Trends Always Come Back: Retro Aesthetics with Modern Materials
As transitory as trends may be, they always have a way of coming back. We see it all the time in fashion, with clothing pieces we thought were long gone coming back in style and reconquering the market. Interior design is no exception. Although this century has set the ideal on subtle sophistication and simplicity – with white surfaces, clean lines and slick gloss finishes –, bold retro enhancements are reviving in residential and commercial interiors. Whether in the form of vibrant colored walls, floors with intricate geometric patterns or vintage-looking furniture pieces, there seems to be a renewed appreciation for design elements inspired by trends from the second half of the 1900s, particularly from the 50s to the 80s.
However, it’s not just about incorporating old, outdated components into current architectural projects. In order to fit a modern aesthetic, it is crucial to reinterpret, revitalize and seamlessly blend in with contemporary elements. So, how to apply this modern twist? The answer is quite simple: by combining old forms with modern materials and finishes. Most materials used in interiors, such as ceramic tiles and terrazzo, have existed for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. But thanks to new technologies, more advanced manufacture methods and improved installation techniques, these have evolved drastically throughout the last century, which is why they can be referred to as modern materials that can achieve a refreshed, updated retro look.
Exploring this recently popular aesthetic, below we dive into design features that have come back and taken over living spaces – especially kitchens, bathrooms and common rooms –, along with the materials that make this style possible.
The Comeback of Retro Design Trends in Modern Bathrooms
Geometric cladding: ceramic and hydraulic tiles
Mostly in square and rectangular shapes, ceramic tiles are known for their versatility, durability, water resistance and ease of maintenance. Similarly, cement-based hydraulic tiles provide resistance and design flexibility with their intricate designs. With their inherent geometric nature, both became extremely popular between the 50s and 70s. They also appeared in a variety of colors: while the 50s introduced pink and mint tiles, the swinging 60s and disco 70s were well known for their bright green, turquoise, yellow and orange tiles.
Today, we are seeing an insurgence of vintage-inspired ceramic and hydraulic tiles in interiors, especially in kitchen and bathroom cladding. Whereas some come in muted contemporary shades, many others are also reviving the classic retro colors. The main difference, however, is that these are now made in higher quality with improved manufacture techniques. For example, with automated processes and innovations like digital printing, ceramic tile designs have evolved far beyond simple rectangles and squares. Adopting every shape, texture, thickness and size imaginable while offering increased performance, these can create complex geometric surfaces with a modernized retro aesthetic.
Bold colors: water-based paint and pigmented concrete
Bold colors are, without a doubt, a retro staple. The 50s were mostly characterized by pastel shades, including soft pink, mint green, turquoise and baby blue. On the contrary, the outspoken 70s brought saturated, vibrant hues like avocado green and mustard yellow. During the early 80s, the pastel palette came back in colors like mauve, coral and seafoam green, but switched to primary colors and neons as the decade progressed. Although these were replaced by whites and neutrals in the 90s, many modern interiors feature playful color schemes from the 50s-80s era. In multiple kitchens, for instance, pastel shades are matched with modern countertops, cabinets and appliances.
Colors can be displayed in various scales, from adding color details with tiles, accessories and furniture, to painting entire walls. Like many other materials, house paint has undergone significant changes throughout history. Previously made with oil and artificial resins, most paints today are water-based. These provide great color retention over time, are more environmentally friendly, dry faster and produce fewer odors compared to other alternatives, allowing designers to convey a retro influence in a healthier, more effective manner. Furthermore, innovations like these pigmented concrete sinks can add a small, yet powerful pop of color. Combining vibrant tones with unique geometric shapes, these can transmit a strong retro aesthetic in bathrooms.
Intricate patterns: terrazzo
Greatly inspired by the pop art movement, the mid 20th century was also characterized by highly expressive patterns, which explains the popularity of detailed wallpapers and tiles. But when it comes to intricate patterns with a strong personality, the eye-catching aesthetic of terrazzo seems to be unmatched. Traditionally composed of marble or granite chips that are set in concrete and polished, the material was huge in homes from the 50s and 60s until it fell out of fashion during the disco era. It didn’t take long, however, for it to come back in style in modern interiors, demonstrating a remarkable capacity to reinvent itself.
Although originally set in cement, now 90% of terrazzo surfaces are made with an epoxy resin. This offers advantages over cement systems, such as longer lifecycles, greater design flexibility and quicker installation speed. To this day, it remains one of the most durable and cost-effective flooring finishes. As a result, with improved manufacture and modern components, epoxy terrazzo has become a viable and functional alternative capable of expressing a strong retro statement in all kinds of surfaces.
Vintage-inspired objects: furniture and accessories
Furniture and accessories can go a long way when trying to achieve a retro aesthetic. While the 60s brought funky-shaped furnishings like the blow-up chair, the 70s consolidated the shift towards bigger, bulkier and chunkier designs. The 80s introduced pastels, ruffles, neos and mirrored furniture. Therefore, in general, retro furniture is characterized by boldness and extravagance through unique shapes and bright hues, which are usually complemented with vintage-inspired gold metallic accents in lighting fixtures and finishes.
In recent years, these design elements and details have re-emerged in modernized forms. It is common, for example, to find furnishings that are made to look from the 60s or 70s, but are manufactured with updated, high-performance materials. With the help of new technologies, materials that are widely used today – like glass, acrylic, stainless steel, plastic, polycarbonate and foam – can be extremely durable, strong and be molded into practically every shape, easily appropriating any retro style.
Trends are not always liked. With their inherent temporary nature, they are subject to personal preferences and taste. Even in its modernized version, some still consider the retro aesthetic to be tacky and old-fashioned. But regardless of varying opinions, it is undeniably back in interior design and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon.
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