Retro Interior Design Inspiration: A Trip Back in Time

Last Updated on June 2, 2024 by SampleBoard

In the vibrant world of Retro Interior Design, color takes on a vivacious and dynamic role, echoing the spirited optimism of past eras.

Eccentric aesthetics, authentic design, and emotionally charged interiors favoring sustainable materials, vintage furniture, small manufacturers, and local crafters have become the norm.

Drawing inspiration from the mid-20th century, particularly the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, retro design introduces a kaleidoscope of hues that evokes nostalgia and a sense of playfulness.

People are turning to color, inspired by retro interior design, to help them create a more uplifting environment and manage anxieties and pressure.

Color is used as a therapy to encourage optimism and healing and as a tool for self-expression and storytelling.

Let's explore how the use of color in Retro Interior Design aligns and diverges with the therapeutic, expressive, and storytelling aspects.

retro interior

What is Retro Interior Design?

Retro interior design refers to incorporating elements from past decades, typically those from the mid-20th century, into contemporary living spaces.

"Retro" is derived from the Latin word "retro," meaning backward or behind. This style draws inspiration from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and sometimes 1980s design trends.

The word “retro” is also short for retrospective, which means looking back at past events. Design usually refers to drawing on previous design trends to create a new, modern look.

Retro Interior Design

9 Key Characteristics Of Retro Interior Design:

1. Mid-Century Modern Furniture

Furniture from the mid-20th century, featuring clean lines, simple shapes, and functional designs, is a hallmark of retro design.

One of the most prominent styles within retro furniture is mid-century modern design. This style is known for its clean lines, simplicity, and functionality.

Furniture pieces often have sleek, tapered legs and organic shapes.

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Iconic mid-century furniture examples include:

Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman

The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman is another iconic mid-20th-century furniture design. It was created in 1956 by the renowned American designers Charles and Ray Eames.

This classic piece is celebrated for its comfort, style, and craftsmanship.

The lounge chair features a molded plywood shell with plush leather-upholstered cushions, while the ottoman provides a matching footrest for added comfort.

The chair's design is characterized by its sleek, curved lines and luxurious materials.

The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman quickly became an emblem of mid-century modern design and has remained immensely popular since its introduction.

It has been featured in numerous films, television shows, and design exhibitions, further solidifying its status as an icon of 20th-century design.

Today, the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman continue to be produced by Herman Miller, the original manufacturer, and licensed manufacturers worldwide.

It is cherished by design enthusiasts and collectors alike and is often considered a timeless symbol of comfort and sophistication in interior design.

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Saarinen Tulip Table and Chairs

The Saarinen Tulip Table and Chairs are iconic mid-century modern furniture pieces designed by Finnish-American architect and designer Eero Saarinen in the 1950s.

The collection features a sleek, minimalist aesthetic characterized by smooth, organic forms.

The Tulip Table is known for its pedestal base, a single stem-like column supporting a circular or oval tabletop.

This design eliminates the need for traditional four-legged support, giving the table a streamlined and elegant appearance.

The Tulip Chairs, designed to accompany the table, feature similar organic forms, a single pedestal base, and a molded fiberglass or plastic seat shell.

The chairs often come with upholstered cushions for added comfort.

The Saarinen Tulip collection is celebrated for its timeless design and continues to be popular in contemporary interior design for residential and commercial spaces.

It's considered a classic example of mid-century modern design and is highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts alike.

Saarinen Tulip Table and Chairs
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Egg chairs and pod chairs

Egg and pod chairs are distinct furniture designs that gained popularity in the mid-20th century and continue to be beloved for their unique aesthetics and comfort.

Egg Chair:

Designed by Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen in 1958 for the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, the Egg Chair is characterized by its distinctive egg-like shape and enveloping form.

It features a high backrest and curved sides, providing a sense of privacy and seclusion for the sitter. The chair typically sits on a swivel base, allowing for easy rotation.

