22 great vintage kitchen design ideas you don’t see much anymore

See 22 great vintage kitchen design ideas you don't see much anymore

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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 in many different ways, but the word “practical” was not always applicable.)

Some other vintage kitchen design 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.


1. Ovens with lift-up doors

Here’s a retro favorite! 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.

Vintage kitchen appliances from 1961 - Frigidaire Flair pull-out range stove and ovens with glass doors that lift up

Here’s the lift-up door from a different angle, and also showing the handy slide-out burners on the range:

Slide up oven doors - Retro kitchens from 1965

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.

Cool retro kitchen features from 1960s - Pull out range with cutting board

SEE MORE OF THESE: 8 vintage sixties kitchens with Flair ranges: Pull-out electric stoves & glass oven doors that opened upwards

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!

Cool retro kitchen features from 1970 - Range with a warming shelf

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.”

1970s Jenn-Air range vintage kitchen design ideas


5. Step up for your meal! Elevated kitchen-adjacent dining platforms

Dining at ground level wasn’t the mod thing to do in the sixties, so designers created these one-step-high elevated platforms — complete with railings — to complement the kitchen decor.

ALSO SEE: 16 kitchen islands: Home inspiration from the ’60s

Vintage 1960s kitchen designs - elevated step-up dining areas (2)

Vintage 1960s kitchen designs - elevated step-up dining areas (1)

6. Kitchen carpet, in lots of bold, colorful styles

We don’t know if kitchen carpet was ever considered the most hygienic thing to have in the room full of food and liquids. But it was a big thing back in the sixties and seventies, and featured designs like these.

MORE: See vintage kitchen carpet from when it was popular home decor in the ’60s & ’70s

Vintage kitchen carpet patterns


7. 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. One of the biggest downsides was that the crushing mechanism itself would get smelly.

ALSO SEE: Dozens of kitschy ’70s kitchen accessories your mom or grandma probably used to have

trash compactor

8. 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.)

ALSO SEE: See 10 vintage portable electric hand mixers & beaters from the ’50s

Cool retro kitchen features from 1969 - In-wall space-saving mixer


9. Retro kitchen appliances decor with different colors & patterns

Bored with white, pink and blue appliances? This set of DIY patterned fridges from 1953 was just one of many that gave homeowners a way to personalize their kitchens.

Refrigerator designs kitchen

And here’s a look at how the custom refrigerator designs looked in 1965.

“Amana’s Decorator Freezer-plus-Refrigerator. An exciting custom look! Created by Amana craftsmen to tie in with your colors, your plans as no other refrigerator can.

“There are fresh, sunshiny designs, bold designs, sleek sophisticates, too. So many colors, textures and patterns, there has to be one for your kitchen.”

Decorated kitchen refrigerators from 1965

If you wanted to make that kitchen unforgettably snazzy, do this. This was taking patterned kitchen decor to the next level.

Wild black and white kitchen and appliances 1968

SEE MORE: Crazy, colorful retro kitchens from the ’60s, with bright & bold decorator appliances

10. 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!

Cool retro kitchen features from 1960 - Refrigerator with swing-out shelves

11. A two-sided refrigerator that sits on the countertop

Here’s one of several fridge-related vintage kitchen design ideas that really didn’t catch on.

“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.”

1959 retro kitchen two-sided fridge on countertop
And here it is, as seen from the other side:

Retro two-sided refrigerator from 1959

12. A wall-mounted fridge (or installed in place of upper cabinets)

Imagine most of your refrigerated food at eye level — and then you could put in a pantry to hold the canned and boxed food — or dishes — that would normally go in the cabinets in this space.

Wall-mounted refrigerator GE 1956

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.”)

FIND OUT MORE: Forget kitchen cabinets – install a wall-mounted refrigerator! (Yes – this was really a thing in the ’50s)

Old-fashioned GE vintage refrigeration center - upper and lower fridges for the kitchen


13. Bonus storage at the back of the countertops or below the cabinets

Similar to those shown in the pink vintage kitchen design ideas shown just above, these little cubbies underneath the main cabinetry (shelving with angled sliding doors) were apparently pretty popular in the mid-’50s to mid-’60s.

