How to Decorate Your Kitchen in Retro Diner Style (Without Breaking the Bank)

Updated on January 1, 2018
Retro diners have a great nostalgic feel.
Retro diners have a great nostalgic feel. | Source

Transform Your Kitchen into a Retro Diner

Having been born in the 1980s, I didn't witness the cool 1950s era. Yet I'm strangely sentimental about it. So I decided to decorate my kitchen retro-style. And why wouldn't I?

Retro kitchens are bright, nostalgic, and theatrical. It's quintessential American, yet fun and whimsical. Particularly reminiscent of the 1950s era is the diner.

Diner is a friendly place. It's a place you go to with your pals, or on a date. That's why retro diner style is so great for the kitchen: it's friendly and inviting, not to mention a great conversation starter!

If you, too, want to decorate your kitchen a-la retro diner, the good news is: it's easy. You don't have to invest thousands of dollars in renovation. A few thoughtful details can create the diner atmosphere that will transport you to another time.

A 1950s diner scene from "Back to the Future" (1985)

Classic black and white tiles

Checkered tile floor design
Checkered tile floor design | Source

Retro Diner Floor

Perhaps, the easiest way to create the American diner vibe is to put in a checkered floor.

Checkered tile floor is one of the most quintessential diner attributes. You can go classic - black and white tiles, or choose a brighter color palette, like maraschino red and buttercup yellow.

You can find these flooring tiles anywhere, and in different varieties - carpet, aluminum, linoleum, vinyl - and you can even install them yourself to save money, just find a peel-and-stick kind.

Another retro floor option is to go with a retro material: linoleum. Linoleum definitely has a nostalgic look and feel, but it's also very practical - inexpensive, super easy to clean and it comes in a variety of fun colors.

Retro Kitchen Cabinets

Another inexpensive way to give your kitchen a cool retro look is to re-paint the cabinets. Pick a color that doesn't overwhelm the senses (mint green, buttercup yellow, light baby blue), or if you have plain wood cabinets, you can simply paint them white.

The task of painting the cabinets yourself may seem daunting, but fear not - it's all about prepping the surface. With a right degreaser you remove layers of sticky kitchen grime; then you sand it, prime it, and paint it with an oil-based or an acrylic paint.

And as long as you're updating your cabinets, why not change the knobs? You can't go wrong with vintage glass or ceramic knobs.

Retro diner posters and signs
Retro diner posters and signs | Source

Retro Diner Art

Wall art is yet another fun and relatively inexpensive way to re-invent your kitchen diner-style.

The choices are legion:

  • classic vintage posters advertising cars, cigarettes, soft drinks - you name it;
  • framed pictures of the 1950s era celebrities - Elvis Presley, Marylin Monroe, James Dean etc.
  • movie posters;
  • neon signs;
  • road signs;
  • vintage car license plates;
  • travel memorabilia;
  • vinyl records;
  • anything and everything funky and kitschy that can be put on a wall.

If you want *authentic* vintage posters/signs, good places for that are vintage shops, vintage flea markets and an occasional yard sale. A simpler (and cheaper) alternative to that is modern reproductions sold on Amazon, Ebay, Zazzle and other sites for $10-$20.

Typical retro diner wall décor
Typical retro diner wall décor | Source

Coca-Cola is Classic American

Coca-Cola items are some of the most iconic diner accessories.
Coca-Cola items are some of the most iconic diner accessories. | Source

The Coca-Cola

If you've ever been to a retro diner (or any kind of diner), you know that Coca-Cola is one of the most recognizable trademarks you'll see displayed everywhere: from huge neon signs to salt-n-pepper shakers.

What is it about Coca-Cola that made it such an iconic part of American culture? Is it the taste, the fizz, the rust-cleaning properties, the vague reference to cocaine?

All I can say is: if it's good enough for the Santa Claus and the polar bears, it's good enough for me.

So what that most people can't tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke? Coca-Cola is Classic American, which makes it a must for any retro kitchen design.

Coca Cola neon sign
Coca Cola neon sign | Source

Retro Diner Furniture

A lovely retro diner near Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. Note the neon lights and the color palette.
A lovely retro diner near Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. Note the neon lights and the color palette. | Source

The center of any retro kitchen/dining room is the dining table.

Give your kitchen a splash of diner chic with a chrome-plated dining table and red (blue, yellow, black) leather chairs. I got my retro dining set from Amazon, put it together myself, and it looks retro-delicious!

