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How to Pick out Vintage Chairs for a 50s Diner Look

Vintage Chairs for Restaurants and Homes

Who can resist the 1950s? From bobby socks and saddle shoes, poodle skirts and ponytails, and the hip-swinging Elvis Presley rocking from the jukebox in a 1950s diner, everyone loves the era. Nostalgia makes us happy, and the pull of retro diners is irresistible.

It doesn’t matter whether you are shopping for vintage chairs to use in your personal kitchen, recreation room, or a 1950s diner, retro furniture has a nostalgic look that appeals to everyone. Knowing how to select items that work well together to give you an authentic look and then where you can purchase the look you desire is simple once you have a few tips.

Sizing and Comfort

Just like selecting furniture for your living areas, you want your diner chairs to be the right height for your table and comfortable for sitting. You also want to consider whether you want a hard surface or a padded seat. The ease of cleaning the chair’s surface is another consideration.

Proper Sizing

A standard table is 30” high and a standard dining chair is 18.” A good rule of thumb is that 11” to 12” between the bottom of the table and top of the dining chair seat should be comfortable for the average adult.

Generally, you want about 24” of room for each chair at a table. Many retro dining sets for a 50’s look will have a small table with seating for four around it. Larger sets were also available with center leaves and additional chairs to seat up to six.

If you plan to spend a fair amount of time in your chairs entertaining guests or using your table for crafts or hobbies, you will probably want to make sure you have a comfortable, upholstered seat. When purchasing retro there is a variety of options available to meet your preferences.

Your next decision is whether you want to purchase actual vintage chairs or whether you wish to go with a reproduction. The deciding factor may be in the exact materials, colors, textiles, and the number of matching pieces you need to complete your home or restaurant.

Vintage, Antique, or Retro?

The terms vintage, antique, and retro all mean different things and trying to determine what you are shopping for can be confusing.

  • Vintage—an item a minimum of 50 years old; some people use the term “new vintage” for items over 25 years, but the industry standard is 50 years
  • Antique—an item a minimum of 100 years old
  • Retro—an item made in imitation of a style or fashion from the past, also carries the name “vintage-inspired”
  • Mid-Century—a term for mid-20th century architecture, graphics, and décor that fall between the years 1933 to 1965

If you are shopping for a vintage chair, you are looking for a chair that was built a minimum of 50 years ago. The piece will bear the look of age and use. It may have damage needing repair and will need extra care to maintain its quality and look.

A retro chair is a replica of furniture that was built in the past but has been re-created in the modern-day for the purpose of creating a nostalgic look. Retro chairs are more kid-friendly, resistant to spills and marks, and easy to clean. There are no concerns about quality and the items ship with a warranty.

Purchasing Vintage Chairs

When shopping for vintage chairs, you will likely pay a higher price for a lower quality product. For example, on eBay, an original 1950s kitchen set consisting of five chairs and a Formica chrome-cast yellow cracked ice table was on sale. The description of the chairs stated that the seats are reupholstered.

Despite the upholstery being re-done, the description made note of scuffs, but that the chairs ‘pretty much” look new. As for the chrome, it is in “pretty good shape” but not perfect. Is this the look you want?

Why pay $1,299.95 for a table and five chairs plus an additional $250.00 in shipping when you can purchase new retro-style chairs? New chairs being built by a company with more than 40 years of experience building 1950s furniture.

Another comparison is a set of two vintage 1950s dinette chairs that were green and white, for $85. The photo was a clear indication that these chairs were covered in stains, very worn and dirty. There was no further description and no shipping available. The purchaser must pick the chairs up from their location.

Other dinette sets available made similar notes about “normal wear and tear.”  Several come with chairs that are either reupholstered or retro (newly made). The concern is that you are purchasing an item that will not put the best look forward in your kitchen or restaurant and comes with no guarantee of quality workmanship. 

If you gave concerns about purchasing a retro item, these videos show the high-quality workmanship you receive when purchasing retro chairs. It is a great way to get a sneak peek into the factory where Richardson Seating builds its chairs and bar stools. You will see workers sewing and upholstering the chairs. A great look at why you should buy retro.

Shop Vintage but Buy Retro

When you purchase vintage furniture, you are setting yourself apart in the look you wish to achieve.  Retro is anything from the 1950s to the 1970s. While you will likely find a wide selection of vintage future items online, you are not guaranteed of their quality in both assembly and upholstery.

You may not be able to obtain the exact look your desire nor the quantity you need to fill your restaurant or bar. Shopping vintage furniture stores is a great way to see what colors and looks you like. Estate sales, flea markets, and auctions are great places to find a solo set for putting in your home basement or kitchen.

If you are shopping for a full set of chairs or bar stools to outfit a 50s style restaurant, you may want to consider flipping through photos online to get an idea of what is available. To pull together the full 1950s diner look, find what you like then shop online for retro chairs that give you the look with a new, quality look that comes with a full manufacturer’s warranty.

