Retro! The word always brings a smile as we think of days gone by and how much better some things were; at least in our memory of those times then they are now.
But what is meant by Vintage retro?
“Typical use of past styles” surely doesn’t work, nor does traditional, but what about “classic retro” – hmm, that must have been the thinking of whoever coined the phrase – especially when you consider that it takes most of its design elements from the most classical of our American periods – the 40’s and 50’s –
If those were not truly classic times with space travel, finned automobiles and burgeoning social reform lining up behind the rich elite to all share a piece of the American pie then what is?
So called “Vintage” retro, wherever coined refers to the use of classical 40 and 50 décor elements to create a retro space with modern comforts and conveniences.
The interesting thing is that back in the late 40’s and 50’s when these styles came out they were ‘futuristic’ and ultra-modern, and relied in large part upon designer’s ideas of what was to become common in the 20’th century and beyond as man ventured out into space.
Due to this many unusual and even outlandish styles were created as well as the whole ‘art deco’ movement – hence the delineation of ‘classic’ or ‘vintage’ retro for this unique style.
More exotic or outlandish ideas from the time, while possibly of use as an accent piece should not be the core of a vintage retro design – rather falling back to the more traditional elements that were likely to be found during this period and creating a homier and lived-in space is the experience that is sought with this design in mind.
As with its related ‘art deco’ style heavy reliance on black and white as a background, bright greens and neon as accents and rounded objects in a variety of man-made materials and chrome is at the core of a Vintage retro design.
Unlike other retro design goals however a more comfortable and common experience is desired, so furnishing may not be the more exotic and less comfortable plastic shapes and designs introduced in the 50’s but what would have been more common the traditional solid-surfaced and straight-lined couches and chairs from the 40’s.
Rounded edges with subtle patterns and stripes were more common in the 40’s then the geometric designs and twisted elements of the 50’s.
Use of these classic materials and styles is essential to a comfortable and realistic vintage retro space today …
The late 40’s featured a style known then as the “American Modern” that is wonderful to select display pieces from or to review to gain insight and ideas into what a vintage retro design should look like.
With a mix of colors and materials which would become more pronounced in the art deco movement already underway lounges and lighting, bookshelves and artwork from this movement are all vaguely reminiscent of the art deco movement but with a less exotic and extreme edge. These are the pieces your mother and father would have had if they could afford them!
This was a time when even toasters reflected elements of design and forming bookshelves in the shape of skylines were common nods to artful indulgence. The world was changing, man was heading off into space and anything was possible – and the objects and furnishing of the time was starting to reflect that but had not yet become so playful as to later appear laughable.
There is perhaps no easier OR harder style to design for then Vintage Retro – easy because it is popular and numerous sites and replicas of items exist making it easy to find materials and theme pieces that fit your goal – difficult because the distinction between retro and classical retro is a fine line that is not well defined.
As the designer your goal should be to identify the nature of your client and the tone they want to set, and to use pieces from retro suppliers that lend just the right amount of whimsy to the room without going ‘over the top’ or falling into another design niche such as art deco or 50’s retro.
It is a difficult feat to accomplish but the new classical look and feel of what you achieve will thrill you and your clients and guests – and may even be the inspiration for a whole new design term such as “Retro American Postmodern. Stranger things have happened, so who knows?