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1950s Decorating Style

Elements of 1950s Retro Decorating Style

The Fifties were an exuberant time. The US thrived in its post-war recovery and the outlook was positive, despite the Cold War with its looming nuclear threat. Dynamic designs were influenced by science, space exploration and new and improved technologies. Room and furniture designs were innovative for their time—yet endured throughout the following decades because of their modernity and classic appeal. Still, other ’50s design trends fell out of favor over time, but are experiencing a renewed popularity today.

There were three major color trends in the 50s; pastel, modern and Scandinavian. Pastel colors that were particularly popular were pink, turquoise, mint green, pale yellow and blue. Modern colors were clean and bright and included vibrant yellow, electric blue, orange, red, black and white.

Snapshot of 1950s modern palette from Sherwin-Williams.

Snapshot of 1950s modern palette from Sherwin-Williams.

The desired result with a modern color scheme was to create a marked contrast between colors.

The Scandinavian color scheme was sophisticated and heavily influenced by nature. The Scandinavian color palette included shades of brown, cream, gray and green. For the first time ever in the ’50s, paint colors were available in any possible hue. (A ’50s advertisement for Colorizer brand paints declared that their paint was available in 1,322 colors!) Black, white and red as a color scheme was huge! Turquoise was extremely popular.

Retro Fruit Tablecloth

Fruit and flower patterns were popular – on tablecloths, aprons, even drapes. (Oilcloth from Retro Planet)

Bold designs such as stars, stripes, checks and polka dots came into vogue. As did atomic graphics inspired by space and science like planets, galaxies and the famous “Boomerang” pattern, which were all used on wallpaper, tablecloths, curtains and furniture fabrics.

Fabrics with fruit, flowers and abstract designs were everywhere. A heavy, tight-woven cotton fabric called “bark cloth” became available in a range of modern designs (like the atomic prints, but also in floral and tropical prints), and was used for furnishings like curtains, drapery and upholstery.

Ranging from comfortable upholstered traditional furniture, to Scandinavian with light-colored woods and clean lines, to space age, organic shapes (think boomerang-shaped coffee table).

Chrome and vinyl chairs paired with chrome-legged tables with Formica tops were both fashionable and durable.

Retro Dinette Set (teal/turquoise)

Chrome and vinyl chairs and chrome-legged tables with Formica tops were fashionable and durable. Such styles were also used in diners. (Dinette Set from Retro Planet)

Laminated plywood furniture with very clean lines, bent into comfortable curved furniture (known now as “Eames” style, because of the remarkable influence of designer Charles Eames with his revolutionary designs). Home bars became important, now that the emphasis was on entertaining. Homeowners now had a lot more leisure time, necessitating picnic and outdoor furniture as well as grills and all the accessories to go with it.

Armstrong Linoleum

Armstrong still makes linoleum in a handful of classic colors. The checkerboard design is based on alternating squares.

Since its introduction, linoleum had been considered a lackluster, utilitarian product for flooring. In the 1950s linoleum flooring was restyled by manufacturers, like Armstrong, to be more colorful and dynamic. It was made available in bright, trendy colors and patterns and was promoted for use in nearly every room in the house. Linoleum tiles were placed into patterns by alternating colors. Black-and-white and red-and-white checkered floors were very popular.

Hardwood was still a popular flooring material.

Although carpets have been popular for ages, installed wall-to-wall carpet was something new and became available in a wide range of colors and textures.

Decor Accessories
Atomic age motifs appeared on glassware and fabrics. Sunburst and atomic clocks are made of metal and wood. Plastic is used as a material for accessories for the first time.

1950s Draper Desk Lamp

Lamps became decor. This 1950s style Draper desk lamp is available at Retro Planet.

Among the things that could be found in a ’50s kitchen were chrome appliances, pastel plastics, enamel-coated or stainless steel canisters and bread bins. Colorful Melamine and melmac dishware and bowls, as well as Tupperware storage containers, were very popular.

Lamps were no longer just for practical purposes, but became interior decorating statements with dynamic shapes that were sculptural (shaped like animals such as poodles and gazelles), as well as geometric and abstract (think atomic). These lamps were topped with fiberglass parchment or fabric shades in solids, atomic or geometric prints.

New Technologies
Aimed at creating more leisure time by making tasks like housework easier and quicker generated the production of numerous countertop appliances for the kitchen, like chrome and stainless steel mixers, blenders and coffeemakers. Clean looking enameled steel kitchen cupboards in white with colorful Formica countertops were preferred.

People who could afford them installed double ovens, and every home had a washer and dryer. Laminates and vinyl were now available for tablecloths, furniture and wallpaper and the colors they came in were more vibrant than ever.

Retro Pink Bathroom

Pink was a popular color for the bathroom. Today, many retro enthusiasts are on crusade to “save” pink bathrooms from the ’50s, urging homeowners to embrace them rather than replace them.

