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The retro trend in interior design

The retro trend in interior design

September 2016

Retro is experiencing a comeback in interior design which makes for beautifully decorated vintage homes that revive childhood memories.




The retro trend, as a way of ‘recycling the past,’ has already made a comeback in fashion and influenced pop culture, however it is now in full swing in the interior design world.

For the last three years, retro has been on the list of every designer as one of the year’s major trends. Its influence has evolved from luxury-retro to boho-retro, each trend recreating a mid-20th century decade from the 40s – 70s.

It’s no different this year; retro is one of the top design trends of 2016, both in the Middle East and globally.


Drawing on 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s themes, homeowners and designers have drawn on nostalgia and pop culture to shape their design preferences.

In a recent interview, the British architectural historian, critic and broadcaster, Tom Dyckhoff, theorised that nostalgia was to blame for the retro trend because of a longing for childhood.

“When we start to nest and build a home, we’re always trying to create that place of comfort and refuge, and that’s becoming increasingly important nowadays, without work lives invading our homes…So that nostalgia is almost innate,” he says.

For Dyckhoff, it’s the early 1970s that influence him, “because it’s the home that my parents created. I remember the jazzy wallpaper that they had on the walls, and the colours — the mossy greens and mustards.”

Over the last few years, nostalgia from pop culture has spurred the retro wave throughout the world. American television series such as Mad Men, a show set in the 50s – 70s, have popularised the retro trend and turned it into a phenomenon.

From the kitchen to the penthouse on set – the show succeeded in bringing mid-century modernism back into the mainstream market for designers. As the shows grew in success interior designers drew inspiration from the series and homeowners wanted to recreate the setting they were seeing on television, adding a little more vigour.

“[Mad Men] spans the decades of the 1950s to the 1970s, and in it you can see that transition from the late 1950s opulence, through the uncertainties of the 1960s, and into the 1970s. And of course, every single scene, every single set in Mad Men is beautifully designed with incredible art direction. It’s been so influential over the last few years — it’s one of the key influencers on trends,” says Dyckhoff.


Designer Paulo Figueiredo of Delightful, a lighting specialist company that focuses on mid-20th century modern designs, explains that for designers, retro is a reinterpretation of the recent past that they then revitalise and improve on.

“We see this happening in music, fashion, architecture and pop culture. The interior design trend is no different and it tends to pick out some elements of the past and transform them into new forms and features,” he says.

“It’s easy for me to see why this search for elements of the past is so appealing. The great years of architecture and modern art were undoubtedly in the mid-20th century,” he says.

For Lebanon-based designers, Rami Boushdid and Karl Chucri, founders of Studio Caramel, retro is used as a style or technique to recreate an era that is now lost.

“We’re true lovers of the retro trend, this is why we started Studio Caramel,” says Boushdid. “What we do is take elements from the past and then give it a modern, contemporary twist.”

One of the mid-20th century design elements that’s making a comeback in a big way in Lebanon is the bar-cart, a mobile-bar trolley. The founders were approached to design the concept for Baron restaurant in Mar Mikhaël, one of the trendiest locations in Beirut.

“We were inspired by the penny-farthing bicycle made with a very large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel. The trolley’s main purpose was to have a mobile bar covering all the necessary functions required to allow the serving of drinks around the restaurant,” say the founders.

Boushdid and Chucri used a combination of brass, walnut wood and black painted steel in order to create a retro, yet modern look.

Most interior designers will tell you that retro in the 21st century is all about subtlety and about taking the best and trendiest pieces to create a soft retro look.

Although, says Boushdid, it is “not a style that can be implemented in any given design, one can always find or even create the right scenery and space for it to fit in.”


According to New York-based designer Stacy Garcia, 1970s-inspired furnishings are set to make a comeback this year. “The relaxed, free-spirited nature of that era has been attractive to the fashion industry and has quickly moved towards interiors as well. Many design elements of the 70s were bold, raw and globally-fuelled, as a response to the changing social and political environment of that time.”

Figueiredo agrees, it’s all about raw and natural designs.  “In order to make any retro trend work, pastel shades, soft and exposed natural materials work. Natural wood but also metals and brass work well. Fabrics needs to be as natural as possible, as in the case of real leathers,” he says.

He adds that in order to create a retro-vintage look, lamps and cabinets are a design must. “These items are strong and can really make a difference in a room.”

A variety of suspended lights with elegant designs, long floor lamps, desk, table and wall lamps help create a retro look in the home – paired with patterned and colourful or pristine white shag rugs.

Among the must haves of this trend is Scandinavian vintage style furniture in solid wood or teak, with their feet pointing outward (coffee table, buffet, dining set), vintage style bar stools and chairs, vintage items with rounded forms (glass, crystal ashtray, desk lamp), a plethora of vintage accessories (rotary phone, typewriter, radio, TV sets), cocktail bar, floral prints and flashy colours.

Bringing back buffet sets, Boushdid and Chucri are creating a retro-inspired buffet combined with modern fixtures. “We wanted to blend the best of two eras to create a timeless, unique piece,” the duo says.

While a more relaxed retro-theme is trending at the moment, New York-based interior designers Koket, who create opulent and lavish vintage and retro furniture, are bringing back the glamourous 70s, fusing a bit of vintage and retro. The designers are creating a retro look with its rich-coloured fabrics, gold lining on furniture, plush real-fur throws and pillows, cowhide rugs and feather patterns.

From opulent retro designs to earthy and relaxed retro – designers and homeowners have a plethora of colours and designs to choose from. Designers are undivided in their opinion, the clean lines of mid-20th century furniture make integration into homes easy and eye-catching. It’s exactly the reason why retro is the current buzzword in the design world.

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