24 Retro Kitchens That’ll Make You Want to Embrace Vintage Vibes

updated Jul 5, 2022
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One of the most common reasons homeowners renovate their kitchen is because the space feels outdated. Design details like linoleum flooring, backsplash tiles, and wall paint colors can be disappointing if they feel like they’re from a different timeline than your design style. But retro kitchens don’t have to be replaced with something ultra-modern if you like their kitschy appeal. While the word retro can refer to elements that are no longer in style, it can also mean “preloved,” or vintage with sentimental or historical value.Embracing a retro or retro-style kitchen can be especially lovely in a home if it honors the original architecture and history of the house. Depending on when your home was built, it might not make visual sense to tear out a vintage kitchen for something more modern. By accepting your kitchen’s retro roots, you can create a cohesive home that’s a blend of your personality and the house’s structure. 

Perhaps most importantly, going for a retro look in your kitchen can be an incredibly affordable option for anyone on a budget. Not taking on a pricey renovation using popular materials and fixtures saves you money, and installing pre-loved items or purchasing retro and second hand elements is a lot more affordable than buying new. The even better news is that if you’re concerned that leaning into your kitchen’s vintage roots means sacrificing style, these 24 retro and retro-inspired kitchens will prove otherwise. 

Credit: @homeofcharl

1. Rely on pastels.

Opting for pastels in an otherwise updated kitchen is a simple and beautiful way to give it a retro feel. We love how @homeofcharl utilized not only pastel paint but beautiful pastel pink tiles as well to give a touch of bygone kitsch to her adorable Anglesey, U.K. home

2. Bring in plant life.

Another easy-breezy way to bring retro vibes into the kitchen is by filling it with plant life and placing them in hanging macrame planters. This dreamy kitchen, designed by deVOL Kitchens in the U.K., features a balance of vintage-inspired and modern touches to create an Insta-worthy cook space. 

3. Incorporate funky tiles.

Whether you love bringing as much color to a space as possible or prefer neutrals, we love this design idea from Dear Saturdays’ Christine Han. While renovating her Brooklyn kitchen housed in a century-old building, she created a one-of-a-kind kitchen mosaic tile pattern that brings a bit of retro cool to the light-drenched space. 

4. Ditch the marble.

Marble countertops may have ruled the design world for decades now, but we’re noticing a return to formica countertops in modern and retro kitchens alike. We’ve found the perfect example in a 1960s-inspired English cottage that rocks some cheery yellow formica countertops in the kitchen.

5. Spring for the statement lighting.

Lighting is often the last thing we consider when renovating or simply redecorating a kitchen, but it’s an essential element to think through. We love Laura Olden’s retro-inspired fixtures that feel right at home in a 1970s home designed by Fred Blacksmith. They instantly brighten up the space and ensure that your midnight snack adventures will always be well-lit. 

6. Use bold patterns.

Nothing can transport a room into another era like bold colors and patterns with a retro spin, like the amazing retro kitchen makeover in this remodeled Alameda, California house, designed by Abigail Braden of August Interiors. The “before” of this kitchen was the very definition of outdated: old tiles, old floors, and a sad color palette. Instead of ripping everything out to start anew, the designer and the homeowners decided to paint the existing vintage cabinets a bold blue, reupholster a vintage dinette set with a bright yellow, and install cute, retro-inspired patterns on the curtains and tiles.

7. Embrace a retro paint color palette.

Depending on which era you’re trying to emulate with your kitchen’s design, chances are the look would be helped along by dipping into a retro-inspired color palette. Sometimes, a retro color can even be the main source of retro vibes, like in this Australian mod beach shack. The kitchen’s vintage cabinets got a precious DIY update with a pastel color palette.

8.  Incorporate retro colors in the details.

The power of a curated grouping or two of retro-inspired and vintage accessories can supplement a retro color palette, like in this mid-mod Asheville, North Carolina apartment. Though this renter painted her kitchen’s walls pink, the idea of using retro-inspired accessories to bring retro color into your kitchen is useful for renters who can’t paint their walls.

9. Look for specifically vintage patterns.

While you’re hunting for vintage accessories in retro colors to add a historic spin to your kitchen, be sure to look for retro patterns, too. Plenty of old and contemporary kitchen accessories like mugs, tea pots, tea towels, and more feature retro patterns that would set the tone of your space, like in this creative Australian home.

10. Use one recognizable retro item to infuse a vintage vibe.

If you want a modern kitchen upgrade for aesthetic or functional reasons but want to respect your home’s retro roots, you can actually lean on just one very recognizable retro item. This low-key retro style Melbourne house has a great example with its minimal and modern kitchen, featuring a recognizable mid-century sunburst wall clock.

