Get That Vintage Look: Retro Furniture Guide

Get That Vintage Look: Retro Furniture Guide

Get That Vintage Look: Retro Furniture Guide

Posted 27 November, 2015 by Benjamin Gardiner in Get that look...

Get That Vintage Look: Retro Furniture Guide

Many of us love to incorporate some of the distinctive looks from the past into our home. A touch of art deco elegance here, a few powerful mid-century modern lines there all help to add character to our favourite rooms. 

Looking for that perfect piece of furniture to capture that retro look can prove difficult -you may find yourself getting lost in the confusing definitions that exist. So what are the differences between vintage and retro furniture? Do they matter?

Retro and vintage are terms that are often confused. ‘Vintage’ refers to items that are 20 to 100 years old, while anything over 100 years older should be referred to as 'antique'. The term 'retro' in contrast doesn't have anything to do with actual age, it actually refers to a piece that is built in a style from the past. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail...

Get that vintage look with a chest of drawers and a funky folding chairs

Vintage Furniture

As we have stated, the difference between vintage and retro is that vintage refers to an items actual age. Often what we consider 'antique' furniture is 'old vintage' from the 1920s all the way to the 1950s. 'Modern Vintage' is a term for newer vintage pieces that cover the 60's to the 80's (and yes the early 90s now too!), and has become popular in recent years.

Good places to source vintage furniture are boutiques, second hand shops, charity shops, or Gumtree and eBay. Another thing that people do is upcycle vintage furniture to get a piece of history combined with a quality product. When purchasing a vintage piece just remember to haggle for the best price and make sure that there is no woodworm!

Retro and stylish table and chairs

Retro Furniture

Retro furniture is a superb option when you love the look of previous iconic design periods but want a new top quality product for a reasonable price. The very best styles of the past are cherry-picked and recreated using modern furniture construction methods. The furniture is produced more efficiently which leads to greater sturdiness, better materials and a cheaper price. The piece will also not be in danger of falling apart through age plus you get a warranty!

A retro furniture piece doesn't necessarily mean you have to transform your home décor style into a bold swinging 60s pad or a decadent Art Deco antechamber – by just adding a retro chair or table you can transform a room lacking character into a stunning living space.

Let's now have a look at the different periods that inspire retro design and its furniture...

Stunning Art Deco Living Room with chandelier

Art Deco – 1920s/30s

Emerging in France just before the First World War, Art Deco is a diverse design style that fuses geometric shapes, brazen tones and exuberant decoration. At the time, it represented glamour, opulence and society's confidence in progress.

Art Deco furniture is characterised by bold and streamlined forms including sunbursts, spheres, polygons and rectangles most often organised symmetrically, and embellished with ornamental shapes, gilt edges and fan shapes for an ostentatious but minimalist style. True to the ethos of modernity, Art Deco furniture was built using new materials of the time; stainless steel, aluminium, Bakelite and chrome. Colours tend to be contrasted from each other and very vivid.


The design of the 1940s is considered a sentimental style that contrasts with the ostentatious designs of the previous decades. This is often attributed as a reaction to the Second World War and its aftermath. People made do with what they had, and shared a general appreciation of the simple pleasures in life, which were reflected in the décor.

Muted but flavourful greens, reds and yellows were popular for home interiors while geometric forms of the past were shunned in favour of strident and intense floral patterns on upholstery and walls. Gingham was notably prevalent motif for living rooms and kitchens. Furniture generally exhibited a utilitarian aspect in keeping with the Zeitgeist, with dark wood and earthy dull tones the order of the day In an era that still feared polio, kitchen pieces like cabinetry were often light shades so that any dirt was clearly visible.


The design of the 1950s reflected the transformation from post war scarcity, to the age of the consumer. Fitted kitchens and modern conveniences transformed the lives of many, and the décor changed accordingly. 

