Retro lights are a mainstay of interior trends. But do we understand exactly what period of design ‘retro’ actually refers to? Is my idea of retro the same as yours?
As I write, we are soon to be 101 years to the day since the end of the First World War. Remembrance Day has been supported since 1918, whereby the United Kingdom observes a two-minute silence to remember the loss of life in wars.
The two World Wars had a far-reaching effect on our political, economic and social landscape. These impacts in turn, heavily influenced fashions and trends that were later to come and never more so than in our homes.
Lighting has always been in the forefront to benefit from new, innovative technologies that showcase the latest learning and benefits, and the styling has also followed suit.
Lighting is a key design ingredient, whether to work in harmony with the era of the home, or to create a juxtaposing style. It’s simply a question of understanding what was considered modern at that particular time. But could you pick out your Victorian from your Edwardian? Your Art Deco from your Art Nouveau? Let’s take a look through the architectural design influences that shaped our lighting in the early 20th Century.
Lighting Styles from 1910 – 1919:
Victorian interiors were often dark, stuffy spaces. The long-reining monarch’s demise in 1901 permitted a new wave of modernity. In sharp contrast, the Arts and Crafts movement, headed by the now famed William Morris, was flourishing, so simple designs, made with natural materials that were hand crafted became the latest must-have in homes.
Wood was used extensively for both structural roles and as decoration. Exposed beams, decorative (but un-fussy) panels and columns were prolific in this era. So, what did we choose when it came to our lighting?
Arts & Crafts Lighting:
Lighting that showcased traditional hand crafts that were honed over generations were teamed with rustic materials and simple lines. Hammered brass or iron pared with oak woods is the epitome of the design.
The Middlefield ceiling pendant shown below, is a good example of this. At this time, the technologies would not have been in place to bend wood, which would have been steamed and bent by hand, over a period of time.
Born of a desire to shrug off the heavy shroud of restrictive Victorian designs, the soft, curving silhouettes with etched acid glass shades were cast aside. Akin to a teenager pushing boundaries with strict parents, Deco style lighting crashed without subtlety into being, with geometric shapes and brighter metals popping vibrancy into our interiors.
Lighting Styles from 1920 – 1929:
Encapsulating the decade referred to as ‘the roaring twenties’, this era is surmised by flappers, gangsters, prohibition and the introduction of jazz.
Art Deco reigned supreme for younger tastes, with a resurgence for a pre-dated Art Nouveau style, which became prolific once more for the more mature, sophisticated homes. Art Nouveau takes inspiration from nature, with sweeping forms and natural colour palettes forming a complete contrast to the angular themes of Deco.
Towards the end of the decade, we see the Bauhaus school start to influence home interiors with a focus on amalgamating architectural design with modern, fine art. The resulting look was a much more industrial offering, where the structure and form of the item was also the beauty.
Lighting Styles from 1930– 1939:
It’s still very much Art Deco at this stage, but with a more ‘Hollywood’ glam twist. We often think of Art Deco as the blacks, golds and dramatic features; in truth, it’s an evolution of its own identity over the course of three decades. I always think of this strong phase of Art Deco as ‘Deco Luxe’ as it seems to sum it up!
However, regardless of era, very few of us live in the luxury that films emulate. In everyday interpretation, comfort was increased, with more emphasis on materials such as glass and crystal to create the more luxury look.
Many of our homes began to look akin to what we’d remember as more 50’s style than 30’s, with Art Deco embellishments, such as fan mirrors and wallpaper. In fact, this was the first era that reds, oranges and browns were seen together in plentiful supply, a colour scheme that resonates strongly with 70’s fashion.
Lighting Styles from 1940– 1949:
Due to the lengthy, on-going Second World War, the emphasis of UK interior design shifted to a ‘mend and make do’ mindset. A camaraderie gripped the nation, everyone got together and helped with upcycling projects, such as making trims for sofas and stencilling walls.
As the war curtailed towards the end of the decade, bright colours were introduced to symbolise their version of modernity, banishing the dark, dreary interiors that were previously a necessity.
This era relished the opposing accent colour based on the colour wheel. Reds with greens, yellows with blues and oranges and greys. Feature walls became prevalent in this decade too, as many did not have the funds to add the look all the way around the room.
This is the first true era of what I call retro style.
Lighting Styles from 1950– 1959:
Homes that were built to replace the many bombed properties were smaller than we’d seen before the war. As a result, key pieces of furniture were made smaller, or fell out of fashion, so this was a decade that had the most change.
Flats started to appear and with them, a new way of living that we now refer to as open plan. Nest of tables were introduced for the first time, along with appliances that were available on finance plans to allow the housewives the sense of freedom from chores that they’d enjoyed during the war.
A decade of convenience, this was all about shiny new things. Bright colours and vibrant interiors with little touches of surrealism thrown in for good measure, such as an item of furniture in new plastic materials. Interest in space began increasing in this era and we started to see the iconic Sputnik style of lighting gaining popularity.
Lighting Styles from 1960– 1969:
In previous decades, the thirst for modernism saw past influences fall by the wayside. The swinging 60’s however, delved into our bygone times for fresh inspiration. Subtly woven through time, past eras provided an eclectic backdrop for a new, cheeky twist which culminated in a fresh modern style.
Bright colours were still en-vogue, with pop art bright candy colours, multipurpose furniture and plastic working together to enjoy the limelight of modern homes. This was the era where a more throwaway culture was encouraged, with mass production techniques turning out pieces that could be acquired more readily to replicate contemporary interiors displayed in glossy magazine images.
Lighting Styles from 1970– 1979:
Influences from Scandinavia began to seep into our psyches, with a penchant for bringing nature indoors. (Could this be a modern interpretation of Art Nouveau reappearing? I’ll let you make up your own mind!)
Bold colour schemes with opulent colour. Golds and yellows with jewel hues, bland was out! A tantalising blend of comfort with influences from around the globe. Natural elements such as wicker and cork made a feature; few of us will forget cork tiling walls once it’s been seen!
Macramé, hanging plants, fringes and tassels began to add a bohemian vibe to the decade.
Retro, as most of us will know it, is actually surrounding the middle of the Century, spanning the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. As we can see, the styles of retro share a common theme; bold and modern in their times, they instantly evoke a reminiscence that’s benefited by the rose-tinted view of the past.