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My Perfect Atomic Kitchen

It started with an old dinner plate.

Sometime in the 1950s, my creative, colorful, California-loving mother purchased Gladding McBean Franciscan dinnerware with an “Atomic” starburst pattern. My brothers and I grew up eating breakfast, lunch and dinner off this dishware, and I always loved it.

In 2007, my new husband started systematically purchasing this “antique” dinnerware from eBay, until we had amassed a full 12-piece place setting. And then two years ago, we bought a 50+ year old house to match the plates.

Despite the passage of five decades, our brick ranch looks much like it did when built (which is part of the reason I found it so enchanting). Stepping into the kitchen was like walking through a portal back to 1962.

Unfortunately, my beautiful old kitchen had one glaring defect: Boring walls. Despite an intense search, I couldn’t find a wallpaper pattern that seemed “right” for the kitchen.

Whilst researching “Mid-Century Modern Homes,” I discovered a delightful website called “Retro Renovation,” and fell in love with the many well-written articles and dazzling photos posted there. And more recently, a guest writer at Retro Renovation wrote a piece about creating her own “Atomic” design for her kitchen walls, using the Gladding McBean dinnerware as a guide.

As soon as I laid eyes on the pictures of her newly painted walls, I was elated: I’d found my pattern, and better yet, re-creating that pattern would be a lot less expensive than the $100+ a roll wallpaper I’d been considering.

Two weeks ago, I started work on the project and I must say, it went more quickly than I’d anticipated, and I am tickled pink with the end result. It’s not a flawless duplication of the pattern on the plate, and it’s also not a perfect copy of the design featured at Retro Renovation, but I am DEE-lighted with the way it looks.

Every time I walk into the kitchen, I find myself staring at the walls and grinning from ear-to-ear. And that’s a mighty good feeling.

And as always, please leave a comment if you enjoy the pictures!

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Even as a child, I admired the unique pattern and colors on this Gladding McBean Franciscan Dinnerware. And best of all, its Oven Safe!

Even as a child, I admired the unique pattern and colors on this Gladding McBean Franciscan Dinnerware. Today, it's more commonly known as an "Atomic" starburst pattern, and can be purchased on eBay. According to Wikipedia, Gladding McBean created the Franciscan dishware line in 1934, and it was named in honor of the Franciscan friars who established California missions in the 1700s and 1800s.

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Wayne and I both loved the kitchen in our 50-year-old house, but the walls were rather drab. This photo shows the first dab of Sherwin Williams Duration Extra-White on the wall.

Wayne and I both loved the kitchen in our 50-year-old house, but the kitchen walls were drab and dull. This photo shows the first dab of Sherwin Williams "Duration Extra-White" on the wall.

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For a cleaner, non-textured look, I applied the paint with a brush. Much to my chagrin, the Duration paint did not cover the existing flesh-colored with a single coat.

For a cleaner, non-textured look, I applied the white "base coat" with a brush. Much to my chagrin, the Duration Extra White paint did not cover the existing flesh-colored paint with a single coat.

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dots

Following the suggestion at Retro Renovation, I created the dots by cutting out circular bits of sponge. After much consideration, I went with three sizes: 3", 2" and 1-1/2". I found that dampening the sponge and then wringing it out thoroughly made it *much* easier to work with (as opposed to using a dry sponge). I placed the round sponge on the wall and then gently rotated it 360 degrees.

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house

The end result was just what I'd hoped it would be! One of the reasons I love the "atomic starburst" design is because it's fun and fanciful, and almost child-like with its many imperfections. That's my kind of artwork!

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Figuring out the size of the dots needed for the large expanse of wall took some time, but in the end, I used three sizes of dots: 3, 2 and 1-1/2 dots.

Creating the templates for the starbursts proved quite difficult. After several hours of studying the patterns and trying to solve this puzzle, my buddy Milton helped me "see" the pattern on the plates in a different way. With that fresh insight, I was able to create a template, and drawing the starburst became quick work.

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We trekked up to the

We trekked up to the Sherwin Williams store in Ghent (on 21st Street in Norfolk) with a couple dinner plates in hand, and asked the clerk to create a paint color from the colors shown in the three starbursts. Unfortunately, the computer was not able to pick up the color from the plates, so we were forced to match the colors up the old-fashioned way - with our own eyeballs. The blue shown on the dishware is tad more gray than the blue we selected. As a fan of the 1950s, I had a decided prejudice toward turquoise. However the yellow ("Humble Gold") and green ("Baize Green") were a very good match. The blue/torquoise was "Aquaduct."

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dots

I was so pleased with the look of my polka-dotted wall that I almost stopped right there. It was such a joy to see the flesh-colored, food-stained wall transformed into something colorful and bright and clean. But once I finished my first "starburst," I was immediately in love.

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Looks snappy, doesnt it?

