Mid Mod Kitchen Update Essentials

16 min read There are five Mid Mod Kitchen Update Essentials. These design elements are key to creating a fabulous and functional kitchen regardless of style, but are extra important when updating a mid century kitchen.

The five Mid Mod Kitchen Update Essentials are key to creating a fabulous and functional kitchen regardless of style, but are extra important when updating a mid century kitchen. 

The kitchen is the heart of nearly all mid-century updates.

It’s an area (almost) everyone wants to improve and it can be key to setting the overall mid-century vibe for your home. We love mid century homes for many reasons – they are right sized, they were made with quality materials, they tend to have a simple beauty, and they still function pretty well for modern families. 

Mid century homes introduced elements we still look for in our modern homes. But often mid century kitchens are missing important design elements for a functional modern kitchen.

Understanding and incorporating these elements into your kitchen remodel will transform your space and ensure you end up with a mid mod kitchen you love. 

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • Why your mid century kitchen needs some updates.
  • The good ideas inherent in many mid century kitchen concepts.
  • The five essential ingredients for a fabulous mid mod kitchen update.

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Read the Full Episode Transcript

Happy almost New Year. What part of your house do you most wanna update in the next year? And uh, why is it your kitchen? In all seriousness though, the kitchen is the heart of nearly all mid-century updates. It’s an area almost everyone wants to improve, and as I’ve talked about so often, this part of your home is key to the overall mid-century vibe. If you get your kitchen update right, you get your house right. So how can you know you’re going to do it right? Today we’re going to talk about the five essential elements you must get right for a mid-century kitchen update that looks good and works for you. Hey there. Welcome back to Mid Mod Remodel. This is the show about updating MCM Homes, helping you match a mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host, Della Hansmann architect and mid-century Ranch enthusiast.

You’re listening to season 10, episode 12. I often talk about how to plan well for your kitchen. You’ll be in pretty good shape if you follow the steps of the master plan method, asking yourself the questions necessary to dream about the kitchen you want. Discover the facts of the kitchen you’ve got right now. Um, focus, distill your personal style draft options to improve the layout and develop a master plan. But today we’re not talking about how to plan your mid-century kitchen update. That’s what we’ll be doing at the Mid-Century Kitchen Clinic on January 14th. Instead, I wanna talk to you about the five essential elements, the ingredients if you will, of a great mid mod update for your home, the design elements. I’m so excited to have you listening to this episode because I’ve created a new free guide to go along with it. If you wish you could be seeing examples of what I’m about to talk about, you’re in luck.

I’ve made a matching free guide that you can download on the show notes page. As always, you’ll find those show notes with links to the references I’m making and an outline of the conversation on my website, mimo midwest.com/ten 12. Okay, the five essential design elements of a mid mod kitchen update are effective lighting, functional workspaces, handy storage areas, enticing hangout spots, and your mid mod style. I’m going to go through them step by step with you in this episode and point by point in the associated guide. So don’t forget to download it. In fact, you might wanna grab it right now and follow along as we chat about the various areas. If you’re walking the dog or doing the dishes, download it when you’re done and keep it for your ongoing kitchen design thinking. There’s some overlap in what I’m about to talk about for an amazing kitchen in general. Of course, not just an amazing mid-century kitchen. And some of the following is what we wanna do to maintain a good mid-century kitchen from its original good ideas and some of it is to counteract the inconvenient should be left in the past elements that have crept into our kitchens from previous eras. But all of this is useful particularly and directed particularly to those of us who own and love a mid-century home.

I wanna begin with lighting. Yeah, I wanna talk about light in your kitchen. Before I talk about the layout, before I talk about what it looks like before we talk about counter space, I want to talk about how your kitchen is lit. Because if your kitchen is not well lit, you will not wanna hang out in it. You will not want to work there or cook there or even sip a cup of coffee in it. So we’re gonna talk about lighting first, even though it will be applied along your design pathway. A well lit kitchen is a wonderful kitchen and there’s two types of light you need to think about in your kitchen. Update daylight because spending time during the day in a dim space where you have to flip on a light switch to make a cup of coffee is a huge drag and artificial lighting, because sometimes it’s cloudy and sometimes it’s night and you still use your kitchen at those times.

In fact, if you want to plan best, you should think about the different lighting schemes in your kitchen that suit a bunch of the different activities you like to spend your time on. So think about the lighting for when you wanna cook up a storm versus when you might be doing last dishes at the end of the evening and settling your brain for bed. What about when you first flip on a light, when you get up before the sun on a winter morning? These different activities require different lighting conditions that are as individual to you as they are essential to get right.

