Home design: bringing the Sixties back
THE SHEER VOLUME OF NEW AND DIFFERENT INFLUENCES THAT WERE PRESENT DURING THIS DECADE RESULTED IN AN EXTRAORDINARY VARIETY OF STYLES.
A decade of huge social influence, the 1960s also saw dramatic changes in home decor, as documented by Catriona Gray.
AN AESTHETIC FREE-FOR-ALL: THE SITTING ROOM
“No aesthetic movement of recent times had had so explosive an effect upon the eyes and minds of the lay public as Pop art and none so immediate an effect upon the backgrounds of the younger generation. Of all art movements this is the one that deserves to be termed an applied art, however negligible its merits as a fine art. Few art movements have thrown up motifs which were derived from – and can be matched in – the local supermarket and applied with equal gusto to the front of a sweater or the wall of a sitting room.” —AUGUST 1965
With the emergence of Pop art came a new attitude to interior decoration. As may be deduced by the slightly acerbic tone of the above quotation, it was never really accepted as a serious interior design trend, but was rather considered as a youthful, transitory style of decoration whose bright, consumeroriented aesthetic mirrored the
Sixties Zeitgeist. It manifested itself in brightly coloured accessories and textiles, and in plastic furniture – whether in boldly coloured, tough polypropylene or in the new trend for PVC blow-up furniture.
Many of the decorative staples of Pop art were made from cheap, flimsy materials, with designers revelling in the transitory quality of their designs. Blow-up chairs could be deflated and packed away in a suitcase, while Peter
Murdoch’s colourful cardboard chairs were designed for maximum visual impact, but were never intended to be long-lasting. Posters became popular as an art form, and ranged from the much-coveted originals of artists such as ToulouseLautrec, Mucha and Steinlen, to cheap reproductions. While Andy Warhol was at the forefront of the Pop art movement in the United States, the UK was quick to embrace the style and adapt it to suit its own popular culture.
As an interior design trend, it was not one for the purists. House & Garden noted: “a movement offering such tremendous scope for the demonstration of the ego has appealed to those who regard their homes as ebullient foregrounds (some might say fairgrounds) for their lives, rather than as restful background.” Like the artistic genre itself, it was a break with tradition, and was an aesthetic free-for-all where all traditional preconceptions of design could be flouted. It signalled a celebration of the modern and of all the noise and brashness that went with it; it chronicled the world of the supermarket, garage, motorway and cinema. The main trick was to avoid half measures, and blend raw, anti-traditional forms of furniture with lots of bright colour. Floorboards, woodwork and walls were typically painted white to act as a counterfoil to the eye-popping accessories and artwork. In 1965 House & Garden published photographs of the house of the wealthy New York insurance broker
WALLS WERE TYPICALLY PAINTED WHITE TO ACT AS A COUNTERFOIL TO THE EYE-POPPING ACCESSORIES AND ARTWORK.
Leon Kraushar, who had turned his home into a shrine to Pop art with the aid of American decorator David Barrett. “I love Pop art,” Leon Kraushar says in the article, “because it shows the life we live today. It’s not the past, it’s not history, it’s my life, the life I am living. It’s the American landscape, with its billboards, its highways, its hamburgers, its filling stations, its wonderful consumer goods. When I go to the supermarket, I see Brillo boxes just like the ones by Andy Warhol in my foyer, and when I come home, this makes my ‘Brillo Boxes’ even more pleasurable.”
Britain’s heyday for Pop was in the mid-Sixties, with flat stylised imagery and ‘flower power’ motifs embodying the spirit of Swinging London. This imagery was reflected in the homes and businesses of the new generation who were creating the music, fashions and art that were having an international influence. By the end of the decade, however, a different influence had come into play, characterised by a renewed interest in antiques and Victorian design. In general, the widespread enthusiasm for the Scandinavian look persisted throughout the Sixties. But it was beginning to lose the cutting-edge cool it had enjoyed in the previous decade, when the UK, finally free from wartime restrictions on furniture, had belatedly embraced the modernist aesthetic that had first become popular in mainland Europe in the Thirties. Still, Scandinavian style had become synonymous with mainstream good taste, and formed the backbone of the typical sitting room created by style-conscious owners who had not inherited or hunted out antique furniture.
Because of this, the sleek lines of so many early to mid-Sixties interiors discouraged clutter, and the favoured look for much of the decade was simple, with large, bold pieces of ceramics and glass. Teak bowls with curved, sculptural forms were popular, as were small abstract sculptures in wood, metal or marble. Tastes became more bohemian and eclectic as the decade progressed, and a more relaxed look appeared. The sitting room was the place to display collections of curios and antiques –
massed displays of Staffordshire dogs or figures, model ships or other memorabilia. This taste for displaying collections would become increasingly popular in the Seventies, as styles became even more eclectic and nostalgia for the past became more pronounced.
As air travel became more commonplace during the Sixties, the influence of other cultures found its way into the sitting room. Indian textiles and art were particularly influential, and were a source of inspiration to such designers as David Hicks. Stronger, darker colours – oranges, purples and yellow ochres – became more prevalent, and the richly patterned wallpapers produced at the top end of the market offered a more sophisticated alternative to the cheap poppy florals and psychedelic motifs aimed at younger consumers. Despite all this emphasis on colour, monochrome was still in evidence too. Now, however, it had morphed from the clean-lined, modernist look of the Fifties towards the complex patterns of Op art, as epitomised by the young British artist Bridget Riley. The sheer volume of new and different influences that were present in interior design during this decade resulted in an extraordinary variety of styles. Thanks to the carefree, transitory attitude that pervaded this area, the most attentiongrabbing styles could be created even on the tightest of budgets.
Strong colours dominate this sitting area from 1961. A dash of black and white is introduced by the Edward Bawden Liverpool Street Station linocut print and, below it, by Piero Fornasetti’s ‘Head’ and ‘Foot’ plates.
Left: This room channels Italian style, circa 1965. The ‘San Luca’ chair and ‘Arco’ lamp are both by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglione. A tiled floor and marble tabletop continue the Italianate feel, as does the contemporary painting by Leonardo Cremonini. Right: A smart, modern scheme from 1964. All the furniture in the foreground is from Heal’s, while the terracotta sculpture is Multiple Form by James Tower. At the back is an office chair by Robin Day for Hille, beneath an Edward Bawden painting entitled Palm House at Kew.
A 1966 room with a strong Scandinavian theme – the poster on the wall is a bit of a giveaway. At this time, the London department store Woollands imported a quantity of Swedish stock, a selection of which was used here.
This is an extract from Sixties House by Catriona Gray, Hachette NZ, $65.