Looks snappy, doesn't it?

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rretro

By contrast, the "undone" dot (upper right) looks almost blasé!

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dots

Lots and lots of dots. As mentioned above, my hand-crafted starbursts are not a perfect match to the dinnerware starburst, but it captured the retro look that I had longed to find. I was quite pleased with the look.

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It did take a lot of pens

I did go through a lot of pens. For the lines within the starburst, I used the Sharpie Ultra-Fine point markers, and for the dots at the tips of the starburst, I used the Sharpie Fine-points. For drawing on painted walls, the "Industrial" sharpies were far superior to the regular markers. And it was wholly delightful to finally be able to DRAW ON THE WALLS without anyone yelling at me!

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house

These were the templates that I used for the starbursts. If anyone is interested in more information on how I used these to create the larger starburst pattern (blue), send me a note and I'll give you all the details. It involved some free-hand work, but it was darn fun - and easy - once I could "see" the pattern.

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house house

The space above the cabinet was painted with the "Aquaduct," and the "Humble Gold" was used below the cabinet. The end result was really stunning, and most pleasing. Best of all, it looked "period appropriate."

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Kitchen

The turquoise color really highlighted the details around the window valance.

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dots

This angle shows off the "Humble Gold" above the back splash.

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dhica

This is a shot of the small space over the kitchen door and beside the refrigerator.

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end result

The only downside of our "old" (un-remodeled) kitchen is the limited space. This small pot-rack has been a huge help and freed up much needed storage under the cook-top. The cabinet next to the pot-rack was found at a salvage store (ReStore) in Newport News, and has also helped alleviate storage woes.

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drab

That formerly drab flesh-colored wall is looking pretty good! Unfortunately, the ceiling isn't quite finished yet. And I'd love to hear suggestions on the floor, as the existing floor has GOT TO GO!

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dots

Several times a day, I saunter into the kitchen and admire my pretty dots. They always make me smile.

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Finis!

Finis!

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To read the original post at Retro Renovation that captured my fancy, click here.

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  1. Sue
    January 29th, 2014 at 20:54 | #1

    Um, that CFL bulb doesn’t do anything for that fine lamp you were using. :-)

    You’ve got a great look going there in the kitchen. I grew up in a late 50s house, so I’m having fond flashbacks.

    Enjoy !

  2. January 29th, 2014 at 21:01 | #2

    Good eye, Sue! I love that old Art Deco floor lamp and I need to get it repaired and buy a proper shade for it. I got that lamp at a yard sale in Elsah, IL and paid $7 for it!

  3. Julie
    January 29th, 2014 at 21:10 | #3

    This is extremely cool! I’m glad it turned out so well for you–just lovely!

  4. Betsy Thompson
    January 29th, 2014 at 21:14 | #4

    Love, love, love that! Such a great idea and execution.

    :)

    Bet you’re glad to be done, though.

  5. January 29th, 2014 at 21:15 | #5

    It looks fabulous! I love how you two-toned the soffit and the backsplash and how the starbursts pull it all together. Well done!!!

  6. Dale Haynes
    January 30th, 2014 at 00:07 | #6

    Rosemary, is that receptacle to the left of the kitchen sink GFCI protected as per code?

    Wouldn’t want anyone to get shocked in that awesome looking kitchen. Btw, I bulbs would be better on your eyes than a CFL bulb. Just sayin’.

  7. Angela
    January 30th, 2014 at 09:02 | #7

    Great job, Rose!! I loved that you were inspired by your plates.

    That pattern is PERFECT for a mid-century ranch. I would love walking into that kitchen every morning.

  8. January 30th, 2014 at 09:50 | #8

    @Dale Haynes
    Dale, codes did not require GFIs in 1962. :D

  9. January 30th, 2014 at 10:08 | #9

    Really nice project, Rosemary–perfect for a mid-century kitchen!

  10. Akon
    January 30th, 2014 at 11:53 | #10

    Funny and whimsical and just what the empty walls needed!

  11. Debbie
    January 30th, 2014 at 13:05 | #11

    Oh cool!

    Both sets of my grandparents had homes which were built in the 50s.

    Your kitchen reminds me of the two kitchens I spent time in growing up.

    I have no idea if the original wood kitchen cabinets are still in those houses. So valuable!

    The plate looks familiar although I don’t remember if my grandparents or some other relative had that pattern.

    Those star bursts were popular for other items too, like clocks. The clocks were something many of my relatives had.

    Regarding the floor - I recall tiled kitchen floors. Large tiles. Linoleum? Maybe you can find a retro pattern for that too.

    What was originally in the corner where you hung the found cabinet and the pot rack?

  12. January 30th, 2014 at 13:53 | #12

    Thanks, Debbie!

    That corner (that now has the pot rack and wall cabinet) was completely empty. Perhaps when the house was built, it was intended to provide space for a small dinette.

