The Mid-Century Modern Kitchen

A light and breezy Mid-Century Modern kitchen renovation by Destination Eichler, San Francisco.

Mid-Century Modern style is back. Actually, if you ask some of today’s top interior designers, they’ll tell you that Mid-Century design never went out of style. With its clean lines and focus on minimalism, many consider Mid-Century Modern to be a timeless look—classic enough to mix well with today’s popular design themes. But either way you slice it, this sleek and functional style is a major design trend, and not just in living areas and furniture styles. A focus on function makes the Mid-Century Modern kitchen a very smart choice.

Just as the name implies, Mid-Century Modern design broadly refers to a style of architecture, furniture, graphic design, and more popularized in the 1950s and 60s, though some define Mid-Century Modern as a bit earlier, roughly 1933 to 1965. The style features its signature clean lines, sleek finishes, and sometimes a “space-age” feel.

Just like layouts in today’s new construction, Mid-Century Modern style is all about open, flowing spaces. If you’re remodeling an actual home constructed in the mid-century, you may not have a lot of space to work with. Most kitchens built during this time were compact, often in the galley style, with two countertops running parallel. Opening up the space can be tricky, not to mention expensive. Space would either need to be carved from adjoining rooms or an addition would need to be added. But whether your clients opt to expand the kitchen footprint or just work with the available space, there are many ways to get a Mid-Century Modern look that won’t skimp on function or beauty. As long as you focus on efficiency and blend it with a little bit of retro style, you can easily pull off a Mid-Century Modern look in a small space.

The most important thing to remember when updating with Mid-Century Modern is stick to the sleek and minimal. By keeping focus on the traits that define the style, you’ll create an effective Mid-Century look whether you’re working with a compact galley kitchen or a brand new wide-open space.

The signature look of Mid-Century Modern is sleek, clean, modern, and simple. If you’re looking to create a Mid-Century Modern look, avoid weathered finishes. Think glam, classic, and elegant. Incorporate furniture and fixtures that are sleek and perfectly finished…no sandpaper!

Cabinetry should reflect the era’s obsession with minimalism and clean lines. Go with flat front, unpanelled cabinetry accented with simple, sleek hardware (think pull bars instead of knobs) or none at all. For finish, let real wood take center stage. The high-quality authentic Mid-Century Modern masterpieces of the 1950s were made of walnut, oak, rosewood, and teak. Select either a light or dark wood and stick with it throughout the kitchen.

Mid-Century Modern design isn’t the place for white finishes, tuxedo cabinets, or mixing and matching finishes. Stick to either basic dark or light colors. Think black, chocolate, white, navy, or gray. If you want to use color, go with bright hues. No pastels or basic shades. The popular colors of this era were bright, saturated hues, such as lime green and orange. So, if you’re thinking pink, go hot pink. Considering blue? Go cerulean instead of sky. Use color sparingly, though. Too much can make it feel like a bit of a time warp.

In authentic Mid-Century Modern designs slate, blue stone, and terrazzo were very common flooring materials. Today, concrete is a popular choice in updated mid-century looks. It’s extremely durable, it lowers energy costs by providing excellent insulation, and it’s easy to care for. You can even stain concrete in a natural shade making it a beautiful and long-lasting foundation for your mid-century kitchen. If concrete isn’t for you, try ceramic tile with a wood look.

When it comes to countertops, forget today’s obsession with granite. Concrete is an excellent choice here too. Still not feeling it? Try quartz surfacing. Although it’s manmade, quartz is incredibly durable. It’s stain, scratch, and heat resistant, and it non-porous so it won’t harbor harmful bacteria. And remember, with Mid-Century Modern style, thin is in. Keep countertops sleek and slim with square edges. The only exception here is if you’re going for a waterfall design like the new Mid-Century Modern kitchen shown above. It’s such a sleek look that it easily fits the bill.

The backsplash is a great place to add some texture in a Mid-Century Modern design. With all of the clean lines and smooth surfaces, this will add interest. Stone is a great choice here, so is concrete. Just be sure to avoid shiny polished surfaces and glass tile. You’ll want to stick to honed or matte finishes. The backsplash is also a great place to infuse some color, just like the example shown above.

Sleek and minimal shouldn’t just refer to the materials. Be smart with storage. Make use of unused corners, especially if you’re working with a smaller space. Get creative. Add appliance garages (like maybe in those corners) and make the most of drawer space with dividers and other organizational tools inside the cabinets. Keep countertops clear and “decoration” to a minimum.

With kitchen lighting, keep fixtures as out of sight as possible. If you want to use pendant lighting, be sure it’s a Mid-Century style. Otherwise recessed or track lighting works best.

There are endless materials available on the market today that simply didn’t exist when Mid-Century Modern design originated, so that leaves a ton of options for getting the look today. Focus on upgrading appliances. Choose durable and practical materials that are resilient and easy to clean. There’s a reason that Mid-Century Modern design has been a major design movement for decades. The style adds a light, airy feeling to the home and it can help make a smaller space feel larger. Just remember to keep it simple and don’t be afraid to have a little fun.