When you look back at photos of old-fashioned kitchens from the 1940s to the 1980s, the reason you don’t see certain features anymore is clear. (Retro styles could be described many different ways, but the word “practical” was not always applicable.)
Some other vintage kitchen ideas, though, still seem to make some sense. Sure, the concepts may not have been perfectly executed back then, but maybe there was something more to them that we can see now — beyond the element of kitsch.
Like what? To find out, take a trip back with us to see 22 retro kitchen concepts — from funky fridges to creative cabinetry — that we don’t see much anymore! Whether their relative rarity now is a good thing or a bad thing is really all in the eye of the beholder.
VINTAGE KITCHENS: HOT STUFF – OVENS & STOVES
1. Ovens with lift-up doors
This kitchen range featured oven doors that lifted up and over instead of down. Plus the doors were all glass, so you could easily keep an eye on what was inside.
Here’s the lift-up door from a different angle, and also showing the handy slide-out burners on the range:
2. Pull-out ranges
There were several pull-out cooktops like these in the ’60s — including the one shown above — but this one from Tappan also came with a cutting board along the front. You could use that space when the range was closed, and have it as a bonus work surface when the burners were in use.
3. Upper stove/oven controls, plus a bonus warming shelf
This one’s a double: First, just below eye-level controls for both the stove and oven, and then this Tappan electric range also has a built-in warming shelf. Hot stuff!
4. The swappable Jenn-Air range
“It offers 5 interchangeable cooktop units. Char-grill, griddle, deep-fry, shish-kebab and spit-roast, all on top of the range.”
RETRO KITCHEN FEATURES: SMALL APPLIANCES
5. Trash compactors
Before curbside recycling pickup was a thing, lots and lots of people relied on trash compactors to crush their garbage so it could fit into the trash can or bag.
While the compactor definitely did its job, it only compressed things so far. This ad from 1981 says it “squeezes a week’s trash into one small load,” but that was probably only true of small households. The biggest downside was that the crushing mechanism itself would get smelly.
6. Wall-inset hand mixer
From the late sixties, here’s a mixer tucked into the wall, making it quick and easy to use when it’s time to whip up a cake or some waffles. (The closest thing we could find today is this wall-mounted version.)
VINTAGE KITCHEN IDEAS: FUNKY FRIDGES & FREEZERS
7. A refrigerator with swing-out shelves
This looks like it was a pretty awesome fridge back in 1960. Look at all those swing-out racks and drawers!
8. Retro refrigerators with lots of different colors & styles
Bored with white, pink and blue appliances? This set of DIY patterned fridges was just one of many that gave homeowners a way to personalize their kitchens.
9. Make that kitchen unforgettably snazzy
Now here’s taking patterned kitchen decor to the next level.
10. A two-sided refrigerator that sits on the countertop
“Island refrigerator is brand new — not yet on the market, but holds great promise. It opens from both sides, accessible from two rooms. Freezer components are in handy pull-out drawers, each clearly labeled as to contents. Stylish, modern, and so practical.”
And here’s the super-duper version — the GE Refrigeration Center from 1957. it had 11 cubic feet of fridge-freezer space on the wall, and 5 cubic feet in each of the two roll-out freezers. (“Also features Textolite countertop and storage cabinet with sliding glass doors.”)
VINTAGE KITCHEN DESIGNS WITH COOL CABINETS, COUNTERS & STORAGE
13. Bonus storage below the cabinets
Similar to those shown above, these little cubbies underneath the main cabinetry (shelving with angled sliding doors) were apparently pretty popular in the mid-’50s to mid-’60s.
This set looks like little cubbies with a shelf on top. Get a little bonus storage in a dead space, but you can still see over it into the next room.
If your sink isn’t against a wall, there may not be as natural a place to keep your dish soap and sponges. The designers of this kitchen solved that problem by creating a little cupboard with sliding doors, painted or laminated to match the countertops.
15. Pull-out cutting boards
Why did these go away? These pull-out cutting boards used to be standard in many kitchens. They were good for more than actually cutting food — they also offered some extra counter space you could create in an instant, and slide away just as quickly when you were done.
This Elkay Pace Setter sink looks like it had shallow bowls and a wide stainless steel surface that drained to the sink.
VINTAGE KITCHENS: CLASSIC CABINETRY
18. Retro floating kitchen cabinets from 1954
Apart from making the room feel lighter and less cramped, just think about how easy would it be to keep the floors clean if you didn’t have to worry about all the gunk against the cabinet baseboards. Your broom, mop or Roomba could keep it clean without a lot of maneuvering.
19. Kitchen/dining room pass-throughs
It used to be really easy to get the dishes to and from the dining table — you just put them on the kitchen countertop, and picked them up from the open wall on the dining room side! (The island here was cute, too, even if the stove was maybe a little too close to the eating area.)
21. Vintage pull-out kitchen storage and countertop from the early 1950s
This secondary storage access you can pull out also offers bonus counter space.
22. Angled cabinetry
Yes, it’s a different look, but it also a purpose. One way to create extra space in a small kitchen is to make the cabinets narrower at the bottom — for foot space — but have them normal width at the countertop level.