The original Egg Chair was upholstered in leather, but variations in fabric upholstery are also common.

Today, the Egg Chair is considered a design icon widely used in residential and commercial spaces.

Image credit: Arne Jacobsen

Pod Chair:

The pod chair, also known as the ball chair or globe chair, was designed by Finnish designer Eero Aarnio in the 1960s.

Its futuristic and whimsical design features a spherical or egg-shaped fiberglass or plastic shell mounted on a swivel base. The interior of the shell is often padded and upholstered for comfort.

The pod chair's enclosed design creates a cozy and intimate seating experience, making it a popular choice for lounges, entertainment areas, and modern interiors.

It's also known for its playful appearance, adding a touch of fun and personality to any space.

The Egg Chair and Pod Chair are celebrated for their innovative designs and have become timeless icons of mid-century modern furniture.

They continue to be produced by various manufacturers and are cherished by design enthusiasts worldwide.

Image credit: Eero Aarnio

Sputnik chandelier

The Sputnik chandelier is an iconic lighting fixture that rose to prominence during the mid-20th century, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s.

Its design is inspired by the space age and the dawn of the Space Race, which was marked by the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik in 1957.

The chandelier is named after this historic event because it resembles the satellite's spherical shape and the array of spikes or arms extending from its center.

Typically, a Sputnik chandelier features a central sphere or core from which numerous metal rods or arms extend outward in a radial pattern, resembling the look of a starburst or explosion.

Light bulbs or other light sources are usually mounted at the end of each arm, creating a striking visual effect when illuminated.

The Sputnik chandelier became synonymous with mid-century modern design and is celebrated for its futuristic and avant-garde aesthetic.

It embodies the era's fascination with space exploration, technological progress, and innovative design.

Over the years, the Sputnik chandelier has experienced a resurgence in popularity thanks to its timeless appeal and ability to add a dramatic focal point to a wide range of interior spaces, from retro-inspired rooms to contemporary settings.

Image credit: 1st Dibs

2. Retro Materials

Here are some key characteristics of the use of materials in retro interior design:

Wood and Wood Panelling

Natural wood, especially teak and walnut, is common in retro design. It is often used for furniture, flooring, and paneling.

Mid-century modern furniture, in particular, features clean lines and the warm tones of natural wood.

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The mid-20th century saw the widespread use of plastic in furniture and decor items. Molded plastic chairs, for example, became iconic during this period.

Bold, futuristic shapes were often achieved through molded plastics in various colors.

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Chrome and Metal

Shiny chrome and metal finishes were prevalent in retro design, adding a touch of modernity and a sleek, polished look.

Chrome legs on chairs and tables and metal accents on furniture and lighting fixtures were common.


Fiberglass was a popular material for furniture in the mid-20th century due to its versatility and the ability to create unique, sculptural shapes.

It was often used to construct chairs, lampshades, and other decor items.


Vinyl upholstery was widely used for furniture during the retro era. It is durable, easy to clean, and available in a variety of bold colors and patterns.

Vinyl-covered furniture, such as diner-style booths and barstools, is a classic retro element.

Formica and Laminate

Formica, a type of laminate, was commonly used for kitchen and dining tables and countertops.

It often featured bold colors and patterns, contributing to the overall vibrant aesthetic of retro interiors.


Terrazzo flooring, consisting of chips of marble or other materials set in concrete, was a popular choice in mid-century design.

It adds a unique and textured look to floors and sometimes countertops.

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Shag Carpeting

In the 1960s and 1970s, shag carpeting became a trendy flooring choice. The deep, plush pile of shag carpets added a touch of luxury and comfort to the interiors.

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Image credit: Hesby


Glass was often used in retro design for tabletops, lighting fixtures, and decorative accessories.

Transparent or colored glass contributed to the overall aesthetic by providing a sense of openness and brightness.

Natural Fabrics

Fabrics like wool, tweed, and polyester blends were commonly used for upholstery during the retro era. These materials often featured textured patterns and bold colors.

