01 of 09
The 50s Kitchen
1950s-style kitchens have come full circle. In the actual 1950s, of course, they were an innovative and exciting break from kitchens built in the 1930s and 1940s. And through most of the 1960s and into the 1970s, a 1950s kitchen was regarded as, well, acceptable. In the late 1970s and beyond, though, people began to roll their eyes at the design hallmarks first made popular in the 50s; and for several decades afterward, it seemed that heavy stone countertops, ceramic floors, and heavy hardwood cabinets were dominating kitchens—until replaced by polished concrete and metal.
Today, though, the 1950s are being seen as more than just a quaint period, but as a perfectly acceptable and fashionable retro style that thousands of remodelers are seeking to reproduce in renovated kitchens. They are especially appropriate for kitchens in homes built during the 1950s—the classic ranch-style rambler, for example.
The Fifties Kitchen: A Time of Transition
As you research what it means to restore a kitchen to 1950's style, it becomes evident very quickly just how many of the features that are now standard to modern kitchens were created at in that time. The use of space-saving built-in appliances, for example, or the use of open floor-plan kitchens got their start in the mid-1950s.
Here are some of the hallmarks of typical 1950s kitchens—elements to include if you are attempting to recreate that vintage look.Continue to 2 of 9 below.
02 of 09
Bright Colors, Steel Cabinets
This kitchen shows off Youngstown die-formed steel cabinets in "thrilling yellow," as product literature puts it. The use of bright colors in a kitchen exploded in the 1950s and bright yellow, bright blue, and lime green were almost mandatory.
Just after World War II, the steel industry was still in war-production mode, so steel was plentiful and cheap. Hence, many kitchen cabinets were made of sheet metal—a look you can certainly consider in your remodeling plans. Steel cabinets rule the average kitchen in the 1950s. Particleboard, that staple of cabinetry construction from the 1970s onward, had been invented but was not yet in widespread use in the kitchen.
This kitchen shows other innovations of the 50s that have survived today: the wall oven was unheard of before the 1950s, and there was no such thing as an automatic dishwasher, which you can see here just to the left of the stovetop on the right.
And speaking of which, a built-in stovetop set into a cabinet countertop is another innovation that would be perfectly acceptable if you are trying to recreate a certain 1950s look.Continue to 3 of 9 below.
03 of 09
Peninsulas, Suspended Cabinets, Open Floor Plans, "Modern" Styles
Though pretty much standard fare in today's kitchens, cabinet islands, peninsulas, and free-floating suspended upper cabinets got their start in the 1950s. In this photo from Youngstown Steel Kitchens, a subsidiary of Mullins Manufacturing of Warren, Ohio, we again see steel cabinetry but here used in a configuration that would be completely fitting even in the most modern of kitchens.
And although not widely known, the use of open floor plans got its start in the 1950s, though did not fully gain speed until the 1960s and 1970s. So if you think you are being "modern" by insisting on an "open concept" layout, think again: in some ways, you are a half-century or more behind the times.
Also common in the 1950s was the effort to evince a kind of space-age, modern look with sleek lines. This effort also elicited a countertrend during the 50s—the frequent use of rustic, country styles.Continue to 4 of 9 below.
04 of 09
Built-In Appliances, Powered by Electricity
Although this kitchen layout was intended to showcase Admiral electric appliances, it does also demonstrate another trend that came into vogue in the 50s.
Built-in was a big thing in the 50s, an effort to reduce the haphazard jumble of appliances that was standard in kitchens of years past. So here we have a dishwasher snuggled in under the counter and a refrigerator and stove that continue along the countertop line. The wood-look cabinets include a cubby for flour, sugar, and spices.
Kitchens during this era began to suck up the electricity, due to great expansion in the power grid and marketing initiatives such as The Gold Medallion House ("Live Better Electrically"—all meant to promote and reward use of electricity.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Somewhat unexpectedly, rustic woods for kitchen cabinets also began to come into vogue in the 1950s, including knotty pine as seen in this advertising photo for Kelvinator refrigerators from 1958. Though not yet as common as steel, rustic woods in a modern retro 50s kitchen would not be at all out of place. The trend attempts to create a feeling of relaxed vacation living in everyday life.Continue to 6 of 9 below.
06 of 09
Resilient Flooring, Laminate Countertops
Linoleum is the original resilient flooring material and was introduced in the 1950s. Though it was largely replaced by sheet vinyl in the 1960s and 1970s, linoleum is beginning to make a comeback for consumers who like the fact that it is made from natural materials.
Almost no feature will more effectively say "1950s" in a retro kitchen remodel than linoleum. It is comfortable underfoot, easy to clean, available in a wide range of colors, and is soft enough not to shatter dishes should they fall to the floor. This may explain why increasing numbers of homeowners are choosing it over ceramic tile, plastic laminates, or sheet vinyl.
Another innovation of the 1950s was the widespread use of plastic laminate sheets to make seamless countertop surfaces. Like linoleum, laminate had the advantage of offering many colors and a seamless, easy to clean surface. Virtually all kitchens built in the 1950s had laminate countertops. And of course, many kitchens today still use laminates, though ceramic tile, natural stone, and synthetic stone are also widely used.
One distinguishing feature of many 1950s Formica countertops were the metal banding around the edges. Today, laminate counters usually have laminate strips or rolled edges, but rarely metal banding. So to create a truly authentic 1950s kitchen, consider a metal-banded countertop.
Want to create a retro 1950s kitchen? Look to linoleum and laminates in solid colors.Continue to 7 of 9 below.
07 of 09
So often, contemporary styles and sleek lines were the hallmarks of the 1950s kitchen.
But another popular look is the rural, country style, exemplified here with the rooster centerpiece, room divider, wood cabinets, and exposed iron hinges. This kitchen is likely from around 1952. A kitchen of this style was retro for its time—an attempt to mimic the down-home style that was common before the turmoil of World War II.
Country styles are one of the truly timeless styles for kitchens. Combined with appliances and surfaces that harken back to the 1950s, a retro-50s kitchen with a country-style is entirely consistent.Continue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09
Another overlooked innovation of the 1950s is the open layout that allowed for a large table in the kitchen for dining. In the 1940s, dining was typically done in a dining room, with the kitchen reserved exclusively for cooking—or at most featuring a small breakfast table. As shown in this example, though, a typical 1950s kitchen was a center for dining, too.
Also, note the other typical 1950s features in this kitchen:
Continue to 9 of 9 below.
- Steel cabinets
- The refrigerator with rounded-off corners
- L-shaped floorplan
- Red linoleum floor with contrasting green tile on the backsplash
09 of 09
Another aspect of a 1950s-style kitchen is the maximizing of space with clever solutions: lazy Susans, roll-out garbage cans, and here, the breakfast nook. This example is quite small, but it was the 1950s during which kitchens began to feature built-in dining booths and breakfast nooks—features not at all uncommon in today's modern kitchens.