All right, I’m gonna list a bunch of conditions and what I want you to think is how they apply to you in your life. First is daylight. Where is it coming from and where can you get more of it? Your kitchen probably has a window that’s standard for a mid-century house. It may not have more than one. The standard mid-century kitchen may only have a single window over the kitchen sink. So step one is to think about where you can add more windows.

Think about what direction your current kitchen window or windows face. Do you also need shade at certain times of the day to make them work right or to prevent heat gain in the summer. West facing windows in particular can need either interior shades you can pull or an exterior shading device you might use to create space outside the house. But that’s a different episode. If you can add more windows in different directions, that’s always the best because then you’re getting different types of direct or diffuse light through the day.

Now you can also add light by borrowing it from other parts of the house, which have windows that get good light. You can do that by creating openings in the walls, by removing doors from doorways, by removing walls entirely. Now remember, you don’t have to have an entirely open plan house in order to borrow light and views and conversational access points from other parts of the house.

So think creatively about how you open up the space to capture light. And then your third option is to make holes in your roof with full on skylights that give you a view of the sky or even just light tubes. Light tubes actually bring us over into our second type because they can both bring in natural daylight and many light tubes are fitted out with interior lights that basically look like a can light in the ceiling and can actually actually have a flippable switch. So you can use them as a light at night, but get daylight from them during the day. Same spot.

You don’t have to worry about what’s all happening on your ceiling. Alright, let’s talk about artificial light. There are two different necessities for artificial light that overlap each other. Mood lighting and task lighting. Now sometimes you just might wanna have mood lighting in your kitchen that’s not actually helping you do any particular task in the evening. When you’re not in the kitchen, you can choose to have it be completely dark, you can leave all the lights blazing or maybe you just wanted a little bit of mood lighting in case someone walks through the space or that it doesn’t feel like a black hole in the house while you’re in other areas. And you also need to think about task lighting for all the various tasks you do in the kitchen through the day.

To get effective task lighting, you’re gonna use a combination of the different types of lights that work in a kitchen. You’ll think about ceiling surface lights. The classic mid-century kitchen typically has only one center ceiling light and usually another specific task light at the sink and at the stove. That’s exactly how my 1952 house was. And uh, in fact in some ways still is, I haven’t fully fixed that yet. But we’re gonna talk about shoulds, not existent problems. Um, you want more than one light in the center of the ceiling of the room because especially if we haven’t fixed the layout of your kitchen, that means you’ll be casting a shadow with your head on every task you do in the kitchen. So to counteract that, you can put lights underneath the edge conditions of the room underneath cabinets or shelves under cabinet or under shelf. Lighting is great for task lighting. You can also think about if you don’t have anything storage mounted on the wall, sconce lights on the walls. You can hang pendant lights over counters anywhere and really everywhere in a kitchen.

And you can also think about can lights, although those are my last choice for a kitchen. I use those basically only in the sort of, I want to light my kitchen like the surface of the sun so I can deep clean it at midnight task. In general terms for cooking, for eating, for being in the kitchen, I would rather have a pendant, a sconce or another local light rather than a just general can light in the ceiling.

So before we move on from the end of lighting, ask yourself, do you have enough natural and artificial light in your kitchen right now? If your kitchen update plans are underway, is there enough light for the right daily routines you’d like to live built into your new kitchen design? And if not, start making a list of the things you do in your kitchen at different times of day and how you do or don’t have enough light for them. Then start to correct for that.

Alright, the next three categories that I’m gonna talk about are layout categories. So hit the drawing board and figure out if you need to change the one you’ve got. We’re gonna talk about workspaces, storage spaces and hangout spaces. And remember, each of these should be tuned to fit your life. One size does not fit all in kitchens any more than it does in t-shirts.

Workspaces. Now we have to get into the actual kitchen of your kitchen. Have you got the working space you need? If you’re dealing with an original mid-century kitchen, I bet you don’t. They tend to be a little short on actual working counter space and a lot of the working counter space tends to be facing wall hung cabinets that you or let’s just be real me. Uh, I bang my forehead on when I lean in too far. It drives me crazy. So you wanna take stock and while you’re thinking of where the workspaces are, again you wanna think about the routines and the tasks of your experience of being in the kitchen. Create specific work zones for prep, mixing, cutting, combining ingredients for cooking near the stove, near the oven range. Uh, for washing up, you want space. Um, ideally both sides of a sink or at minimum good space on one side, o you’ve got elbow room to set down the dirty dishes and process them through. Uh, thinking about where your dishwasher goes and how it flows into the other space is important.

You may also need some specialized zones. What else happens in your kitchen? Are you a baker? Are you processing garden goods? Are you making food ahead in bulk? Tune the kitchen you’ve got to match your life. Remember that a person who likes to make a large meal for their whole family from scratch is gonna need a very different kitchen from someone who revels in testing different takeout and basically just needs to reheat food and store it.

