Colour revival draws on post-war optimism

Colour revival draws on post-war optimism

November 2017

Joe Simpson investigates the likely impact that the 1950’s colour revival will exert on ceramic tile design, and overall interior trends for walls and floors, in 2018 and beyond.

Spanning influences such as atomic design, Scandinavian cool and hints of exotic influences like Hawaii, the 1950s was a era of growing colour confidence.  While pastels define the post-war period for many, modern trends really came into play in the 1950s, influenced by everything from space exploration through to Scandinavian furniture design.  

1950s colour charts may seem an unlikely direction for modern designers but, judging from Cersaie, today’s tile creatives are turning to post-war period for both base tones and highlight hues, particularly for small format glazed wall tiles with 75 by 300mm  emerging as the format of choice.

In 2018 we can expect to see an extension of this trend as the softer, more feminine, approach to interiors gathers pace.  The driver is the search for natural, homespun interiors that offer a feeling of comfort; with harsh edges and stark contrasts giving way to more romantic and tactile interiors.

Established modern neutrals, such as greige, still provide gentle base tones, and these marry effortlessly with bolder accents pilfered from the 1950s.

For 2018, metallics will be aged and distressed; with flashes of burnished copper, rose gold and stainless steel evident in many design treatments.

Texture is also in abundance, with linen, canvas, hessian, woven fabrics and natural wood all helping to deliver that comforting, harmonious look.

Homeowners are also being encouraged to experiment, combining styles and looks to create something more personal, eclectic and individualistic.  It is all about creating a livable home that is comfortable, welcoming and authentic ... which was, of course, pretty much the vision being peddled to the suburban housewife of the 1950s.

Pastels played into 1950s decor in a big way: such as kitchen furniture in pastel blue, pink or yellow with matching pastel checkerboard flooring, pink bathroom tiles or even pale green or baby blue bathtubs.

However, another trend in 1950s-era decorating was bold colour contrast: black and white checkerboard floors; all black and white kitchens, or black, white and red used together in a co-ordinated colour scheme.

Like pastels, this trend was particularly prevalent in bathrooms and kitchens.  The signature colour was Chartreuse: with this bold bright yellow/green commonplace in colour schemes based on contrast.

Earth tones from the 1950s are also on today’s design agenda.  Back then, when modern Scandinavian furniture became en vogue, certain shades emerged to match and complement this timber furniture: notably olive green, pale grey, bone white and sky blue.  Light blue and a darker green were often used together, such as blue walls and furniture with olive green cushions. Light pink accents were also prominent  in fabrics, curtains and on walls.

The Atomic era resulted in an expanded colour palette, with bright shades joining these pastels and earth tones, reflecting a hopeful outlook that looked to the future for inspiration.  Textiles often combined four or five colours, and featured the iconic atomic boomerang shape, Polynesian-inspired designs such as Tiki gods, as well as hand-drawn, abstract geometric shapes in shades of burnt orange, bright yellow or pale turquoise.  Bold oranges and yellows were right at home with olive green, bright red and dark brown on the same fabric print.

By the early 1950s a considerable amount of research and experimentation had been carried out into the methodical use of colour in buildings.  Lessons had also been learnt from scientific research into lighting and vision.  Experts explained that colour, if properly understood and successfully applied, could be made to do much more than merely provide a surface finish; making a direct and positive contribution to the design of a building.

The Royal Institute of British Architects and British Colour Council were approached for advice on a range of colours that might be suitable.  After a number of prototypes, a standard collection of 101 colours was proposed.  It is these colours and their modern antecedents that look set to shape the interiors market in 2018 and beyond.

The 1950s were a spectacular time for colour.  For the first time ever, paint colours were available in any hue. While some of the prevalent combinations popular then may come across as a bit garish to today’s homeowners; a handful of hues became established as the iconic colours of the 1950s.

The familiar rich pastels and deep hues were popular, punctuated by the subtler, more relaxed palette of Scandinavian Style.

The American first lady, Mamie Eisenhower, was one of the trend setters.  She wore pink throughout her husband’s two-term presidency.  Her favourite hue was quickly popularised, with interiors of the time using everything from a soft baby pink right through to deeper magentas.

The Mamie pink bathroom was particularly popular.  Today, this is being re-imagined with grey tiles or paint diluting the vibrancy of the pink.  In the 1950s, turquoise or mint green were often selected as the complimentary colour to pink, and what may sound like a wild contrast is starting to be seen again in high-end design.  But, on the whole, Mamie Pink is now more commonly restricted to smaller accessories, often accompanied by a metallic finish.  If you want to achieve this sought-after look, American paint company Benjamin Moore’s Pink Flamingo paint - A cheery coral pink - is proving popular in the USA at present.

One of the most iconic colours of the 1950s, turquoise was featured in many kitchen worktop.  It was not uncommon to see turquoise worktops, cabinets and even appliances in the same space, though often the colour was often juxtaposed with another to create eye-popping contrast.

Turquoise is still popular today, featuring in small kitchen appliances and as a decor highlight.  The odd turquoise chair in a living room, mixed in with neutral pieces, is the common use of this vibrant hue today, but turquoise splashbacks are definitely on-trend.

