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Decorating Styles

Decorating Retro-Style

The checkered floor adds a retro-style feel to this otherwise modern bathroom.

Many people love fun, bright, irreverent retro style. Not assigned to any one decade, this is a look that calls in all of 20th-century design, including striking 1930s art deco as well as the fluorescent, psychedelic 1960s.

Collectors and inveterate flea-market shoppers naturally gravitate to retro rooms that allow them to showcase their finds -- everything from lava lamps to chrome chairs and garden gizmos. Sometimes more energized than organized, retro rooms have a sense of humor and a lot to say; after all, every object comes with a story of discovery.


Sleek and chic or cottage charming, retro is fun to live with and fun to put together because it's whatever decade appeals to you.

The funky products of the '50s with their organic shapes and abstract patterns look right at home in a ranch house. These happy-day rooms -- devoid of architectural trim and detail -- take instantly to the hype of vinyl seat cushions and wacky flying-saucer-like lamps.

Many of the '50s pieces have become highly collectible and increasingly hard to find, but mass-produced items can still be reasonably had at flea markets and consignment stores. Smaller, often overlooked items from the era such as game boards are stunning mounted on a wall; plant hangers in the shapes of fish are dynamite in a bath!

Neutral walls accommodate a tongue-in-cheek assortment of offerings. When quarters are tight, white or cream surfaces expand space. In a retro kitchen, glossy white cabinets, lots of shiny chrome counter edging, and stainless-steel appliances are a classic dish.

Certain kitchen color teams -- for example, black, red, and white -- are reminiscent of the cozy intimacy of roadside diners. If your taste runs to colorful dinnerware though, a palette of Mexico-inspired colors throughout a room is for you. Look to your collections for inspiration.

Art and furniture shapes can be enhanced with color. A pink-and-white plate or a pressed-glass cranberry compote could help establish the perfect palette.

The 50s-inspired table and chair look updated next to the modern sofa and pillows.

Retro-patterned vinyl or linoleum flooring will enhance the freewheeling tone of a retro kitchen, family room, bath, or child's bedroom. Squares of black, red, turquoise, or yellow plus white have a lively jukebox kind of appeal everyone will like. Vintage rugs in geometric prints tossed over hardwood or carpeted floors will add some extra zing.

When it comes to fabric for cushions, upholstery, and drapes, hunt up vintage (or reproduction) bark cloth. Available in endless colors and patterns (sputniks, tropical flowers, cowboys), woven bark cloth can give a room a sophisticated or kitschy edge. Keep drapes simple though, so as not to detract from all the other elements.

The lace drapes and floral chairs are just a couple of the ways in which this room evokes the 40s.

Lace doilies, vintage tablecloths strewn with sweet visions of flowers and fruit, straw hats, picnic baskets -- these kinds of romantic items favor a retro 1940s cottage look.

A tablecloth or scarf tossed over a simple wood rod becomes a curtain; a lacy tablecloth laid over a bed or a sofa is a heart-stopping bit of fantasy. If this sort of style leaves you weak in the knees, play it up with botanicals and samplers on the walls, old watering cans, decoupaged trays, miniature houses, and lots of white wicker or white-painted furniture.

Paint newer tag-sale bargains white, and then give them a crackle glaze to render them instantly older-looking and more endearing. Against white or pale, pale rose-pink or blue walls, the furnishings will seem as light as summer clouds.

Rotate collections to keep your room at the top of its form. In addition to open shelves, consider installing glass-front cabinets to hold smaller trinkets like dainty perfume bottles, salt and pepper shakers, and those things you've yet to find; there's always going to be a treasure around the corner.

Get the Look

  • Stay lighthearted with bright-colored tiles in kitchen and bath.
  • Upholster footstools and piano seats with funky, wildflower patterns.
  • Define a space or divide rooms with stylish glass block.

Rather than embodying an era, decorating with world flair centers on a place. On the next page, learn how to design a room that reminds you of Africa, Scandinavia, or other locales round the world.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating a Room: Find out how to decorate a room from floor-to-ceiling.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.