Retro Furniture and Why We Love It
For some of us, retro harkens back to our childhoods; for others, it evokes sentimentality for a bygone era. Designers consider styles from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s to be retro. The category itself isn’t a specific style like shabby chic or mid-century modern, but instead is more about a piece not being considered “modern.”
Most designers consider the 1950s to be the beginning of retro furniture. We saw sleek furniture with bold wallpaper and decor. In 1956 we saw the quintessential Eames Chair first come into production, which defined the era's style. You can still find this chair in production today with its smooth wooden frame, plush leather seat, and ottoman. The 1960s kept that sleek furniture style but added bright pops of color and bold patterns. The style combined the sleek designs of the 1950s with a futuristic feel, leading to unique pieces like the egg chair.
In the 1970s sleek was thrown out the window and replaced with bold, bulky furnishings and earthy tones. Heavy and plush sofas were featured next to equally hulking coffee tables. The polished look of the previous decades was gone, replaced by a move toward maximalism. The 1980s saw a shift toward art deco influences. While we did see influences from the 1970s, the ‘80s also pulled an exotic influence from the 1920s with gold-colored materials and abstract shapes. Each era was unique, yet built off of what came before. In 2023 we continue to build off of these designs and incorporate them into our spaces.
Retro v Vintage v Antique
While we often see the terms retro, vintage, and antique used interchangeably, they each have a unique meaning. You might think the term “retro” means a piece that was built in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, or ‘80s, but a retro piece isn’t necessarily from that era. Retro refers to a style type, not the piece’s age. This means your Eames Chair could be considered retro whether it is authentically from the 1950s or a reproduction. Describing something as vintage is more specific. If a piece is truly vintage, it cannot be a reproduction. Vintage is a widely used term and is often used incorrectly, but if you purchase a vintage 1970s wicker chair, it should have been produced in the 1970s. True antiques are even more specific. While vintage can be added to almost any era, antique furniture is defined as something 100 years old or more. Although you may find antique stores selling items from the 1980s, these are not technically considered antiques.
While shopping for retro pieces to add to your space, keep in mind that many companies specialize in reproducing these vintage and antique designs. Reproductions are a simple way to add an antique feel without scouring the flea markets. They are readily available and often more cost-effective than authentic. But why have styles like these endured? Why actively buy into a style from the past?
Looking at a picture from 15 years ago, it’s easy to point out what has gone out of style. Styles change daily. Clothing and makeup may be easily updated, but the design of your home will be much more time-consuming and expensive to alter. If your furniture goes woefully out of style, it may be years before you can replace it. You’ll be stuck. That bold, floral couch may have looked great in the catalog, but in five years you may not love it in your space. Instead, people often opt for pieces that have stood the test of time.
Selecting retro pieces means having a style that has endured from generation to generation. A modern piece will age in a few years, but a furniture piece that is vintage now will continue to hold its vintage charm. Investing in retro style is investing for the long run. You can take comfort in knowing you won’t have that out-of-style moment down the road.
Picture a 1950s diner, filled with vinyl seats and checkered black and white flooring. It’s not just the design, it’s the feeling. Now picture your grandma’s house. Maybe the couches were floral, the carpet was a green shag, and the walls were filled with ornate frames containing family photos. That evokes a whole different feeling. There’s a sense of nostalgia to those images, even if they’re from an era before your time. People flock to retro furniture to create that same emotional connection in their space. Perhaps a piece brings up a memory, reminds them of a TV show, or just makes them think of simpler times. Retro style can bring nostalgic comfort to your space.
In a world where anything can be customized, people want something no one else can have, something unique. Your space should say something about you. What you don’t want it to say is, “All my friends have the same look.”
Retro furniture can provide a sense of exclusivity. Finding a vintage table at the flea market may mean it’s difficult to find, uncommon, or memorable. Purchasing a replica 1960s egg chair means having something few people have ever seen. It’s not just a piece of furniture; it’s a talking point when friends come over. It speaks to who you are and what you want your space to be.
Retro influences can be seen in every piece of interior design. Look around your room, what elements came from a grandparent’s house? Which ones did you select because they remind you of an influence from your past? Did some even come from an antique store? No matter how modern your style may be, there’s no doubt some retro has snuck in.
Using retro pieces well brings personality into your home, and there is no risk of a cookie-cutter design with furniture few have seen. When your home design is in a rut bring in a retro touch. Not only will that green 1980s chair be a talking piece, but it may become your favorite thing about the room. Sprinkle a few unique pieces into your design and watch it light up your space.
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