Manufacturers offer great options for period-type appliances, cabinets and other kitchen materials to create a retro kitchen. Designers, decorators and even vintage appliance restorers can help any kitchen achieve an old look and feel—from the turn of the century through the 70s—while fully functioning with today’s technology.
Some people just aren’t happy unless they’re digging through antique stores and furnishing their homes with old stuff. Whether their homes are old or new is beside the point: They want their houses to look old, and the one room in the house to best capture a particular bygone time is the kitchen.
Northstar's 1950 model refrigerator from Elmira Stove Works measures 19 cubic feet with a freezer on the bottom. Photo credit: Elmira Stove Works
“A kitchen that is designed with the era of the home in mind has a sense of integrity and belonging that can’t be beat,” says Bo Sullivan, senior designer and historian for Rejuvenation in Portland, Ore., a manufacturer of classic lighting and house parts. “It won’t go out of style or stick out like a sore thumb.”
There’s also the nostalgia factor—for some, it’s the strongest pull to installing a retro kitchen. “People like older stoves because they remind them of their grandmothers and other relatives,” says Marsha Stonecipher of Savon Appliance in Burbank, Calif., a company that repairs and sells vintage stoves, refrigerators and other appliances.
There are numerous ways to make a kitchen look old while still providing ultra-modern conveniences, from appliances to cabinetry. Essentially, here’s how to create a retro kitchen. Either buy appliances, cabinets and fixtures that look old but are brand-new or buy appliances, cabinets and fixtures that are old but have been refurbished. There are pros and cons to each, of course. For some, the choice to buy brand-new or refurbished comes down to personal preference while others look at functionality and practicality first. To some extent, the age of a house as well as the layout and size of the kitchen will be factors. For example, in the 1970s, 36-inch stoves were the most popular size while their counterparts from earlier eras were a lot bigger, so a major design overhaul of the kitchen may be necessary since the stove is often the springboard for the rest of the renovation.
“Old” Retro On the other hand, some feel that a new kitchen that just looks old lacks soul. When Kezia Jauron of Sherman Oaks, Calif., decided to remodel her 1941 house, she planned to put the kitchen in a new addition but she still wanted it
Kezia Jauron's refrigerator old-school commercial fridge is from the 1940s; its previous home was in a pharmacy. Though it's been thoroughly reconditioned, it's still just a fridge—she had to buy a separate freezer and hide it behind cabinetry. Photo credit: Kezia Jauron
to fit with the age of the house. Plus, she preferred old appliances. “You cannot beat the detail and styling on the old stoves,” she says, “they’re like classic cars.” Plus, I liked the idea of restoring and reusing something versus being stuck on the consumer treadmill of buying new.” She looked at new retro appliances but found the design was either from the 50s or the early 20th century and wouldn’t work with her house.
She fell in love with the Art Nouveau design of a six-burner O’Keefe and Merritt stove from the 1930s she found on Craigslist.com and hired Savon Appliance to do the restoration. They replaced the insulation, restored the interior and re-chromed or re-enameled the rest.
In the middle of the job, the restorer told Jauron that a 1940s double-door commercial refrigerator with similar styling to her stove had just arrived in the shop. One look told her it was a perfect match and she bought it, though the restoration wasn’t as trouble-free as the stove. “The fridge was a bit more challenging to restore and keep it affordable to run in terms of energy use,” she admits. “The motor had to be replaced and it needed a lot of tweaking, but knock wood, it’s running great.”
“New” Retro Doug Durbin, founder and director of design for nuHaus Kitchen and Bath Design in Chicago, Ill., favors new appliances that look old. “I recommend that clients