When it comes to the design of a home, few things are as important as its kitchen. It must be equal parts practical, beautiful and flexible—a difficult balance to achieve! But we know one movement that did kitchen design right: Mid Century Modern. To understand these kitchens better (and to figure out how to incorporate some of their style into our own spaces), we’ve broken down the 5 key elements of a Mid Century Modern kitchen. Let’s dive in!
Atomic Ranch curates the best of Mid Century Modern Design to share with our readers. Some of the products you’ll see featured in this story are affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, AR will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
1. Lots of color
The mid century was no stranger to color, thanks to new technology and techniques that allowed colorful steels and plastics to be printed cheaply and quickly. Color soon found its place in the kitchen, as Americans rushed to build bright, lively kitchens with pastel-colored steel cabinetry and playful countertops.
How can you get the look today? If you want to go all-in with color, try installing colorful cabinet fronts from Semihandmade or painting existing ones. If you want a more subtle look, a few colorful kitchen accents (like these dish towels or this trash bin) will do the trick.
2. Even more wood
Though color was king throughout the 40s and 50s, the turn of the decade brought a new kitchen trend: wood. Wood paneling popped up everywhere—from cabinetry to flooring to walls! It made spaces feel more ‘one with nature’ and brought a sleek look to kitchens around the nation.
How can you get the look today? Finding the perfect wood cabinetry can be tricky—you don’t want it to look too dated or rustic. We like these retro-inspired cabinet fronts from Semihandmade. You can also install your own wood paneling with some help from Weldtex.
3. Inclusion of new appliances
The refrigerator and microwave were taking America by storm in the mid century, so it was only fitting that all the best kitchens had one. The microwave was often installed above a wall oven, and some refrigerators were even built into cabinetry! These appliances were often made in pastel hues, even after the color craze of the 1940s and 50s.
How can you get the look today? If you’re looking to make a statement, check out this retro-inspired fridge or dishwasher. If you don’t want a complete overhaul of your space, try this kettle or microwave.
4. Natural light
Mid century kitchens were often positioned around a sunny window or skylight to make space feel more airy and bright—the perfect gathering space! If the kitchens opened up into the dining room, some kitchens (especially ones in warmer climates) featured easy access to a patio for indoor-outdoor living.
How can you get the look today? Don’t worry, you don’t need a huge renovation to get some light in your kitchen! (Though if you’re feeling up for it, we love how this home turned out.) Instead, make sure your windows are uncovered during the sunniest parts of the day and consider installing a few of these under-cabinet lighting strips to get some warm light into your kitchen.
5. Tile for miles
When you think of the classic ‘retro kitchen,’ you probably imagine the quintessential black-and-white checkered tile. But that wasn’t the only Mid Mod tile in style. Terrazzo tiles were incredibly popular, as were colorful tile backsplashes. And some kitchens even had tile countertops! Tile was a mid century staple as it was affordable, stylish and easy to clean.
How can you get the look today? Mid Mod tiles are back in style, so you have plenty of options! If you want to add tiles of your own to your kitchen, we love what ModWalls and Clayhaus Ceramics has to offer. If you need a more temporary solution (we see you, renters!), try out these stick-on tiles from Amazon.
Still in the mood for some Mid Mod kitchens? Check out this Portland kitchen reno! And of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!