Retro Style

By Chandra Orr

September 4, 2012 6 min read

The retro look is back in a big way -- especially for Christmas. From white tinsel trees that pop with turquoise and pink ornaments to light-up color wheels and blown-glass reflector finials, Mid-Century style is all the rage.

"Mid-Century decor never went out of vogue. Anything Mid-Century modern is timeless and classic, which is why we are seeing the genre translate into holiday decor," says Cathy Hobbs, finalist on the sixth season of HGTV's "Design Star" and founder of Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes, an interior design firm.

It's also quite nostalgic. Baby boomers who grew up in the 1950s and '60s have fond memories of the era, while younger generations see Mid-Century decor as a hip, eco-friendly way to show off their personal style and connect with the past.

"Retro takes a person back to a happy time and place: their childhood," says Reyne Haines, an expert in 20th century decorative arts who has appeared on PBS' "Antiques Roadshow" and "Martha Stewart Living Radio on Sirius." "They remember that aluminum tree in their parents' home, the vintage wooden ornaments on the tree or the retro light wheel that shined on the tree," Haines says. "And people often feel better using something vintage because it means they are doing better for the environment -- and the bonus is the items have a story or history attached to them."

*Vivid Color and Texture

"A vintage Christmas means lots of colors," Haines says. "Lights were often not just a solid color as they are now, and the hand-blown ornaments were brilliant colors, with silver and mercury interiors to make the balls pop in color."

"When I think of retro decor, I instantly think of yellow, orange and turquoise, all of which can be integrated into your holiday decor," Hobbs says. "While bold colors can be infused as accents, this style often involves the heavy use of full chroma color."

"Orange is lively, sophisticated and trendy, yet timeless at the same time. It's a festive color perfect for the holidays -- and, as an interior designer, I especially love using different shades of yellow paired with other citrus colors or mixed with chocolate, black or charcoal gray. It creates a high-contrast color scheme that's perfect for elegant holiday decor," Hobbs says.

Turquoise, though, is the quintessential retro hue -- think 1950s Chevy Bel Air blue or Melmac dinnerware in aquamarine. When paired with pops of hot pink and lime green or crisp black and white, it makes a bold statement, one that pays homage to the past without looking dated.

"Turquoise, in the last few years, has really been a popular color that is on-trend with a lot of designers. It adds such a vibrant burst of color," Hobbs says. "Layer your decor using different shades, and carry it through from the tree, to decorations in the home, to the table."

Opt for tactile and reflective materials to truly capture the look of the era. From aluminum trees in unnatural hues to reflective tinsel garland and mirror-like ornaments, the most memorable holiday decor from the '50s and '60s evokes a space-age feel.

"Materials that engage the senses are especially important in creating a signature Mid-Century holiday decor," Hobbs says.

The right colors and textures add a retro feel, but to truly capture the retro look, you'll need a few essentials of the era. Hit the thrift stores, yard sales, eBay and vintage boutique sites like Etsy and Ruby Lane for gently used holiday items that bring the look to life. Keep an eye out for:

--Aluminum Christmas trees in white, blue and pink.

--Light wheels made to shine on trees, turning the display from blue and green to red and yellow.

--Light-up star tree-toppers made of plastic and tinsel garland.

--Atomic-age ornaments like blown glass bulbs with indented reflector designs, handmade felt ornaments and gumball machine style plastic figurines.

--Foil Christmas tree light reflectors and plastic star- or tulip-shaped bulb reflectors.

--Plastic, light-up lawn ornaments that can be used indoors, like small Santas, snowmen and nutcrackers.

When hunting for retro holiday decor, be certain that any electrical items are still in good working order. Wiring should be soft and flexible, with no fraying or exposed wires. Also, use caution when putting older light sets and bubble lamps on modern synthetic trees, as vintage bulbs burn much hotter than their modern counterparts and can melt plasticized needles on trees and wreaths.

When shopping for blown glass ornaments and finials, buy the best you can afford.

"Only purchase items that still have a crisp silver interior, with no chips in the glass or missing paint," Haines says. "Condition for any type of item is very important. Like-new is the best, and if you find something with its original packaging, bonus! Its resale and collector value is higher when the original box comes with it."

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