Now we’re gonna talk about storage in a minute, but having storage associated with the specific work you’re doing in a place is really important. So you want a place to keep all your pots and lids and daily spices and the olive oil right next to your range or stove top. This is one of the reasons I really do like to do a separate wall oven and cooktop because then you can put drawers underneath the cooktop and keep a whole bunch of that handy heavy stuff right there literally at the work surface. But if you like a combined range unit, you just put storage on one side or the other.

Now, one follow up on the cooking zone, the microwave. This is a question for you. Does it belong right next to or above or below your oven? Many high-end kitchens show it stacked with a wall oven because it’s sort of neat to keep them all in one place. But do you actually tend to use your microwave that way? Do you use the microwave the same time of day or for the same tasks as your oven or do you use it completely differently? Perhaps your microwave sits next to your breakfast supplies because you like to eat oatmeal. Spoiler alert, that’s what I do. Um, but the oven belongs in the baking zone because that’s for special occasion cooking and it needs to be right next to a big cookie prep area of your island.

So ask yourself, is there a work surface in your kitchen where you can spread out and work deeply while looking at distance further than two feet away from you? Can you make eye contact and hold a conversation with someone else in the room while you work? If the answer is no, then you definitely wanna be working on the layout of your workspaces.

The third category is storage. Think about how you separate your storage in a way that works for you. For some families, keeping all the pantry stuff together might be right, but you could also choose to create a coffee station or separate out the cereal. Perhaps those things belong together in a morning prep area so that you can simplify your morning brain or that some members of your household can be prepping and eating their own breakfasts while someone else is making up lunches or prepping dinner in the crockpot at the same time without being in each other’s way.

Again, ask yourself about your own family’s internal routines and rhythms. You do want storage next to the place where your work zones are. So you want extra dish soap within range of the kitchen sinks. So you can just reach in there with wet hands when you run out of soap. But where do you store your eating utensils? This is a matter of preference, but there’s two ways you might think about that. You might put your dishes and forks and spoons next to where they get picked up and used for the day. So in the dining room, if you eat in the dining room or on the far side of the peninsula towards the eat in kitchen area, so they can be grabbed and used or conversely, you might wanna store them close to where they get washed up and put away. I actually love the idea and the visual of a dish strainer right over the sink.

So you can just put your dishes away while they’re, when they’re clean and grab them right from there and go the next day. I do this with my silverware. I actually keep all my silverware that I use daily in a draining rack right next to the sink. A spoon comes into the sink gets washed, soap is washed off, it goes into the drainer. It happens to be conveniently adjacent to the prep surface where I then make breakfast every morning. So I grab a fresh spoon in the morning from the same rack where it’s been dry and clean since last night. Ask yourself this, have you got easy access to the storage for the things you need next to all your various kitchen tasks? Moving around for fun is great, but how many steps you have to take to assemble your morning coffee or a bowl of soup or a cereal is something you wanna reduce. The things that you use regularly should be grouped closely together.

Alright, fourth category is hangout spots. Yes, hangout spots in your kitchen because when it’s done and when it’s done right, you’re gonna prefer it to every other room in the house. And I’m not just talking about bar stools at a counter. Although, yes, it’s great to have a place where you can pull up at least two bar stools to a counter. Make sure that there’s really room for your knees there. You wanna be able to tuck stools away when they’re not in use and to lounge comfortably in one without having to either hunch over or put yourself into a sitting splits in order to get close to the adjacent horizontal surface.

But you also wanna think about eat-in kitchen spaces. Now that might be just a little extra area with a free-standing table and chairs. Or one of my favorite things is to put a built-in L-shaped seating nook into the kitchen. So some people will pull up a chair and sit at the table, but other people sitting on the other side of the table will be able to lounge on comfortable, well-padded seating. This might be people hanging out with a cook or it might be the cook taking a break in their own kitchen. It becomes an ideal spot for work, from home, for homework, and for just spreading out to do a project.

The last thing I want you to consider is do you need an armchair in your kitchen or in the same category? A window seat. A built-in bench someplace just to sit and be comfortable. This again can be for someone to hang out with you while you the cook are working, or it can be a place for the cook to sit and wait for the water to boil or for the oven timer to go off. When your kitchen is wonderful, you’ll want to spend a lot of time there when it’s well lit and well designed and well finished. It’s a place where you want to be, so why not make a comfortable place to hang out right inside your kitchen?

Alright, the last thing that’s essential is style. Great, you’ve done all the above, but that doesn’t make it a mid mod kitchen. How do you keep all of this mid-century? The material language of your kitchen is where you must maintain or in some cases reset the visual language of the house. A mid-century kitchen is about simple lines and shapes. There will be no ornate crown molding over the top of the cabinets, no cut glass, no fluted complex or even shaker style cabinet doors. No marble countertops, um, or ornate faucets.

