We have decorated our bathrooms and kitchens in a stark white for the last 2 decades, but we are now starting to see colour creeping back in, which is perfect if you love the vintage look. With gadgets looking like the originals, the continued support for the Great British Bake Off and retailers bringing in modern versions of 1950s kitchen units, now is the time to embrace a nostalgic feel in the most important room in your home – the kitchen.
The 1950s kitchen moved from being a functional space to a social one, which the perfect housewife wanted to show off. Design was now about ergonomics with efficient layouts and labour saving devices, as well as great colours. The units were always fitted with streamlined continuous worktops in Formica. This was celebrated for its easy to wipe surface and that it could be produced in any colour.
White units were still available but most households chose the coloured version, feeling that white was too clinical. The kitchen diner was popular, with homes choosing to combine the old dining room with the kitchen to create a larger family area. Chrome edged tables with matching chairs or wooden elm ones were popular and had one thing in common: a wipeable coloured top.
Gadgets were an essential item with toasters, blenders and ovens all developed in shiny chrome. The most desired item was the washing machine. This saved housewives precious time, as previously they had to hand-wash everything, using a washboard and mangle. Adverts were launched which promised freedom to women with slogans such as “The neighbours are beginning to talk about me!” now that she can cavort around town due to the time saved by having a washing machine! However, most women used a launderette until the late 1970s.
Patterned fabrics and wallpapers were fitted with images of fruit or Parisian scenes. A curtain would often hang in place of a cupboard to hide anything that didn’t need to be seen. Flooring would be patterned vinyl tiles, often with different flooring for the diner area such as parquet.
Get the Look
Get this look by choosing modern cream kitchen units with a coloured worktop such as red or blue. Team this up with the same coloured tiles as the worktop to create a streamline effect. Some modern cabinets have rounded edges which will add to the 1950s kitchen feel.
How about investing in this beautiful kitchen from John Lewis of Hungerford. Based on the original English Rose design, this was the “must have” kitchen of the time, produced in the UK out of stockpiled aluminium left over from spitfire manufacturing during the war. It was also the first modular kitchen with a metal frame that could be bolted together easily. I love the aesthetics as well as the practicality- the curved front drawers enabled a deeper worktop without losing floor space which was perfect for the 50s housewife.
You can of course buy an original on auction sites such as eBay, however be aware that restoration isn’t for the faint hearted but it can be done with dedication and vision. They will need to be cleaned fully to remove all grease stains. They then need to be gently rubbed down ready for a re- spray. This can be done by spray painting or applying a powder coat. However, the best thing to do is take it to a car body sprayer. They will degrease it properly and give it the excellent finish you want.
Choose a matching (or maybe a contrasting) American style fridge with rounded edges in candy colours. SMEG also have a great range of white good to match such as washing machine.
Finish the look with my key vintage accessories:
Tala Kitchenware: The 1950s love of baking was boosted by Tala kitchenware. They designed practical metal items such as icing cones, melon scoops, baking trays and the Cook’s Measure. This was a dry measure made from enamelled metal in a cone shape. It was designed with various popular grocery items listed inside with a line that highlighted the weight of the item once the cone was filled. This made baking easier as flour could be weighed in seconds. Adverts appeared on the back of magazines such as Ideal Home, with the catchphrase “For Beauty and Efficiency” which were the two important features in kitchen design now. If you are baking using vintage cookbooks, then the cone is ideal as it measures in the American method of cups, as well as ounces and pounds.
Pyrex: At the start of the 20th century the American company, Corning Incorporated, developed a new borosilicate glass which could withstand extreme temperatures. Originally designed to be used in railway lanterns, they soon discovered that this glass would make great bake ware when one of the executive’s wives suggested it. It was branded Pyrex in 1915, a flan dish was launched and by selling licences to other countries to manufacture the material, this became one of the most successful kitchen brands in history.
In the UK, James A Jobling from Wear Flint Glass bought the licence and redesigned the look of the pieces to fit in with current trends. One of the most successful periods for JAL Pyrex was the 1950s with their coloured bakeware. Casserole dishes were made in pastel colours with clear lids and white snowflakes and flowers adorning the sides. Replacing old metal trays this new look made baking a pretty event which fitted in perfectly with all the modern kitchenware.
Homemaker Tableware: After almost a decade of plain coloured china people fell in love with modern patterned tableware that would become the norm in the 1960s. The most recognisable design was called Homemaker by Ridgeway, with its black and white hand drawn images of fashionable furniture styles aimed at young people setting up home for the first time. A Robin Day chair, a Gordon Russell sideboard and a boomerang table are sketchily drawn on the white ceramic. Designed in 1955, it became the first mass produced tableware sold through Woolworths.
Melamine: Plastic became a kitchen staple in the 1950s due to improved methods of manufacturing. While Tupperware was changing the way, we stored food, melamine crockery was fast overtaking bone china to become the tableware of choice. So much so, that families weren’t just using them for their annual camping trips but also for their monthly dinner parties. Traditional ceramic companies such as Midwinter even designed their own versions.
Where to buy
For true vintage 1950s kitchen accessories check out Etsy online or visit a vintage fair or festival. My personal favourites are The Festival of Vintage held in York and The Vintage Home Show. If you want a modern version visit John Lewis or Tala Cookware.
This is my article from Real Homes Magazine. All photos by Simon Whitmore from my book Style Your Modern Vintage Home.