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Are you totally bored with trendy kitchens? Fed up with empty counters, “clean lines” and various shades of grey? We’re not surprised. It might have looked cool and futuristic two decades ago,but pale, functional décor has no personality. If the kitchen is supposed to be the heart of the home, it desperately needsits beat back.

Good news though – retro design is gradually returning. Throwback kitchens are everything contemporary ones aren’t; cheerful, busy, and (perhaps best of all) lined with cupboards that actually have handles.

Want to join us in our contempt for contemporary? Embrace the nostalgia and get ready for a mid-century makeover.


The biggest mistake when attempting a retro remodel is not having a clear idea of how you want it to look. Are you feeling neon brights, or ice-cream tones? Boxy or atomic? You can’t have everything, or your home will end up looking like a garish jumble sale.

If you’re not sure, then get as much inspiration as possible. Trawl through magazines, watch Mad Men and visit website galleries to get started. Follow up with trips to vintage fashion shops, kitsch cafés and American diners to get a feel for the atmosphereyou want to create.

Colour and Pattern

The defining feature of kitchens-past is the colour. Stick to one or two key shadesand let them really pop against a crisp, white background and stainless steel finishes.

Pastels like mint, or pale yellow look cute and homely, while combining cream and toffee colours will look more grown-up. For the ultimate American diner, it can be tempting to immediately reach for red – it’s been a little overdone though, so try turquoise or orange instead.

Pattern-wise, diagonal stripes, polka dots and gingham make for sweet, candy-shop charm while flying saucers, boomerangs and atomic patterns add a bit of edge.

Walls and Floors

If you’re fully committed to the cause, you already know you’re having a checkerboard floor. Just remember:

  • It doesn’t have to be black and white
  • Smaller squares will make a small room appear larger
  • Lay individual floor tiles (not a whole sheet) for easy repairs

If a checkerboard is too big of a statement, don’t be afraid to go plain. Linoleum is inexpensive, tiles look elegant and wood feels warm, and these can all be tuned to match a retro theme. Similarly, there is no limit to wall textures – brickwork, tiles, panelling, paint or wallpaper – whatever takes your fancy.

Cupboards, Shelves and Counters

If you have played it safe with your walls and floors, be brave now. Coloured units immediately breathe life into your kitchen, and your bold rebellion against the neutral norm will be looked upon with envy from your friends and family. Remember, the 1940s favoured boxy units with angled edges, but in later decades, counter styling became rounded and ergonomic.

Open shelving suits the era, and is perfect for displaying your vintage bric-a-brac. Any modern equipment can (and should) be hidden behind cupboard doors! Take your time and have fun choosing your cupboard handles, but make sure they’re finished in stainless steel.


Coloured appliances are a must, but luckily, there’s no need to go hunting around for vintage fridges and cookers unless you really want to. Thanks to designers like SMEG, curved edges and bold colours are making a comeback in the otherwise flavourless world of modern kitchens.

If you’re completely renovating with all-new appliances, make sure you get a matching set and hide older kit discreetly behind cupboard doors. If you’re intending to keep most of your bigger kitchenware, pick up a set of retro-inspired counter-top gadgets, like a mixer, toaster and set of scales.

Tables and Chairs

If you are recreating the ’40s or ’60s, you can get away with a wooden table… but why would you want to miss out on all the fun of a pattered Formica-topped one? Loathed by disciples of contemporary design, the Formica table is just about the biggest rejectionyou can show to modern trends. Of course, you need to match it with vinyl-covered padded chairs, and top with diner tableware (napkin holder, condiment caddy) for the ultimate cool.


No retro-inspired interior is complete without a few, carefully-chosen curios. Don’t go overboard (remember, avoid the “charity shop” look), but here a few ideas of vintage paraphernalia to add a finishing touch:

  • A statement clock
  • Vintage café signs
  • Pop art prints
  • Bread boxes and retro biscuit tins
  • Roberts radios

So there you have it, give sparse design the cold shoulder and get a brand new, old style kitchen in the process. We know you’ll love it, now just give your juke box a whack and get jiving.