Mid-Century Modern has been the darling of the design world for some time now, but wood grain and tapered legs aren’t the only game in retro town—especially in the kitchen, where well-placed throwbacks from any decade are often right at home.
Plenty of homeowners are infusing their cooking and dining spaces with other old-school design staples, rethinking everything from size to palette. Whether in a nod to the bold approach of the ’30s or the kitschy flourishes in ’60s design, modern kitchens are finding a fresh new face in the past.
These seven kitchen trends are all about the retro style.
1. Pastel hues
Photo by Torie Jayne
Homeowners have been rocking Millennial Pink for a few years—and now its pastel friends want in on the action, too. Younger homeowners are pairing everyone’s favorite rosy shade with other gentle hues, like robin’s-egg blue and mint.
To make these shades sing, choose a modern countertop, like butcher block, but consider skipping the wooden cabinetry. Otherwise, you may slide past “vintage” and slam into “dated.”
“Combining old with the new nods to the retro aesthetic while ensuring that your kitchen doesn’t look like a shot out of ‘I Love Lucy,’” says Chicago interior designer Lauren Visco.
2. A return to smaller kitchens
You can thank today’s housing market for the growing acceptance of more petite kitchens.
“Kitchen and living spaces will remain open as long as homes have the square feet to warrant it,” says Cindy Peschel-Hull, a broker at Coldwell Banker Bain in Seattle. But “in order for millennials to afford housing, smaller [kitchens] are becoming more popular.”
Luckily, retro styles were designed to shine in compact spaces; after all, the open kitchen is a relatively new development. To make your limited square footage feel grand, look beyond white walls: Bold colors and bright metals add vintage glamour and turn the cozy space comfortable.
3. Decorative flooring
Photo by Clachan Wood
Hardwood flooring (laminate or otherwise) might be standard issue in builder-grade housing, but today’s ambitious renovators are going bold, returning to decorative flooring styles often seen in our parents’ and grandparents’ homes. Whether it’s vintage black-and-white or funky-patterned tiling (try these Moroccan tiles on for size), today’s kitchens are all about making a statement.
“Consumers are playing with their flooring by incorporating pattern and texture,” Visco says.
Not quite ready to go so bold?
“Upgrade to patterned porcelain tiles in neutral hues,” Visco suggests. White and light-gray checkerboard tiling makes a subtle nod to retro chic.
4. Vintage appliances
Retro-fridge maker Smeg had its moment in the kitchen spotlight with its candy-colored appliances, and now other manufacturers are following suit with a variety of vintage-inspired appliances. Kitchen? More like time capsule.
“Retro appliances can be surprisingly versatile,” says designer Jere Bowden. “In addition to being ideally suited for Mid-Century Modern–style homes, they work equally well in a beach cottage or cabin—or any kitchen setting where you want to inject a sense of fun and personality.”
And you don’t have to go pastel to integrate vintage appliances into your own kitchen. Many manufacturers, like Northstar, offer retro lines in white, and Elmira makes the look modern with stainless steel.
“The great thing about these appliances is that they provide vintage style while offering the high-performance features that consumers expect,” Bowden says. “It’s really the best of both worlds.”
5. Bold pops of color
Pick a vivid, colorful coffee maker or a mixer that is “modern, while still having that retro vintage look,” says Chicago real estate agent Xavier Cruz. Or choose eclectic accessories and artwork to bring cheer and drama to your space.
Bowden recalls a client who balanced bright turquoise appliances with classic shades of ivory and black, and layered neutrals.
“The result was the perfect pop of color and retro charm without overwhelming the kitchen,” he says.
Just don’t go overboard: You want your kitchen to be bold, not loud.
“It’s a good idea to limit the use of bright colors to appliances and a few accent pieces, as the design will be easier to live with for an extended period of time,” Bowden says.
6. Retro furniture design
Photo by Webber + Studio, Architects
Remember how we said kitchens could be shrinking? Well, a smaller room lends itself nicely to retro furniture, which “fits the bill in smaller spaces,” Peschel-Hull says.
Vintage designs—such as Eero Saarinen‘s tulip chairs—are designed to squeeze into tight spaces without looking bulky or oversized.
“They embody that nostalgia while maintaining modern functionality in contemporary kitchens,” Visco says.
But, as with other retro looks, it’s easy to go overboard with this furniture, she adds. Balance these styles with modern elements—like stainless-steel appliances or waterfall islands—to keep your home en vogue.
7. Dining nooks
“In an open kitchen layout, people still want a designated place to sit,” Cruz says. “Built-in benches add character while also providing an easier alternative to cluttering an open space with a bunch of chairs.”