Colored ceramic fixtures and tile in bathrooms were all the rage—especially in pink and other pastels.

Entertainment in the home was revolutionized now that nearly every household could afford a television and a turntable.

Overall Look
Characteristic of 1950s design are clean designs with a Scandinavian influence, space and atomic age-inspired shapes, also known as Mid-Century Modern. This now traditional style continues to be popular, but is achieved today with new materials.

Also hugely popular was the Western look, TV heroes like cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, as well as western movies. Even then, Western style décor was usually relegated to little boys’ rooms and family playrooms.

Overall, the emphasis was on comfort and leisure.

The 1950s were a prosperous time for middle class families. New families were settling away from the city, in the suburbs. There was more time to spend relaxing and enjoying recreation. Interior design was fun and vibrant.

Take a look at this illustrative renditions of ’50s style home design and decor. Use them as inspiration in your next home project.

1950s Kitchen

Blue was a popular color for the kitchen, as was linoleum flooring. Design didn’t always stop with the cabinets… here, we see an atomic pattern that spills onto the ceiling.

Kitchen Dining Counter

It wasn’t uncommon to “diner-ize” the kitchen area. Here, informal meals can be had at a luncheonette style counter.

1950s Modern Dining Room

There were various types of dining rooms. This one uses pastels and atomic-style design.

1950s Scandinavian design living room

1950s Scandinavian design living room

1950s Modern living room

The 1950s Modern living room was spacious and colorful.

Do you live in a ’50s modern home? Plan to remodel? We’d love to see your pics and hear your story.

Last updated: March 29, 2013
shop colors at Retro Planet
About Ann

Ann is a web assistant and project manager with Retro Planet. After prior stints in the advertising and publishing worlds, she has found her place with the company. She is a serious anglophile and history buff, with a passion for anything from the past, especially retro inspired decor.

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  • http://www.marblepolishing.net/ Polishing Marble

    Lots of good info!

  • Rrcn

    I don’t know where to start my search but I hope that someone here might help. I want to recreate a wall mural of a tree that my mother and aunt copied from a magazine article in the late 50s or early 60s. The tree mural was done in brown, grey and black tones. There were no leaves on the tree and one of the limbs near the trunk had been cut or trimmed with a saw. If anyone can guide me to a drawing or the original how to article I would greatly appreciate your help.

  • Pingback: Retro and Contemporary Nelson-Style Wall Clocks by Karlsson

  • Diana45555

    I just purchased a house built in the late 1940′s, the kitchen countertops are in perfect condition, and are turquoise blue.  I need to modernize but would love to keep the countertops…anyone know where I could get similar looking product? Thank you!!!

  • Khilton

    I was curious what a mid 1950′s adult bedroom would look like?  What colors would be the blankets and sheets and pillow slips?  What interior design look like for a middle or upper income family?

  • http://www.retroplanet.com/ Retro Planet

     Hi, Khilton! I found this page with some great image examples. Keep in mind that the design was very consistent, especially when it came to color. Many times the curtains matched the bedspread, and so on. http://midcenturyliving.blogspot.com/2009/12/this-is-collection-of-images-featuring.html

  • Karyn Graff

    Hi Ann!
    I am desperately searching everywhere for a 1950′s cotton floral blanket with soft edging that I had growing up.
    Do you know any good places to search? My sister never went anywhere without ‘her Blanky’, & I want to try to surprise her with a similar one for her birthday!!

  • Sharyn

    I would like to know how to clean the 1950′s linoleum floor since I have one in the basement.

  • http://www.retroplanet.com/ Retro Planet

    Hi, Sharyn:

    I found these resources for you. I suggest you read each thoroughly. Recommendations vary, but there are definitely things to AVOID:



  • http://www.retroplanet.com/ Retro Planet

    Hi, Karyn:

    I would search on Etsy or reputable sellers on eBay. Since it’s fabric, you want to make sure it’s been cared for properly. Another option is to visit a local quilting shop and see about having a custom one made. There are lots of retro-themed fabrics available for seasoned sewers and quilters to use. New might be better (health wise) in this case. Best of luck!

  • Chris

    Hello Ann, we have just cleared a property in Newark, and have acquired Lino flooring which was still packaged and is as new! One roll is chequered blue silver and another roll has thumper the rabbit and friends we estimate around 20-25 metres per role in length and 150cm wide! Any idea as regards value and/or any potential interested parties? Many thanks, chris

  • http://www.retroplanet.com/ Retro Planet

    Ooh, sounds nice. Unfortunately, we’re not sure of the value. However, you might want to put out a feeler at Retro Renovation – folks there hunt for this kind of stuff.

  • david

    ur all donkeys

  • david

    hi ann

  • Dan W

    Hello Ann
    Im looking into painting bedroom 50s pastel colours as my place is dark, i tried to print of your homepage to take to a decorating shop ot try and mix and match but unfortunately the colours didnt print that well, have you any ideas or maybe copies of the paint chart you can send if ok to ask?