The 1950s will never not be in style. The era encapsulated by mid-century modern is when many of the principals of good design were set in stone. Furniture found that sweet spot between form and function, where clean lines and organic shapes were also beautiful and ornate.
The furniture created in the 1950s checked off so many of the boxes that make a good design. It agrees with textile designer William Morris' sentiment to "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." It also adheres to the modern design principals of legendary American designer Charles Eames that "the details are not the details, they make the design."
Retro chairs that recall the '50s can range from elegance to kitsch. They can bring back memories of malt shops but they can also recall the modernism of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry.
Here are some other reasons you should consider retro chairs for your interior design if you're looking for a style that is stylish, timeless, and classic!
Resurrecting Style With Retro Chairs From The 1950s
When you hear the phrase 'retro chairs,' it might make you think of something funky, like Archie Bunker's ratty old armchair from All In The Family. That's not the case with 1950s chairs and furniture, however.
In some regards, you could say that '50s design is more modern than modern. In many ways, '50s furniture is superior to modern design. So much of modern design feels like its meant for a showroom rather than a sitting room. Instead of clean and well-designed, it feels uninviting and sterile.
Let's begin by taking a look at 1950s furniture in general, examining its history and defining characteristics. This will help give you an idea of how to incorporate the many different facets of '50s furniture into your own designs.
What Is 1950s Retro Furniture?
When you use the phrase 50s furniture, a few different images may come to mind. On one hand, you might think of the minimalist furniture found in suburban living rooms around the world, but especially in the United States and the United Kingdom.
On the other, you might think of the bright colors and futuristic materials found in diners like you might see on Happy Days. Both are true and valid. Both cast some light on that era, what made the '50s special and how that was reflected in the design of 1950s furniture.
Whether at home or out in public, 1950s furniture across the board features strong lines and organic shapes. These elements are often accentuated with bright, bold colors and a variety of materials. All of it adheres to the rules of good design. This is, in part, because it's when these rules were first being written.
Some common characteristics of '50s furniture include:
Modernism was in full effect in the 1950s, as the world struggled to forget the horrors of two World Wars and embrace a mood of optimism and innovation. This was the era of Disney's Tomorrowland, when it seemed like science was going to solve all of society's ills. This was the era of modernism's triumph, when there was no argument between tradition and innovation. There was no looking backwards, only forwards.
In keeping with this spirit, '50s furniture featured no extraneous frills or flourishes. Form followed function, with no exceptions. Emphasis was put on quality and attention to detail rather than gimmicks or filigree. This can be seen in everything from the buffets that could be found in nearly every living room to the streamlined silhouette of Standard Diner Chairs.
1950s furniture took as much inspiration from the natural world as the looming millennium. The search for efficiency and finding the ultimate design caused designers to return to shapes found in nature as well as the emerging fields of industrial design and engineering.
1950s furniture is as likely to resemble a honeycomb or a coral reef as a blueprint. This created an aesthetic that is both futuristic as well as timeless. '50s furniture still has this feeling, 70 years later.
The 1950s were a time of rampant innovation. Designers were evaluating absolutely every aspect of the world around us, turning away from the bulky pomposity of the 19th Century and summoning the future that would become the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s.
If you really look, you can find '50s furniture in a wide berth of materials, textures, and colors. Sometimes things could be bold and striking, like these classic canary yellow diner chairs. Retro chairs from the '50s can be elegant and futuristic, as well. These 5 channel diner chairs would look as at home in Blade Runner as Come Back To The 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean.
The Enduring Popularity Of '50s Furniture]
Now that we have a greater understanding of '50s design and how it paved the way for modernism, let's take a look at some of the reasons why 1950s furniture is still as relevant and in fashion as ever.
For all of its style and charm, ultra-modern furniture can often feel stuffy and sterile. Think of the trend of all white interior design for an example of what we're talking about. On one hand, you've got to wonder if anybody even lives in spaces like these. All white interiors can leave you feeling like a stain on the carpet.
That's not even to mention the sheer impracticality of it all. Show an all white design scheme to a parent with young children and watch them recoil in terror!
Finally, and just as importantly, monochromatic interior design can begin to feel interchangeable. Even for the most ardent design lover, there's a feeling that if you've seen one sleek, modern kitchen or living room you've seen them all.
