Clean lines, boomerang shapes, starbursts - the simple yet dynamic design motifs of '50s modernism have returned in the '00s, especially seen in furniture, fabric, dishes and even silverware.
"You see a lot of geometric shapes," says Mark Nelson, associate professor in the UW-Madison design studies department. Wood tends to be in "big chunks," and furniture and decorative items are "sculptural - it's pure shape rather than applied ornament."
Stylized depictions of birds, flowers and leaves seen in '00s design can be reminiscent of the 1950s-1970s.
One difference between '00s design and the '50s design that inspired it is a much more neutral color palette, says Nelson. "Things were much more colorful in the 1950s," he says, although we may remember that decade in black and white due to television and photography.
Why the popularity of modernist design now? Nelson thinks it's because the '50s was the last time that houses and household objects were strongly designed. During the '60s and '70s, "designer stuff became about the name, not the design."
As we move out of the '00s, Nelson sees an interesting opposition between low-ornament modernism and "over-the-top stuff coming out of youth and DIY culture," with tattoos, paisley and a gothic influence. He looks for trends to start on the fashion runways, then filter into interior design several years later. On the runways these days, he's seeing "very rich textures and colors, almost Victorian, signaling a whole new direction."
Perhaps the most widespread revival of any 1950s design is seen in the starburst clock. Originally designed by American modern designer George Nelson (1904-1986), versions are now made by Umbra, Vitra and Cupecoy, to name a few. (Cupecoy starburst clocks, Pop Deluxe, $50-$60.)
Bubbles & flying saucers
Another mid-century classic that's surging in popularity right now is the ceiling-suspended bubble lamp, also originally designed by the prolific George Nelson. A more elliptical version is the saucer lamp (as in "flying saucer"). The originals are in the Museum of Modern Art, but current versions are made by Modernica and others. An even more extreme and streamlined version of the saucer lamp is the 1960s-style Sinus lamp (Century House).
Even mass-market Corelle has gotten into the act with its line of square dishware, spruced up with simple geometric lines or stylized flower motifs. (Available at Shopko and other retailers, set of four for under $50.) "Boxes" wall sconce from CB2 (pictured above, top right, $50) borrows the '50s penchant for geometrics and 3-D wall hangings and pairs it with the 1990s love of tea candles.
Stylized flowers, birds and nature motifs
Stylized, silhouetted or abstracted, nature in 2000s design is simplified, reflecting the modernist preference for lack of ornament. Bird silhouettes are one of the top motifs in 2000-era interior decor. Polypropylene floor mats from Koko feature simple bird or twig motifs, can be used indoors or out, are easily washed by hosing them down, and are also suitable for wall hanging! (www.gardenwinds.com, $40-$50). Decorative pillows from Target adopt a dove silhouette and the decade's top color pairing, brown and blue ($25). The Wagami rug from CB2 combines a bold circle geometry with abstract flowers, leaves and cherries in a '50s color palette of brown, green, red, yellow and beige (pictured above, top left, $300).