Retro & Vintage (1950's-70's) - Knowledge

Retro & Vintage (1950's-70's) - Knowledge

Vintage Period

The vintage period is generally considered to be post 1920’s. There are many associations with the word vintage; it inspires thoughts of timeless, classic, pretty pieces of furniture, jewellery and fashion. The word vintage was original a term associated with wine but now holds a number of other connotations. The vintage look has gained in popularity and has become considered an attractive look for one’s household interior over recent years. Vintage is different to Retro in respect that retro items are usually an imitation of a previous period.

The Trends

The 1920s enjoyed economic prosperity post World War I, technology advanced and popular culture saw innovations and experimental changes in the arts, literature and political movements. Jazz was popular as was the flapper fashion; it was a time of wild social change. There are a number of pretty vintage pieces available from this period.

The 1930s saw fashion and design embrace femininity, soft lines, elegance and sophistication. The Great Depression meant many tightened their belts however the Art Deco trend became more accessible to the middle classes, due to mass production, who then embraced the designs in their households. Colour schemes in the home were light in contrast to deeply coloured upholstery and curtains.

The 1940s saw a large Scandinavian influence with mass produced pieces inspired by their designs. Living spaces became smaller, so the designers responded with changing styles, along came simpler and affordable shapes, the materials that were used were durable and practical.

In the 1950s Europe was feeling jubilant after the end of World War II, living standards improved and consumerism thrived. The style and design of this time was described as ‘contemporary’, designs were very expressive with colour, materials and shapes.

The Influences

At the beginning of the vintage period the Art Deco, Surrealist and Expressionist movements were very influential. Originating in France, Europe in the 1920’s the Art Deco movement favoured symmetry, geometric forms, rich colours and ornamentation. The technology used to make many of the Art Deco pieces still available today distinguished them from Art Nouveau pieces, which previously favoured more organic motifs. The Art Deco movement held connotations of glamour and luxury.

The Surrealist movement began in the early 1920s alongside the Art Deco movement, unusual scenes and strange imagery dominated paintings, and the leader of the movement Andre Breton believed this movement to be revolutionary. In the 1930s the Surrealist movement gained momentum with the works of Dali and Magritte.

Around the same time the Expressionist movement originated in Germany, the key feature of expressionism was to evoke emotion and feelings through art rather than regurgitate the physical environment through art. Notable Expressionist artists were Van Gogh and Kandinsky. Ernst Barlach used the Expressionist style in the sculptures he created during this time.

Minimalism became popular post World War II, a style that brought designs back to basics. The ‘less is more’ attitude prevailed when it came to furniture and household items; the want to create lasting pieces made from quality pieces without fuss being a reaction to the rationing previously experienced in Europe.

Vintage Furniture, Jewellery and Silver

1920s and 1930s furniture often had clean lines; it was less fussy and simpler than the previous Victorian furniture featured in households. Maple desks, walnut bed frames and leather tub chairs were commonplace, alongside geometric prints on fabrics and carpets.

Post World II furniture was practical, with quality and lasting piece rather than placing importance on visual appearance. It was important items were built to last; furniture took on more of a Utilitarian look, with companies such as ‘Utility’ mass-producing furniture during this period.

The 1950’s saw a surge in popularity of glassware and there are some lovely vintage Italian glassware pieces available to purchase. Furniture makers such as the Morris Furniture Group designed and created iconic pieces such as the Bambi chair and Cloud tables. Advancements in technology during this period meant furniture made from wood was created using the latest developments.

Scandinavian style furniture was produced globally, made from teak and rosewood. The Danish style teak sideboard was a very popular piece of furniture.

Vintage silver and jewellery was romantic and whimsical, notable jewellers from the vintage period were Sarah Coventry, Napier and Monet; they made some lovely pieces of jewellery pre 1970s. Vintage designer jewellery by Chanel for example is very valuable and worthy of investment.

Art Deco jewellery from the vintage period featured geometric, strong lines, colour contrasted bracelets were popular of the time too.  Art Deco jewellery was inspired by Egyptian, Japanese and African influences. Jewellery typical of this period was long-necklaces, with Venetian beads and imitation pearls.

The vintage period has a wealth of furniture, silver and jewellery to choose from, it is attractive and a popular choice to theme one’s interior around, be it creating a vintage feel in the home or picking some special unique pieces to complement a look. 


