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