Vintage Kitchens Are Still Hot

Vintage Kitchens Are Still Hot

Vintage retro plastic kitchen 1 bd2e59ac4c3c36492e3be1530953b9ce
Shades of greens, yellows, and lots of chrome dominated kitchens in the 1950s and 60s.

When most people are renovating a kitchen, a big part of the planning is usually about finding new appliances. Homeowners ponder shiny new stoves and microwaves that can sense what’s cooking. While I didn’t do a full renovation, I recently had to replace my refrigerator, and it was a solid week of comparing models, square footage, and the location and size of crisper bins and butter drawers. It’s no surprise that kitchen remodels are such a big deal. In many homes, the kitchen is the essential hub. It’s where families gather, where there is morning coffee, lunches are packed, and groceries are stored. Kitchens need to be efficient, well-lit, and properly equipped for modern living. So why then is there such a market for vintage fixtures, appliances, and decor? Why are there so many people who want to go back to heavy chrome blenders and avocado green canisters?

Go with the Flow

It seems that the popularity of Mid-Century Modern furniture and décor has made its way into the kitchen, and really, why not? With open floor plan homes, you really can’t go from a living room that looks like the set of Mad Men to a kitchen with a sleek marble island, stainless steel appliances, and a pot-filler faucet over a Viking stove. As any HGTV host would tell you, “The theme should flow, throughout the home, in a cohesive motif that exudes your esthetic.” Well, maybe they wouldn’t say exactly that, but in general, your home shouldn’t have multiple personalities. So retro-style kitchens, where one could imagine Betty Draper or Laura Petrie whipping up a Jell-O mold, are very on-trend, with vintage Kitchen Aid mixers and Ice-O-Matic cube crushers being sought after by designers and homeowners alike.

Vintage rival manual ice crusher ice 1 3a5b08cc2ba9a5d0d7dfa6e03e414f13
While today, these appliances seem very basic and rudimentary, they were cutting edge in their time. This Ice-O-Matic ice crusher sold for $11.95 in 2020.

Retro or Repro?

So if you’re planning to turn your kitchen into a Formica and porcelain showcase, do you go all authentic and search out older items, or do you buy modern reproductions that have the bells and whistles of modern technology, but the look of days gone by? It takes a little research, but there are suppliers that craft new stoves, fridges, and cabinets that you’d swear came right out of Ozzie and Harriet’s kitchen. One major manufacturer of retro style appliances is Big Chill. They offer the outward appearance of bygone days, with the efficiency and up-to-code wiring of today. Still, there are more than a few purists who will search every flea market and estate sale to find just the right Bakelite utensils, Fiestaware bowls, and Magic Chef stoves.

1955 kelvinator foodarama 1 6f5fce0405c3a14a4b3a20ba0d1f46d1
While it’s prized now for its retro look, the Foodarama was practically space-age technology when it first came out.

Most kitchens that are done up in an MCM theme have a mixture of the two options, with homeowners wanting the quality and advantages of new items when it comes to a stove or a fridge, but will go authentically antique with décor and utensils. Anything that plugs in has to be safe in a kitchen since there will be water and maybe even gas burners in the area, so cloth cords and exposed wires can be problematic.

Vintage sunbeam 9 automatic toaster 1 90abcef204d8359aaf43fc2dce976c32
While this vintage toaster is full-on 50s glam, it might not be the safest choice depending on the kitchen.

The Time Warp of Kitchen Styles

In general, as home styles have changed, the kitchen has been the one place in a home that tends to reflect an era rather than a particular color palette or architecture. The kitchens of the 1950s and 60s were futuristic. They reflected the time; there was a space race, the moon was within reach, cars had chrome and fins to evoke the look of a rocket ship, and home cooks wanted a little of that NASA/Good Housekeeping vibe when they were making supper or doing the dishes. A fashionable kitchen from a 1960’s magazine spread would probably look much like a present-day kitchen done in MCM style, only the original was a nod to the future, while today’s kitchens echo the past.

Name that Decade

The MCM period differs, depending on whom you ask, but it started in the post-war 1940s, and some say continued up at least to the first couple of years of the 1970s. Kitchen appliances and furnishings changed a great deal during these years, and each decade has its iconic brands. In the 1940s, Hotpoint was very popular for their large porcelain covered electric stoves. Today, these models are sought after for restoration projects since they are at once vintage but bring back a vibe of the post-war era that the future would bring innovation and technology to the home.

Flour sugar salt pepper shakers white 1 77f6fe38874c3300c13ff698b44fd425
Even the salt shakers came matched to a Hotpoint range in the 1940s.

In the 1950s, as the space race was heating up, kitchens were going a little more high-tech. While the kitchen was still a work center, Crosley came out with a “Musical Chef” radio in 1954 that had a dial for tuning in music and programs and a built-in timer to make sure the meal didn’t burn if the cook took a coffee break.

Crosley model f5twe musical chef 1 9ef15eee3b0e35be9536407f141d9330
In white with red trim, this radio matches the red coffee pot, a popular theme of many kitchens that included candy apple red cabinets and appliances.

In the 1960s, it was common to see small dinette sets in a kitchen, with Formica tops and chrome trip. Having a seating area in the kitchen meant it was becoming more of a gathering point and not just a utilitarian workspace.

While it may not be a strict historical database with dates and events, looking at how kitchen appliances, utensils, and styles evolved through a major design period does show how kitchens reflected the times. Each decade leaves its mark on fashion, home design, and even everyday items like blenders and toasters.


Brenda Kelley Kim lives in the Boston area. She is the author of Sink or Swim: Tales From the Deep End of Everywhere and writes a weekly syndicated column for Gannett News/Wicked Local. When not writing or walking her snorty pug Penny, she enjoys yard sales, flea markets, and badminton.

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