Fad or fashion? Why some retro trends fade and some endure

By Interior Designer and author of Dear Designer's blog, Carole King


Did you know that 75% of UK home buyers would demand a price reduction for a property if it had an avocado bathroom suite? In a recent survey conducted by Bathrooms.com, they were also found to be one of the most hated pieces of interior design from the 1970s.

This may not come as a shock, but it’s interesting to think about why some trends become blips in history, never to be popular again, and why some stand the test of time and come back into fashion time and time again.

I think it all comes down to the difference between a fad and fashion. 

‘Fashion’ has the ability to evolve over time, and often becomes popular again because the original design had a timeliness quality and was of a high standard to begin with. The design can be easily tweaked to make it work with current trends, colours may be re-worked for current markets, but the 'bones' of the design remain the same. Imagine the well designed and classically stylish plan furniture from the 60s, but customised to have hairpin legs added to give a modern twist.

‘Fads’ on the other hand are short-lived and are characterised by an explosion of mass enthusiasm, adopted by a large number of people over a relatively small period of time. Think shell suits from back in the 80s.

Arguably, the avocado bathroom suite was a fad - It failed to evolve and the design can’t be tweaked easily to make it work with current trends. 

The colour doesn’t work well with modern colour schemes – it would probably look drab and dirty within a fresh and minimalist white bathroom. Next to pastels, well that would be the wrong colour tone completely, and next to increasingly popular dark greys or dark blues, it would clash horribly. 

When it comes to current interior design trends, bathrooms have been getting more and more stylish. The popular Scandinavian trend in particular is characterised by lots of gleaming white surfaces, and it’s just a million miles away from the infamous avocado bathroom suite.

 Some designs from the 1970's are however being rejuvenated – crucially, they have been tweaked to compliment current trends and that’s why they’re back in fashion:

  • Vivid green (pantone colour of the year) and retro orange are both seeing a revival. They’re popping up on feature walls everywhere to create a striking retro look
  • Brightly coloured furniture - a strong colour on one item of furniture can look stylish and create a real feature if the rest of the furniture is in more muted tones, otherwise the effect will be lost
  • Graphic patterns were very popular in the seventies and were used in abundance. Today we like to keep strong patterns to one or two distinct areas of a room rather than all over - a single wall of patterned wallpaper for instance, a rug and some cushions, or some colourful bedding in the bedroom. Less is more, especially when the graphic patterns are in strong colours too
  • The modern and minimalist kitchen is one place where retro accessories work really well. Tableware, trays, tea-towels and clocks can all be found in the shops and just adding a few around the room will give a hint a of seventies without the room looking like a time-warp

The 'rule' that applies with all of the above examples is to adopt a ‘less is more’ approach. Take the best of the decade, use it sparingly within neutral and modern spaces. Essentially, you need the retro piece to stand out, not blend in– the key is combining different looks to create a unique and stylish space. 

For help choosing your new bathroom, take a look at our buying guides. From eco-friendly bathrooms to bathrooms for first-time buyers and everything in between – we’ve got a buying guide for that!

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