The 50’s Style in Interior Design
After the black-out and restrictions of the Second World war, the 1950s were a much brighter time. Although rationing was still in place at the start of the decade, just a few years later wages had increased and the economy was growing. People were more affluent and had more disposable income. The horizons were expanding, and more people started going on foreign holidays (the first jet plane was produced in Britain in 1954).
Technology stepped up its infiltration of our homes. In 1953 the Post Office in Britain issued roughly 3 million television licences, and about 27 million people crowded around friends’ and neighbours’ sets to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, an average of nine people per set. By the end of the decade, 16 million households had televisions, and it was possible to watch in a bit more comfort. In addition, more appliances (such as automatic washing machines, fridges and food mixers) had begun to creep into our kitchens.
The Festival of Britain in 1951 was designed as a ‘tonic to the nation’, intended to improve morale and help us forget the trauma of war. At multiple locations around around the country it celebrated Britain’s history, achievements and culture, and was a huge showcase for home-grown design, architecture and art.
Innovations in paint technology during the 1950s meant that the dark colours of the 1940s (usually applied by professionals because they were difficult to work with) could be abandoned and we could buy off-the-shelf vinyl paint and do it ourselves (the 1950s was the supreme age of DIY). Usage of bright colours reflected the optimistic feeling of the time. Bright pinks, greens, blues, yellows and purples are all absolutely authentic for a 1950s scheme.
When it comes to fabric of this period, the choice was very diverse – either bright, bold florals or abstract patterns inspired by advances in science (think startbursts and atoms) were very popular.
Inevitably, furniture changed too in the post-war years. Whilst 1940s’ sofas had bulky frames stuffed with hessian and horsehair, those produced in the 1950s benefited from innovations in both techniques and materials. New ways of working with wood allowed designs with light frames, sleek lines and elegant shapes. Scandinavian furniture, with its minimal adornment, was particularly popular.
For the authentic 1950s look, juxtapose wooden furniture with plastic, Formica and chrome, all popular materials at the time. Alternatively, source an original basket-weave chair, or a high-tech butterfly chair (a metal frame with fabric hung over it) to complete the look.
You can replicate the 1950s look very easy, with a bit of effort finding right style textiles and pieces of furniture. For finishing touches, pick up vintage details – craft signs, postcards and other knick-knacks. While not all came from 1950s, they cleverly mixed and matched to make them look related. The other items that say ‘1950s’ are magazine racks and coat racks that incorporated bright plastic balls on the legs or hooks, examples of atomic-age design from the festival of Britain.
Try to find the crochet rugs at car boot sales. Or make them by yourself, just like the houswives in 1950s might have made. It’s definitely the little extras that make all the difference.