Retro Period

Retro pieces are associated with particular designs and are not necessarily constructed during the given period that they were inspired from. Items from the 1970’s are often referred to as retro, the pieces are replicas of design pieces from a certain time but they are not vintage or antique. Essentially then retro pieces refer to replications of designs, they imitate trends and fashions of the past.

The Trends

Retro items are derivative of a different range of trends; retro imitates previous modes and fashions from the past. For those who like nostalgia retro items will fit nicely in the home. Retro items may imitate the penchant for glamour in the 1930’s or neon in the 1970’s. It is a vast category that is sometimes hard to define. The Retro trend spreads further than design, companies often bring back foods with a retro twist, or packaging, or even modern day car designs, which may be based upon vehicle shapes from the 70s and 80s.

The Influences

In the 1950’s a number of influences came from America, with the diner look becoming favourable, large fridges, jukeboxes, bubble-gum pinks were all a staple in most households. Influences from this time included the earlier surrealism movement and the designs of the 1930’s re-emerged.

Pop Art emerged in the middle of the fifties, the movement incorporated images associated with popular culture, featuring images of advertising, comic books and topical news; it was synonymous with the artists Andy Warhol and David Hockney. A challenge to fine art, there was an element of irony to the pop art movement. The infamous Campbell’s soup can label prints were particularly popular.

Retro Furniture, Jewellery and Silver

When retro style furniture is discussed it is generally in reference to pieces of furniture made between the 1950’s and the 1980’s. Retro furniture is homage to styles that were desirable during this time, including 1980’s kitsch pop culture designs.

1950’s retro furniture was sleek and bold, with fabrics and wallpaper reflecting this. The diner style of furniture with chrome bar stools, Formica covered tables, contrasting colour booths and metallic features. Pop art was a big influence of the time and this can be seen in the different designs of furniture available. Ironing boards, sofa beds and trolleys were all invented during this period.

Notable names who produced retro furniture in the 1950’s include Charles and Ray Eames, furniture made by this married pair were made from leather, plywood or plastic and were characterised by their sleekness. Furniture by Robert Day and fabrics by Lucienne Day, as well as Swan, Ant and Egg chairs produced by Arne Jacobsen are worth purchasing.

The Scandinavian influence had impacted upon furniture designs during the 1950s and 1960s and the Danish style teak sideboard was an extremely popular retro piece in the household. The 1960’s saw an increase in sleek style furniture, with curves a prominent feature, the colours from this period were namely reds, oranges and beige; there was an element of ‘space age’ to furniture designs, with circular shapes prominent during the time. During the 1960’s furniture was an eclectic mixture of styles taking inspiration from the Victorian and Edwardian era, and the 1920’s. Furniture by Verner Panton, Peter Ghyczy and Ero Aarnio are all worth investment.

The 1970’s saw bold, dynamic pieces, this type of styling tends to be most associated with typical retro furniture, there was a move towards rectangular shapes in furniture designs, with straight lines and a focus on colour. Retro inspired dinnerware from this period features pretty and playful prints. Tubular bubble style furniture was popular, as was the contrasting design style of country cottage pine, namely the Welsh Dresser, which became a highly coveted piece of furniture during this period. Retro furniture may well have been refurbished, but this should not detract from their unique appeal.

The 1980’s colour trend was most definitely pastels, and this colour theme will be reflected in any retro fabrics available.  In terms of furniture dark woods and brass features were popular. A retro glass top coffee table will add a 1980’s element of design to your home, as would any furniture made from rattan that was popular at the time.

With regard to retro jewellery, this type of jewellery is often characterised by very colourful and elaborate pieces. The emphasis when it came to jewellery was on Hollywood glamour, with cocktail rings and larger extravagant pieces being desirable. Charm bracelets were back in fashion and it is possible to purchase some lovely retro charms. It is also possible to pick up some smaller, delicate items of retro jewellery from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

In terms of retro silverware, the 1970’s saw the rise in popularity of the dinner party, for a retro style think silver fondue sets and big silver serving platters. It is also possible to pick up a lot of retro silver flatware from this period; retro cutlery will often have brightly patterned handles and will add a pop of colour to your table.

The Retro style is abundant with choice and variety and there is a selection of pieces that will fit a range of decors in the home.