How to design a vintage kitchen

Create a characterful vintage-style kitchen with nostalgic touches, including rustic furniture, retro appliances and floral fabrics. Here's how

vintage kitchen afternoon tea scene
(Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

Want to design a kitchen that's eclectic and love-worn, or retro with a dash of playfulness? The term ‘vintage style’ can mean different things to different people; there is no established design formula. There are, however, a few simple guidelines that will help you to evoke the right atmosphere, which we're covering below.

And if you want all the practical advice you'll need to get your transformation going, there isn't a question we don't answer on our kitchen ideas page.

What is vintage style?

The one thing that unites all kitchens in this style is that they reflect a sense of nostalgia – looking back to simpler, wholesome times and happy childhood memories. This makes mastering the art of display crucial. Quirky, boldly coloured appliances, rustic beaten-up tins, crates and utensils, chintzy mismatched china, copper pots and pans, and other vintage kitchenalia should all be proudly displayed. Place on open shelving, in glass-fronted cabinets – which should not be lined wall to wall – or hanging on hooks. Old crates repurposed as shelves look fantastic.

Kitchen shelves in vintage kitchen

All products shown, The National Trust

(Image credit: The National Trust)

Choosing cabinets for a vintage kitchen

kitchen dresser

(Image credit: Malcolm Menzies)

The best vintage kitchens let the accessories do the talking, so ideally keep the units simple, and top them with timber work surfaces. Solid wood cabinets, left bare or painted pastel or muted shades, with rounded timber door knobs, create the right level of laid-back charm. If you want any more kitchen cabinet ideas, we have lots that of ideas would work in a vintage-style kitchen over in our dedicated feature. 

colourful cottage dining room

All products shown, Laura Ashley

(Image credit: Stuart Cox)

For a more retro look though, nothing beats original aluminium English Rose units – a classic design produced throughout the 1950s. Made from top-quality materials after World War II, in factories that made parts for Spitfires, they are a perfect example of great British engineering, and reclaimed units are very desirable (try Source Antiques). Love the look of a retro kitchen? Go and have a read of our inspiring gallery. 

Alternatively, John Lewis of Hungerford produces a spot-on vintage kitchen.

Gloss Sweet Almond Cream English rose Kitchen

(Image credit: John Lewis of Hungerford)

Mixing new kitchen cabinets with old finds

Distressed vintage cabinetry in kitchen

For similar distressed cabinetry try Scaramanga

(Image credit: Future/Douglas Gibb)

One thing a vintage-style kitchen should never be is perfect: a bit of wear and tear only adds to the charm. Do not distress pristine units, but do pick up old worn furniture (check it is structurally sound) from flea markets or antiques fairs – perhaps an old dresser on which to display china, or a farmhouse table and Windsor chairs. Mismatching the chairs creates a sense of evolution; paint chairs in different colours and rub the edges with sandpaper for a pretty, shabby-chic effect.

If you need any tips on how to paint furniture, we have a handy step-by-step guide to help you out. 

kitchen with yellow walls and china in Georgian townhouse

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

Investing in retro appliances

award-winning readers home view of kitchen through to boot room in a period home

(Image credit: Jody Stewart)

Appliances in most vintage-style kitchens tend to be very Fifties inspired, in bold or pastel colours with soft, curvy edges. Modern appliances, such as those from Big Chill, are perfect for a vintage kitchen, plus they are available in a wide range of colours from crisp white to pastel pink. Original vintage fridges can be refurbished, making them fit for the 21st century (try The Vintage Fridge Company).

White fridge in a vintage style kitchen with green cabinetry, patterned splashback and salmon walls

(Image credit: Big Chill)

Finding fabrics for vintage kitchens

Staircase with upcycled furniture

(Image credit: Stuart Cox)

Fabrics are key to adding warmth and texture to the look. Opt for blinds, curtains (and, as an aside, shutters work, too), tablecloths and tea towels in brightly coloured floral prints; classic combinations include bright reds, pinks and aqua or you could opt for more Fifties-style pastels, such as yellow, blue or green. Finish the look with a retro oilcloth and mismatched chair cushions.

Picking a vintage inspired wallpaper

Blue vintage style kitchen

(Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

Wallpaper is also a great way to add interest to a vintage-style kitchen. Choose a print that's subtle (floral always works) and matches your over all colour scheme. We recommend choosing something in a neutral tone, just so it doesn't get too busy with out the other vintagey finds you'll have going on in your kitchen. But that needn't mean plain – an intricate pattern will work too. 

We love this botanical inspired wallpaper from The Little Greene Paint Company is muted colours don't create too much distraction but the traditional small print definitely has a country cottage appeal. 

For more lovely kitchen wallpaper ideas go and have a look through our gallery. 

(Image credit: John Lewis)

Choosing the perfect accessories

The accessories are a vital part of vintage kitchen design. Opt for appliances in pastel shades and retro designs that fit the aesthetic and create a elegant focal point. Create a functional display by showcasing your vintage crockery collection on open shelving or dresser. Decanting dry goods into vintage bottles and kilner-style jars also adds to cosy and lived-in atmosphere that a vintage-style encourages, complete with chalkboard labels for rustic look. 

Kitchen with beamed walls and baking supplies

(Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)
Free Orla Kiely Baking Tins

Free Orla Kiely Baking Tins

If you're looking for some baking tins to create a statement, you can get this set of five Orla Kiely baking tins (worth £45) for FREE, when you subscribe to six months of Period Living magazine. You can get all the vintage inspiration you need delivered straight to your door, as well as the perfect place to store all your delicious bakes. 

More vintage inspiration:

Melanie Griffiths
Melanie has been working in homes magazines for almost 14 years and is currently Editor of Period Living magazine. She lives the brand's ethos of creating a forever home in an old house with new ideas as she slowly improves her own rural home. When she isn't at work, Mel enjoys cooking, caring for her garden and exploring the countryside.