A Practical Kitchen Design With Period Appeal


Designing a kitchen with period appeal can add character and charm to your home. When done right, it creates a space that feels connected to the home’s history and style. The key is striking the right balance between honoring the architecture while still making it highly functional for how we use kitchens today. This requires some careful thought and planning.

In this article, we’ll look at how to design a kitchen with vintage appeal that doesn’t compromise on practicality and usability. We’ll explore ideas for layout, cabinetry, materials, colors, lighting and decor elements. Whether your home is a historic period property or you simply want to evoke yesteryear, these tips will help you create a kitchen with timeless style and real-world function.

Layout Considerations for A Practical Kitchen With Period Appeal

The layout of your kitchen is key to making it both beautiful and entirely usable. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Honor Historic Footprints

If possible, maintain the original kitchen footprint and work zones. Historic kitchens often had compartmentalized spaces for food storage, cleaning, baking and cooking. Separating these functional areas can optimize workflow.

Allow for Modern Conveniences

Vintage kitchens obviously didn’t have today’s appliances and conveniences. As you plan, look for ways to gracefully integrate must-haves like dishwashers, microwaves and larger refrigerators.

Add Casual Dining Space

Older kitchens typically didn’t have room for dining areas. If possible, extend your layout to allow for a breakfast nook. This gives the space more versatility.

Increase Storage

Even older kitchens that appear roomy by today’s standards usually lacked sufficient storage. Creative cabinetry and pantries can dramatically increase usable storage.

Improve Traffic Flow

Evaluate the traffic flow in the existing kitchen. Does it feel cramped or convoluted? Look for ways to open up the space and streamline movement through the room.

Respect Architectural Features

Pay homage to charming architectural details like bay windows, beaded board wainscoting or moulding. Work around and highlight these features rather than removing them.

Cabinetry That Honors Traditional Style

The cabinetry has an enormous impact on the style and feel of a period kitchen. Here are some cabinetry considerations:

Stick With Classic Styles

Shaker, Craftsman and traditional cabinets with raised panels fit beautifully in vintage kitchens. Avoid contemporary styles that feel out of sync with the home’s origins.

Use Wood Tones

Warm wood finishes like maple, oak and cherry are time-appropriate. Painted cabinets can work with some color adjustment – just avoid bright whites.

Add Glass Doors

Leaded glass doors on upper cabinets provide beautiful display space with a nod to the past. Use for dishes, glassware or decorative items.

Consider Open Shelving

Limited open shelving gives both storage and style. Great for frequently-used items or showcasing charming vintage accessories.

Add Trim and Molding

Trim out cabinets with period-appropriate crown molding, bun feet and other elements true to the home’s history. Consider beadboard cabinet backs.

Use Warmer Hardware

Brass, bronze, pewter and rubbed nickel knobs and pulls have an aged patina. Steer clear of modern brushed nickel.

Vary Upper Cabinet Heights

Raising upper cabinets to varying heights adds character and visual interest while allowing you to utilize tall wall space.

Materials That Work in A Period Kitchen

Using time-appropriate materials will enhance the vintage style of your kitchen remodel. Some top options include:

Hardwood Flooring

Strip hardwood floors suit traditional homes beautifully. Stay away from modern large-planked and engineered floors.

Tile Floor Inlays

Classic patterns like checkerboard tile inlays inject old-world personality. Keep colors muted.

Butcher Block Countertops

Butcher block counters are traditional and bring warmth. Other period-appropriate options are soapstone and Carrara marble.

Farmhouse Sink

An oversized farmhouse sink evokes cottage-style charm. White porcelain or fireclay work best.

Nickel Gap Backsplash

Nickel gap backsplashes with their thin grout lines deliver vintage styling. Subway tile is another timeless option.

Beadboard Paneling

Beadboard paneling on walls (or backsplashes) fits perfectly in traditional kitchens. Use sparingly to avoid overwhelming.

Paneled Appliances

Look for appliance suites with recessed paneling that matches cabinetry for a seamless vintage look.

Colors That Enhance Period Appeal

Color is incredibly impactful in setting the style of a kitchen. Consider these tried-and-true vintage-friendly color approaches:

Softer Whites

Stark bright whites feel too modern. Soften cabinets and walls with antique whites, ivory or almond for a period feel.

Muted Paint Colors

Subdued sage greens, dusty blues and warm terra cotta work beautifully. Steer clear of bold primary colors.

Natural Wood Tones

The rich patinas of natural wood cabinets add organic warmth. Avoid very orange-y oak or too-red cherry.

Black and White

For bold but classic contrast, pair soft white cabinets with black soapstone counters and dark wood floors.

Retro Color Combos

Some well-loved 1950s color pairings like turquoise and yellow or mint green and pink still deliver retro charm.

Lighting With Vintage Vibes

Don’t overwhelm a period kitchen with too-harsh modern lighting. Here are some tips:

Pendant Lights

Oversized pendant lights work over islands and peninsulas. Go with metal or wood for warmth and style.


Wall-mounted sconces flanking windows or placed strategically provide a historic vibe.

Under-Cabinet Lights

Discreet under-cabinet strip lighting gives task lighting without compromising old-world ambience.

Reproduction Fixtures

Companies like Rejuvenation offer new lighting based on classic early 20th century designs.

Dimmer Switches

Use dimmers throughout to control brightness and create mood. Overhead lighting can be softened to suit the space.

Decor Touches to Complete the Look

The accessories and decor you choose will give your period kitchen its final polish. Some ideas:

Vintage-Inspired Textiles

Tea towels, curtains and seat cushions are great spots to integrate period prints and motifs.

Display Collections

Collections of vintage pottery, tins and glassware add charm when displayed in cabinetry or on open shelves.

Timeworn Signage

Age-distressed signage and typography bring a sense of history. Think general store tin signs or retro enamel.

Nostalgic Artwork

Botanical prints, still life paintings and vintage cookbook art all boost old-time ambiance.

Weathered Furnishings

A well-worn harvest table and diner-style seating up the cozy charm factor.

FAQs About Designing A Period Kitchen

What are the most important elements for a period kitchen?

Honoring the original architecture, using the right cabinetry, flooring and materials, and accessorizing to enhance the vintage style. Avoid anything too sleek or contemporary.

How do you make a modern kitchen work in a period home?

Look for compromise. For example, use traditional shaker cabinetry but with a streamlined layout. Or blend some whimsical vintage touches like an apron-front sink into an otherwise simple design.

Should you try to make a new kitchen look original to the home?

It depends. If the home is a designated historic property, greater care should be taken to preserve and match original features. For private homes, looser inspiration from the era is often enough to achieve cohesive style.

What are economical ways to give a kitchen vintage appeal?

Affordable touches like open shelving instead of upper cabinets, painted butcher block counters instead of stone, beadboard backsplashes and vintage-style lighting can infuse vintage charm.

How do you avoid feeling like your period kitchen is stuck in the past?

Strike a balance between old and new. Incorporate modern amenities like dishwashers and kitchen islands. Add some contemporary pops of color with retro accents. The mix prevents too much outdated heaviness.


Designing a charming vintage-style kitchen while still meeting the demands of a busy modern household is very achievable. From layout to cabinetry to decor, the key is selecting elements that speak to the home’s origins and era of construction while still ensuring everyday functionality. With careful planning and creative problem solving, you can have the best of both worlds – a kitchen with timeless character that works beautifully for real life.