When creating a retro-inspired interior, combining these materials thoughtfully and balanced can help capture the essence of the mid-20th century.

Jacquard Fabric

Jacquard fabric, renowned for its intricate woven patterns, is a key element in retro interior design.

This durable, dense fabric was commonly used for drapery, upholstery, and furnishings in the mid-20th century, adding depth and interest with its unique floral and geometric designs.

When creating a retro-inspired space, incorporating jacquard fabric adds authenticity and a touch of luxury to the overall design aesthetic.

3. Modular and versatile designs

Retro furniture often reflects a sense of adaptability and versatility.

Modular pieces, such as sectional sofas and shelving units, were popular during this era, allowing for flexible arrangements.

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4. Bold colors

Retro interiors often feature vibrant and bold color schemes. Avocado green, mustard yellow, burnt orange, and other rich hues are commonly used.

These colors add a playful and energetic vibe to the space. Upholstery, in particular, may feature these eye-catching hues.

5. Geometric patterns

Bold and eye-catching geometric patterns, such as chevrons, stripes, and polka dots, are frequently used in retro design. These patterns are applied to wallpapers, upholstery, and other decor elements.

These patterns add a playful and visually dynamic element to the furniture.

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6. Vintage accessories

Incorporating accessories and decor items from the retro era, such as lava lamps, shag rugs, vinyl records, and rotary phones, helps create an authentic retro atmosphere.

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Image credit: Pinterest

8. Retro appliances

Some enthusiasts go as far as incorporating retro-style kitchen appliances to evoke the look of kitchens from the mid-20th century.

9. Sleek and futuristic elements

While the retro design looks to the past, it often incorporated what were then considered futuristic elements.

Some retro furniture designs incorporate futuristic elements considered cutting-edge at the time.

This could include space-age shapes, asymmetrical forms, innovative use of materials like plastic and chrome, and designs that were influenced by the optimism of the time.

It's important to note that retro design is not about recreating an exact replica of a particular era but rather capturing the essence and style of the past while integrating it into a modern context.

Many contemporary spaces incorporate retro elements alongside current design trends to create a unique and eclectic look.

Retro design is a style that reproduces or imitates trends, fashions, or styles from the past.

It can also be a combination of old and new elements.

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What Colors Are Retro?

Retro color schemes in interior design and decor are often characterized by bold, vibrant hues.

Here are some colors commonly associated with retro interior design:

Avocado Green

  • A deep, muted green that was particularly popular in the 1970s.
  • It pairs well with earthy tones and can be used for upholstery, walls, or accent pieces.
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Mustard Yellow

  • A warm, golden yellow that was prevalent in the 1960s.
  • It adds a rich and nostalgic touch to furniture, textiles, and accessories.
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Burnt Orange

  • A deep, reddish-orange shade that was a favorite in the 1970s.
  • It can be used for accent walls, upholstery, and decor items to create a warm and inviting atmosphere.

Teal Blue

  • A vibrant and rich blue-green shade commonly used in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • It adds a retro flair to furniture, accessories, and kitchen appliances.

Bubblegum Pink

  • A soft and playful pink that was popular in the 1950s.
  • It can be used for accent pieces, upholstery, or a wall color to bring a touch of femininity and nostalgia.
retro interior
Image credit: Sitdown

Sunshine Yellow

  • A bright and cheerful yellow that adds a pop of color to any retro-inspired space.
  • It was famous for accessories, kitchen appliances, and wall colors.
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  • A vibrant blue-green color that was widely used in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • It's often associated with mid-century modern design and can be used for furniture, accent pieces, and decor.

Chocolate Brown

  • A warm and rich brown that was commonly used as a neutral in retro color palettes.
  • It complements other bold colors and can be found in furniture, flooring, and accessories.


  • Bold and vibrant reds were commonly used in retro design, adding a sense of energy and drama.
  • Red can be used for furniture, accent walls, and decor items.

