Ideas to decorate Alan’s vintage green tile kitchen – Vitralite ooh la la!

midcentury-kitchen-BEFOREretro design“We have been told that the kitchen is a cross between ‘Betty Crocker’ and a morgue,” reader Alan says, adding a “haha” in his email to us. But maybe… not so funny. So today, a Retro Design Dilemma: Let’s help Alan with ideas to make his 1953 kitchen more homey, less clinical. Ooo la la: Lookie all the Vitralite glass wall tile — this one will be fun!

1950s Vitralite tile kitchenAlan writes:

Help! We have an original 1953 kitchen featuring Apple Green Vitralite glass tile. The tile is in almost perfect condition — but we’re at a loss as to what to do with it. Part of me says “gut” and start over, but many tell us to “save the Vitralite.”

vitralite wall tile
(This shot above is from before they closed on the house.)

1950s Vitralite tile kitchen

We’ve been in the house for five years and have been stumped for five years as to what to do with this kitchen! The green Vitralite is so overwhelming — even though we’re used to it. We have been told that the kitchen is a cross between “Betty Crocker” and a morgue.  haha.

vitralite wall tile
Above: Adjacent laundry room, with more of the tile, and some black trim.

Nom nom, we adore that vintage Vitralite! Hmmm… We spy a very interesting-looking clock in the initial photos that Alan sends and ask him for some closeup. Oh my word, look at this stunner:

vitralite kitchen tile Alan replies:

And yes, the clock in the soffit… omg, it’s wild. At 12, 3, 6, and 9, it shows pictures of what families in the 1950s should be doing!  3 p.m. is playtime… 6 p.m. is dinner… 9 p.m. is dancing… and 12 p.m. is sleep!

vitralite kitchen tile

I’d love you to help update this kitchen by giving us some ideas about countertops and floors! Currently, the counter tops are a Formica that is probably late 70’s — off white and a mess. The floors are a “plastic” laminate – trying to look like hardwood.

1950s Vitralite tile kitchen

Our thought is to replace/upgrade the counters with stone (but we can’t figure out what that would go with the green vitralite), replace the cabinet hardware, remove the original light fixtures and install can lighting, replace the gold dishwasher for stainless, replace the white stove for stainless and call it a day! We just cant figure out what to do with countertops and the floor.

Vitrolite bathroom!

vintage glass tile bathroom
Ooooh, check out this creamy ivory-yellow and green trim Vitrolite bathroom. From our story about this Time Capsule House. Photo: WiSign Photo — Lynn Darnieder, owner

Readers, let’s hear your ideas for this Retro Design Dilemma:

  • Okay, readers: Let’s hear your ideas for this dilemma! We will be back tomorrow morning with our design board and analysis.

  1. Ken says:

    This may sound crazy but put some pink in there to compliment the green. You could also go with another pastel primary color to play off the green like buttercup yellow, pink or turquoise–think Luray Dishes. I’d go for a pink or yellow formica countertop–creamy pastel-like; keep the cabinets as is and make the appliances white, or if you paint the cabinets white make the appliances pastel–you can paint them. Accessorize with stainless steel or white. I’m updating my kitchen and I’m painting my black refrigerator a buttercup yellow to go with my pink oven and turquoise dishwasher. The sink could be white or stainless. Floor tile should be a black and white checkerboard. The key would be to make the green stand out since you have so much of it and downplay everything else. It’s so beautiful.

  2. Tricia says:

    I have the same color wall board in my kitchen on the lower half and as the back splash as your tile and the same cupboards, your cupboards are in better shape than mine. My counter tops are a lot older than yours though. I would love to see what you decide to do. I want to keep my green wall board with black trim as it is retro and I keep chickening out when I go to paint my cupboards white 🙂

  3. Tom M. says:

    Definitely would keep the original lighting and not doing stone counters. With such unique kitchen I think that the new should be seamless with the old. Any hiccups I think would be a distraction. Great kitchen mostly as it is I think!

  4. Pamela says:

    I have black Vitrolite in my (1959 ranch) main bathroom. The previous owner put a white sheet-vinyl floor in, which is in excellent shape. I painted walls a medium gray, the vanity and woodwork white, reglazed the original worn blue tub in white – it’s the BEST!

  5. lisa in seattle says:

    You didn’t ask for advice about the cabinets, so I assume you plan to keep them. With that in mind, here’s what I’d do:

    lose the fan

    put in a Marmoleum floor using the colors ash (dk gray), silver, sky blue & eucalyptus

    paint all the door and window trim white to match the windows

    consider a counter-depth fridge & install a dishwasher & hood to match. All white or all stainless. Keep the same retro-ish stove since it fits and a new one in that size is hard to find or pricey.

    get marble or marble-look granite or marble-look new laminate counters.

    put some shelving in the laundry area to compensate for storage lost to the dishwasher

    get a hutch or sideboard for the wall under the clock — should fit OK once you have the counter depth fridge in place

  6. Lynn says:

    Disclaimer: I’m not a purist when it comes to renovation of our MCC (Mid-Century Cheap) home.
    First impression: Too many wood tones; in fact, the tile is the second thing I notice when I look at your pics.
    Is the current layout working for you? If the cabinets are in good condition – Keep them! However, do you want a dishwasher or anything else? Those were some of the contributing factors when we renovated our stamp-size MCC kitchen. Yes, we gutted everything.
    A few other things – you have an excellent opportunity to address lighting and venting the hood. Ceiling fan in the kitchen? Why?
    Consider a counter-depth refrigerator (current refrigerator sticks out a lot) and unifying the color of your appliances. Appliance color/finish – your choice!
    Like I said before, I’m not a purist – I appreciate the details of some older homes, but that does not mean that I necessarily want to keep everything in 1959 just as I do not dress full-on vintage. That’s just me.
    If this was my kitchen…I would keep the tile (I think it’s gorgeous). I would keep the cabinets if they are in good condition and the layout works. If the layout doesn’t work, I would actually consider building custom cabinets to match the existing (say you want to add that dishwasher but don’t want to loose storage) and paint them (my choice would be white or a light gray)! I love the light fixture but I would add more lighting (recessed, under the upper cabinets, sconces, etc.). Also, I would address the different colors of the appliances. Flooring – I’m a huge fan of wood floors as they are more forgiving underfoot. At our home, we extended the existing oak floors into the kitchen. Lastly, ideally the windows would match, I would paint trim and doors white or black, and replace the countertop if it needs to be replaced. Since I’m not a purist, I would go with the material that best fits my budget and style. As for countertop color – If the cabinets remain a wood tone, I would go white/light (consider a lighter floor, too). If the cabinets were painted white, then I would go for black as a nice contrast to the tile.
    Whatever you do, have fun! After 5 years of living with a space you don’t enjoy you should plan a space that works for you and makes you smile.

  7. Jay says:

    This comment really depends on what is above the kitchen…


    Ditch the ceiling fan. It almost surely is not original, nor was it likely there was one (ceiling fans didn’t get popular until the 70’s). Reuse the existing wiring to instead install a vent fan that uses one of those cool NOS Emerson-Pryne vent covers (or find something similar). New fans that can use those covers are still sold.

    For this to be possible there has to be sufficient space above the kitchen for the fan, meaning an attic (1953…darn good chance), and a way to route some duct to an exterior wall or through the roof.

    Doing this will also allow you ditch the hood over the stove, which probably isn’t vented outside anyway.

    With the electrical already in-place, the hard part is done. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if hiding above that ceiling fan is an existing exhaust system that stopped working at some point in the past (the wide base of the fan allows it to cover a big hole).

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