That's one reason we have such fond feelings towards classic designs like retro kitchens. They can still feel elegant and classy while still being inviting and comfortable.
1950s chairs are an easy way to incorporate pops of color into any interior. Just look at the classic color scheme of these Lucy red sparkle diner chairs for an example. They manage to convey a sense of luxury while still being inviting as well as practical.
All tastes and trends are cyclical and ephemeral. What might be trendy one day might be tacky the next. This is especially true in the particle accelerator of the Digital Age.
Just look at how quickly the tides turned against design trends like Shabby Chic. Once the domain of numerous publications and countless Pinterest boards, tastes turned so quickly and so completely that the company responsible for the name nearly went bankrupt.
In fact, Shabby Chic has had several rises and falls in the 21st Century, and we're only 20 years in!
While that might not be a big deal if you're just looking to spruce up a space in your home, it could cause problems if you need your interior design to last a while, like a bar or restaurant.
You really can't overlook the fact that '50s furniture still seems as stylish and in fashion as when it was created 70 years ago. There's never been a time when 50s retro chairs weren't in fashion. Even more, these designs are no longer restricted to juke joints and hamburger restaurants, either.
1950s furniture seems to have the feelings of optimism, exuberance, and warmth built into it. This makes it ideal to use for emphasis and to bring in feelings contained in this era.
Say, for instance, you're opening a new restaurant in a city center. You want your decor to seem current and modern, as well as giving a feeling of environmentalism and sustainability, so you select an unbleached wooden interior for all the counters and furnishings. If you're not careful, though, your new restaurant could end up seeming like some snooty gastropub and families and people on a budget won't want to eat there.
To tone this down, perhaps you choose chairs like the soft pastel of these two tone handle diner chair paired with formica tables. All of a sudden, your interior design seems colorful, cheerful, and welcoming.
It's hard to put your finger on what, exactly, it is about '50s furniture design that makes it so appealing. Is it because of the form being so clear and understandable? Like this handle back diner chair, which just begs you to pull it out and sit a while?
Or maybe it's the comfortability. Even standard diner chairs are well padded and eminently comfortable. They make you want to sit and rest a while instead of urging you out the door as quickly as possible, like the torturous seating you'll find at a McDonald's.
Perhaps it's the associations we have with that era, as well. The '50s and early '60s were a time of dinettes and breakfast nooks. It was an era of endless pots of coffee and potlucks with the neighbors. When you have 1950s chairs, you're saying "Stop and get to know your friends and family. These are the things that really matter in life."
While '50s furniture can be found in every color and every material known to humanity, much of what we think of as retro furniture feature synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, or acrylic. This truly brings together the best of all worlds. It's stylish and elegant yet it's nearly indestructible and beyond easy to clean.
How often can you find designer furniture that is also safe to be around very young children? This fact alone makes '50s retro chairs the ultimate choice for public spaces like diners and restaurants.
It also makes life for the people that work there as pleasant as possible. If you've ever worked in a restaurant, you're most likely familiar with the mind-melting stress that can come with rushes. Now imagine what that could be like if you also included fabric furniture, which runs the risk of being stained if you don't wipe it down fast enough.
1950s furniture can be wiped down with any cleaning solution you can think of. It's sturdy and resilient even if it looks soft and delicate.
'50s design and furniture manages to be both nostalgic and reminiscent and futuristic, at the same time. This makes it ideal for the unique times we're living in. Futurism is in, as is modernism and minimalism. We're still seeking the future even if, at times, we don't know what that will look like.
On the other hand, we're facing an unprecedented range of challenges. Things move so fast and so suddenly it's disorienting and sometimes a little bit frightening. Timeless design, familiar forms, and shapes, and colors seem comforting in these transitory times.
Even more, that's not going to change any time soon. 1950s furniture and design hasn't gone out of fashion since it was created. It's built into the way we think about good design. It is as close as we're going to get in interior design to future proof.
Looking For Retro Chairs?
As the saying goes, all things old are new again. Which is to say that timeless qualities like the best materials and thoughtful design are never going to fall out of fashion.
If you're looking for retro chairs, tables, or bar stools for your home or restaurant, you've come to the right place! Get in touch with us today and let us know how we can help bring your design vision to life!