Post-war interiors

Proposing A Post-War Palette

Post-war interiors
Post-war optimism is starting to influence today’s tile designers

Spanning influences such as atomic design, Scandinavian cool and hints of exotic influences like Hawaii, the 1950s was a era of growing colour confidence.  While pastels may define the post-war period, more radical modern trends really came into play in the 1950s, influenced by everything from space exploration through to Scandinavian furniture design.

Bathroom tiles in Mamie Pink
Bathroom tiles in Mamie Pink

1950s colour charts may seem an unlikely direction for modern designers but, judging from Cersaie, today’s tile creatives are turning to post-war period for both base tones and highlight hues, particularly for small format glazed wall tiles – with 75 by 300mm emerging as the format of choice.

Turquoise kitchen from the 1950s
Turquoise kitchen from the 1950s

In 2018 we can expect to see an extension of this trend as the softer, more feminine, approach to interiors gathers pace. The driver is the search for natural, homespun interiors that offer a feeling of comfort; with harsh edges and stark contrasts giving way to more romantic and tactile interiors.

1950s bathroom featuring Mint Green tiles
1950s bathroom featuring Mint Green tiles

Established modern neutrals, such as grey, beige and greige, still provide gentle base tones, and these marry effortlessly with bolder accents pilfered from the 1950s. Homeowners are being encouraged to experiment, combining styles and looks to create something more personal, eclectic and individualistic. It is all about creating a livable home that is comfortable, welcoming and authentic … which was, of course, pretty much the vision being peddled to the suburban housewife of the 1950s.

An iconic 1950s interior: the Baby Blue kitchen
An iconic 1950s interior: the Baby Blue kitchen

Pastels played into 1950s decor in a big way: such as kitchen furniture in pastel blue, pink or yellow with matching pastel checkerboard flooring, pink bathroom tiles or even pale green or baby blue bathtubs.


However, another trend in 1950s-era decorating was bold colour contrast: black and white checkerboard floors; all black and white kitchens, or black, white and red used together in a co-ordinated colour scheme.   Like pastels, this trend was particularly prevalent in bathrooms and kitchens. The signature colour was Chartreuse: with this bold bright yellow/green commonplace in colour schemes based on contrast.

Canton by Little Greene
Canton by Little Greene

Earth tones from the 1950s are also on today’s design agenda. Back then, when modern Scandinavian furniture became en vogue, certain shades emerged to match and complement this timber furniture: notably olive green, pale grey, bone white and sky blue. Light blue and a darker green were often used together, such as blue walls and furniture with olive green cushions. Light pink accents were also prominent in fabrics, curtains and on walls.

Oceanside by Sherwin-Williams
Oceanside by Sherwin-Williams

The Atomic era resulted in an expanded colour palette, with bright shades joining these pastels and earth tones, reflecting a hopeful outlook that looked to the future for inspiration. Textiles often combined four or five colours, and featured the iconic atomic boomerang shape, Polynesian-inspired designs such as Tiki gods, as well as hand-drawn, abstract geometric shapes in shades of burnt orange, bright yellow or pale turquoise. Bold oranges and yellows were right at home with olive green, bright red and dark brown on the same fabric print.

Oceanside Complements by Sherwin-Williams
Oceanside Complements by Sherwin-Williams

By the early 1950s a considerable amount of research and experimentation had been carried out into the methodical use of colour in buildings. Lessons had also been learnt from scientific research into lighting and vision. Experts explained that colour, if properly understood and successfully applied, could be made to do much more than merely provide a surface finish; making a direct and positive contribution to the design of a building.

Little Greene's 1950s palette
Little Greene’s 1950s palette

The Royal Institute of British Architects and British Colour Council were approached for advice on a range of colours that might be suitable. After a number of prototypes, a standard collection of 101 colours was proposed. It is these colours and their modern antecedents that look set to shape the interiors market in 2018 and beyond.  The 1950s were a spectacular time for colour. For the first time ever, paint colours were available in any hue. While some of the prevalent combinations popular then may come across as a bit garish to today’s homeowners; a handful of hues became established as the iconic colours of the 1950s.

Sherwin-Williams 1950s Palette
Sherwin-Williams 1950s Palette

The familiar rich pastels and deep hues were popular, punctuated by the subtler, more relaxed palette of Scandinavian Style.  The American first lady, Mamie Eisenhower, was one of the trend setters. She wore pink throughout her husband’s two-term presidency. Her favourite hue was quickly popularised, with interiors of the time using everything from a soft baby pink right through to deep magenta.  The Mamie Pink bathroom was particularly popular.  Today, this is being re-imagined with grey tiles or paint diluting the vibrancy of the pink. In the 1950s, Turquoise or Mint Green were often selected as the complimentary colour to pink, and what may sound like a wild contrast is starting to be seen again in high-end design. But, on the whole, Mamie Pink is now more commonly restricted to smaller accessories, often accompanied by a metallic finish. If you want to achieve this sought-after look, American paint company Benjamin Moore’s Pink Flamingo paint – a cheery coral pink – is proving popular in the USA at present.

Orange Aurora: an on-trend accent hue
Orange Aurora: an on-trend accent hue

One of the most iconic colours of the 1950s, Turquoise was featured in many kitchen worktop. It was not uncommon to see turquoise worktops, cabinets and even appliances in the same space, though often the colour was often juxtaposed with another to create eye-popping contrast.  Turquoise is still popular today, featuring in small kitchen appliances or as a decor highlight and turquoise splashbacks are definitely on-trend.

