Mid-20th century design combined clean lines, playful shapes and cheerful tertiary colours for a graphic effect we now think of as "retro." 1950s upholstery fabrics reflect the range of the mid-century aesthetic. Think atomic-patterned patio cushion covers, barkcloth kitchen curtains and natural fibres dyed mint green or peach. Explore the bold designs of 1950s Marimekko or the work of Lucienne Day to get a feeling for what the 1950s decorator might have chosen for her home.
Imagine a Jetsons-style geometric pattern sketched with a quill and black ink, then filled in with colours like tangerine, spearmint, robin's egg blue and canary yellow. Many of the playful abstract patterns of 1950s textiles that contain brush strokes, whimsical ovals and diamonds are cousins in this "atomic" or "boomerang" aesthetic. Look for original atomic-style fabrics at vintage stores. Find rockabilly reproductions through fabric retailers.
Textile designers of the 1950s were influenced by -- or influences on -- painters who were their contemporaries. Jackson Pollack and other abstract expressionist painters used a non-representational style that you can see reflected in the textiles of the day. Some 1950s tapestries feature obvious brushstrokes and cubist abstractions that would fit as well on a gallery wall as a throw pillow.
Barkcloth, or rhino cloth, is a woven cotton textile with a rough surface much like tree bark. It is a common foundation for atomic and boomerang-style patterns intended for upholstery. Some barkcloth from the 1950s contained rayon and metallic gold threads, creating a softer, more flexible textile. Find examples through speciality textile collectors or by seeking out kitchen curtains from the era.
The plaids of the 1950s were woven in fashionable colours of the era, often tinged with grey. While wool plaids comprised many blankets and clothing, 1950s curtains were often made from cotton plaids that combined shades of dusky blue, grey, ash and yellow or grey-red, black, gold and hazy green.
Vintage home decorating magazine layouts illustrate the epitome of applications for 1950s plaids and can provide inspiration for incorporating the look into contemporary decor.
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- The Washington Post: Lucienne Day's Textiles Transcended Mere Fabric...; Blake Gopnik; July 2010