Bonus under-cabinet storage areas from the 1950s - 1958

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.

Cool retro kitchen features from 1957 - Bonus storage area

Vintage kitchen with tile countertops and sliding glass doors on cubbies

Here’s another idea for pushed-back storage! If your sink isn’t against a wall, there may not be as natural a place to keep your dish soap and sponges.

The folks behind this vintage kitchen design solved that problem by creating a little cupboard with sliding doors, painted or laminated to match the countertops.

Cool retro kitchen features from 1965 - Place to keep your dish soap, sponges etc behind the kitchen sink

DON’T MISS: Get down with 70 groovy vintage vinyl floors from the ’70s & ’80s

14. Pull-out cutting boards were super-handy

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.

Cool retro kitchen features from 1960 - Pull-out kitchen cutting boards


15. Sinks with a splash of color

Sinks today tend to be either white or stainless steel — but for a while in the ’60s and ’70s, bright and bold enameled sinks were popular. They certainly added a splash of color to a kitchen! There are fancy matte kitchen sinks available today from a few companies — but stainless steel is the most popular finish nowadays.

Here are some of the colors that were available back in 1966 from Kohler: Antique Red, Blueberry, green and yellow.

Cool vintage kitchen design ideas - Colorful kitchen sinks

MORE: See colorful vintage kitchen sinks of the ’60s & ’70s

16. A sit-down kitchen sink from 1954

This Elkay Pace Setter sink looks like it had shallow bowls and a wide stainless steel surface that drained to the sink.

Vintage kitchen ideas with a 1954 Elkay Pace Setter sit-down sink - stainless steel

ALSO SEE: 10 examples of old-fashioned gas ranges from ’50s kitchens


17. Vintage kitchen design ideas: Retro floating kitchen cabinets

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. (The decor seen here is from the fifties.)

Retro floating kitchen cabinets from 1954

Cool retro kitchen features from 1953 - Easy-clean floors from no-base cabinetry

18. 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.)

Mid-century kitchen in pink with pass-through area - home design

And here’s another one squeezed between a freestanding refrigerator and freezer.

scans-mar-1965-bettr-homes 0034

MORE: Old-fashioned family-centric kitchens from the ’50s & ’60s

19. Fold-down kitchen countertops from 1951

Tight on storage space? Here’s one solution. While the center sink section stays in place, the two red side pieces fold down when not in use.

Fold-down kitchen countertops from 1951

ALSO SEE: 5 tips to save even more time in the kitchen

20. Vintage pull-out kitchen storage and countertop from the early 1950s

This secondary storage access you can pull out also offers bonus counter space.

Vintage pull-out kitchen storage and countertop from the early 1950s

This family has cookies cooling all over the place! (We also love the super-retro starburst cabinet door handles.)

1940s vintage kitchen design with pull-out storage shelves

21. Angled cabinetry in vintage kitchen designs

Yes, compared to a lot of the other vintage kitchen design ideas featured here, 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.

Retro angled vintage kitchen cabinets from the 1950s

22. Vintage kitchen design ideas: Curved countertop peninsulas

If you don’t like the angles shown above, what about going around the problem? Many of these retro rounded-off counters included open shelving below, as you can see in these pictures featuring this very popular interior design style from the 1940s and early 1950s.

Curved countertops as vintage kitchen design ideas

Retro 1950s curved kitchen countertop peninsulas (2)

Retro 1950s curved kitchen countertop peninsulas (1)

Vintage rounded kitchen countertops design features (2)

NOW SEE THIS: Six wonderful, workable kitchen designs from the ’60s

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. I found our kitchen from. The late 40″s, rounded counter with shelves….loved it.

    I know of a late 50’s enact kitchen in pristine condition in a church rectory in Trona, Ca. Stunning, I’ll drop you a picture next time I’m near Death Valley

  2. Thank you for the history of vintage kitchen features. Wish they would offer many of these features today. the colors, the precision baking and cooking instructions, the grills and stove top accessories, the push buttons on the top instead of knobs. I use an electric oven from the early fifties and it is push button. My mother could use one as she has lost most of her sight. She is 92 and would love one that had the baking and cooking instructions. would love the fridge with the toe/foot pedal opener. so much class and practical uses in the old designs.

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