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Back to the past – our top retro living room design ideas


Retro interior design means choosing styles from around the 1950s onwards.  It does not mean choosing second-hand or upcycled furniture, and your new angel chairs would fit in fine with your mocked-up version of a style from the past.  It is about taking inspiration from designs such as curvy modern sixties style through to the mid-century Scandinavian look.

Before we go full-throttled into an exploration of retro, it is also useful to keep in mind that the whole room does not have to go back in time.  You can incorporate vintage elements into an interior design that is otherwise quite modern.  You could have a splash of those seventies patterns without having to get lost in the chaos of the period as a whole.

Minimal open plan

A space that is most difficult to design is that open plan living area.  It is easy to believe that a retro look would dominate the room and counter the idea of freedom.  A whole open-plan retro design could end up cluttered and claustrophobic.  However, if you paint the walls a stark white, you can add feature pieces that add splashes of vivid colour.  The bright oranges and yellows of the seventies would add the perfect statement pieces to an otherwise sterile room.

Repurposed spaces

Warehouse and storage spaces repurposed into living accommodation are the perfect breeding ground for retro design.  Rather than looking to offer a modern take on this space, you can hint at the previous life by keeping some of the original features.  Then, to add comfort, you can add in some deep-seated, seventies leather chairs and some rugs with circular patterns.

Colour can be retro enough

Homes built in the 1930s in the UK have a particularly modernist feel.  The high walls and arches are finished with coving and ornate doorways.  Any retro decorating here would aim to maintain the flow of light through the rooms.  The nature of the design means that fussy or over-elaborate use of colour will make an area feel cramped. Therefore, the use of colour can be enough hint at the retro style you are looking for – with the burnt oranges and browns accenting the bright white walls.

Alternatively, if you use forest green in a sitting room, then you can easily take space back in time.  You may worry that it is too dark and dungeon-like – however, in a place that has light aplenty from windows or patio doors, the green can be beautiful.  Imagine continuing this retro look with some tan leather sofas and piles of books on the sills of expansive sash windows.  You will feel you are taken back to the times of elegant drawing rooms.

If your room is too dark to cope with this dark hue – try a dusty pink instead.  You will achieve a similar classical look while maintaining some of the light in the room.

There is something wonderfully cohesive about interior design in a historic home hinting at the past.  Therefore, looking to reinstate cornices that may have been removed could be one way to embrace the retro in the property.  Alternatively, if the home is from a period such as the seventies, you may want some chocolate brown, orange or grass coloured accessories or feature pieces to hint at the heritage. If you are aiming for more palm beach than retro London, then you could choose bubble-gum pink and bright green velvets to add some startling detail to your seventies home.

War-time chic

Something is appealing about pale greys and moss and lime green in a space otherwise painted white.  Greens and greys are unassuming colours and will always take a back seat to the brighter white.  However, there is something uniquely stylish about mid-century furniture in these wartime hues.  There is a distinctly cool vibe if used sparingly with other more contemporary choices.  Getting the right balance is essential – one step too far and the room might look drab.

How to go retro in simple steps

All this might sound like a commitment, and you are considering employing a decorator to do the design for you.  Well, it doesn’t have to be challenging to achieve your retro look.  As with any design, you need to balance the feature pieces with broader strokes.  You can take hints for your design from the property itself, using the period of construction to inspire you in the interior.  Start small with your retro choices and don’t feel you have to take the whole room back in time.

Anna Sharples

Office and marketing manager for Sloane & Sons Stylish Chairs, who sell a range of high-quality tub chairs, accent chairs and more.


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