Design Line: Timeless furniture with retro vibe

By Terry Lobb

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The chieftain chair was designed by Finn Juhl in 1949 and is regarded as Danish furniture art.
The chieftain chair was designed by Finn Juhl in 1949 and is regarded as Danish furniture art.

It is amazing that the older you get the quicker styles seem to resurface and become trendy again.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s where our furniture and styles had a definite Scandinavian flavour, which is now "retro" and again trendy.

So what does retro mean? It derives from the 60s from the French word retrograde, meaning to move backwards.

When we talk about it in terms of furniture styles, retro is usually considered to be defined more by the design of the furniture than the style or period.

In the 60s and 70s, there was a strong influence of Scandinavian-designed furniture in New Zealand - well designed and built furniture; objects that tend to have a timeless lifespan and sit comfortably in many situations from classical to contemporary.

The ethos behind this modern style of the 20s was "to seek a social ideal and the enhancement of the quality of life through appropriate and affordable products and technology".

Isn't that how we should all look at the way we live and produce our products?

Scandinavian designs are practical and functional but still display each region's individual decorative detail, always looking for the optimum balance between form, function, materials, texture, colour and, of course, durability.

Designers also tended to look for balance between the man-made and natural worlds of their work and age-old techniques and modern technology. This was because of a climate where nine months of the year it is dark and cold and three months is brilliant sunshine. Good design was imperative for the survival of their culture, social and economic wellbeing.

We tended to see moulded ply, chrome, leather, plastic and natural timbers from local forests, teak, mahogany, rosewood and ash in furniture. Sensual curves that moulded the body, simplicity in form but well designed.

Geometric and stylised patterns were dominant in ceramic finishes and soft furnishings but then so was the integrity of natural finishes and block colours.

We grew up with a three-seater leggy sofa which Mum still has today. I remember the fabric being a rich red and quite harsh to the touch. I think that was probably the original fabric - long gone now. The timber is fine-grained and maybe mahogany. What I really like about this sofa is that the arms follow the contours of your arms.

Instead of being solid and chunky, they are curved and softened and the timber always feels beautiful to touch.

The sofa, when pulled out, formed a simple double bed with heavy plastic cording under the mattress to give it a bit of spring. This was wound around the base of the frame.

Most of the furniture was leggy and sparse-looking compared to some of today's designs.

Interiors were simplistic and void of too much clutter.

Pendant light fittings were often fitted because ceilings tended to be higher. Many of the light fittings were elegant with soft curves or balls allowing light to filter down into the rooms, often the light source hidden so as not to be intrusive for the person using the room.

I love this style, its simplicity in design, form, colour and textures.

And I will leave you with this thought: "One cannot create happiness with beautiful objects, but one can spoil quite a lot of happiness with bad ones." - Finn Juhl

Terry Lobb is an interior/kitchen designer and personal colour and style consultant. If you would like to make an appointment for a consultation or have a query about product discussed call 027 602 3298 or email

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