Midcentury Modern Kitchens

Experience the styles of the 1950s and 1960s with these midcentury modern kitchen designs.

Colorful kitchen

Colorful kitchen

By: Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Kitchen designs circa 1960 were all about light-colored walls, pastel design accents, flat paneled cabinets, and appliances with rounded corners and shiny metal handles. Of course, slipping entirely back into these midcentury designs is not necessarily the way to style your kitchen, but it might be fun to incorporate a few elements from a bygone era into your modern kitchen.

Midcentury Modern Kitchen Remodel

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Tearing Down Walls

Prior to the remodel, nothing about this Atlanta kitchen evoked the midcentury modern vibe found throughout the rest of the 1955 house. When I bought the house, there was a wall dividing the kitchen from the nearby dining area. To allow light to stream in from the kitchen window and into the dining room, I decided to have the wall torn out completely

A Midcentury Transformation

On a budget of $11,000 and a project timeline of two weeks, I gave the kitchen of my three-level midcentury modern Atlanta house an update more in line with its contemporary architecture.

A Flooring Focal Point

To bring gray down to the kitchen floor, I opted for Tanzanian wenge hardwoods. At first glance, the floors appear to be dark gray. However, a stripe effect can be seen, featuring several shades of gray and gray-brown.

Lighting and Ceiling

In order to update the ceiling not only with gray, but also with an architectural treatment befitting of the home's midcentury modern architecture, 1x6 planks of tongue-and-groove cedar were installed on furring strips, then stained gray. To update the room's overall lighting, my contractor installed six halogen can lights into the new wood ceiling by using a jigsaw to allow proper room for each can light's fittings. Adding to the midcentury mood, a 32-inch-wide woven steel pendant was installed in the center.

Bargain Hardware

When first sourcing hardware for the new cabinetry, I considered custom pulls that were $32 each, totaling $704. I instead opted for stainless steel pulls from the same modern furnishings chain where I purchased the ready-made cabinetry. At only $8 per pair, these pulls saved me nearly $700, the same price as the new dishwasher.

Drawer Space

To maximize every inch of the 8x10 kitchen, I used space-saving cabinets, including a three-tiered drawer system concealed behind one tall, solid door, which holds everything from cooking utensils to hand mixers, cheese graters and a toaster.

A Place for Pots and Pans

To make use of a dead corner, I used a lazy Susan corner cabinet, which allows every square inch of the cabinet's interior to be used for extra-deep items such as pots and pans.

Gray Accessories

My kitchen gets most of its use on Sunday nights when my sister Meg and I meet up at my house along with the rest of our Atlanta family. In addition to all of the permanent fixtures of the kitchen being gray, the serving pieces also keep the color scheme ongoing, including the gray lacquered serving tray often used to serve mint juleps.

Southern Sink

Although my home is midcentury modern in architecture, I wanted to honor the classic Southern farmhouse style that much of Atlanta is known for. To do this, I incorporated a white apron sink that contrasts nicely against the otherwise all-gray design.

Durable Countertop

To save on budget and keep with the gray color scheme of the kitchen, I opted for ready-made, dark charcoal wood-look laminate countertops, which only came to $360, versus the average of $6,000 for custom gray-toned solid-surface countertops. Not only do they introduce a new texture to the kitchen, their durability also makes them easy to care for.

A Bold Cooktop

When I first purchased the house, the kitchen had a clunky all-black stove with a raised back. To keep the newly updated kitchen streamlined, I opted for a flat-top electronic stove that blends almost seamlessly with the charcoal countertops.

Adding a Pantry

In its existing state, the kitchen lacked a pantry. By dedicating the space next to the refrigerator as space for food, I was able to seamlessly incorporate a pantry into the design. The tall doors above contain shelving that holds everyday foods, while the two drawers below are meant for baking supplies as well as dog food and dog treats for my all-white terrier, Gidget.

An Open Floor Plan

Since the kitchen flows right into the narrow dining room, I had the wall between the two opened up to allow for easy conversation. While the kitchen itself is mostly made up of dark and medium grays, the adjacent dining room is made up of greige charcoal and silver.

Must-Have Wine Storage

To integrate wine storage into the kitchen, open storage was added between the corner lazy Susan cabinet and the apron sink.

Brown-and-Gray Backsplash

In order to ensure the proper layering of different gray tones, I stuck with a 6x24 ceramic tile with a strie effect featuring charcoal, medium grays and gray-browns. The tile was installed not only as the backsplash, but also as the floor-to-ceiling wall surface for three of the kitchen's four walls.

One of the best places to start with a midcentury kitchen design is the wall color. Think pale yellow and green when choosing your color. Pale colors will pair well with white or light wood cabinetry as well as a backsplash made from light-blue or white tiles.

If you decide instead to incorporate color on the cabinets, then you may want to opt for white or cream-colored walls. Popular painted cabinet colors in the midcentury would have been pale blue, green and yellow. These cabinets are best accented by a muted backsplash and wood floors in order to keep the design unique rather than overdone.

Of course, your space might also be better suited for a more understated take on this kitchen design, incorporating sleek white and dark wood surfaces paired with kitchen seating and light fixtures that have a midcentury vibe. Choose retro-inspired lighting to complement a kitchen island or pub-style stools that have the rounded, smooth design common to 1960s furniture.

Your Kitchen Style: Retro

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