Back in the 50s and 60s, modern furniture was cool. Now people are rediscovering furniture from this period and shopping on eBay for it or buying reproductions of design classics from the past.
The modern style became popular in the UK after the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Festival gave the best of British designers a chance to show off exciting new designs to a public that was hungry for change. In the 50s, people completely reversed their tastes from preferring traditional style to wanting modern design.
Today what was considered cutting edge modern in the 50s and 60s is retro. Retro style is a way to make your home look distinctive, something different from the DIY superstore look that everyone else has.
Re-issues of classic 50s and 60s designs are available at many stores. Habitat, for example, make a number of Robin Day’s classics, such as the Forum leather sofa from 1964.
Fritz Hansen still manufacture Arne Jacobsen’s beautifully organic Egg Chair from 1958.
If you don’t want to pay designer prices, then original designs from the 50s and 60s are still readily available on eBay. Be your own judge of what is good design; not every piece made with a contemporary style in the 50s and 60s was.
Look for simple shapes, such as long, low sideboards with minimal decoration. Generally if it looks good, it is good design. If the proportions are wrong, ignore it. Scandinavian influence was strong in UK furniture from the 50s to the 70s. Look for pieces finished in teak or rosewood. Rosewood has a distinctive curvy, grain pattern. Sellers on eBay often describe mahogany or sapele pieces incorrectly as rosewood. Both these woods have a straight grain.
They are less fashionable in modern style furniture and consequently pieces in mahogany or sapele are less valuable.
Some manufacturers from the 50s and 60s that made well designed furniture are G-Plan, Stag, Ercol, Austinsuite and Nathan. G-Plan was a pioneer of modern design. Stag employed John and Sylvia Reid to create some fantastic minimalist pieces in the 50s. Their most famous design was Minstrel – a reinterpretation of eighteenth century elegance for the modern world. Ercol made simple, modern furniture in English Elm. Ercol is of high quality and has a large following. If you want to buy the top designers from the 50s and 60s then pieces do come up on eBay, but are rarely cheap. Look for manufacturers like Gordon Russell, or Archie Shine. Younger also made some marvellous quality pieces in teak and rosewood from the late fifties. They may be cheaper than some of the top designer pieces. Also look for Danish furniture on eBay.
Overall, look for furniture you like rather than what you think is valuable and have fun decorating in a modern style to complement your acquisitions.