It was in the 1950s that the retro furniture design started becoming popular. With the advent of modern furniture designs, the impact of the modern industrial revolution changed how people visualized design furniture. As the ability to create en masse almost any type of furniture from chairs to beds to tables increased, design furniture world wide changed as artists focused not only form and function, but to design as an art. Big, bold colors came in as geometric shapes of all kinds took over the industry. Whether it was a simple wooden chair cuts with edgy shapes and a circular cushioned seat to a geometric table fashioned as part art part function.
It was almost as if after the oppressive atmosphere of war gave way to its opposite—light, whimsical, fun, and this was seen in retro furniture just as it was in the modern cars, music and dress styles of the three distinct eras of the 50s, 60s and 70s. If you look at history, furniture was rationed in England during the war and only wood furniture was readily available which led to a high demand for modern, retro furniture as Europeans wanted to create a new environment.
Prior to the 1950s, furniture inside homes was still fairly traditional overall, even as the modern furniture movement started changing in the early 1900s. It wasn’t until then that retro furniture designers really displayed true modern influence as several decades of rapid change in the industry began to find its way into the average American home. As European design began to influence how Americans visualized furniture, it took a while to shape an entire nation. Initially, modern furniture was seen in well to do families in major metropolitan areas such as New York City or portside cities such as Los Angeles.
But as manufacturing became more and more reliable, and the world left the years of war behind, the average American family was prosperous enough to afford the new modern yet retro furniture designs being created by designers all over the world.
Woods were mixed with fabrics as walls took on lives of their own with memorable patterns. Smooth surfaces were popular with long elongated shapes such as a lounge chair or chaise chair. Many times unusual shapes were used in furniture design such as the ball chair or the later designed egg chair which was very popular inside homes in the United States.
Minimalism in design furniture became the norm with bright colors and shapes doing the “speaking” for furniture designs while ornate, wood and parquetry was in hiding as people strove to create a modern look. Furniture became very shapely, but was still well-made to last. Furniture designs included s-shapes, unique metal casing of legs, shapely tables finely constructed of metal with some wood accents. Bean bags and inflatable furniture even became popular during the peak of retro furniture design.
In the 1950s, British designer Donald Gomme challenged not only how furniture was designed, but how it was marketed, with designs marketed around the interior design of an entire room so that people had several years to buy the entire room design piece by piece. Showrooms popped up all over Europe, and it was these designs that influenced a generation of furniture. The played legs, simple shapes and the ability to buy piecemeal whole suites of furniture made it a very popular option for families.
This is only one way mass production changed furniture, creating in it a more retro, yet modern design for individual homes and interior designs. Retro furniture still influences design today.