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Small Kitchen Renovation: Wind Back the Clock with a Mid Century Modern Kitchen

Brown Kitchen in a Midcentury Modern Style
By:Katina Hazimihalis| Last Updated:05/24/2024
Time to Read: 5 min
Project Overview
Time to Complete
1-2 months
Project Cost

How to Create a Mid Century Modern Kitchen

Retro design is making a comeback in many different ways. If you’re looking to go back to the future with your small kitchen renovation, you can’t go wrong with a Mad Men-esque Mid Century Modern style. The clean-lined yet quirky functionality of a Mid Century Modern kitchen is classic enough to mix well with the style of the rest of your home, while still bringing a whole new feel to the most-used room in your home.


What Is a Mid Century Modern Kitchen Anyway?

Mid Century Modern describes the style that was popular from the 1940s-1960s (although some designers argue that it ended in the 1950s). This style was all about simple, functional furnishings, with clean lines but eye-catching colors like turquoise, pink, deep oranges, yellows, and pale greens.

One of the major draws of a Mid Century Modern kitchen for today’s homeowners is that the look complements many others, making it easy to combine retro design elements with modern ones to make the look work for the 21st century. And for a small kitchen renovation, the era’s minimalism allows you to maximize your space without sacrificing flair. We spoke to Amy Sams and Anna Hoam, owners of Dirty Girls Restoration, for tips on how to achieve a current take on this classic style.

Small Kitchen Renovation: Mid Century Modern Kitchen Example

Creating a Mid Century Modern Kitchen

With a plan, and some elbow grease, your small kitchen renovation will soon have you mixing martinis in the retro kitchen of your dreams! Let Amy and Anna show you how:


Tile flooring in materials like slate, blue stone, or terrazzo was common in the typical Mid Century Modern kitchen. Tearing out your current flooring and replacing it with concrete is a great option for a present-day take on this retro design. Concrete is becoming increasingly popular and for good reason: it’s extremely durable, it lowers your energy costs by providing excellent insulation, and it’s easy to care for. Stain your concrete floor in a natural shade and it will be a beautiful and long-lasting foundation for your new/old kitchen.

If concrete isn’t for you, Amy and Anna suggest opting for wood-look ceramic tile. Whatever you choose, stay away from vinyl. “Vinyl has no place in today’s Mid Century Modern kitchen—and, in our opinion, in no kitchen at all.”


Forget about our era’s obsession with granite. Tear out your current countertops and replace them with Quartz or concrete to make the best marriage between retro design and modern sensibilities. If you want to go further down the retro path, choose a Corian countertop in a solid color. But remember, achieving the look of a Mid Century Modern kitchen isn’t just about what material you use. You also want to incorporate the era’s simplicity by opting for thin countertops (you’ll need to specify this with your supplier) with square edges.


When it comes to your backsplash, shiny is the enemy of a Mid Century Modern kitchen. Instead, texture is the key to adding interest to the era’s clean lines. Remove your glass tile backsplash and replace it with a stone backsplash to add a unique and on-trend touch to your kitchen that still works beautifully with the retro style you’re aiming for. If stone isn’t your cup of tea, opt for a backsplash made with matte-finished tiles in an accent color(s).


The Mid Century Modern kitchen’s obsession with minimalism and clean lines is especially true of cabinetry. If your current cabinetry has panels, molding, trim, or other kinds of embellishment, it’s time to replace them (or at least replace the doors) with unpanelled cabinetry sporting simple, sleek hardware, like pull bars in place of knobs. And forget about our current love affair with white cabinetry. For a real retro feel, you want a natural wood look. If wood just isn’t your thing, you could opt for a color, using your cabinetry as an accent piece that adds flair to the room.


To really achieve the feel of a Mid Century Modern Kitchen, your furnishings should be minimal but distinctive. Choose a table with a thin top, square or gently rounded edges, and thin, unembellished legs, preferably tapered. Chairs should be equally simple and unembellished, with thin legs and seats in a solid color. With a small kitchen renovation, this has the bonus effect of taking up much less space than modern-style furnishings.


In the Mid Century Modern kitchen, lighting fixtures either receded into the background or went to the opposite extreme, serving almost as art pieces that added personality to the room. If you prefer simple lighting, Amy and Anna suggest track lighting, can lighting, or pendant lighting. If you want to go for something more eye-catching, make sure you choose wisely: “Chandeliers will work, but it needs to be a Mid Century style chandelier: wood or metal and glass, not glass prisms.”

Not sure where to start when it comes to your kitchen renovation?
Check out our Guide to Remodeling a Kitchen on a Budget!

Retro Kitchen Furnishings

What Not to Do When Planning a Retro Kitchen Remodel

Before you grab the hammers and start going to town on your small kitchen renovation, we asked Amy and Anna about the biggest mistakes they’ve seen people make when trying to create their own Mid Century Modern kitchen:

“We have seen people try to mix authentic Mid Century furniture with ‘New’ Mid Century furniture and that just doesn’t work. If you were to put a new reproduction Mid Century chair next to an authentic Mid Century chair you can easily tell the difference. The new reproductions are bigger, lighter, not made as well, and the overall lines are not as sharp.”

In other words, you have the choice of either vintage pieces from the period or modern pieces inspired by the era’s style. Pick one option and stick with it to get the sleekest, most cohesive look for your small kitchen renovation.

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“Mixing authentic Mid Century furniture with reproductions is like trying to put a Clydesdale and a pony in the same room and expecting them to match. They are sort of the same but really completely different in stature.”
Amy Sams and Anna Hoam, Owners, Dirty Girls Restoration

Blue Retro Kitchen Dining Set

With its classic lines and minimalist beauty, the Mid Century Modern kitchen is here to stay. If you’re ready to start tearing up floors and gutting cabinets, give us a call at 1-866-284-6164 and we’ll set you up with an affordable dumpster near you to get rid of all your modern mess.

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