April 26, 2013 6:30 pm

That ’70s showcase

Designers are taking note of the resurgence of interest in the playful and glamorous decade
The interior of Linda and John Meyers’ home in Portland, Maine

The interior of Linda and John Meyers’ home in Portland, Maine

The walls are bright turquoise, ferns hang in baskets from the ceiling and soft-pile rugs and low coffee tables invite floor-based lounging. This is the home of artists and designers Linda and John Meyers, in Portland, Maine, and it’s pointing the way forward.

Streamlined 1950s furniture – now so ubiquitous that you can find design blogs mocking the style – is finally on the way out. Today’s cultural cues are about an entirely different aesthetic: the glamorous and playful 1970s.

From the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s show, Punk: Chaos to Couture, which opens on May 9, to the sold-out David Bowie is exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert museum via Tate Liverpool’s homage to glam rock, the full spectrum of the 1970s is on show around the world.

Designers are taking note and beginning to move away from the strictures of mid-century modernism to reference this more decadent decade, with specialist retailers seeing a rising demand for 1970s-inspired furnishings. “People are bored with 1950s designs, and pieces from the 1970s offer escapism from the austerity of that aesthetic,” says Pippa Kahn, co-founder of online vintage boutique Fears and Kahn.

Lucy Evans, co-founder and brand director at vintage specialists Vintage Seekers, says: “We’re definitely selling more 1970s pieces now than we were two years ago. I think this resurgence of interest is largely driven by tastemakers looking for something new now that ’50s and ’60s style is commonplace on the high street and in mainstream collections.”

 
Lyra rattan rocking chair
 
1970s hair canvas print
Lyra rattan rocking chair, £350, www.habitat.co.uk 1970s hair canvas print, £180, from the Land of Lost Content archive, www.surfaceview.co.uk

In style terms, the 1970s are a difficult decade to pin down. Design ran the gamut, from coloured plastic furniture in the early years to the glamour and glitter of disco, from lush belle époque revivals to chintzy Laura Ashley patterns and Victoriana revival.

Omer Arbel, a Canadian-based architect, product designer and 1970s aficionado, says: “The ’70s are typified by a specific iconography: bright colours, organic shapes, round edges. But it was also the birth of postmodernism, [and a time when] designers began mixing and matching ideas from different eras.”

 
1970s Italian shelving unit
 
1970s Mario Bellini Bambole lounge chair
1970s Italian shelving unit, sold for £2,400, www.fearsandkahn.co.uk 1970s Mario Bellini Bambole lounge chair, £3,500 for a pair, www.vintageseekers.com

British historian David Heathcote says it was a time of great experimentation. “People think in comedy stereotypes about the ’70s – flares and kipper ties, avocado bathroom suites, brown kitchens – but it was a very free period with some interesting ideas coming to the fore. There was none of the doctrinaire adherence to the idea that objects in your home all have to come from one period that we see today. It was about experimenting with the past and combining old and new,” he says.

Today, almost half a century on, designers are acknowledging that the era was about more than lava lamps and beanbag chairs. “We have enough critical distance from the period now to objectively reappraise the decade, appreciate the most enduring designs and filter the good from the bad,” says Evans.

This filtering process is seeing a reinterpretation of the 1970s interiors aesthetic. “[People] today are taking a more subtle approach and referencing the later years of the decade,’ says Dominic Lutyens, a design commentator and co-author of 70s Style and Design. “It’s about a more rustic look.”

 
Mosaic bowls
Mosaic bowls by Pols Potten , €24.85 for the set, www.scp.co.uk

This modern interpretation has a traditional feel but is far from boring: think of a country house enlivened with colour, clashing patterns and natural textures. Pattern was used extensively in the 1970s and vivid colours, inspired by the shades popular in countries such as India and Morocco, were typically turquoise, orange and mustard. It’s a look captured in the Meyers’ home (warymeyers.com), where bright colours and bold patterns sit beside more rustic touches, such as exposed brick walls and wooden floors.

The Paisley Crescent wallpaper and textile collection (£45/wallpaper roll) from Mini Moderns is an example of a contemporary update on this trend. London design group House of Hackney is also finding success with a playful range of wallpapers, textiles and lighting. Its Dalston Rose patterned wallpaper (£72/roll) is a darker take on Laura Ashley’s original Victoriana pattern.

Texture also played an important role in 1970s interiors – shaggy rugs, Welsh tapestries and wicker furniture were all key – and furniture became more integrated into the space. “Furniture became more architectural in form,” says Heathcote. “Take sunken lounges, for example, where the whole room became a softer, sit-able space. Sofas were lower, the room was deformalised and people sat on the floor.”

 
1970s metal table/floor lamp
 
Orla Kiely print drum lampshad
1970s metal table/floor lamp, £1,150, www.fearsandkahn.co.uk Orla Kiely print drum lampshade, from £84, www.blisshome.co.uk

For those collecting original pieces, Vintage Seekers (vintageseekers.com) has two 1970s Bambole lounge chairs by Mario Bellini (£3,500 for the pair), and an original Verner Panton Relaxer 2 Chair for Rosenthal (£1,750). Ligne Roset’s Togo chair by Michael Ducaroy, designed in 1973 and still in production, costs from £1,475 (ligne-roset.co.uk).

In contrast to this casual and rustic feel, there was a glamorous side to the 1970s espoused by the likes of David Hicks and Barbara Hulanicki. Hicks was a British designer with a slick, jet-set style who inspired the likes of Tom Ford, while Hulanicki’s Biba store in London was world-renowned. The store, which had offshoots in Japan and the US, projected a louche aesthetic of black, gold, leather, marble and mirrors.

“This aspect of the 1970s was all about glamour and opulence,” says Kahn. “Glossy mirrored surfaces, polished brass and steel, gold accents and rich colours are all on the menu. Brass and steel pieces by Italian designer Willy Rizzo and French manufacturer Maison Jansen, in particular, are going through a revival.”

Jade Jagger, quintessential child of the 1970s, channels this spirit in her interiors for design hotel brand Yoo. “I grew up surrounded by creativity and I wanted to capture some of that excitement and glamour,” says Jagger. “I used reflective surfaces and burnished gold and, of course, I had to include mirrored disco balls. Bright slashes of yellow, orange and pink keep it popping. The overall effect is very sleek and glamorous but, most of all, it is playful.”

 
Darjeeling cushion
 
1970s credenza
Darjeeling cushion in indigo, £45, www.minimoderns.com, Combcushion, £12, www.habitat.co.uk, right 1970s credenza designed and manufactured by Ello Furniture, £3,400, www.fearsandkahn.co.uk

Roberto Cavalli’s latest home collection, launched at Milan’s Salone del Mobile last month, also pays homage to the era, with furniture featuring mirrored surfaces, patterning, metallic and polished gold finishes. A silky leopard print-patterned Cavalli throw lined with brown velvet is £975 through online shop Amara.

Embracing the 1970s is not just about finding designer pieces. “There are many items out there that are unattributed but that exude quality,” says Kahn. “The trick is to be bold with your choices. The 1970s were all about experimentation.”

Heathcote, summing up the spirit of the 1970s, says: “Channelling the ’70s isn’t about going through a hit list of what to own. It’s about being freer about what you like, adopting a looser attitude. There’s an overlying sense of glamour and a slight fantasy element to it and reinvention is key, too.

“People such as Bowie weren’t anchored to an identity, they wanted to play around with it, change appearance and characters, and the same is true of interiors.”

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