Diner-Inspired Kitchen Design

Published: December 12, 2022

As interiors continue to be shaped by waves of nostalgia and inspiration from the past, the classic diner has yet to fully get its due. To bring this retro setting into the future, Formica tapped three interior designers to bring forward-thinking diner inspiration to residential design.

Amy Gath, vice president of marketing at Formica, tells KBB, “When we began this project, we set out to collaborate with designers whose work showed deep appreciation for design’s history yet were still trailblazers for the future of interior design. Vanessa Deleon, Noz Nozawa and Dan Mazzarini proved to be perfect partners, each bringing unique visions for future-forward kitchen and dining settings.”

Below, the three designers dish about the project.

Can you speak to your approach to capturing the essence of nostalgic or heritage looks (such as a 50s diner) in residential projects?

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formica diner kitchen

Kitchen by Dan Mazzarini

DM: Our team loves a good narrative for a space – something that is referential, that we can turn to inform design decisions. We don’t copy, but rather take inspiration from the concept and parent idea. Nostalgia is a big part of our designs – I like spaces that feel familiar and still unexpected to people. Nostalgia can make a space feel established. But we always try to update; audiences, technology, ecology and programs are constantly changing, and we always have to look at projects through those lenses.

NN: My favorite thing about nostalgia is that it is based in both the factual references of spaces from that time, and also the feeling and moods that are conjured up from our memories of those spaces. Then, materials are such an important part of capturing nostalgia. I often think that, besides the overall design of a space, the memories we have of specific senses – the way light moves through a space or hits a color, the way the seats feel and how the edges of a table feel, the smells and tastes we experienced in a space – are vital to capturing a feeling of nostalgia.

 What about the 50s diner look has made it so iconic?

DM: Lots of things! Diners were approachable, but glossy and shiny. Not fancy, but busy with activity. They were streamlined – modeled after trains and buses for their look, efficiency and reference to how diners began, as traveling food trucks. For me, some of the pressed metal and deco details of diners still resonate with innovation today.

NN: I think the combination of adventurous curvilinear geometries and vibrant colors made the 50s diner aesthetic so iconic. To me, the 1950s era of design was so thorough and interconnected across consumer experiences: muscle cars and convertibles felt like they belonged to the same forward-thinking era as the diners they pulled up to – and it was all so revolutionary and accessible to experience by American consumers.

Explain how you translated diner style into a residential space.

DM: For me, the great thing about Formica’s newest collection is the versatility and timelessness of the materials: they transition beautifully to a residential setting. For us, panels of white oak and metal become fixtures in a kitchen, or even a bedroom headboard wall. Here, we’ve thought how amazing a loft space could look, when decorated with these materials. Formica creates the backdrop for art, soft furnishings and other materials to pop – a timeless looking material that also stands the test of time.


formica diner kitchen

Kitchen by Noz Nozawa

NN: In studying America’s iconic diners, I was struck by all the curvilinear architecture, from the coved ceilings to the curvature of their bars and arched passageways. We incorporated a lot of curves and semicircles in our residential kitchen. Arched diner windows become an arched door to the backyard; the pill-shape ceiling recess in the diner becomes a pill-shape mega skylight over the kitchen island, and the curved bar becomes the inspiration for the shape of our meandering solid surface kitchen backsplash. I’ve also always wanted to design a kitchen where the rear of the island becomes a banquette, so we incorporated a wiggle-shape into that feature of our kitchen.

What are your tips for homeowners who want to execute a commercial look at home tastefully?

DM: Play with scale – scaling up and down millwork, side tables, even art can all have a dramatic effect on a space. Think about your favorite restaurants – extra-long tables (where they fit) or super-small, refined art on a large wall help create direction and focus the view where you want it most.

NN: I don’t think you can go wrong if you love what you see in a commercial space and want to be inspired by one for your home. The great thing about a commercial space – whether it’s a restaurant or a commercial kitchen – is that it was designed for high traffic durability. So, even if your home is not getting a total overhaul renovation, you can still utilize the materials from a commercial space and trust that it will be very functional.

VD: Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Consider where you’re going to use that commercial look and consult with other members of the household to make sure everyone is on board.

What inspiration can homeowners take from diners past and future for their own homes?

DM: Materials and efficiency are part of the diner culture. Metal as trim, contrasting color blocks – be they natural materials or colorful finishes – and warm lighting are all good ways to transition parts of a diner to your home. Using large planes of materials as backdrop is another effective transition – walls of wood, color or metal create compelling backdrops.

NN: My favorite thing about diners is how welcoming they feel, and how intuitive the layouts are it’s so clear when you walk in what seats at the bar are available, what booths or tables are open. That intuitive, welcoming nature of diner design is, to me, a great inspiration for designing one’s own kitchen. When friends come over to cook in the kitchen I designed in my home, they know where to find the cast iron, where to look for the mixing bowls, and where to set up ingredients and prep them. I think the mood and welcoming spirit of diners is the biggest inspiration to incorporate.

VD: The myriad of colors that were used then and now. While white and neutral interiors have certainly had a moment, I’m starting to see homeowners move towards bringing more vibrancy and color into their homes again, and the nostalgic colorways of 50s diners is a great place to draw inspiration.

—By Leslie Clagett


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