The original mid-century kitchens were all about cleanable, usable practicality, tile and formica, plywood and fresh paint. Compromise between timelessness and adding your own taste. So if you’re not feeling strongly about a color or finish, then simple slab, front cabinet doors in a wood stain will always be the right choice and white for walls, counters, and floors, not a bad one. Um, you might wanna not go with a white floor if you don’t love scrubbing or sweeping it. But if you love color, then play with it. Depending on your own comfort zone, there is always room for many or a single bold color in a mid-century kitchen. Remember the mid-century modern people were not afraid of color, but that doesn’t mean you’re obligated.

With all that in mind, here’s the pep talk. Of course there’s a pep talk. My goal as a designer is to bring modern kitchens, the high-end style ideas and other design ideas that were already floating around in mid-century homes of high design or more custom design, to the builder grade ranches that never quite caught those cool ideas when they came by the first line. Things like creative lighting and storage options that allow a family to live just the way they want in and out of their kitchen. Like a fabulous reach in pantry right where you need it. Eat in areas where the cook or cooks can take a load off during the cooking process and other members of the household can hang out with them while they prep food and the whole family can come together and eat in comfort and splendor and it’s easy to deliver the food to them while they’re there.

Again, I wanna emphasize these ideas were not necessarily overlooked during the era of mid-century kitchen design. They just weren’t as common as they could or maybe should have been. But we have to cut the mid-century in slack. It’s important to remember that historically the mid-century era was a time of youths transition in household labor and technology not that long before then our homes had washing machines that were glorified tubs that would let you circulate water with a hand crank. Refrigerators had futuristic top units that needed to be tended so often you couldn’t necessarily go away and leave them alone for a weekend. Stoves involved messy and smelly and sort of self heating, self guiding processes. Before the advent of prepared foods and processed ingredients being available in stores, kitchen work often involved preparing food from farm to table, so it was more labor intensive, messier smellier and had a greater actual necessity to be safely separated from living spaces of the house.

That was also a time when the whole house itself might be heated with radiators. So no open windows and no means for air purification that explains why people were more likely to want to separate and isolate the kitchen workspace and the the food oriented prep space from the rest of the living spaces of the house. And a lot of those things are just not true anymore. For anyone who’s curious, by the way about that transition in time and technology, you can’t miss Sarah Archer’s amazing book, the Mid-Century Kitchen. Get it, read it. DRL over the pictures. By the way, she and I talked about this during episode 5 0 2 and season five is a season entirely devoted to mid-century kitchens. I’ll put a link in the show notes. So if you’re looking for inspiration for some of the actual original mid-century, high end, cool concept kitchens, check out her book.

Uh, check out other architect designed, builder designed, uh, developer designed kitchens that we have well documented. We can look at the advertising literature from that era and just think about how we can shake up our own expectations. There’s a lot about the layout of a mid-century kitchen that we just assume is normal and take for granted because most of us alive today, um, have grown up almost exclusively with the kitchen layouts of the mid-century era, for two reasons.

One, there was such a pervasive building boom during that era that a huge proportion of the kitchens and houses that we live in today were originally built during that time. And since then, non creativity in new construction and remodels has left us imitating the patterns that were set during that time without really questioning them. This is good news. It leaves us with a huge opportunity to improve our lives. So there are many ways that you can tweak a mid-century kitchen without changing it much. And there are ways you can rethink and overhaul the entire area where you cook and eat in your home to great effect.

While it can obviously be a cost saving measure to keep things as intact as possible, it’s easier not to move the plumbing of the kitchen sink, for example. But if you get to a place where you’re removing all the built-ins from your original kitchen or all the more, uh, inappropriately built, built-ins from a nineties, eighties, or early two thousands remodel, you are under no obligation to put back the new built-ins in the exact same spots and shapes. Let me say that once again, when you replace older things with new ones, they do not have to go in the same places and they do not have to be the same shapes.

This is going to be harder to do than it sounds like because our brains naturally assume that the way things have always been is the way they should continue to be. And it’s easier to iterate, to make little tweaking changes from an existing form than it is to start fresh when you’re designing. But I encourage you to think about the possibilities of changing the layout of your kitchen in subtle or dramatic ways to change the way you live in your house on a daily basis.

Step one, go download the kitchen guide if you haven’t already. Find it on the show notes page at midmod-midwest.com/1012. For the next couple of weeks, we are going to be all about kitchens. So hit me up in Instagram dms with your kitchen questions, or join us in the mid mod remodel Facebook group and talk about kitchens there. I can’t wait to get into kitchens with you in the new year.