With smaller houses being built, the furniture of the period often needed to be light enough to stack or be easily moved which led to new designs built from PVC, Formica, fibreglass, aluminium and plastics. Open-plan living spaces also became prevalent during this time. Other emblematic 1950s furniture included Butterfly chairs (metal frame with canvas) and white or primary coloured basket weave chairs. Fabrics of the period were bright with abstract patterns, often with science-influenced shapes like atomics and starbursts. Animal prints like leopard or zebra were also popular.

Mid-Century (Modern) – 1930s to 1965 

This is a style that existed between the early 1930s to the mid 1960s and is characterised by uncluttered simplicity and a fusion with nature. Influenced by the International style architecture and Bauhaus, Mid Century Modern is a simple, fresh aesthetic that incorporates striking graphic patterns and shapes with kooky accents.

This wide ranging and eclectic style prominently features organic materials, contemporary forms, pared down shapes and a smooth flow between indoors and the outside. Floor and furnishings are peeled back to their vital forms, with no unnecessary detailing. Earthy tones with bold colours are essential for this style. Marshmallow sofas and iconic Egg and Womb chairs are iconic pieces of the Mid Century Modern design, as are bubble lights and Arco floor lamps.

1960s/70s– Kitsch

Where as home décor in the 50s and early 60s was often very functional and unostentatious, the design of the later 60s and 70s saw an eruption in innovation and new ideas that became the must-have for all new homes in the UK. The previous year’s infatuation with American design was dislodged by swinging London as Britain became trendy around the world.

Furniture of this period reflected the liberalisation of society at the time, which combined the growth of stylish yet affordable pieces conceived by contemporary designers. Inspired by Art Noveau, the coiled and twisting lines and flower shapes were brought back in the 1960s and developed into psychedelia with bright colours. Kitsch, a low brow type of mass produced art using cultural figures, is also associated with the period. Plastic and blow-up furniture in egg or 'S' shapes were popular at the time as was anything inspired by the space age. Furniture from junk shops or low quality antiques are representative of style, as well as exotic foreign pieces like rugs and ornaments that gave the impression that the owner had been travelling.


The 80s was a design period that rejected the idealism of the 60's and embraced materialism while often expressing an image of wealth, success and faux futurism.

The chosen colours of this design period were saturated with black, white with strong reds and greens. Geometric shapes like circles and right angles were popular, and also featured very reflective surfaces like plastics, metal and marble. A typical piece of the period was glass-topped wood tables, which were ubiquitous in the living room of the 80s. Metal beds and track lighting were also very prevalent. Despite the harsh metallic image of the 80s though, twee designs including pastels were very big, with frilly fabrics and stuffed couches in corals, pinks and purples very popular.

Hand writing with a pen on a notepad

Top Tips for the Retro Look

- Stick with one colour palette. If you use too many colours your home can look a bit chaotic and messy. Some home décor rules don’t change - choose your colour palette and stick to it.
- Remember that you live in the 2010s. Some design styles are structured in such a way because of the practical considerations at the time, and may not suit your present lifestyle. Furniture of the 1960s was often suited to a slippy linoleum surface and 80s furniture was built to accommodate the massive blocks of hifi/radio/record players at the time, not your tiny USB iphone dock!

- Be weary of attempting multiple styles. Unless you have a big budget and can afford to redo the entire room, it can take quite a lot of effort to achieve the effect of going back in a time machine. As such, trying to incorporate two styles is even harder, and is likely to result in chaos. Stick to one and do it well!

- Don't neglect your fabrics. If your 1960s/1970s room doesn't quite have the period style that you are looking for, an introduction of a rug or Indian inspired hanging can help massively and requires little effort.

- Accessories can go a long way. If you are looking for a little retro flavour without going the whole hog, adding a small iconic piece to a room really helps. Metallic lamps or a small glass topped coffee table can give your living room an 80s vibe without breaking the bank.

Now you have a better understanding of the difference between the terms retro and vintage, as well as a brief introduction on the variety of décor styles through the ages. With this advice you can leave the 2010s behind and impress your friends by transforming your home into a glorious shrine to the décor periods of the past!

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