Retro vision: Why are 1970s designs making a comeback?
From earth-tone palettes, mushroom lamps and wild houseplants to glamorous velvet, sleek chrome and homely rattan furniture, everything we loved about 1970s, and thankfully very little of what horrified us, is suddenly in vogue again.
Few pieces of furniture are so on-trend as Michel Ducaroy’s Togo sofa. Shaped like a tube of toothpaste folded over on itself and available in a variety of toothsome colours, it’s been popping up all over the place, from chic Instagram feeds to Victoria Beckham’s pre-spring-summer fashion campaign. Rock star Lenny Kravitz says that he has one in each of his homes. Sales have almost doubled over the past year, not just in Europe but also in Australia and China.
You could be forgiven for feeling a twinge of deja vu. The Togo design is nearly 50 years old; Ducaroy himself died in 2009. This structureless sofa – which is modular and can be reconfigured in a variety of ways – was originally inspired by Pop Art and caused a sensation when it was launched at the Salon des Arts Menagers in Paris in 1973.
It’s far from the only 1970s furnishing being talked about again. From earth-tone palettes, Murano-glass mushroom lamps and wild houseplants to glamorous velvet, sleek chrome and homely rattan furniture, everything we loved about that decade, and thankfully very little of what horrified us, is suddenly in vogue again. We get to rediscover modular sofas while leaving lurid, headache-inducing wallpapers and carpeted bathrooms firmly where they belong – in the past.
Michel Roset, creative director at Ligne Roset, which has produced the Togo sofa since it launched, suggests that the decade’s experimental aesthetic is part of its contemporary appeal. “People were aspiring to change,” he said. The 70s were also a period of freedom, even anarchy, he added. “Fitting in with what’s ‘normal’ is not glamorous – pushing the boundaries is glamorous. And of course that is what we want today.”
Ligne Roset’s excavation of the period began in 2008, with a reissue of Pierre Paulin’s appropriately named Pumpkin armchair and sofa from 1971. With a curving, structural silhouette reminiscent of the eponymous fruit, it was an unexpected hit. It inspired the reissue of another Paulin classic, 1975’s Bonnie, which is plump, playful and designed to warmly cradle the human body.
Other companies are travelling back in time too. Earlier this year, Herman Miller reissued Ray Wilkes’s Chiclet – officially known as the Wilkes Modular Sofa Group – 35 years after it was discontinued. Curvaceous in form, the injection-moulded foam cushions are shaped like the chewing gum it was nicknamed after. The collection’s playful but unusual shape helped it acquire a cult life on Pinterest, design blogs and Instagram, which led the company to take notice, says Herman Miller’s lead archivist Amy Auscherman (who happens to own a vintage Chiclet set herself).
When it was originally released in 1976, the Wilkes Modular Sofa Group was intended as a workhorse for work spaces and hotel lobbies, a flexible, light and easy-to-maintain solution. But its bold colours and eye-catching shape also made it a statement piece, said Auscherman. “It looks like a piece of sculpture,” she added.
That balance between offering thrilling, bold new designs while not sacrificing comfort sums up the spirit of the 70s. And it goes a long way to explaining why we’ve become so infatuated with it now. As our homes have become the place where we live out every aspect of our lives – from work to play to rest – it’s understandable that we’d want these spaces to become more exciting but also cosy.
“The 70s was comforting, it was comfortable and it was very human. I think as we are spending so much time at home right now, we are all looking for this in our home spaces,” said Australian designer Sarah Ellison, whose modern yet warm and beachy designs have garnered a loyal following. “We are coming off the back of the Scandinavian minimalism trend so this is the antithesis to that.”
Born in the 1970s, Ellison grew up with a lot of the materials, textures and shapes that have found their way into her most recent collections. A series of brass and rattan tables are freshened up with generous proportions and modern silhouettes; a velvet modular sofa is modernised with cushy, exaggerated curves. The effect is simultaneously relaxed and glamorous.
Social media-friendly shapes may have pushed 70s design to the front of our consciousness. But it’s the time spent at home over the past 18 months – and how well-suited 1970s’ designs are for the way we live now – that has encouraged a thorough reassessment of what that period has to offer. “There is good and bad to come out of every decade,” said the American designer Jonathan Adler, who admits to being a brass evangelist himself. “It’s all about picking out the good and repurposing it for the present.”
“The 70s was comforting, it was comfortable and it was very human. I think as we are spending so much time at home right now, we are all looking for this in our home spaces.” – Sarah Ellison
GET THE LOOK
Italian designer Luigi Massoni’s round nesting Dilly Dally vanity table and chair for Poltrana Frau may be one of his most highly coveted pieces, but Massoni’s less well-known designs are equally lustworthy, particularly the plastic space-age bar trolley he designed for Guzzini in the 1970s. The shelves on this round, two-tiered cart are removable and double as trays. While the original came in a typically 70s palette – orange, black, cream or white – the reissue released by Guzzini has been given a thoroughly modern update and is completely transparent.
KARTELL MAGAZINE RACK
From brightly coloured nesting tables and sinuous winding vases to bar sets and clever lamps, the Italian architect and designer Giotto Stoppino elevated the use of plastic with his quirky designs. One piece enjoying renewed popularity is a magazine holder designed for Kartell in 1971. The deceptively simple rack comes in four- and six-pocket versions, and is still being made today in a host of hues and finishes.
Teddy, shearling, sherpa, fleece. Whatever you call it, fluffy textiles have returned in a big way. Armchairs from the likes of Sarah Ellison, the US furniture retailer CB2 and countless vintage resellers – and even a footstool from Christian Siriano’s new interiors brand – have used it to add texture to their pieces and our homes. What could be more inviting than a tufty and tactile fabric?
Rattan furniture and accessories are timeless. The 70s may have been the material’s zenith, but it has never entirely fallen out of favour. It is, however, finding new relevance today. Vintage rattan plant stands, bookshelves and side tables are all the rage with vintage resellers on eBay and Gumtree, while retailers such as Urban Outfitters and Habitat are reproducing that bohemian aesthetic with headboards, mirrors, light pendants and coffee tables.
We haven’t been as crazed as we currently are about plants since the 70s, which is probably why a lot of the decade’s favourite houseplants, such as the ubiquitous monstera and more recently the fiddle leaf fig, have found cult popularity today. The spider plant hasn’t quite had its moment in the sun, though. Famously resilient, it’s a forgiving plant that’s hard to kill and easy to propagate. It’s long overdue a bigger comeback.
By Cherish Rufus © 2021 The Financial Times