonderful!

    1. lynda says:

      There are some very terrific ideas here. I like the idea of black windsor chairs. Maine Cottage has some cute chairs that can be painted in any color. A braided rug is just the right look for this space. This Colonial Mills Olivera in Dusty Shale may be just right.
      http://www.wayfair.com/Colonial-Mills-Olivera-Dusty-Shale-Kitchen-Rug-OV19-CV9707.html Capel may have some rugs too. So many ideas.
      Maine Cottage chairs: http://www.mainecottage.com/dining-seating-chairs.html You can also find Craigslist chairs and paint.

  2. Sarah says:

    I definitely like Kate’s Sunny and Sweet idea the best for this kitchen which is funny because I’m normally more drawn to the Atomic Doodle DIner style. I think it’s the tile color, it really lends itself to the softer look that Kate came up with. But if you don’t like the pale blue color, I think you could accomplish the same look with a pale yellow or green as well.

  3. Jamie D says:

    I love the Sunny and Sweet theme. My first thought was aqua to contrast with the pale yellow tile. And if you really need another small accent color, little pops of pink accessories could work too. But I really love Kate’s first design above. Adorbs.

    1. nina462 says:

      Yes – Sunny & Sweet. Take the spindles off. No granite counter top – use a boomerrang formica countertop ….either with the light blue/yellow or tan boomerrangs.

      You could also use Red accessories. Red & yellow go well together.

  4. Diane says:

    Boy, you sure have a lot of ideas here. I definitely would go with wallpaper above the tile. I’ve had black linoleum flooring for 14 years (probably about 4 years old when we bought), and it has held up perfectly! Just a thought– if you paint the hardware, you’ll be touching it up for the rest of your life!

  5. Scott says:

    That’s almost a dead ringer for my 1954 MCModest kitchen complete with the rounded shelves by the window and cut out details over the sink. Except you are already 2 giant steps ahead with that yummy yellow tile and Hudee ringed sink! 🙂

    For my 2 cents when you have wood cabinets I think you need to go really bold with the rest of the colors in the room to keep the wood from looking too sleepy and too “now.”

  6. Terri says:

    My apologies, I’m sure I’ve used the “h” word in regards to granite countertops along the way. I recommend against them, to me they have that “5 minutes away from being 5 minutes ago” look. Too trendy and for what you save with a nice formica, you can do other fun stuff. I also find them too hard and cold, they remind me of chem lab. So add another vote for something like the butterscotch boomerang.

    YES to the infinity power on the corner banquette. The round table looks out-sized in there. And please don’t paint the copper! On the knotty pine site there needs to be a little altar to copper accessories.

    I totally adore the spray painted stars idea and may be stealing that one myself. The bedroom in my 1950 Cape Cod needs some accent.

    I’m not mad at the spindles, but that would make a nice breakfast bar. Too fun! I hope you sub the “after” pics.

    1. Angela says:

      Yes, the table is too big, but I needed seating for 5 and didn’t want to spend alot (craigslist find) I needed something in the meantime until we figured out what to do with the space. L shaped booths are hard to find (I want something that doesn’t scream “cheaply made” and may have to find a carpenter to make me one…

  7. lisa says:

    Just had a great idea for the floor — how about creating a pattern with marmoleum that includes a yellow shade, a brown one, a neutral cream, and one other accent color of your choice, arranged in a pattern something like this: http://i42.tinypic.com/29zdcvl.jpg. Or like this: http://i-cdn.apartmenttherapy.com/uimages/la/090208marmo-03.jpg

    I like the Marmoleum colors: butter, golden sunset, and shitake with your tile. For accent, chartreuse. Or keep it neutral by adding forest ground.

    Also, check out Formica laminates – perhaps the new retro look “Dotscreen” would work in mint or tangelo? Shoji Screen looks promising for a neutral look, although maybe not quite the right brown? At Wilsonart, I like Natural Tigris and Sesame with your tile and cabinets. Why not order some samples and see what you think!

    1. Angela says:

      I like your idea for the floor. I saw a similiar floor on the retro site awhile back, they trimmed the floor in black tiles and used red and white check pattern to fill in…it looks nice, but not sure how it would look with my yellow tile…I don’t want to look like Micky D’s!! That is what I think of when I see red and yellow together..

  8. generaldine says:

    That’s an amazing kitchen! I love it soooo badly! I also though aqua at first. I love that color in my own kitchen and the sunny sweet mood board is really nice.

    But I think I’d go all red there. Check board floor in red and creamy white. And I’ll paint the wall in light cream too. I have a lot of stuff on display on my walls, even if I like vintage wallpaper, it would be for me too charged. And I’d go for a red laminate counter top, or even something more smooth, a pale yellow linen laminate. For the punch I’d add some green items and deco. It might be “cliché” but think at those vintage coca cola ads where the red, bottle green and yellow look so good together.

    I love the idea of a dinning booth. In Red! And the scalloped hedges.

    Regarding the hardware, I would not paint them. It will be a life time touch up. Sell them as a set on ebay to cover buying a set in black if you like.

    But whatever you’ll do, it’s great that you save the tiles and cabinets.

    1. TerriHD says:

      Actually, red and aqua look nice together. My kitchen is a not-quite-identical twin to this one — brown and beige tile, yellow walls, white trim, identical cabs — and I’m accenting with aqua and red (latter’s a holdover from the last incarnation, plus Le Creuset’s too pricy to swap out).

      Agree on not painting hardware — but know that finding the same type of hinge in a different style is extremely difficult. (I think I’ve seen the same ones in black, if that helps.) I am gradually swapping mine out for pewter pulls and knobs and 3/8″ offsets (with the hinge visible on the outside), but one needs to do a bit of routing on the cabinet frame and door. Doable, but not for the very faint of heart. Refinishing is necessary too, or else there will be spots where the external hinges were. But very well worth it if one is not a fan of copper or that rustic style.

  9. Mindy says:

    First of all this kitchen is a dream! I absolutely love it. I have to tell you the first thing I thought of was Betty Draper’s kitchen in Mad Men. It is beautiful just the way it is. I think paint or wallpaper would make a big difference. I know when I paint a room it feels like I have new room. I really like the idea of wallpaper and have been toying around with that idea myself. I guess I am just scared of putting it up by myself. I look at the wallpaper in my bathrooms and it is seamless. I don’t know if it would turn out the same if I did it-lol! I love your warm wood cabinets and the yellow tile. You can even use red for pops of color. Have fun and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

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