The 1950’s Look

You may have memories of grandma’s kitchen looking like something that came from a vintage diner. The table with the shiny colored surface and chrome edge paired with chrome and bright colored 1950s chairs. You can just see June Cleaver from the old Leave it to Beaver show serving dinner to her family in a 1950s kitchen.

Chrome is the most popular material for 1950s retro chairs and tables. Bar stools, chairs, and the table all share this bright and shiny material. Richardson Seating offers more than 20 styles of restaurant chairs in a chrome diner style that are commercial grade retro 1950’s. The manufacturing process uses a 14 gauge steel frame that brings forth a decorative retro look.  

Pulled Seat Diner Chair

Model 4110 pulled seat diner chair is available in any color and features a standard backrest and 1” tightly pulled seat. Popular colors for this chair include cracked ice red, cracked ice grey, and cracked ice yellow. This chair is made of heavy gauge welded steel with a chrome finish. The chair seat is 19” high and weighs 22 lbs.

Handle Back Diner Chair

The five hand-sewn channels on the backrest give Model 4260 a more decorative look for your retro dining set. You can select from cracked ice red, cracked ice yellow, or cracked ice grey to give you a true 1950s style diner chair.

This chair has a 14 gauge steel frame and works perfectly in restaurants, homes, diners, and cafes. The height of the seat is 18” and the chair weight is 22 lbs.

You may also purchase the handle back diner chair in a two-tone color scheme under Model No. 4260-T. It is available in any color combination you like.

The chair comes standard with a 2-inch box seat but other options are available. You have the option of a pulled seat or a waterfall seat. This chair weighs 19 lbs and has an 18" seat height.

Lucy Diner Chair

An all-time best-seller, the Lucy Diner Chair has diamond-tufted upholstery and features an all-welded frame. The chair arrives fully assembled.

Button tufting on the chair back gives a decorative look.  Zodiac colors for this chair feature reflective metal flakes that give a retro glitter look to the vinyl upholstery. The chair weighs 22 lbs. and has a seat height of 18”

V Back Diner Chair

For an awesome 1950s diner decor take a look at the V Back Diner Chair Model 4220. Made from the same 14 gauge steel frame as all other dining chairs, it ships fully welded so no assembly necessary and no bolts working loose.

Zodiac Burgundy and Zodiac Silver with metallic flakes embedded in the vinyl complete the retro look. The seat is constructed of 5/8 CDX plywood routed by hand. The seatback is made from curved plywood. Weighing 19 lbs. and a seat height of 18” makes this a perfect retro dining chair to complete your look.

Bar Stools

If you have a soda fountain in your 1950s diner or a bar in your home, complete the 1950s look with chrome bar stools in coordinating colors. Selections are available in retro-looking chrome single and double ring stool. Model 1971 is the most popular bar stool, featuring a full pan going around the seat.

The bar is kept in stock in a choice of five colors and can be custom made to any color you like. When ordering you have the question of having piping around the side of the seat in a coordinating or contrast color. The complete swivel seat is 30" high and weighs 18 lbs, making this an ideal choice for home or business.

If you prefer a back on your stools, two models are available in single or double ring versions. Model 1958 is a perfect match to Model 1952 stool if you want to mix and match styles. Once your stools with backs arrive simply attach the seat to the frame with the included screws. The stools with backs weigh 24 lbs and the seat is 30" high.

Complete the Décor

Now that you have a few tips to select seating for your 1950s diner look, you will want to complete the look with retro decorative items. Whether a kitchen in your home or a full restaurant, here are some great decorating tips:

  • Retro analog clock, either plain or with advertising on it
  • Bright poster-size signs displaying food advertising or simple words like “kitchen,” “diner,” or “eat.”
  • Display 1950’s movie star posters, license plates, or vinyl albums
  • Add some retro Coca Cola accessories such as a napkin holder, straw dispenser, or salt and pepper shakers
  • Neon signs give a 1950’s diner feel to the kitchen and eating areas
  • Purchase some vintage style appliances, including a refrigerator, toaster, or range in the pastel teal and pink colors or the cherry read versions popular at that time
  • A checkered tile floor in black and white or another bright color combination

Complete the look with a jukebox CD player to give it a real retro dining set feel. You can almost imagine Fonzie walking in and hitting the jukebox to get things hopping.

Manufacturing Since the 1950s

Richardson Seating in Chicago Illinois is a multi-generational business dating back to the 1950s. With a family history that dates back to the vintage chairs you are shopping for, who better to create the look you desire? If you have any questions about our product please feel free to contact us.

We are happy to upholster and add contrast pipe to your chairs to fit your color scheme, creating a unique look for your home or restaurant. If you are looking to get your set-up done quickly, we recommend checking out our in-stock quick-ship chairs. These chairs are available in custom colors, arrive fully assembled, and are made of the same thick 14 gauge steel all our chairs are manufactured with.

We invite you to check out all the options we have available and place your order today. We look forward to supplying you with chairs for your 1950s diner look.

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