Unique and enigmatic: Cartreuse
Unique and enigmatic: Cartreuse

Perhaps the most iconic colour from the 1950s’ palette, Chartreuse gets its name from the French liqueur. This deep yet bright yellow-green is a hard-hitting hue. Post-war interiors certainly took it over the top; with Chartreuse carpets or walls often paired with Chartreuse furniture. It was particularly prevalent in the living room, a space made for entertaining.  Today, a pop of Chartreuse in a single piece of furniture or on accessories is a brilliant way to incorporate this still relevant colour, but splashbacks, decor strips or mirror surrounds are equally suitable.

Popularized by American diners, Hot Red was big news in 1950s’ interior design, especially in kitchens.  The Fire Engine Red appliances of the era are highly collectable, and today’s appliance companies – like De’Longhi, Kitchen Aid, Big Chill and Smeg – offer ranges of retro-inspired small appliances, refrigerators, ovens, hood vents and dishwashers so home owners can get the look today but with built-in modern conveniences.

Fresh yet soft, Mint Green was very popular during the 1930s and 1940s and remained so in the 1950s.  This colour is truly resilient and is still popular as an accent colour or feature wall.  Mint Green also often comes up in contemporary accessories, especially paired with modern metallics.

A shock of Sunshine Yellow was always welcome in a 1950s home; while pale yellow was also a popular wall paint at the time. Today, it is making an understated comeback, in the form of softer, subtle yellows. They particularly work in the farmhouse style, but can be toned down with the correct furniture options.

Although Turquoise and Mint Green were the most iconic of the 1950s blues, Baby Blue did make a quite a splash at the time. It was popular in kitchens on cabinets, tile and worktops. Today it is moving beyond the walls of rooms for younger boys, particularly when adding a freshness to bathrooms and en-suites.

While political optimism is in short supply right now, which usually points to neutrals and bland interiors, today’s tile designers seem to be gambling that individuality and hope will trump pessimism.  The 1950s colour utopia was built in the 40s and had disintegrated by the 70s, but for interior nostalgics it existed in 1950s America. Little wonder. Post-war USA had an abundance of prosperity, plus product to buy and sell, and colour was an integral to the consumer package. It may seem artificial but it was also aspirational: and it is that feeling that today’s designers want to tap into.

So now may be the time to think again about Calamine Pink, Chartreuse, and Turquoise. Look at how ceramic manufacturers stylists are working pink and grey; pink and blue; blue and turquoise, and all paired with light wood and neutral fabric-effects.
And do not leave the more vibrant colours out of the mix: such as Tomato Red, or Tangerine Orange.

Paint and wallpaper manufacturer Little Greene offers a really on-trend selection in Colours of England; a paint chart that includes a collection of 1950s colours authenticated by English Heritage.  Little Greene’s essential 1950s hues are: Canton (LRV 21) a jade green inspired by Chinese rugs, ceramics and textiles and a perfect complement to off-white and a pale blue-green; Citrine (LRV 24) a rich mossy green that works well with a pale greeny-yellow or a chocolate brown; Marine Blue (LRV 13) a subtle mid-tone grey blue that sets off pale grey or coral red; Orange Aurora (LRV 290, a deep and dusky apricot orange that makes a strong accent colour with magnolia or even pinky beige on the doors; Pale Lime (LRV 48) a gentle yet surprisingly bold pale green that can be teamed with darker blue greens or grey; or that trusted perennial, Magnolia.

Featuring in classic 50s interiors alongside terracotta and white curtains with upholstery in Lime Yellow and Rose upholstery, Shrimp Pink is another must-have tone for the 1950s retro look.  It was often used with Magnolia and pale grey for a more subtle look.

On track with the 1950s colour revival, Oceanside SW 6496, is American paint manufacturer Sherwin-William’s 2018 Colour of the Year. A collision of rich blue with jewel-toned green, this is a colour that is both accessible and elusive.
It is a complex, deep colour that offers a sense of the familiar with a hint of the unknown, while striking an harmonious balance of blue and green.  Oceanside’s multi-dimensional, marine-inspired look can create a welcoming statement; boost creative thinking in a home office, or invites calm meditation in a bedroom.  Oceanside also plays well with many colours. It is a bright counterpart to equally eye-catching colours like Exuberant Pink or Honey Bees; or it can rest relaxingly alongside other blues like In the Navy or Adrift.

A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, November 2017

This article will feature in the November-December 2017 edition of Tile & Stone Journal

3 thoughts on “Proposing A Post-War Palette

  1. Nice!

    Check this out:

    Grazie mille


    Nicola Scalea
    Area Manager

    Cooperativa Ceramica d’Imola North America
    104 S.Michigan Ave Suite 700 | 60603 Chicago, Illinois
    Mobile (IT) +39 3490819006
    Mobile (USA) +1 630-414-4012
    Office + 39 0542 601414
    Fax + 39 0542 31749
    Imola – Leonardo – LaFaenza

    [] [“Instagram”] [“Pinterest”]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nicola. I’ve put these two ranges on my Tile Addict wish list. Please keep me posted regarding any other interesting product launches from Cooperative Ceramica d’Imola as they happen. Cheers! Joe


  2. Hello.
    Know it had been awhile, but do you recall where the chartreuse sofa was from? It is pictured with the dark walls in the fifth photo.
    Thank you.


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