Where to find the Perfect Retro Table for Our Kitchen? [Reupholster and paint one instead]

Where to find the Perfect Retro Table for Our Kitchen? [Reupholster and paint one instead]

I am a fan of the simplicity of the 1940s and 1950s, especially the vintage decor.  We used to have a beautiful 1950’s maple colonial dining room table and chairs.  But when we had small children and white wall-to-wall carpet in the dining area, we felt it necessary to move our dinners from the dining room to the kitchen.  However, the maple table didn’t fit the small kitchen space, and it went to live with a family friend.  Since about 2000, we have made do with an inexpensive basic drop leaf farm table with a white tile top.  I never really liked it, but it fit the space. I would really like to have a 1950s dining table and chairs.

We had only planned to use the tile top modern table until we found (and could afford to buy) a more charming vintage table that fits in the kitchen.  Twelve years later, we still had not found the perfect 1950s dining table and chairs set. Now that we are finally getting a real linoleum floor, I have been shopping a little more regularly, most recently on Etsy, eBay, and craigslist, as well as antique stores.

vintage 1940s kitchen table
This is the sort of the color I was going for in our kitchen. This is one of the images from the scrapbook of mid century decorating ideas from my friend’s grandmother. It has a table in it that is similar to our new table and chairs


I didn’t think I was that picky, but I must be since I have been hunting around for a decade. I think the hard part has been that the table has to be small enough to use in our tiny kitchen.  The tables from the 1940s are a little smaller than ones from the 1950s.

I really like inlaid decorative designs and the kind of tables with two-tone colors either in the chairs or table.  Any color Formica would do since I like having a colorful kitchen and was willing to pay $300 to $600 if it was just a table, or a lot more if it was in pristine condition or came with the original chairs.  However, the right retro table for us must be sturdy and usable since it won’t just be a decorative piece but our everyday family dinner table.  Some of the tables I have come across, look good in the photos and in the seller’s descriptions, but upon closer inspection in person, the tables end up having more rust than what a little brushing of steel wool would clean up. A lot of them appeared to have other big issues that are beyond my skills to repair.  I avoided buying a table that would need to be re-chromed.  I briefly looked into how much it would cost to get a table re-chromed here in SoCal, and the price was significantly more than the value of most tables. 

I was really hoping to find a green or red linen 1940s dinette, but I decided I could settle for almost any color if it was the right size. Mint green cracked ice was popular in the 1950s and I think the look could work in our kitchen nicely. Unfortunately, every time I find one, the dimensions on the 1950s tables are just too big.

Settling for less than perfect

We finally settled on a late 1940s table we both could live with on craigslist, but it is yellow and did need a lot of work. The chairs had to be reupholstered, it needed steel wool on all the chrome, and the paint was chipping on the metal apron sides of the tabletop. However, the Formica is in good shape and it has a leaf. The best part about it is the size. It fits our space perfectly.

Repairing chairs and upholstery took a few days once I found some fabric that complimented the linen laminate top. I had to take apart the seats and backrests of all the chairs, buff the chrome, and reapply new vinyl fabric with a staple gun and decorative upholstery nails. I changed the look from solid yellow to a two-toned red and yellow. It was not so much that I wanted this color combo, but I was unable to secure enough yellow vinyl to cover everything. They also didn’t have enough red. But now that it is done, I do like how it turned out.

before reupholstery on 1950s chair
This is a before photo I snappe with a camera phone as I was workng on the chairs
All the parts have been removed in repairing the fabric on the vintage chair
One of the chairs is ready to have the chrome all cleaned up with steel wool
putting the chair back together
Almost all done repairing one chair. Three more to go.

The Finished Table and Chairs

My daughter said it looks like catsup and mustard, but I am okay with that. The table fits and is sturdy. For now, that is all that matters. I plan to sell it later on if I ever do find the perfect table. If you have read this far and want to see it all finished, it can be seen in another post here.

17 thoughts on “Where to find the Perfect Retro Table for Our Kitchen? [Reupholster and paint one instead]

  1. We just purchased a cracked ice white table with the leaf and six chairs for a steal at $75.00.
    I have been looking for one for years. My grandparents had a yellow one and always wished I had it

  2. Hi Lianne, I have an adorable 1940’s Red formica top dinette set with 4 red chairs. Excellent condition. I am in Southern California. Asking $300

  3. Hi, where are you located? My dad just refurbished the starburst one you have posted. We’re in Michigan’s.

  4. I have one In pale pinkish and black it’s in excellent condition i love it but we don’t use it it doesn’t work with our decor/style. something about it – very cool piece but may have too Part with it so someone can actually enjoy it! Any idea of values for these type of tables/chairs?

  5. How do you know if a formica table is a reproduction or an original? I have found one for a really good price and it is in decent shape but I am unsure it is truly original because I’ve seen similar reproductions on the web.

    1. Hi Ramona,

      I was able to tell the age of my vintage formica table and chairs by the date stamp on the under side. However, when there is no stamp, look for a table with one of the designs and colors that are no longer manufactured, like green cracked ice, star bursts, or some of the retro linen patterns. If you are looking at modern table, it might have a label with country of origin on it. A lot of the modern ones are white or grey and have wide table rim edges.

  6. i have a mini table like this it lite green just 2 chairs i think its a sale sample table or a child’s table its got aluminum side like what my grand farther had i like them tables too

    1. No, i do not have any of these retro dinette sets for sale. Sorry. My post was all about my own search to buy a vintage 1950s formica table and chair set, as well as my love for the mid century style kitchen tables. I eventually bought a 1940’s table i liked via my local craigslist.

    1. Yes, we found one I am satisfied with that fits really well, but I am still looking for a vintage table that matches our kitchen even better, but not a new one/ modern reproduction. Our table and chairs set can be seen at this post: Our 1949 Red and Yellow Howell Dinette Set I recovered the vinyl upholstered chairs and painted the metal apron on the table.

    1. Opps. The caption didn’t show up on that one. I am not sure why, but I will fix it. I thought that dinette set was absolutely perfect, too! And I responded to the ad as soon as I saw it (it was within a few hours of the post being listed on craigslist,) but the seller never responded and the ad was deleted by the next day. I was bummed. Basically, I have found the good tables go fast or I only find them for sale on the East Coast with no shipping. I am starting to think I will have to troll craigslist multiple times a day. The local antique swap meet at Long Beach City Collage and the couple times I have been into antique malls have been of little help, either.

I would love to know what you think about this.

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