Fashion can be fickle, but also cyclical. Home design in particular is difficult -- we'd like to choose a style that's fashionable this year but won't be at risk of looking dated next year. One way to skirt this problem is to find a design that's already "dated" yet endures the test of time. Kitchen designs from the mid-20th century (1940s-1960s) are coming back in vogue, particularly because of the feelings they evoke. Fond memories of parents and grandparents cooking and cleaning in a kitchen draped in cheerful colors, steel cabinets and sleek metal appliances are common mental images of the ideal kitchen.
The generation that designed midcentury kitchens emerged from a tumultuous time following the Great Depression in the 1930s and the rationing of World War II. Finally, after the war, people had jobs and -- thanks to a boom of post-wartime production -- products to buy. People were ready to splurge, but smart consumers with fresh memories of the Depression knew the value of a dollar and therefore wanted quality products.
Today, thanks to an increased interest in cooking and eating healthy as opposed to prepared and processed foods, the kitchen itself is regaining the spotlight as the most important room in the house. Just as our grandmothers made everything from scratch from fresh, local ingredients, we're rediscovering the value of those methods. Likewise, we want the style of our kitchen to reflect that pastime and those old-fashioned values. Efficiency, by the way, was also a priority, as Americans adapted to fitted kitchens after the war, maximizing the available space in modestly small houses.
And then there are those of us who simply adore midcentury America's cool, sleek style, which is making a comeback largely thanks hit TV dramas like "Mad Men." But whatever the reason, it's clear that retro kitchens are back in style. On the next page, we'll discuss the elements that go in to making your kitchen retro.
How to Make Your Kitchen Retro
If it's time to redesign your kitchen, and you're ready to ditch the latest fad in favor of a classic retro look, you have a myriad of options. One of the most important choices is color. Choose something cheery and bright to capture the enthusiasm and optimism of the midcentury. Pam Kueber, who created RetroRenovation.com, uses her Web site to help homeowners living in postwar ranch, colonial and bungalow-style homes to redesign them with their original style.
Kueber argues that modest and traditional décor adds "whimsy" and is actually more affordable [source: Kueber]. Think cutesy wallpaper and knotty-pine paneling. If you really want to stay affordable and are willing to sacrifice performance for affordability and retro style, ditch the granite countertops for butcher-block or laminate countertops. Keep in mind, though, that wood is porous, so a butcher-block countertop will require regular, thorough cleaning.
Nothing says postwar era better than steel cabinets. Kueber researched these extensively and found that after steel production exploded during the war, the industry pushed the material into American homes in the form of cars and even kitchen cabinets.
For authentic vintage appliances, cabinets and countertops, you can always explore estate sales, or try your luck on eBay or Craigslist. To increase your chances of finding what you want on Internet searches, try using vague descriptions or possible misspellings, and check the sites often to snatch up deals as soon as they go up.
If finding authentic pieces proves too challenging -- or you perish the thought of sacrificing modern convenience -- consider purchasing modern appliances that have a distinctly retro look. KitchenAid stand mixers, for instance, are known for having a classic look, and because of that the company produces them in several retro colors. Some companies specialize in creating appliances that look retro. The Big Chill is a good example of a company that sells new refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers with a completely retro look, and some ware even comes in retro colors like turquoise and buttercup yellow.
For lots more information on kitchen style, see the links on the next page.
- Kueber, Pam. "Pam's Kitchen." RetroRenvoation.com. (June 1, 2012) http://retrorenovation.com/pams-kitchen/
- Kurutz, Steven. "Restoring the Retro House." New York Times. Aug. 17, 2011. (June 1, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/garden/restoring-the-retro-house.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
- RetroRenovation. "Find great vintage furniture deals on Craigslist -- 4 tips to help improve your search." RetroRenvoation.com. May 31, 2012. (June 1, 2012) http://retrorenovation.com/2012/05/31/vintage-furniture-on-craigslist-4-tips-to-help-your-searc/