  13. Laura (So Ca)
    February 1st, 2014 at 13:35 | #13

    Rosemary,

    Wow, what a fabulous idea and executed beautifully. How could not smile as you enter for Java upon rising.

    Your project could use Linoleum, I agree. Tile (having had that and Travertine) is too cold both aesthetics and surface wise. I’m so tired of the “lets all do the same thing” bubble.

    Your project reminds me of the retro pink bathrooms from yester-years.
    (Save The Pink Bathroom Blog) http://savethepinkbathrooms.com/

    When we bought our home, it had a 1967 avocado green “Penthouse Oven” (double ovens) electric (gold medallion home) stove in it. It hadn’t been cleaned since installed. Not kidding! It was gross.

    The scrap metal guy hauled it.

  14. February 1st, 2014 at 15:12 | #14

    @Laura (So Ca)
    Thanks, Lara! I’m still struggling with the flooring decision. I want something bright and happy and period appropriate!

  15. February 1st, 2014 at 18:39 | #15

    Looks Awesome! You should post this thread on Retro Renovation. I’m sure they would love to have you share.

  16. Laura (So Ca)
    February 1st, 2014 at 20:35 | #16

    Rosemary,

    I find the best sources to find just the right thing, are the older remodel contractors in the area. They have a file cabinet in their heads.

    Their suggestions on where to find things have always panned out for me. Many are just good souls (like you, my mensch).

    Also, see if flooring firms, like Armstrong, have a special order retro option (and catalog). If not, maybe they can throw ideas your way on where to look.

    Just some unsolicited advice.

  17. Shari D.
    February 3rd, 2014 at 06:03 | #17

    Well, your kitchen walls are MARVELOUS! I adore what you’ve done with them, and I think you absolutely MUST share your results on RetroRenovation! They will surely love it, as we do!

    Speaking of them, I popped over there again myself (it’s a secondary favorite of mine, having grown up in the late 50’s/60’s/early 70’s myself) and found there’s two pages of links ~ http://retrorenovation.com/category/kitchen/flooring/ ~ for kitchen flooring ideas.

    This one in particular ~ http://retrorenovation.com/2006/03/18/50s-60s-70s-vintage-style-flooring-linoleum-vinyl/ ~ caught my eye. Looks like Armstrong also has “new old” linoleum Retro style flooring that may fit in with your needs. I saw their commercial floor tile mentioned too ~ somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 colors? And then there’s rubber floor tiles too….. Happy hunting!

  18. Kris
    February 5th, 2014 at 02:36 | #18

    This is a fantastic job on the modern look and fits so well!

    I’m glad you found Retro Renovation.

    I was thinking of it when stopping to read your links to when you bought your house.

    I found RR when I happened upon another blog of a mid century home; it’s a pink house, too. I know it was a lot of work but it sure paid off. It looks great!

    I was also going to suggest linoleum, hope you find something that complements all of it. The colors sing and really show off your cabinetry and wood, too.

  19. Rick S
    February 8th, 2014 at 01:09 | #19

    I second the idea of posting your kitchen “wallpaper” on Retro Renovation.

    Pam would love it and could help you pick a great floor.

    Rick

  20. May 14th, 2014 at 17:02 | #20

    Hi I love what you’ve done in your kitchen and bathroom.

    I would love your tips on the black lines for the starbursts.

    Seven years ago I made those on a floor cloth. But I think I did it free hand.

    thanks,
    Joyce

  21. Lynn
    July 12th, 2014 at 23:33 | #21

    Could you tell me the secret to the starburst pattern, how you did It and the size of your templates??

    Yours looks fabulous!

  22. July 13th, 2014 at 19:18 | #22

    I used cardboard (thin) to create the templates. I actually enlarged that swatch from The Crave Yard several times and then created the templates from that enlargement.

    Plus, I thought about the pattern a lot and had a “vision” for how I wanted it to look. :D

  23. Shannon
    August 10th, 2016 at 12:26 | #23

    Hey, you and I are decor soulmates! We have the same dinner plates to go with our ‘61 ranch. My husband gripes about the small coffee cups but I use them for a double cappuccino and they’re perfect. The bowls are tiny too. Guess no mystery why people were thinner back then, right? I’ve been looking for an atomic wallpaper for the kitchen to put a sheet a glass over (food splashes) that would go well w/ the Starburst. Your idea though it great, it means we could change it out when we’re done with it.

    It’s been a few years but in case you haven’t done anything, I have an idea for your floor — marmoleum. It’s period appropriate and very color happy. You could get squares that match your dots to create your own design, or you could get sheets of something that blends in. We have the Painter’s Palette. It’s mostly burnt sienna with hints of orange and turquoise. Lots of MCM color to pick up from. And it hides dirt.

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