If you want to really go diner-crazy, make it a booth or a corner nook. Or if you have a kitchen island, pick out some retro bar stools. Bar stools are informal and inviting; they're great for friendly gatherings, but also for enjoying a solitary morning cup of coffee.The possibilities are endless.

Diner booths have a really cozy feel.
Diner booths have a really cozy feel. | Source

Retro Kitchen Appliances

Again - we're not trying to break the bank here. While you can go big and replace all your major kitchen appliances with retro lookalikes, the wiser (and cheaper) alternative is to add a few smaller more unusual appliances, like a pop-up hot dog toaster (I own one myself, my husband loves it), a snow cone maker or a slushie machine.

And...instead of buying a retro-looking microwave oven, maybe get rid of the microwave altogether? You know it's not good for you.

I also have a "retro radio" style CD player (found one at CVS of all places) and a rotary-dial red phone (found it at a vintage flea market).

Vintage canisters are an affordable way to make your retro design statement.
Vintage canisters are an affordable way to make your retro design statement. | Source

What's Your Favorite Era?

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Retro Diner Accessories

Still looking for more ideas on how to turn your kitchen into a blast-from-the-past-fabulous diner? Here are some additional suggestions:

  • vintage glass cookie jars;
  • vintage canisters;
  • drum (hanging) light fixtures;
  • fruit and vegetables print fabrics;
  • retro salt and pepper shakers;
  • Coca-Cola place-mats;
  • retro-style clock;
  • retro straw dispenser;
  • Melamine kitchenware;
  • vintage coffee mugs;
  • a jukebox (the real one is expensive, an iPod/CD player look-a-like is not).

I hope you make a lot of great memories in your new kitchen!

Blast from the past. Cool retro kitchen furniture and appliances.
Blast from the past. Cool retro kitchen furniture and appliances. | Source

© 2014 Lana ZK


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    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 3 years ago from California

      Save a seat for me! Personally, I like the idea of having a real jukebox, but considering the amount of diner-themed items in my kitchen, it would definitely be an overkill...

    • Torrs13 profile image

      Tori Canonge 3 years ago from California

      Lots of great ideas! I wouldn't personally go all out as I tend to go for more modern kitchens or those with a country feel, but I do like 50s diners and find their wall art to be some of the best. Throw in a jukebox and a milkshake and I'm there!

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago

      Hi, kalinin1158 . . . Wow, what a sweet reply. God bless you my new follower and friend for being such a talented writer but a sincere and genuine FRIEND.


    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 3 years ago from California

      Deal. And the learning will be mutual :-)

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago

      You are welcome, Lana, but I only spoke the truth to you. HubPages was nick-named, "Hubville," last year by one of my followers. Wish I knew who now, but I forget.

      I still want you to be one of my followers, Kalinin, for you are so very talented and I can learn from you.


    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 3 years ago from California

      Thank you so much for such encouraging words, Kenneth. I think the best thing about HubPages is the wonderful community of supportive writers. Trust me, you do not see it everywhere! I am happy as well to find a new friend in you :-)



    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, kalinin1158,

      Beautiful work. I loved this artwork, lay-out and scheme. Voted up and away.

      I urge you to keep up the great work. And FYI: you do NOT have a Fan Mail slot, so below is the Note of Thanks I promised you for following me.

      Call me old-fashioned. How ironic, retro kitchen and me old-fashioned. But I do not believe in taking warm gestures such as you following me for granted, for such are gifts.

      Dear kalinin1158,

      I wanted to take the time to send you my Personal Note of Sincere Thanks for becoming one of my

      cherished-followers. This gesture means the world to me. I just hope in some way, I can pay you back

      someday, and that you will not regret following me.

      And I want you to always feel free to write me about anything you want with total-confidence. I am

      always up for new ideas in hub-writing, healthy criticism, and good input on how I can make my hubs


      I just want you to know that I respect as well as love your work and encourage you to use your gift of

      writing as much as you can and you will touch a lot of lives.

      Thank you again for being in my world.

      If I can ever be of help to you, just email me and I will do what I can to help you as much as I can.


      Your Friend for Life,


    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 3 years ago from California

      Thank you, thank you. A year ago I went totally retro diner-crazy, and now we sort of live in the 1950s movie set :-)

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      I totally love 50's retro kitchens, and love the 50's diner theme. Great work here, voted up!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Cool ideas for kitchens or even restaurants. Voted up and beautiful!