Perhaps the most iconic colour from the 1950s’ palette, Chartreuse gets its name from the French liqueur.  This deep yet bright yellow-green is a hard-hitting hue.  Post-war interiors  certainly took it over the top; with Chartreuse carpets or walls often paired with Chartreuse furniture. It was particularly prevalent in the living room, a space made for entertaining.

Today, a pop of Chartreuse in a single piece of furniture or on accessories is a brilliant way to incorporate this still relevant colour, but splashbacks, decor strips or mirror surrounds are equally suitable.

Fire Engine Red: The very definition of a hot hue
Popularized by the USA’s ubiquitous diners, hot red was big news in interior design of the 1950s, especially in kitchens, which were often styled on diner interiors. 

The Fire Engine red appliances of the era are highly collectable, and today’s kitchen appliance companies like De’Longhi, Kitchen Aid, Big Chill and Smeg  offer ranges of retro-inspired refrigerators, ovens, hood vents and dishwashers _ and smaller appliances - so home owners can get the look today but with built-in modern conveniences. It is not for everyone, but Fire Engine red will never go out of style.

The fresh but soft hue of mint green was very popular during the 1930s and 1940s and remained so in the 1950s.  This colour is truly resilient and remains popular today as an accent colours or on feature walls.  Mint green also often comes up in contemporary accessories, especially paired with modern metallics.

A shock of sunshine yellow was always welcome in a 1950s home; while pale yellow was also a popular wall paint at the time.  Today, it is making an understated comeback, in the form of softer, subtle yellows.  They particularly work in the farmhouse style, but can be toned down with the correct furniture options.

Although Turquoise and Mint Green were the most iconic of the 1950s blues, baby blue did make a quite a splash at the time.  It was popular in kitchens on cabinets, tile and worktops.  Today it is moving beyond the walls of rooms for younger boys, particularly when adding a freshness to bathrooms and en-suites.

Artificial yet aspirational
While political optimism is in short supply right now, which usually points to neutrals and bland interiors, today’s tile designers seem to be gambling that individuality and hope will trump pessimism. The 1950s colour utopia was built in the 40s and had disintegrated by the 70s, but for interior nostalgics it existed in 1950s America.  Little wonder.  Post-war USA had an abundance of prosperity, plus product to buy and sell, and colour was an integral to the consumer package. 

It may seem artificial but it was also  aspirational: and it is that feeling that today’s designers want to tap into.

So now may  be the time to think again about calamine pink, chartreuse, and turquoise blue.  Look at how ceramic manufacturers stylists are working pink and grey; pink and blue; blue and turquoise, and all paired with light wood and neutral fabric-effects.

And do not leave the more vibrant colours out of the mix: such as tomato red, or tangerine orange.

Paint manufacturer Little Greene offers a really on-trend selection in Colours of England; a paint chart that includes a collection of 1950s colours authenticated by English Heritage.  The key colours are Marine Blue, Canton, Pale Lime, Citrine, Magnolia and Orange Aurora.  Little Greene also have a range of co-ordinating 50s inspired wallpaper designs, including Herbes, Florette and Cones.

Little Greene’s essential 1950s hues are: Canton (LRV 21) a jade green inspired by Chinese rugs, ceramics and textiles and a perfect complement to off-white and a pale blue-green; Citrine (LRV 24) a rich mossy green that works well with a pale greeny-yellow or a chocolate brown; Marine Blue (LRV 13) a subtle mid-tone grey blue that sets off pale grey or coral red; Orange Aurora (LRV 290, a deep and dusky apricot orange that makes a strong accent colour with magnolia or even pinky beige on the doors; Pale Lime (LRV 48) a gentle yet surprisingly bold pale green colour that can be teamed with darker blue greens or grey; and that trusted perennial, Magnolia.

Featuring in classic 50s interiors alongside terracotta and white curtains with upholstery in lime yellow and rose upholstery, Shrimp Pink is another must-have tone for the 1950s retro look.  It was often used with Magnolia and pale grey for a more subtle look.

On track with the 1950s colour revival, Oceanside SW 6496, is American paint manufacturer Sherwin-William’s 2018 Colour of the Year.  A collision of rich blue with jewel-toned green, this is a colour that is both accessible and elusive.

It is a complex, deep colour that offers a sense of the familiar with a hint of the unknown, while striking an harmonious balance of blue and green.

The colour blue evokes a multitude of moods and associations depending on hue, shade and application. Despite this variety, blues are universally perceived as intelligent, honest and interesting: making blue the most beloved colour world-wide.

Oceanside’s multi-dimensional, marine-inspired look can create a welcoming statement as a lively colour for a front door.  Its green-meets-blue tone can also boost creative thinking and clarity of thought in a home office, or invite meditation and introspection in a bedroom.

Oceanside is universal when it comes to design style from mid-century modern to Mediterranean-inspired, traditional to contemporary.  And it sits happily with the 1950s revival.

One reason for this is that Oceanside’s versatility allows it to play well with many colours.  It is a bright counterpart to equally eye-catching colours like Exuberant Pink or Honey Bees or it can rest relaxingly alongside other blues like In the Navy or Adrift.

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