Slathering turquoise paint onto kitchen cabinets one recent afternoon, Medford resident Elly Swift looked the part of a content, 1950s housewife with a tidy hankie on her head and bright-red lips, surrounded by her colorful, vintage-style kitchen.
While she's far too young to have lived in the era, the 28-year-old is fond of the increasingly popular trend of vintage decor. With splashes of retro and sometimes soda-shop colors, funky patterns and cutesy characters, vintage decor can be interpreted in a lot of creative ways.
With a passion for the 1950s and '60s, Swift — in a very not-so-1950s way — hosts a blog (www.missellysatomicadventures.blogspot.com) detailing her home-decor projects for readers and offering tricks for finding fun, collectible or reproduction, vintage items.
For Swift, vintage decor means mixing and matching favorite items and surrounding herself with bright colors. Turquoise cabinets, for example, contrast with pale-pink walls, Siamese cat figurines and brains-themed salt-and-pepper shakers.
"Vintage kitchens are really big right now. It's basically the stuff people grew up with or remember from their mom's kitchen or even seeing on all the old TV shows," says Swift.
"What's even better is, with things being difficult financially right now for a lot of people, you can find a lot of the stuff that's really fun to use at yard sales and at second-hand stores."
For folks who are shy about adapting to a new style, kitchens are a safe place to start, says Swift.
"I have noticed a lot of people, if they're not going to go all the way with vintage but they really like the look, they'll start with just trying their kitchen. That '50s American kitchen kind of has a nostalgia for everybody, I think."
Paint manufacturers offer historical color palettes with vintage selections.
Will Doty of Medford's Miller Paint store says customers frequently bring in favorite dishes, curtains or even pieces of furniture to achieve color matches for their wall paint.
"We've had people come in with appliances, old curtains, aprons — or even an old scrap of wallpaper they want us to pick the pistachio green out of. The stark-white days are basically gone," says Doty.
"Instead of white, we're seeing a lot of older almond and antique cream. And the 1970s reds and golds are making a comeback, too."
For vintage fans in need of era-specific patterns, wallpapers and fabrics — newly reproduced or salvaged from decades ago — designs are readily available in local stores and online.
Bradbury & Bradbury (bradbury.com) offers retro and pop-atomic selections while Graham & Brown (www.grahambrown.com) features designs dubbed "Making a Crockery" and "Housewives."
Wallpaper From the '70s (www.wallpaperfromthe70s.com) and Secondhand Rose (www.secondhandrose.com) also are good hunting grounds for old-time patterns.
Old and New?
To achieve the look of a kitchen from four or five decades ago, mixing old and new, says designer Tamara Reichenshammer, can create a unique decor.
"Something that really achieves a more vintage look is having flea-market kind of thinking, where people travel and collect things that appeal to them," she says.
"Every little piece adds a little dash of, 'Oh, there's a story there,' or items that remind people of happy experiences and things they grew up with."
Filling the space
For redoing a kitchen completely, cabinetry is showing up with vintage finishes and rounded edges, says Reichenshammer. To really take a step back to the 1970s, throw down some linoleum in mushroom-brown, mustard-yellow or black-and-white checkerboard.
Filling space in attractive but usable ways, appliances that mirror vintage toasters or coffee makers increasingly are available in stores. KitchenAid, for example, offers an Artisan line of stand mixers in retro colors such as pistachio-green, tangerine-orange and persimmon-red.
Retailers also offer stoves and refrigerators with vintage flair. For an updated, vintage appearance, brushed chrome offers a clean look.
Whether dabbing some colorful paint and displaying keepsakes or recreating an old sock hop, Swift says the key is to find things you love and display them with flair.
"Even as a kid, thrift-store shopping was my favorite thing to do. In fact, I always tell people who are learning about vintage decor, it's less expensive and more eco-friendly if you look for old stuff instead of reproductions, and it's so much fun to go look for things you love," she says.
"I've pretty much always been into vintage, and what I love seems to evolve as I find new things that appeal to me. It's just a lot of fun to look at, and it's like a treasure hunt to find things to create a look that you really love."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.