Mid-century modern kitchen design is usually confused with the modern European kitchen design and confusingly is used interchangeably. However, there are many differences between them, starting from their origins to other factors such as layout, use of pendant lights, architectural design, color, kitchen cabinet style, accessories, and texture finishes. Before we look at other characteristics of this kitchen style, including the type of cabinets used, let’s go back to when this style started.
This kitchen design became popular between 1945 and 1969, and in the ensuing years with ad men and mad men, basic concepts of purity and expression were carried over and used vintage-style hints to define mid-century modern style. Scholars and architectural museums worldwide recognize mid-century modern as featuring simple, clean lines and natural materials.
Although there are no decorations included, beautiful colors, smooth surfaces, and natural materials, make this minimalist design attractive with new furniture, vintage originals. A galley style kitchen is a long space but is narrow and takes advantage of limited space for an efficient, modern design that supports base cabinets, countertops, and wall cabinets on either side of the kitchen’s central walkway.
Design styles from this era are making a comeback, incorporating new and modern design elements and materials, colors, technologies, and general aesthetics. Consider the influx of white cabinets in modern kitchens or open shelving that expands storage space to further enhance kitchen decoration. The style is do-it-yourself (DIY) but is more likely to need the skills of interior designers for the rest of the home. I see mid-century modern in use in almost every room in the house, including the kitchen and living room. This article will look at the elements of a mid-century modern kitchen, the century style cabinets, and answer some frequently asked questions.
Table of Contents
- Elements of a Mid-Century Modern Kitchen
- Frequently Asked Questions
Elements of a Mid-Century Modern Kitchen
Black and White Tiles
Most people would think of the classic choice retro kitchen with black and white tiles for a mid-century modern style. However, this was not all that was available since terrazzo tiles were also popular at the time. These tiles provided a colorful backsplash tile in the kitchen, bringing a warm vibe to the kitchen. Some kitchens also incorporated an absolute black granite tile countertop on the mid-century modern kitchen cabinets. Most importantly, any tiles, whether ceramic tiles and other designs, were more of a staple inclusion because they were stylish, affordable, and easy to clean.
Presently, there are even more tile options to consider in your kitchen. I’ve seen some great ideas with glass tile or geometric tile that are an amazing accent for a modern kitchen backsplash. Some patterns create some amazing illusions.
Mid-century furniture and appliances are also positioned in modern kitchen designs, usually close to a sunny window or skylight to make the kitchen a small area that is bright, airy, and even more of a perfect gathering place. Achieving this look in today’s kitchen is more accessible. Instead of covering your windows all the time, allow more natural light or install cabinet lighting strips to add some warmth to the kitchen. Natural light can be improved with the installation of large windows.
Wood is a common feature in mid-century modern kitchens making the kitchens almost every part. Though color played a significant role at the time, the turn of the decade welcomed a new trend in the kitchen area: the use of wood. Wood paneling was everywhere, from the floors, walls, and kitchen cabinets. The use of wood makes any room feel more natural with an added sleek appearance.
Today, modern kitchen cabinets have stylish pull handles made with polished chromium-plated, retro-brushed gold metal, champaign bronze, solid brass, lucite (acrylic, brass, chrome, polished brass, satin brass, nickel). The best part is that you’ll find a delicious selection of cabinet pulls on Etsy, made by quality manufacturers in North America, versus lower-cost knock-off manufacturers in China. Buy North American. I will go into some deeper detail about knobs and pulls later in this article.
Light colors were also popular during the mid-century era, and thanks to the developed technologies and techniques, even plastic and steel are now considered for design and color enhancements. Bold hues found a place in the kitchen, and more people included bright, lively kitchen cabinets painted with pastel colors and playful countertops. Today, you can incorporate this look into the kitchen by installing colorful front cabinets or painting the existing ones. For those who want a subtle look, add a few bright kitchen accents.
You will find that a white kitchen and marble countertops are common for a midcentury kitchen; this includes the kitchen island and bar area is common for an overall look, with white quartz, Carrara marble, or white marble countertop, including the use of light olive green accents. For modern kitchens, smooth mid-century modern cabinetry and sleek furniture go hand-in-hand.
Mid-Century Modern Ceramic Tile
The mid-century modern kitchen uses ceramic tile, standard on countertops. Alternatively, people laminate countertops for smoother surfaces. Homeowners use these tiles together with backsplashes in bathrooms and kitchens too. The trick of achieving a desirable look is to pair a colorful white tile with a black tile, as seen in many retro kitchens. This design has its roots with organizations like Jackson Design and Remodeling of San Diego, California. You’ll also find a lot of trendy firms in San Francisco that create wonderful kitchen hardware. Jackson Design has created some cabinets with simple, clean inside and outside edges in standard shaker style. Usually, shake-style cabinets are less expensive and but help to enhance the vintage charm in the kitchen.
If you have very specific tastes, you will choose small companies over their big-box stores because you want a unique contemporary style versus a mass-market solution.
Mid-century Modern Cabinet Design
Since the mid-century modern design era, interior designers decorated the century cabinets with more common ones by having trim panels. When mid-century modern became more popular, a flat front or slab door became a trend. These cabinets are perfect for any modern kitchen, given their sleeker look, and are accessible in any cooking space. Due to their affordable prices and product quality, they were not popular in the past. However, this is not the case today. The cabinets are now used under the kitchen sink or as wall cabinets. I have seen them used in some craftsman style kitchens too.
