The colorful 1950s kitchen – The epitome of post-war optimism and progress

Milica Sterjova
 
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After World War II, the economy boomed, people were building new houses, and advancement in technology brought new materials into the home. It seems that life, now filled with peace and prosperity, looked a lot brighter. The accent was put on leisure and relaxation, and this which transferred to interior design making it vibrant and fun. The 1950s were an exceptional era in the evolution of the kitchen. This is the decade when the kitchen became the “heart of the home”.

Kitchens in the previous decades were relatively small and hidden in the back of the house. That changed in the 1950s – the kitchen became a more social place where the family gathered. The earlier separated dining room and kitchen were now being connected, creating in this way a larger family area. Accent was no longer put exclusively on functionality but also on design and appearance. The “open plan” layout was a thing in the 50s, although it became considerably more popular in the next two decades.

Republic Steel Kitchens 1956. Author: Ethan. CC BY 2.0

One thing is absolutely certain about 1950s kitchen – it were brimming with color. Brighter colors were introduced and thrived in this period. Three major style trends were immensely popular: pastel, modern, and Scandinavian, covering any taste in color one could possibly have. Kitchens were colored in sunny yellow, turquoise, pink flamingo, mint green, red, black and white, and many others.

Kitchen from the 1950s. Author: Roland Klose. CC BY-ND 2.0

Materials like fiberglass, stainless steel and aluminum were common in the kitchen and formica table tops and worktops were everywhere. One particular feature of formica counters was the metal banding around the edges. Steel was the usual material that was used for cabinets in the average 1950s kitchen. Metals which were highly produced during the war now became widely available and cheap, so kitchens were made from stockpiled aluminum or steel. The old wooden kitchen cabinets were replaced with new shiny metal ones which had a more modern look and were easier to clean.

Wallpapers were a cheap way to decorate so they were quite commonly present. Kitchen-related motifs, depicting food, cooking utensils or dinnerware, started being popular in this era. The important thing was that the wallpaper should brighten the place and make it more cheerful.

1950s yellow kitchen. Author:Ethan. CC BY 2.0

 

1956 Hotpoint. Author:Ethan. CC BY 2.0

 

1950s Geneva kitchen. Author:Ethan. CC BY 2.0

Regarding the kitchen floor, linoleum was very popular because it offered a softer walking surface and was easy to wipe. It wasn’t a new invention but linoleum manufacturers at the time restyled it into a more colorful and lively design. They made it available in bright modern colors and it was used for almost every room in the house. Checkered floor patterns with linoleum tiles in two colors were a common sight in 1950s kitchen.

Kelvinator Foodarama Refrigerator ca. 1955. Author: Mike Licht. CC BY 2.0

New gadgets and appliances found their way into the home, aiming at making everyday life more convenient. Mass-production had made them affordable so they were a part of every homestead. Their design was of extreme importance; it had to be up-to-date with the new modern homes and trends. Manufacturers like General Electric employed the leading figures in industrial design. Refrigerators, freezers, mixers, blenders and toasters were made in the same bright colors as the kitchens they were in. Although refrigerators were introduced years earlier, in the 1950s they were more energy efficient and came with ice makers and automatic defrosters. While in the mid-forties sales of kitchen appliances were next to none, they went through the roof in the 50s. By the mid-fifties over four million refrigerators and over a million electric ranges were sold in the United States alone. The kitchen was probably the one room in the home where technological advancement was most noticeable.

Westinghouse Electric Toaster 1957. Author: 1950sUnlimited. CC BY 2.0

 

Kitchen accessories came in a variety of colors. Author:Ethan. CC BY 2.0

All in all, the 1950s were marvelous for home design in general and especially for the kitchen. The kitchens built in this era were a delightful departure from those in the 30s and the 40s. A large number of trends entered the scene and some of them are still present today. The 50s are regarded today as a perfectly appropriate and trendy retro style which many are trying to replicate in their kitchens.