By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News
What’s old is now new in decorating.
Recently, I got a call from a woman in Texas who was seeking the services of a decorator, one who could design the interiors of a large home in the style of the 1950s. She loves collecting magazine stories and pictures from that era that show sofa designs, rug styles and lamps with those tall-and-deep drum lampshades of the not so long ago — not for me, at least.
The caller had purchased a home in the long, low and sweeping ranch style that was so popular in California, especially in Palm Springs. I have found of late that while the traditional antique market is weakening, the popularity of original designs and color combinations from the ’50s and ’60s is exploding. You’ll find rooms today decorated with foil wallpaper and hallways boasting flocked wallcoverings — often in a white-on-black or black-on-white damask design— above white chair rails.
The Howard Johnson restaurant color scheme — peacock blue and lime green with a dash or two of bright orange – also has regained popularity, and not just in South Florida. You’ll find city apartments in Chicago, New York and San Francisco all color-styled to reflect the ’50s.
One of the best designs of that decade, I believe, was the curved-back sofa or loveseat. A pair of curved-back pieces, sitting at right angles to a fireplace, is always a winner when you’re designing a layout to encourage easy conversation. With a pair of open-back, pull-up armchairs, what could be more inviting in the layout of your living room?
The ’50s armoire and those matching bedroom suites — once relegated to the thrift shop — have become a sought-after family collectable. I have found many bedroom suites in vintage furniture stores that can easily be updated with contemporary hardware and finishes, if you are into the new. But if you are into the vintage, then let’s get to work and refinish or polish up the suites so they add a bit of dash to your home décor.
Here’s how to use a bedroom suite of yore in a bedroom of today for a look that’s perfectly comfortable but unabashedly retro.
Begin by painting your bedroom ceiling light blue. Find a small-pattern, pretty wallpaper for the room — maybe one with miniature blue roses and green leaves tied with yellow ribbons on a white background. Underfoot, place a pale-blue low-pile shag rug — yes, you can find shag rugs on the market! They’re also good for scatter rugs.
At your windows, use window shades sewn from blue-and-white ticking, and for overcurtains, why not go full-throttle retro and choose the criss-cross organdy kind that need washing with starch and a good ironing? I love those organdy curtains, and either white, pale yellow or light blue would be a good color choice here.
For night-table lamps, choose bases of glass — maybe glass prisms stacked one atop each other, a glamorous style popular in the ’40s. Lampshades can be covered in old-world lace like with tied bows. Your bedspread can be white chenille — the kind Martha Washington might have enjoyed.
Now, I know this look is not for everyone. But for those who love it, this room would look as fresh as a just-cut rose! And for my caller from Texas, a contemporary ’50s-style home is on the way!
Thank you so much! Such specific information from my favorite designer/decorator. Having grown up in Texas during the 60s, I know how full they are of beautiful, low, stylish, ranch homes. Just glorious! Another favorite look of mine is your work at The Grand Hotel in Michigan. THE BEST. Thank you again—I love being on your e-mail list!