1940s Kitchen Design: Achieving the Retro Look

Updated April 26, 2021
1940s Kitchen

A 1940s kitchen is full of color, texture, and prints that can transform your kitchen. If you're looking for a retro design style for your kitchen but can't quite find the right one, a 1940s kitchen design is both fun and functional.

Achieving a 1940s Kitchen

Begin your kitchen transformation with this list of popular 1940s kitchen themes, colors, and accessories.

Colors

Bold, primary and vivid colors were very in during the 1940s. Two-toned kitchens were also very common. Many kitchens of this era used tile on the countertops - one color for the main area and a second as the border and trim. These same two colors were seen repeated in a checkerboard on the floor, in the curtains, the appliances, and the wall art.

  • Greens - Look for kelly green, dark greens or any shade in between. Here's a quick fun fact: Green paint was relegated to military use only during World War II; after the war, the color became extremely popular for everything from paint to fashion.
  • Red and white - Bright cherry or apple red paired with crisp white was extremely popular in the 1940s kitchen design.
  • Blues - Seek out Air Force blue and Navy blue.
  • Yellow - Bright and cheery sunshine yellow was very popular.
Original 1940s kitchen

1940s Kitchen Accessories

Add a few fun kitchen accessories to complete your retro kitchen design. Look for vintage hand towels to frame, or a favorite piece of art - it's totally fine to mix vintage and modern to get the wall decor look you want.

  • Window treatments decorated with red cherries, gingham, or checked pattern
  • Wallpaper of cherries, other fruit, rooster patterns
  • Glass or acrylic knobs for cabinets and drawers
  • Colorful kitchen tablecloths, especially easy to clean oilcloths
  • Enameled bread boxes and canisters

Furnishings

The kitchen furniture sets the stage for the furniture to come in the 1950s and 1960s. Look for brightly colored chairs, chrome, and enamel. If you're working with what you currently have, consider painting your wooden chairs in bright '40s colors like sunny yellow or mist green. Keep the wood tone of the table intact and if possible, look for tables that have chrome legs to finish the design.

  • Metal enamel painted worktable
  • First kitchen breakfast nooks/areas (late '40s)
  • Dine-in kitchen wood square or rectangle kitchen table
  • Wood straight-back chairs usually painted white or other colors

Appliances

The appliances of the 1940s were typically enameled. White was a popular color for ovens, but other colors like blue, red, and yellow were also popular.

Wood or coal burning cast-iron stoves were still used in many homes. Gas stoves were popular with brands like Roper, Gaffers & Sattler, and O'Keefe & Merritt. Electric stoves were widely advertised and with electricity becoming cheaper, many households upgraded to electric stoves during the '40s.

Ice boxes were widely used, but with metals once more available after WWII, refrigerators soon took over, leaving ice boxes as antiquated appliances. Try using appliance paint on your modern appliances to give them a more retro look of enameled white or red to help them blend in with the rest of your design.

Cabinets and Cupboards

Many upper cabinets reached the ceiling, and soffits were used for cabinets that didn't. Soffits were often decorated with wallpaper as a way to add interest and color to the kitchen. Cupboards, lards, and hutches were standalone storage units that were decorative additions to the kitchen.

Two women making dinner in the 1940's

Countertops and Sinks

Countertops made of stainless steel were still being used, but the introduction of laminated countertops quickly became a favorite. After WWII, the housing boom gave homeowners new choices, and the colorful options laminated countertops offered were a welcomed change.

Wall mounted kitchen sinks were made from molded, cast iron and covered with porcelain enamel. The sinks featured either one or two wells that were deep and flanked on each side with a drainboard. The sinks featured a high backsplash with the faucet and handles mounted on the backsplash.

Women in kitchen preparing food, circa 1945

Flooring

Linoleum was a popular kitchen flooring. The linoleum flooring cost was significantly less than hardwood floors. Linoleum floors were easy to clean and maintain. Homeowners had several patterns and color choices. Large checkerboard patterns were popular and available in several colors.

Small Appliances

There weren't too many small appliances during this era. Technology hadn't advanced the timesaving devices that are common for modern times. However, some authentic small appliances from this era you may want to add as decorative pieces include:

  • Toaster
  • Stand mixer
  • Electric tea kettle
  • Waffle iron
  • Iron (usually kept in kitchen)

Ways to Display Accessories

Consider purchasing a kitchen rack or shelf to display your collections of 1940s kitchen accessories. If you don't want to go "all out" in your kitchen decorating, choose a few major kitchen themes from the '40s and add other design elements that you love that may not be from that era. Just group together the items of the design as a focal point before mixing the others in. Keep a general color scheme throughout the space to help give it a cohesive look.

SLNSW 13909 Mrs Harleys flat no 5 Chesterton

Where to Find Forties Style Kitchen Items

It's possible to update a kitchen with a little retro flair, or completely redo a modern kitchen in a retro design. Visit these sites and shops to help find the goods you need to get it done.

  • eBay - Check out the wide variety of beautiful vintage kitchen textiles at the website where you can find just about anything.
  • Antique stores - When shopping for your 1940s items at an antique store, check the tag on the item, it will usually state the era in which the item was produced.
  • Flea markets - Flea markets are a great way to find just about anything.
  • Thrift stores - These are a great place to find anything old and new. Even if you find items that look like they are from the 1940s but you are unsure, it doesn't matter, as long as the item fits into you design plans.

How to Mix Old and New

Modern appliances finished in chrome fit perfectly into your themed kitchen, so don't be afraid to mix it up. Vintage looking appliances are also very easy to find if you are doing a major kitchen rehab. Shop around for these items since they can get a bit pricey. If you are looking for authentic 1940s kitchen appliances, use them for decorative purposes only. The wiring in the items are not up to current codes and standards and may pose fire and safety hazards. If you do find a piece that you love and want it to be both decorative and functional, consider taking it to an electronics specialist to have the item rewired.

Create Your Own 1940s Style

The 1940s were a mix of old and new in a segue to bold colors, modern appliances and materials of the housing boom after WWII. Put your own stamp on a 1940s inspired kitchen by using these ideals as your framework and make a kitchen that truly works for you.

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1940s Kitchen Design: Achieving the Retro Look