Home de­sign: bring­ing the Six­ties back

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -


A decade of huge so­cial in­flu­ence, the 1960s also saw dra­matic changes in home decor, as doc­u­mented by Ca­tri­ona Gray.


“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


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.

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