11. Lean into multiple decades of design.

Whether you’re dealing with an older kitchen that needs new life, or you’ve made some small updates that are vintage inspired, a strong accessories game can push your kitchen’s look over the top. You can thrift for secondhand accessories on a budget or support contemporary artists with a vintage aesthetic and incorporate items that either feature older color palettes, retro-inspired patterns, or a combination of both. This Australian retro beachside home is an example of a strong accessories game.

12. Green’s actually your best color.

This 1970s Australian house REALLY embraces its retro roots by going full retro style in every room of the home, kitchen included. But while the colors, patterns in the accessories, and even plants give it a vintage vibe, it also shows how powerful a verdant pop of green can be in a room to make it feel peaceful and inviting.

13. Keep the design minimal to highlight old-school items.

Sometimes what a kitchen with “outdated” elements needs is a step back. By paring down what you already have, keeping accessories to a minimum, and finding colors that complement the existing vintage elements, you can turn an “outdated” kitchen into a gorgeous, respectful retro space, as shown in this beautiful cookspace by Alexa Chambers

14. Or, go overboard with accessories.

You could always go in the complete opposite direction. Rather than keep things minimal with just a few retro elements, go all out. Go overboard. Embrace maximalism! Like the cute couple in this Oakland apartment, you can absolutely stuff your kitchen with a collection of vintage items to achieve a fun retro look.

15. Consider extending the retro look beyond your kitchen’s walls.

If you want to embrace a retro kitchen look to honor your home’s architecture (or because you’re on a budget and want to sell the look) consider extending vintage accessories and colors to other rooms beyond just the kitchen. It’ll help your retro kitchen feel like it belongs and your home feel more cohesive. You can see a great example of how to do this in this Melbourne townhouse.

16. Invest in retro (or retro-inspired) furniture.

If your kitchen has room for furniture, like a small dinette set or a storage piece, choose vintage. Not only will a vintage furniture piece cement your retro design plan, they’re usually quite affordable and built to last. It’s a financial and aesthetic investment worth doing. It’ll make any existing retro furnishings look intentional, too, like in this modern Melbourne family home.

17. Install or embrace a checkered floor.

There’s no one “correct” retro flooring type. From linoleum to tile to wood, lots of flooring types can give a vintage look to a kitchen. But there’s one show-stopping style that will always give off strong retro vibes: a black and white checkered floor! Whether you go for a vinyl checkered floor like in this Seattle Craftsman house or DIY one with paint, it’s a classic look for a vintage kitchen.

18. Consider keeping retro appliances and fixtures (that still work, of course).

There’s no need to rush to throw out vintage appliances just because they’re old. If they’re still functional, you can embrace their retro look by complementing them with retro accessories or something like a black and white checkered floor. This small and sweet Chicago apartment’s kitchen shows how to do it.

19. Or, purchase new retro-style appliances.

Thanks to the resurgence of vintage styles, there are thankfully a lot of brands today who are manufacturing new appliances that come with a great retro look. Splurging on one of these appliances—like a colorful retro-looking fridge—is a great way to rock your vintage look.

20. Resist the urge to paint over wood walls and cabinets.

While a lot of wood can be overwhelming, resist the urge to paint all of that wood (at least at first). Natural wood tones in the kitchen, particular when it comes to wood cabinets, can give off subtle retro vibes. Paired with vintage hardware and simple furnishings, it’s a way to go retro without being loud or cluttered. This natural Massachusetts multi-level home shows how to do it.

21. Woodsy accessories work too.

Though this California Craftsman has the 1970s-esque kitchen cabinets intact, it also showcases how a few woodsy accessories can be harnessed to create a retro-inspired kitchen vibe.

22. Consider wood in your remodel.

If you have to renovate for structural reasons and are looking to replace your old or damaged cabinetry, still consider using wood tones in the makeover. As seen in this van (of all places!), keeping cabinetry simple, sleek, and wood-colored has a sort of vintage/modern blend, perfect for a simple kitchen.

23. Lean into retro tile.

Tile can be a huge part of a kitchen’s composition. From backsplash to flooring to even walls, it can be tempting to tear out dated tile and start fresh. But consider tolerating your older, vintage tile, whether it’s an interesting color or pattern. Used in conjunction with cute vintage accessories, it can go a long way in respecting your home’s retro past. Choose accessories in colors that will complement or contrast with your tile’s color palette for an intentional look.

24. Utilize old-fashioned hardware.

You’ve likely noticed how updating your kitchen’s cabinet hardware can deeply affect the look. You don’t have to update that cabinetry with modern hardware, though! Find vintage hardware secondhand and install it on existing cabinet doors and drawers for a subtle retro makeover. This small 1940s studio kitchen shows the power of a set of vintage hardware handles.