1950s American Diner

Hi! My name is American Diner

Two key styles emerged from the 1950s: American Diner and the Designer Look, focusing on furniture and textiles.

Sarah Jane Wilson gives you the low-down on the latest in retro style.

It oozes post-war positivity, jiving, fun times twirling your curls across the table in a diner from a James Dean-a-like, chewing bubble-gum, while the juke-box churns out rock ‘n’ roll tunes you can’t help but dance to.

For more inspiration, search for ‘American Diner’ on Pinterest


It is during difficult economic times that we often try to recreate happier (or seemingly happier) eras from bygone days, which could go some way to explain the surge of diner influences in Britain’s kitchens today. There was a similar revival during the 1970s.

In the 1950s people went to the cinema or, for the purposes of this feature, the movies or a drive-in. The movies offered escapism, a dreamy vision, and gave strong indicators as to what was cool at the time. People, especially the young, had money again, or for the first time, and consumerism was huge.

The new materials available (including PVC, Formica, melamine, vinyl, plastics) all shaped the form and function of the kitchen in particular. Googie architecture was also influential; featuring geometric shapes and boldly using glass, steel and neon, it was popular among motels, petrol stations and coffee houses in the US in the 1950s.

1950s diner style pieces are highly collectable, largely due to their recognisable aesthetic, and there’s lots to choose from, including these brilliant pieces locally…


Popcorn Warmer

Genuine original 1950s popcorn warmer

Genuine original 1950s popcorn warmer from a cinema. It would have been used throughout the 1960s and beyond too (hence the later addition of the phone number on it). Alleyways, Bridport, £75

Popcorn was first discovered thousands of years ago by Native Americans who believed that angry spirits or gods popped out of the kernels when heated. Popcorn gained mass popularity during the Great Depression because it was relatively cheap, compared to other foods, at just 5-10 cents a bag.

Tip: the secret to getting your home popcorn to taste and smell like movie theatre popcorn is to use coconut oil for popping, and a special seasoning called “butter salt.”

Rockabilly

In the 1950s, it wasn’t called Rockabilly. It wasn’t even necessarily a lifestyle — back then, it was just being a teenager.

However, the 1950s sub-cultures are quite different between the US and the UK. The look was revived in the 1970s (think Grease, American Graffiti and Happy Days) and, like today, visual short-cuts, such as flames and cherries, were used but these, and tattoos, weren’t actually popular at the time.

1950s Movie Posters

Jet Over the Atlantic movie poster
Jet Over the Atlantic movie poster

Movie posters from the 1950s are a great way to start a collection and would look fantastic in your home diner or cinema.

Above: Jet Over the Atlantic poster (framed), Alleyways, Bridport, £75.
Below: Calamity Jane poster (framed), Alleyways, Bridport, £165.

Calamity Jane movie poster
Calamity Jane movie poster

1950s Gem Earrings

1950s Gem Earrings

Julie Penney of Aunt Jane’s Attic says: “The gems, or ‘set stones,’ are unused from the 1950s and 1960s. They’re imported over from the USA and brought back to life to make gorgeous earrings with new gold-plated, silver-plated or antique bronze fittings.”

Aunt Jane’s Attic, £5.


American Yellow Rose 1950s Frock

American Yellow Rose 1950s Frock

This super cute dress epitomizes the 1950s look. Wear it with Yellow 1950s Multi-layer Petticoat, just visible under the dress, Vintage at Cornucopia, £35. Frock: Vintage at Cornucopia, £55.

How to get the look

Fashion: think polka-dots, circle skirts, neckerchiefs, pencil skirts with cardigan sweaters, poodle skirts and cigarette trousers. Don’t just cop out with one of the era’s classic items: a pair of jeans! Jeans at the time, for example worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953), signified rebellion. For guys, a great leather jacket is a must-have item. In the 1950s, penny loafers were often worn, which, like leather jackets, were long-wearing.

Home: bubblegum pink, minty or pistachio green, pale blues and bright reds. A black and white/red and white/yellow and white chequer-board floor really shouts “diner” (and it’s good to roller-skate on!) Chrome chairs, ideally a raised bar (service counter), giant American fridge, in either chrome or a bright colour, anything stainless steel, a neon sign. And, of course, a jukebox, if you can get your hands on an affordable one!

Jellybean Dispenser

Jellybean Dispenser

This replica old-fashioned jellybean or bubblegum dispenser is a cheeky and cheap piece for your diner. Richard, from the Alleyways, recalls having to give it a full-on clean as it had too many old jellybeans in it when it arrived!


Bullfinch Lamp

Bullfinch Lamp

This is a true hero piece!

Beautifully elegant and makes a real statement

Alchemy at Molly’s Den, Bridport, £329.


US Vehicle Plates

US Vehicle Plates

A couple of these displayed would make a real impact in a drive-in movie style room — and they’re very affordable and collectable! Unit 54 at Molly’s Den, Bridport, £10 each.


US Food Drums

US Food Drums

What else do you need to make your diner look truly authentic than a US Food Drum? It has great upcycling potential too. Unit 54 at Molly’s Den, Bridport, £10 (small) or £50 (large)

1950s inventions for the home

Trolleys, sofa beds and ironing boards (all due to smaller post-war homes and the need to move items easily) and Tupperware.

Coat Hook

Coat Hook

A very affordable, practical way to get the 1950s look in your home. This, like many others produced since, is a nod and a wink to the “Hang It All Coat Racks” produced in 1953 by the highly influential design team, Charles and Ray Eames. Alleyways, Bridport, £23.

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What to invest in?

Clocks, including sunburst, Atom wall clocks or Coca-cola branded clocks (in the 1950s these were generally not dated so check the slogan, design, and materials used to identify the year or decade of production).

Cardigan Sweaters and charm bracelets were very popular in the 1950s. Vintage Posters: a very addictive, yet also accessible, item to start building a collection on. Jukeboxes.

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