Retro Trends Interior Designers Want to Bring Back From the Dead

Try more color, for one

saturated colors living room

Photo courtesy Natalie Papier

It might sound cliché to say what goes around comes back around, but it’s especially true in interior design. Recent years have already shown a resurgence in wallpaper, shiplap and macrame, but there are other “old school” trends that deserve our love today.

We spoke to interior designers about their favorite retro trends—and why they should make a comeback. “You basically cannot go wrong with picking any retro details and bringing them into your modern home,” interior designer Natalie Papier says. “So have fun with it.”

1. Go Wild With Wood

If you stepped back in time to the average ’70s home, chances are you’d find a wall made from a dark, walnut-color wood paneling. Interior designer Michelle Zacks says to use that retro inspo and bring it back, but with a modern twist. 

“Maybe a more modern view of that would be [a wood] that’s a little bit lighter or has a little bit more of the natural wood grain visible,” Zacks says. “Take that as a starting point and push the idea a little bit further ... Because people are spending more time inside their homes, it’s a cozy vibe with a little bit of texture and some warmth, and a way to add interest to a space.”

wooden armchair

Photo courtesy Catherine Ferguson

Zacks also recommends using rich wood tones in other ways, like adding a mid-century-esque wooden armchair to your living room.

2. Embrace Kitsch 

Though some might never want to see an over-the-top mid-century kitsch space ever again, Papier says bringing in a few kitschy elements is a fun way to give a room personality. She even has a cassette-shaped table in her own home and has incorporated kitsch-inspired vinyl records into her clients’ spaces. If you’re looking to bring some kitsch touches into, say, your kitchen, Smeg’s retro-style appliances are an easy way to do so.

3. Pretty in Pink

Many of us are spending more time in our kitchens and less time dining out. So there’s a newfound focus on making your cooking space more warm and inviting. 

Interior designer Sarah Robertson says there are a few ways to do this: incorporating more curved edges into your space (such as in an island or table) and filling the room with soft, calming colors like a dusty pink or soft blue.

“Pastels were so popular in the late ’80s,” she says. “Everything at Kmart or Walmart was those colors, including your toothbrushes, your spoons, your forks. I think if it’s done carefully and it’s mixed with other styles, [pastels] can be really pretty and really livable and inviting. I think it has staying power.”

4. Space Out

The 1960s saw a rise in furniture with chrome detailing, unusual shapes and bright colors—think, the house in The Jetsons or Space Station V’s lounge in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Zacks recommends bringing one or two pieces of this space age movement into any modern room. This balance will add interest without making it look like you live on a planet from Star Trek

“You can really dig into that past vibe,  take certain elements of it and bring it into a space so that it feels kind of mixed and varied,” she says. “I think of tubular chrome dining chairs or arm chairs, of low-slung Italian sofas, travertine marble tables…”

5. Pick Design-Focused Furniture

Catherine Ferguson, founder and owner of & Daughters Interiors, says when it comes to retro furniture from the ’50s and ’60s, a tapered leg is timeless and still feels contemporary. Specifically, a sideboard with tapered legs is the perfect replacement for those ’90s TV stands everyone seems to have. 

“A sideboard is a fabulous thing to put your TV on, or sort of be the centerpiece that draws your eye into the corner of the room,” she says. “Obviously it’s great for storage, but they're always on a nice tapered leg, which makes a big, heavy piece of furniture feel elevated and light and airy.” 

6. Don’t Be Afraid of Color

Warm, saturated colors like browns, reds and marigold dominated the ’70s, and when paired with neutrals (hello, Illuminating and Ultimate Gray) they can make your space pop. The best part: there are so many different ways to add color.

saturated colors living room

Photo courtesy Natalie Papier

“I don’t think there are any rules about where you bring in color,” Papier says. “Sometimes the color’s brought in with art, sometimes the statement sofa is just a bold bright color. I like to see some color on the ceilings, which is just a kind of fun, impactful way to really make a statement in the room.”

7. Brass, Brass Baby

Warm brasses and mixed medals have been popular from the Victorian era to mid-century design, Papier says. She suggests incorporating brass vases, sculptures or chargers into your decor for an instant retro touch. 

brass furniture

Photo courtesy Catherine Ferguson Company

You can also incorporate brass in more subtle ways. Ferguson says the warmer brass tones reflect mid-century teak furniture really well, making a killer combo.

“A lot of pieces will have brass handles on them, and it brings a little bit of glamor to some of these items,” Ferguson says. “You might associate furniture with being a bit heavy and masculine, but as soon as you put a fine brass handle on something it sort of elevates it a bit more and makes it feel more feminine, more elegant.”

8. Take Notes from Grandma

Pleated lampshades. Seafoam greens. Finge, ruffles and florals. Papier says taking inspiration from how your grandma decorated her home in the ’80s and ’90s is growing in popularity, especially with millennials. 

Not only is this “granny chic” look trending, but it’s also a sustainable way to style your home.

“We’re all looking for that cozy factor, and there is something cozy about that grandma chic look,” Papier says. “And what I think is really fun about it is you can source such affordable pieces that way—[on] Facebook marketplace, Craigslist—but then you mix them with a cool, modern new chair from CB2 and you have this eclectic, individual look that no one else has.” 

9. Soften Your Edges

Replacing sharp geometric shapes with more organic, rounded edges can give your space a softer feel. Zacks recommends taking inspiration from the art deco movement and incorporating scallops—which are already coming back in style—into your space, whether it be in wallpaper, tile, fabrics or even with a DIY paint job

black, white, and red bathroom

Photo courtesy Natalie Papier

“For a while we were doing really streamlined, modern, really cold type spaces that had the stainless steel and very modern, clean, squared-off lines,” Zacks says ”Now everyone’s going back to a little bit more organic shapes.”