Go retro for big style on small budget

DESIGN LINE

November 22, 1992|By Rita St. Clair

Q: We've just moved into a starter home in the southeastern U.S. Our budget is even smaller than the house itself, but we're hoping to create a somewhat stylish look. Have you got some suggestions?

A: When spaces and budgets are small but the sense of adventure is big, retro-styling may well be the way to go.

Just now, the 1940s and '50s look is quite hot. So hot, in fact, that designs associated with the era's top names -- like Florence Knoll, George Nelson and Charles Eames -- have become quite pricey. Some of their creations now cost much more than when they were new.

But don't despair. With a little luck, you can still reproduce '40s and '50s "moderne" even on a modest budget. Your first stop should be local flea markets and used furniture stores. If you know what to look for, bargains can still be found.

The photo provides an example of how this look can be achieved in a small home. Note that simple lines are characteristic of the style, as are bleached woods, black lacquer and overstuffed cushions upholstered in tropical-patterned cotton fabrics. Kidney-shaped tables and sofas with coned legs and curved arms are also hallmarks of this very American interior design.

Such pieces produced an airy and casual feeling, which is obviously appropriate for southern climes. But the same look prevailed in many northern homes of post-World War II America. The so-called Florida room, which was a winterized enclosed porch, proved particularly popular in the snow belt. These were colorful spaces, filled with white, coral and forest green -- a rich, dark shade that was one of the favorite colors of the time.

Today, the same furniture and treatments are being reinterpreted to produce a '90s' variation on the "in" look of half a century ago. In a small house done in retro-style, the walls may be painted a bright white, while the windows are outfitted with either contemporary mini-blinds or match stick shades. The flooring should be smooth yet make its own decorative statement in keeping with the room's relaxed quality. Patterned sisal carpet will produce exactly the right effect. Armstrong Floors' "New Vision Solarian," a crisply colored sheet vinyl flooring with multi-colored bands, will also work well.

Abstract paintings and sculpture are obvious decorative choices for this kind of setting.

Keep in mind that for this look to succeed, the furnishings must be free of dents, nicks and mars. Vintage pieces can still be used as long as they're in good shape. And if not, they can always be re-covered or refinished. There's no such thing as shabby elegance when it comes to high-styled modern interiors.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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