Furniture design: from the 50s to now

Written by in Renovating

A living room with blue furniture design and artwork

From the post-war innovation of the 50s through the psychedelia of the 60s and 70s, and onwards to the eco-focused comfort of the noughties and now, furniture design has evolved through the decades. Which style season do you resonate with most?

The 50s

This was a time of post-war exuberance and innovation. New materials were being used for furniture including plastic, glass, and plexiglass, with contrasting colours featuring in bold fruit and flower designs, polka dots, and atomic age motifs – all tied in with chrome, vinyl, chequerboard lino and pastel bathrooms. Kitchens were filled with chrome appliances, pastel plastics, enamel and melamine, with formica counters completing the look.

Interestingly, around this time more outdoor furniture became more commonplace, as people started seeing the backyard as a legitimate space to entertain and spend time as a family. The emphasis was on comfort, leisure, and appliances, putting the “fun” in “functional”.

A 1950's pastel kitchen in yellow.The 60s

Space Race, Beatlemania, Woodstock, peace signs: all of this and more typified the 60s! The first part of the decade was all about geometric shapes; the latter, it was Flower Power and psychedelia.

Enter through the beaded curtain onto luxurious shagpile carpet, relax on pod-shaped furniture, and bask in the glow of a lava lamp. The Panton Chair was born in this decade, while Pop Art popped. Bright colours and neons were in. And who can forget tie-dye and paisley?

A 1960's lounge room with in warm browns and reds.

The 70s

The sixties were still hanging around, though with more of an ecological edge, bringing in atriums and indoor gardens. Teak, pine, and wicker furniture merged with plastics, tulip chairs, and stone walls and fireplaces.

Open-plan living became the Next Big thing in furniture design, alongside sunken seating areas and floating or spiral staircases. Kitchens had islands, and next door the living room was decorated with sisal rugs, macramé hangings, and crocheted couch covers.

A 1970's home using wood, mustard accents and plants.

The 80s

Choose from country, shabby chic, or sleek modern: all were big décor statements in the 80s. Bright colours, neon, and geometric patterns were still in, accented with chintz, soft pastels and preppy blue-and-white-striped upholstery.

Mirrored walls made rooms look bigger – unless they were fashioned in a zig zag design, popular at the time – while patio furniture moved inside, and potted palm plants came with it.

A 1980's home using pink and a geometric hallway table.

The 90s

Furniture design in the nineties needed relief, and so minimalism and plainness was the mantra of the moment. Wall-to-wall beige carpeting, white kitchens, and light-coloured wood dominated in design circles.

Later in the decade, clashing flowery patterns and damask had a following, along with sponge-painted walls, silk fake flowers, and terracotta tiles underfoot. Bathrooms had Hollywood lighting and walls adorned with a framed ‘magic eye’ illusion prints were found in almost every home!

A 1990's home with pastel colour palette and white and pink roses.

The 00s

Minimalism was left behind, making way for richer colours, comfort, and individual style to move in. The feature wall became, well, a feature.

Eco-homes with eco-designs and eco-furniture started to creep into fashion, with upcycling, vintage, craft, and shabby chic firmly ‘in’. MDF kept furniture affordable, and Ikea trips became a fun outing for simple or funky designs that you could (try to) assemble yourself. Outdoor areas became outdoor living areas, with furniture and décor that would look equally at home indoors.

A 2000-style patio living setup


Furniture design continues to become more comfortable, with ergonomic, soft shapes. In the kitchen, marble is now more discreet, with some sleek kitchens being all-black and using indoor plants as relief. Wallpaper has made a comeback, in either soft colours or bold patterns, with feature walls a thing of the past. Bathrooms are beginning to have some colour again, and when it comes to appliances, white may be the new black.

A modern kitchen with dark cupboards and a concrete floor. The journey through the past seventy-odd years in furniture design is an interesting look back. While some things are missed and some things should never be revived, there are certain furniture designs from the past that we’d love to see revisited. Shag-pile carpet, anyone?!

How well do you fit with your home suburb?