Friday, 03 June 2016

Going back to retro

Good style never dates and some of the designs of yesteryear look as fresh today as they did decades ago. Caroline Clifton-Mogg explains

Written by Caroline Clifton-Mogg
The first shoots of early modernism emerged nearly 100 years ago and still flourish today, with many of those early designs looking as fresh and interesting as when they were first produced. But modern retro is not just about 20th-century design – it is a style that blends new and contemporary design, as well as incorporating it with the vintage and the antique.
home-590-2Tulip-shaped Carnival glass lamps from the 1920s light up the kitchen in this London loft

But what exactly is retro? There are some who think it means something from a short time ago, and others who see it as a design from a specific period – somewhere vague centred between the 1920s and the 1970s. In vocabulary terms, ‘retro’ is in fact a Latin prefix meaning backwards or in past times, and that seems to be the simplest way of looking at it…
home-590-3The Villa La Rafale in Royan, France, was designed by Pierre Marmouget between 1957 and 1959

Among the many consequences of the First World War was a feeling among a new generation of architects, designers and artists that there was another way to design – one in which function was as important as form, and where simplicity trumped decorative flourish. New technologies, techniques and new materials had been developed during the war and were now explored in a domestic setting.

home-590-4A 1960s Ball chair by Eero Aarnio sits beneath a globe of paper stars. A bold colour scheme of red, black and white dominates this eaves-set bedroom

Central to the development of the movement was Bauhaus, the school of architecture and design founded in Germany in 1919. Although it was shut down in 1933 by the Nazis, the Bauhaus influence still affects the furniture we buy today, with designers including Le Corbusier and Ray and Charles Eames all influenced by the movement.

home-590-5A geometric open wall unit stores books and objects in this Provence farmhouse

It is hard to realise just how revolutionary those early 20th-century pieces must have seemed: the combination of new techniques and new inventions resulted in materials with which we are familiar today – bent tubular steel, moulded plastic and plywood – but which had never been seen before that period. Everything about the designs was new, which is perhaps one reason why so much early and mid 20th-century furniture continues to be so popular today, and why it works so well in 21st-century interiors.

Modern Retro: From Rustic To Urban, Classic To Colourful, by Caroline Clifton-Mogg, is published by Jacqui Small, priced £30.

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