1960s & 1970s Furniture and Interior Design
Nov 6, 2013 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Groovy and free-flowing designs dominated these two decades. But what exactly motivated these looks and how do we adapt them to our modern living spaces? Find out and come explore this beloved era…
The 1960s | Influences and History
The relative peace of the decade prior gave way to ten years of social turbulence and new cultural norms. Everything was called into question and this had a direct impact on designers’ techniques and products. These years are affectionately referred to as the pop years, marking the birth of pop culture. Pop culture is easy to spot with its bright colors, drawing inspiration from comic books, art, and advertising.
Freeing themselves from a rational approach, designers worked for the more youthful, liberal children of the baby boomers. With an emphasis on comfort and a predilection for entertaining, furniture became more multifunctional (incorporating storage and equipment) and modular.
Like the 1950s, architects continued to play with the verticality of the space, but focused on making these areas feel communal. Elements were hung from the ceiling and dual level seating arrangements were introduced. The changing family dynamics meant that traditional plans fell to the wayside in favor of complete, flexible habitats.
Fashion also played a more critical role in how furniture was created or conceived: jersey fabric was stretched over foam rubber forms and Mary Quant’s infamous miniskirt inspired countless efforts. All elements of design gravitated toward changing the social fabric and putting an end to separation. Clear and inflatable pieces became serious contenders for living room selections.
The Italians were the most adventurous when it came to exploring new techniques for plastic materials. Now that plastic was no longer considered pragmatic, the range of possibilities expanded. During this time, designers concentrated on light fixtures, with the Italian firm Artemide paving the way for many imaginative designs.
This decade gave artists and designers a new set of materials to choose from as they focused on the day to day happenings of their relaxed and liberal clients.
The 1960s | Five Key Designers, Firms, and Compositions
- Olivier Mourgue, a French industrial designer known best for his contributions to the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He is also known for the Raft, Djinn, and Joker chairs. He took very little interest in luxury goods, focusing on mass-production items that were lightweight.
- Pierre Paulin, a French designer who enjoyed creating clean lines in his seating arrangments. Famous for the Mushroom, Ribbon, and Tongue chairs.
- Eero Aarnio, a Finnish designer known for his Pastili armchair from 1968 as well as his reliance on plastic and fiberglass in his work.
- Verner Panton, a Danish designer who worked to enhance daily life. He was avant garde and innovative, with color being at the core of his creations. Known for the Ant, Cone, Panton, and Flying chairs.
- George Nelson, an American designer who spent a good deal of time figuring out how to store goods. His flexible “Storage Wall” system revolutionized how storage was contained.
The 1960s | Popular Materials & Motifs
- Primary colors were very popular as artists focused on boldness.
- Lovingly credited as the plastic years, designers relyed heavily on the advancement in the plastics industry as they captured new forms. ABS, polyethylene, and thermoplastics were inexpensive, could be infused with colors, and had a glossy finish – making them attractive choices.
- Stacking chairs – furniture was developed to be lightweight and easy to move.
- Disposable pieces made from cardboard or plastic were often accented with daring colors and sold in flat packs. Stores like Habitat and Ikea introduced this concept to the masses.
- Space age and technological influences – the automobile, television, space exploration, and electronic gadgets all impacted how pieces were outlined.
- Most designers of the day sketched out ideas on how to make sleek storage units. With open floor plans, these objects effectively separated varying zones.
Learn more about 1960s design with this book
The 1970s | Influences and History
While the 1960s started to find its voice in surrealist art forms, the 1970s fully embraced imagination. This decade is known for its public activism as people rallied against long-standing institutions. After the relative affluence of the prior two decades, the energy crisis brought tremendous challenges. The design environment was not immune to these obstacles. Artists and craftsmen carried on the torch for mass-production, storage, lighting design, inflatable elements, transparency, and lightweight furniture offerings. However, architecture defined by Eco-friendly materials and solar energy was fashionable.
Designers like Joe Colombo took multifunctional, nomadic furniture a step further with his Living Center system. This arrangement included side chairs and lounges (on wheels) with built-in ashtrays, radios, and compartments. This project embodies the quest for maximum comfort and convenience that started during the previous decade.
With all the environmental issues at the forefront of the consumer mind, a return to earthy materials began. People wanted to live a simpler life, where they could live off the land. Handmade pieces experienced a revival due to this movement as people got back to their roots.
The 1970s | Five Key Designers, Firms, and Compositions
- Frederick Scott, a British designer best known for his studies in ergonomics, culminating in the Supporto Chair of 1974.
- Vico Magistretti, an Italian designer who is famous for the Nuvola Rosa bookcase from 1977.
- Mario Bellini, an Italian architect and industrial designer, credited with his innovative product design, Area and Circo lights, and the Cab Chair built for Vitra.
- Wharton Esherick, an American sculptor who cited wood as his favorite medium. His work can be considered a return to Arts & Crafts.
- Niki de Saint Phalle, a French artist whose objects embodied the surrealist motifs that were also popular during this time.
The 1970s | Popular Materials & Motifs
- Recycled materials were used more commonly to help offset the radical shifts brought about by the energy crisis.
- Furniture with compartments
- Scandinavians took the attention away from the all-powerful plastic and shined the spotlight back on wood.
- Nomadic furnishings that could easily be moved or changed due to the changing needs of the client remained popular.
- Earth tones and natural materials (like teak wood) were in vogue, buoyed by the desire to return to nature. Dome structures became a more extreme way for many people to live in harmony with the elements.
- Scaffolding becomes an interior element, used in kids’ furniture and bookcases alike.
Learn more about 1970s design with this book
Cause A Frockus would like to thank our tremendous resources: Furniture & Interiors of the 1960s by Anne Bony, Furniture & Interiors of the 1970s by Anne Bony, Wikipedia, and the wonderful people who put their images up on Wikipedia Commons without restriction.
Who’s your favorite designer from these decades? Tell us about it, share a pic or a story!