Saturday, February 21, 2009

DECORATING Your Retro Style Home With Hip Colors and Mod Designs

Retro. is no longer a term limited to talking about the rock and roll years of the 50s; retro. is anything cool from the past. The past can be the .40s, .50s, .60s,.70s and, yes, the .80s. Time is creeping by fast and antique dealers are catching on to the fact that .60s and .70s collectibles are now of interest to collectors.
Sneak a peek at your favorite on-line catalogs or home accessory stores and you will see what I mean. Dishes, utensils, glassware, pottery, textiles, bake and cook wares are being offered in bold and unusual color combinations.
Crate & Barrel, a trendy popular source for kitchen and home products features Ventura dish towels in colors called “Kiwi” (think 60s green), “watermelon” (think 60s red-orange), and “blueberry” (think 60s blue). But let’s not let the earth tone 1970s out of the loop. Crate & Barrel also is promoting enamel nesting kitchen bowls and a Weber outdoor cooking grill in Avocado green.

As “The Kitschy Collector” I keep up on these matters because I have learned over the years that what plays out in retail circles also influences what’s selling in the vintage world. While I have never been passionate about Avocado green, there are plenty of younger buyers who are asking for Pyrex nesting bowls in “earthy” colors.
If you study buying habits of collectors who love vintage kitchenwares you will note that color choices are more often than not related to the age of the collector. It is common to find that collectors who grew up in the 1940s and ‘50s are out hunting for treasures in reds, yellow, blues and depression era greens. These of course are the colors that were popular during the colorful eras of the 1930s-1950s and are the colors which stir warm memories for folks who grew up in the post war era.

In my first book, Hot Kitchen & Home Collectibles of the 30s, 40s, 50s, I describe how much I adored my grandma Sophie’s red and yellow kitchen in Brooklyn New York. She inspired my fondness for red and yellow
kitchen collectibles. Now I watch in amusement as children of the disco generation are setting up their own homes and collecting housewares that they remember. It is hilarious to observe buyers falling in love with kitchen and home collectibles in all of the colors that many of us couldn’t wait to say good-bye to. Muddy greens, browns, golds, burnt orange etc. are once again favored colors.

The good news is that today’s manufacturers are re-interpreting “retro” in color combinations that are so much more exciting than the first time around. The seventies are getting mixed with the sixties and the outcome is promising. So what would you put in a “hip” home today? For starters...think ORANGE, SUNFLOWER YELLOW, BROWN, PINK, GREEN or BLACK & WHITE. Some say these colors could stop traffic, but it is important to remember that “day glow” colors were “in” during the “hip” years. Palettes of the ‘60s were bright, bold, exciting and sometimes over the top. There are no soft pastels here...and certainly nothing muted about the ‘60s.

I recently helped a fellow antique dealer decorate her large store windows with “groovy” displays to showcase the “retro-kitsch” look. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that the windows were so wild that many drivers passing by the store actually slammed on their brakes to catch a glimpse of these wild and funky windows. For days there was a debate going inside the store as to whether I hung the large retro abstract print featured in the window upside down. I’m telling you it wouldn’t matter. The adjoining window also got plenty of attention with an original ‘60s white apron with big brown polka hanging on the wall alongside some classic psychedelic “Hippie style” lounging wear. The chrome legged table in the window was set with flower power glassware and dishes. A Mary Quant-like daisy motif orange plastic canister set also looked amazing in this retro kitchen setting. Lets get back to how you might start creating a “hip home.” Besides wild and crazy colors, collectors also try to find objects, textiles and accessories with familiar ‘60s and ‘70s designs and styles. Patterns were often of optical illusions (Op Art), geometrics, abstracts and of course vibrant flowers. Textile designers who worked for firms such as Heal or Conran captured the attention of the “in crowd” with their screen printed fabrics of contemporary designs. Psychedelic swirling designs inspired by the mind-expanding experiences of the Hippie generation became part of the popular culture and were used on home and kitchen accessories as well as on luggage, clothing,
textiles and of course posters and even buses.