Black and White

  • While not as bold as some other retro colors, classic black-and-white combinations were prevalent in mid-century design.
  • Black and white checkered patterns, geometric designs, and contrasting color schemes were commonly used in flooring, furniture, and decor.

When working with retro colors, it's common to use a combination of these shades to create a lively and dynamic look.

Additionally, patterns such as bold geometric prints or floral designs can enhance the retro aesthetic.

Keep in mind that the key is to embrace a sense of nostalgia and playfulness while incorporating these colors into your interior design.

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What Is The Difference Between Retro And Vintage Interior Design?

The terms "retro" and "vintage" are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings, especially in the context of interior design.

Understanding the differences can help you accurately describe and achieve the aesthetic you desire.

Retro Interior Design

  • Time Period: "Retro" refers to a style that draws inspiration from the recent past, typically from the mid-20th century, and often from the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s. It involves incorporating design elements from these eras into contemporary spaces.

  • Nostalgia with a Modern Twist: Retro design involves taking elements from a specific period and reinterpreting them in a modern context. It's about capturing the spirit and style of the past while adapting it to present-day tastes.

  • Bold Colors and Patterns: Retro design is known for its bold and vibrant color schemes, such as avocado green, mustard yellow, and burnt orange. Geometric patterns and sleek, futuristic shapes are also common in retro interiors.

  • Mid-Century Modern Influence: Mid-century modern furniture and design principles often play a significant role in retro interiors. Clean lines, simplicity, and functionality are key features.

  • Playful and Eclectic: Retro design embraces a playful and eclectic mix of elements, creating a lively and dynamic atmosphere. It often includes vintage accessories, bold patterns, and a sense of optimism associated with the mid-20th century.
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Vintage Interior Design

  • Timeless Appeal: "Vintage" refers to items that are at least 20 years old but less than 100 years old. In interior design, vintage pieces are often sought after for their enduring quality and design appeal.

  • Eclectic Mix of Eras: Vintage interiors can incorporate elements from various time periods, not limited to a specific decade. It involves collecting and using pieces from different eras to create a unique and eclectic look.

  • Quality Craftsmanship: Vintage items are valued for their quality craftsmanship and materials. Whether it's furniture, accessories, or decor, vintage pieces often showcase a level of detail and durability that may be lacking in mass-produced contemporary items.

  • Timeless Elegance: While vintage pieces may come from different decades, they share a sense of timeless elegance. Incorporating vintage elements into interior design often adds a touch of sophistication and history to a space.
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In summary, retro design specifically references the style of a particular era, often with a modern reinterpretation.

While vintage design encompasses a broader range of items from various periods that are at least two decades old.

Both styles allow for a mix of old and new elements to create unique and personalized interiors.

Will Retro Color And Interior Make A Comeback In 2024?

Retro colors and interior trends have experienced periodic resurgences over the years, with certain elements from the mid-20th century making comebacks in contemporary design.

The cyclical nature of design trends often sees a return to styles, colors, and patterns from the past, but with a modern twist.

If the interest in retro aesthetics continues, it's plausible that elements of retro design, including color schemes and furniture styles, may be popular in 2024.

Here are a few reasons why retro design elements might continue to make a comeback:

Nostalgia Appeal: Nostalgia has a powerful influence on design trends. People often have a fondness for the styles and colors associated with particular eras, especially if they evoke positive memories or a sense of comfort.

Timeless Aesthetics: Certain elements of retro design, such as mid-century modern furniture and bold color schemes, have proven to be timeless. Their clean lines and vibrant hues have a classic appeal that resonates with contemporary tastes.

Eclectic Design Preferences: Contemporary design trends often embrace eclecticism, allowing for the mix of various styles and eras. This openness to diversity in design can lead to the incorporation of retro elements alongside more modern features.

Sustainable Design: The emphasis on sustainability in design may contribute to the resurgence of retro styles. Vintage and retro pieces are often seen as sustainable choices, promoting the reuse and repurposing of older items.

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