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Between retro charm and space age

1970s design celebrates a colourful comeback

Style eras of the past are an important source of inspiration for today’s design trends. And so, the rediscovery of round shapes, space-age looks and brightly coloured patterns marks the comeback of a wild decade: style-defining 1970s design is back. However, contemporary interpretations go beyond short-lived vintage charm and show how well the designs by Panton, Vetra and Ligne Roset can fit in today’s interiors.

The Trio sofa from COR

The Trio sofa from COR is available in various 1970s colours and exudes a wealth of retro charm, especially in corduroy upholstery. (Photo: COR)

Between design classics and DIY furniture

The moon landing in 1969 sparked a decade of radical change. As a further development of pop art and hippie culture, futuristic shapes, new plastics, corduroy upholstery and bold colours came to dominate seventies design. Considered one of the most important designers of this era, Verner Panton created a colourful monument to the style of the period with his Visiona 2 exhibition during Cologne’s furniture trade fair in 1970.

But this trend was not without a counter-movement, which consciously distanced itself from the smooth surfaces and wipe-clean plastic furniture. Instead of looking for adventures in space, an entire generation sought happiness in the mud of Woodstock at the same time as the moon landing. Jeans and rustic parkas, woollen fabrics and corduroy as well as pallet furniture defined the fashion and interior design style of the student scene.

As a result, a contrast between visions of the future and recycling , smooth surfaces and tactile fabrics, loud explosions of colour and earthy cosiness has always been evident in furnishings from the 1970s. It’s hardly surprising that designs from this decade are celebrating a comeback today – nor that many classic pieces are more popular now than ever.

The materials used in 1970s furniture

The interior design of the 1970s was also a deliberate departure from the prevailing mid-century style, and parallels can be found in today’s furniture trends. Round shapes and bold colours are finding their place alongside popular mid-century modern pieces. This is most striking in the materials used in 1970s furniture.

Easily mouldable plastics were new and suitable for mass production, whereas the use of wood and leather declined. Only dark woods held their ground as sideboards or as frames for soft upholstered furniture in colourful covers. Natural fabrics such as wool and felt were just as trendy as corduroy, which was a hallmark of the era. They were joined by furniture made of rattan, which has also become very popular again today. Chairs and armchairs featuring wickerwork are among the most exciting 1970s trends for this autumn. Glass, ideally in the form of smoked glass in earthy tones, is particularly popular in modern lamps, and the pallet furniture mentioned above is a perennial favourite in the DIY scene.

Verpan lounge seating landscape "Wave" design by Verner Panton

The design of seventies furniture is dominated by warm colours in shades of orange, yellow and brown as well as curving lines – as seen here in the lounge set from Verpan, which consists of six modular elements. (Photo: Design by Verner Panton / ©Verner Panton Design AG produced under license by Verpan A/S)

Seventies shapes and colours

There are few things we associate as strongly with the 1970s as the colour combination of orange, yellow and brown that was so popular back then. Whether found on wallpaper, rugs or tableware, these colours are inextricably linked to that era and today give any room a certain retro charm of its own – especially when paired with oversized patterns and groovy flower prints. While a lava lamp bubbled away in the corner, people relaxed on low-slung lounge sofas or armchairs with gently curving lines. Tall wall units, room dividers and arched floor lamps also became popular.

While it’s mainly the organic shapes associated with 70s furniture that are making a comeback today, the colour palette has been gently expanded for a modern twist. The greens are softer and no longer quite so gaudy, while the orange is more vivid. Petrol blue and shades of lavender are becoming increasingly popular, and sage is also enjoying a renaissance. This new courage to use colours that have the power to lift the mood of a room more than almost anything else is one of the greatest benefits of the current seventies trend.

The Moonlounger lounge chair by Gerd Couckhuyt for Wildspirit

The Moonlounger lounge chair by Gerd Couckhuyt for Wildspirit combines colours and patterns that are entirely in keeping with 1970s-style furniture. (Photo: Wildspirit)

Up-to-the-minute furniture design with 1970s charm

Although design classics are by definition relatively timeless, demand can fluctuate. Not so when it comes to the classic furniture designs from the colourful seventies. The Togo sofa by Ligne Roset is one such piece currently experiencing a revival. This crumpled lounge sofa takes on a contemporary look when used in combination with, for example, the curvy ANDA armchair from the same manufacturer, and has an even more modern appearance in muted shades. The models developed by design legend Verner Panton are also increasingly sought after, including the Welle 1 modular furniture range from Verpan and the System 123 series of cantilever chairs.

Putting a modern twist on 1970s design is an exciting way to make an individual style statement. The chairs in the Suit collection by designer Monica Förster for Artifort are a cross between sculptures and pieces of furniture, while the Moonlounger by Gerd Couckhuyt for Wildspirit consciously draws inspiration from the seventies and, with its bold patterns, is a highlight in any room. The curved forms of the Trio sofa series from COR radiate plenty of retro charm, especially when upholstered in corduroy fabric, while the Pal rattan bench from Northern is somewhat more understated.The Colors woollen rugs by Nani Marquina , on the other hand, exclusively use muted natural shades to create a cosy atmosphere.

Inspired by the past, thinking ahead to the future

The striking design language of this style era ensures that even small decorative highlights evoke the spirit of the decade. There’s no need to dive in at the deep end with a full-scale corner sofa – a table lamp with a spherical shade, cushions in striking colours or a wall covering with a bold all-over pattern provide stylistic elements in selected locations and can be combined perfectly with other vintage furnishings.

In this way, 1970s design has proven to be extremely versatile and, when given a modern twist, offers an exciting source of inspiration that’s not restricted to fans of the retro look. Incidentally, the same is true of other decades, too. The nineties also produced plenty of interesting concepts and approaches to design – discover more here .