British clothing “mod” designer Mary Quant also brought her look into the kitchen where her popular daisy motif could be found on toasters and canisters. Many people remember Mary Quant cosmetics, but her brand also was found in the kitchen. Colors of orange and sunny yellow combined with earthy tones dominated kitchen cookware and housewares. Accessories also included designs with whimsical mushrooms or vegetables. Le Creuset’s cast-iron cookware in its signature orange color was found in kitchens abroad as well as in America during the “mod years.” Ceramics, glassware, pottery and textiles often featured abstracts and geometric designs and were made in bright colors or black and white. Heavy plastics was a popular material for
‘60s housewares and furnishings.

Today, colors and patterns popular during the ‘60s or “mod generation” are popping up everywhere. Designs that are clearly inspired from the Mod generation are being reproduced on everything from clothing to desk accessories and are sought after by younger buyers in America and abroad.Mixing vintage styles with newer looks is also very “cool” and a popular decorating style today.In some circles phrases like “Urban Chic” or “Fresh Vintage” are used in place of “retro.” It’s still “retro” but a different take on the past when buyers combine “edgy” vintage collectibles with contemporary style furnishings and décor. Others understand “Urban Chic” a little differently and refer to the rise in popularity of collectors who are after metal furnishing and industrial styles compatible with city living. Of course this too is a throw back to earlier times. Metal accessories and furnishings dominated mid-century homes and were used for magazine racks, telephone stands, ash tray holders, seating, serving pieces etc.

Today urbanites like buying old industrial steel shelving, vintage metal desks and chairs, old commercial desk accessories and lots of factory finds to decorate lofts, apartments and homes. This opens a whole new market to sellers who are beginning to hunt for items in unusual places. Suburban homes are featuring high-tech kitchen surfaces and lots of stainless steel. Buyers now adore vintage metal canisters from the 1950s which seem to fit right into today’s sleek kitchens. The “metro-retro” look is often combined with collectibles of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s to create eclectic interiors which are unusual, outrageous and affordable.

If the industrial look is not your thing, there are other directions to consider. I have met many younger collectors who gravitate to “Bohemian Style.” “Bohemian Style” is what happens when you your flea market collecting is out of control but in a good way. Somehow collectors make the look pull together with unifying color schemes, themes, patterns or rhythms which organize the collections. Once again, collectors mix and match different eras, styles, textures, wall coverings, etc and like seasoned decorators, bohemian collectors tell us “it works.” This style is hard to explain, so I might suggest reading Bohemian Style by Elizabeth Wilhide, a Watson Guptill publication. While ‘60s & ‘70s collectibles have moved more slowly in brick and mortar shops than those of earlier periods, “hip collectibles” are gaining momentum as major department stores are emphasizing these styles .Designers are taking bigger risks than in the past and it seems that once again buyers are being prompted to experiment with home interiors, products and materials.

May I remind you what they said years ago “let it all hang out.” Indeed both manufacturers of new products and collectors of old products are “doing their own thing.” Numerous on-line businesses with “shaggy sixties” websites catering to shoppers who adore palettes of pink, brown and lime green as well as cutesy patterns of stripes, polka dots and swirling designs are growing. In fact there are web designers who specialize just in this style.

While “twenty- and thirty-something” buyers are getting a kick out of ordering new home and clothing related items inspired by “psychedelic” colors and designs, mature collectors
want the originals and are active buyers at flea markets, shops and shows. Colorful toasters and fondue sets, once thrift store staples, are now “cool” finds for both serious collectors and casual shoppers who are jumping on the “retro” bandwagon. Next time you turn your nose up at a set of kitchen canisters with a mushroom design,
think again, you may be passing up a real “retro” gem that even Pottery
Barn is keeping an eye on.

C. Dianne Zweig is the author of Hot Kitchen & Home Collectibles of the 30s, 40s, 50s and Hot Cottage Collectibles for Vintage Style Homes. She is also the Editor of an actively growing internet based resource community for people who buy, sell or collect antiques, collectibles and art. You can find Dianne’s fabulous retro and vintage kitchen, home and cottage collectibles at The Collinsville Antiques Company of New Hartford, CT, a 22,000 feet antique emporium with an in-house retro café.

Photos show in this article are Courtesy of

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C. Dianne Zweig’s Blog Kitsch ‘n Stuff

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Dianne is a member of:
The American Society of Journalists and Authors
The Authors Guild, Inc.

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