How to design a retro room

Written by j.e. myers
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Share
  • Pin
  • Email
How to design a retro room
Design a retro room using a professional design organisation process. (Jukebox image by daniellecolla from

A "retro" room design is a recreation of the look from a previous time period. Examples of retro rooms would be a "1950s diner" kitchen, a "1960s hippie" basement recreation room or a "1940s movie studio" bedroom for a teen. The approach to designing a retro room is the same as designing any interior, regardless of the time period--lots of research and planning are the keys. Professional designers create a portable system to keep themselves on target when designing or executing a retro room design. You can use this system, too.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Tote bag
  • Manila folders
  • Adhesive tape
  • Pen

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Choose the time period that suits your fancy and your needs. Research images from this time period, either online or at your local library. Look for images in books, websites or magazine articles that might reveal a glimpse of what a real diner, for example, looked like in the 1950s. These images will provide hundreds of ideas on period colours, patterns, furniture styles and accessories. Sift through all the possibilities to come to a preliminary design vision.

  2. 2

    Collect your research images and place them in a tote bag that will serve as your "design file." Take this tote bag with you as you set out on expeditions to look at decorating materials at home improvement stores, decorating or craft shops and flea markets and garage sales.

  3. 3

    Focus on your colour scheme first, since this will influence so many other choices to come. Choose three colours: a lead colour (any of the colours on a colour wheel), a supporting neutral colour (like whites, black, browns and greys) and a powerful accent colour that complements the lead colour. Your research will help you choose these colour schemes, since all historical periods in interior design have "signature" colour schemes. Find colour samples that represent your three colours and add them to your design file tote bag.

  4. 4

    Choose the wall treatment for your retro room. Paint is always a good choice but many retro periods before the 1960s placed emphasis on wallpapers. Find wallpaper or paint sample swatches you like and place these in your design file tote. But don't purchase any of these materials just yet. Note prices for these materials.

  5. 5

    Track down potential floor treatments for your retro room by referring to your research materials. Gather any rug, carpet or tile samples and place them in your file tote bag. Don't buy any floor coverings yet. Note the prices.

  6. 6

    Pick out possible window treatments for your retro period. Add any samples or pictures to your tote bag. Record the prices.

  7. 7

    Locate fabrics for items like tablecloths, bedding or sofa and chair upholstery. Take swatches of these materials and place them in your tote bag. Note the prices.

  8. 8

    Look at major furniture pieces you need for the room online, in stores or at local used furniture shops. Gather images of these items or take photographs of the items you find in stores. Add these pictures to your tote bag and record the prices.

  9. 9

    Make a "wish list" of all the accessory items you want, especially key items that will really "sell" the look. Break this list down according to whether these are "functional" or "nonfunctional" items. Functional items have to really work, so don't settle for less during the purchasing phase. Nonfunctional items may be substituted with representations that don't really work. Tape this wish list inside a manila folder and place it in your tote bag as a reminder. Clip an ink pen to this folder so you can write notes or check off items you've already collected.

  10. 10

    Review the contents of your tote bag and make final decisions regarding your design. Sift through the price notes and establish your ideal budget for the project.

  11. 11

    Execute your plan by buying or collecting items to get the room started, beginning with the backgrounds of walls, floors, windows and major furnishings. Take your tote bag with you as you shop to be sure you're selecting the correct elements.

  12. 12

    Paint or wallpaper the room, install the floor treatment, hang the window coverings and furnish the room with the major pieces. After this base is established, you'll focus on shopping for accessories to add to the room, an ongoing project. Take your tote bag with you wherever you go (store it in the boot of your car, for example) so it's always within reach in case you spy something interesting.

Tips and warnings

  • A 1950s jukebox is a good example of the distinction between "functional" and "nonfunctional" items on the wish list. If the jukebox in your 1950s diner rec room has to work because you want to use it for home entertainment, start looking for an affordable restored or replica jukebox. If it doesn't have to work, if you just need the "look" of a jukebox, use framed posters of outstanding Wurlitzer jukeboxes as artwork instead.

Don't Miss

  • All types
  • Articles
  • Slideshows
  • Videos
  • Most relevant
  • Most popular
  • Most recent

No articles available

No slideshows available

No videos available

By using the site, you consent to the use of cookies. For more information, please see our Cookie policy.