Mid-century modern design has evolved to include earthy and plant-like color palettes beyond wood and flat fronts for cabinetry. For a proper retro mid-century modern kitchen, consider metal as a refreshingly new choice. In the mid-century design era, metal cabinets were as expected in the kitchen landscape as flat front cabinets.
Given that this design era emerged after World War II when steel was in high demand for American homes, production increased to meet the demand. Steel was not the only material available during this era. Plastic, plywood, was standard in most home decor patterns, but wood became prevalent in kitchens of the 1960s. Metal cabinets are popular because steel does not fade like most paint colors or materials over time. Today, many manufacturers make retro metal cabinets to meet homeowner tastes and desires.
Wood Kitchen Cabinets
Wood, more specifically plywood, is a familiar accent for mid-century modern design. The use of natural timber enhances the home experience with natural themes. To further extend these elements and design, a modern home now incorporates plants (biophilic design) to bring more earthy tones into the modern kitchen and home. Wood cabinets have been used extensively in mid-century design over the decades in kitchen cabinetry and other furniture. This is a more classic style found in earlier-era homes and kitchens from the 1950s and 1960s.
Interior designs come and go. If your own home needs a kitchen upgrade, consider plant life. The extra green will make you feel more connected to nature.
Kitchen Cabinet Color
One of the best places to start with mid-century modern kitchen style is your wall color because it helps define the theme for the rest of your kitchen and home. There are many colors you can paint your cabinets and make the kitchen beautiful. You will likely need to consider and maintain cream-colored or white walls for a mid-century modern look, with popular cabinet styles painted in pale blue, yellow, and green. The cabinets are then accentuated with a mute backsplash and wooden floors to keep the design unique and understated.
Moreover, you can make your kitchen space even sleeker by incorporating dark stainless steel appliances and white wood surfaces paired with relevant kitchen seating and light fixtures. Pick retro-inspired lighting to complement your kitchen island if you have one. Alternatively, you can utilize pub-styled stools with a rounder and smooth design popular during the 1960s.
Kitchen Cabinet Knobs
The most common cabinet knobs used during this era are the thick cone-like knobs and cylindrical ones. Another example is the retro dish shape, updated from the classic dish shape. Faceted knob options are also a reasonable consideration. Kitchen cabinet knobs serve as a decorative focal point.
There are also drawer pulls, and a current favorite in cabinet hardware that is trending now is edge pulls and are also known as finger pulls. These attach at the top of the edge of the cabinet door or the drawer door. To get the best one, check out edge pulls with screws as they get screwed at the back end of a cabinet door, so no drill goes through the cabinet face. In terms of prices, the smaller sizes are cheaper, and the large versions can be more expensive.
Bar pulls are familiar with mid-century modern design, too, both today and in the past. Although they are a little overdone, they bring out a walnut accent to your kitchen. A pair of arch pulls also look fabulous on kitchen cabinet doors.
Mid-century modern kitchen knobs are a great way to add some style to your kitchen. You can use them in any kitchen, but they are relevant in kitchens with a mid-century design.
Here are some of the popular kitchen cabinet knobs used in mid-century modern kitchens:
- Spectrum Knob: The spectrum knob looks like a knob from an old TV or remote control with the ability to change any channel on your kitchen cabinet (grin);
- Blake Cabinet Knob: A mid-century cabinet hardware item, popular in the 1950s and 1960s, is brass and has a simple design;
- Peg Cabinet Knob: A mid-century peg knob is a type of kitchen cabinet hardware that has been popular since the 1950s. Designed for mid-century modern furniture, they have become prevalent in the kitchen; especially kitchen cabinets;
- Faceted Ory Knob: Ory knobs are small round knobs used for decorative purposes on kitchen cabinets. They added to the front of the cabinet door;
- Bowman Cabinet Knob: A Bowman kitchen cabinet knob is a type of hardware used on kitchen cabinets. For placement on the front of a kitchen cabinet door, they are decorative pieces. They come in different materials such as wood, metal, plastic, or any other material. They come in many different shapes and sizes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Any Other Mid-Century Modern Kitchen Cabinet Ideas
You can use a combination of bold colors. You can have two shades like green and turquoise adjacent to the cabinetry with a retro look that is pale with a white dining table and seats. Alternatively, you can have a checkerboard floor painted white and black.
The addition of a casual breakfast nook will give your mid-century kitchen a perfect look. However, with this, you must use furniture from the mid-century. With the addition of a dining table and chairs sets, your breakfast nook will become a unique and beautiful eating space. For an added twist, change up the floor by using contemporary cork tiles featuring a mid-century tile pattern style.
What is a Mid-Century Modern Kitchen Look
The basic concept is a kitchen designed with clean and simple lines, largely supported by wooden materials. An open floor plan with open shelves provides ample storage space. Tiled backsplash accents and walnut veneer provide a versatile look.
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John Thompson, Writer and Commentator, EvolutDesign.com
Soldier, writer, researcher, consultant, and bon vivant, John Thompson is the author of numerous columns, op-eds, reports, briefs, short stories and books as the “Felicity Files” and “Spirit Over Steel: A Chronology of the Second World War” (version III). Often found hunched over his computer, or in his garden, and now often found doing both. His diverse talent has led him to work in industries and projects such as energy, security and home construction and renovation.