1960s Furniture: Designed to be disposable and temporary by experimenting with new materials

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Katerina Bulovska
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The 1960’s were a dynamic and lively decade that affected social, political, cultural, and aesthetic upheavals. The design of furniture also changed, as designers were experimenting with exciting new materials, especially plastics, to create new furniture in vibrant colors and fluid shapes. It was influenced by the Space Race, and particularly by the hippie movement and the youth that were opposing the traditional. New synthetics provided for mass production of cheap “fashionable” articles that were designed to last for a short time only.

The Italian architects and designers Ettore Sottsass, Joe Colombo and Anna Castelli Ferreri designed remarkable plastic chairs and brightly colored everyday objects made from plastic for Kartell, Danese, and Artemide. The furniture in the 60’s is also marked by the designs of one of Denmark’s most influential 20th-century furniture and interior designers Verner Panton and the Finnish interior designer Eero Aarnio. They worked with the new synthetics, emphasizing the space age look to create innovative furniture designs.

Author: Douglove CC by 2.0

Molded plastic became a common material for new furniture, but designers also used wood, metal, glass, and PVC, and occasionally combinations of these. In the beginning of the 60’s the colors used in furniture were inspired by nature, such as green, brown and yellow. But as the decade went on, bright neon colors were becoming more popular, especially fuchsia pink and tangerine orange, in order to create a striking look. Black and white were used for graphic contrast. Large areas, such as sofas and beds, were covered in vibrant colors and patterns, influenced by India and Morocco.

1960s living room. Author: 1950sUnlimited. CC BY 2.0

Verner Panton is responsible for creating one of the most famous designs of the sixties – the Panton chair, also called the “S” chair. It is officially the sexiest chair ever made, even appeared on the cover of the British edition of Vogue in 1995. It featured Kate Moss on a classic Panton S Chair, photographed by Nick Knight. The Panton chair has a flowing shape and was made from a single piece of cantilevered plastic with no back legs.

The Panton chair. Author: Holger.Ellgaard. CC BY-SA 3.0

Another design of the 1960’s is the best-selling chair in the world – the Polyprop Chair. It was designed in 1963 by Robin Day, who created the world’s first polypropylene chair. The chair continues to be popular today and is still in production for homes, restaurants, hospitals, schools, airports, and hotels.

Smilow-Thielle bedroom suite NY 1960s. Author: 1950sUnlimited. CC BY 2.0

Furniture in the 60’s bedroom was made of wood, such as walnut and oak. The dressing table had a mirror, and usually a Formica type top surface and tapered legs. Some pieces of furniture, such as wardrobes, bedside cabinets, and a chest of drawers, were painted in different colors and decorated with a floral design, influenced by the hippie movement and “flower power”.

Herkimer Motel Interior Herkimer NEW YORK, the 1960s. Author: 1950sUnlimited. CC BY 2.0

The strong and cheap Three Tiered Bunk Bed was very popular, probably because of its price and it helped people to save floor space. It could be arranged as a three-tier bunk, as a bunk with a trundle bed, or individually as three twin-size beds. The kitchen in the 60’s was functional and easy to maintain. The kitchen cabinets and counters were usually made of plastic laminate in vivid colors.

Kona Inn guest room 1960s. Author: 1950sUnlimited. CC BY 2.0

Coffee tables had clean, simple lines in bent wood or molded plastic construction. The wood furniture often has a simple finish to show off its natural beauty. The table of the dining set would also be made of wood with a durable high-pressure plastic top.

1960s Walnut-Slate Coffee Table. Author: David Costa. CC BY 2.0

1960s lamps also had futuristic, space age design, with a mixture of organic motifs. The most famous of all lamps from the decade is probably the remarkable Eclisse table lamp designed by Vico Magistretti for Artemide in 1966. It is one of the most significant industrial design products of the 20th century.

3-Way Atomic Globe Lamps. Author: Tina Lawson. CC BY-ND 2.0

The 1960s is probably the most amusing and energetic decade of furniture design. Iconic pieces from this era have been copied for years and are a great substitute for the ones who want to furnish their homes in the 60’s style, but can’t afford the authentic ones.