The future of retro design: Q&A with Tom Dyckhoff

DFS join forces with architectural historian Tom Dyckhoff, to create an ahead-of-the-trend living room with a touch of nostalgia

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Architectural historian and broadcaster Tom Dyckhoff takes a look at the roomset, designed by DFS in response to his brief. DFS Quartz sofa in Lime Green, £998

To inspire the styling of a roomset based on the most influential decades in British history and modern interior design, furniture retailers DFS asked architectural historian and broadcaster Tom Dyckhoff to develop a design brief. Weaving together influences from the late 1950s and the early 1970s – Tom and the DFS team, led by designer Scott Coggan, have created a stylish living room with some surprising elements.

Bringing together DFS furniture and stylist’s props, the scheme is a fusion of futurism and nostalgia, with ‘boldness, opulence, futuristic and graphic’ being the designer’s key words.


Did you enjoy seeing the room being created from your brief?

‘Yes, it’s great to see the room come together, it’s been a really interesting process. I came up with a brief — I’m not a stylist but have worked for the past 20 years within design, and as a historian, I’m very interested in why things are as they are and why trends are as they are. That’s what’s fascinating to me.’

Do you think we always look to the past when designing our homes?

‘I always say that there’s an element of nostalgia involved whenever we’re looking to create a home, because we’re so influenced by the childhood homes we first experience. When we start to nest and build a home, we’re always trying to create that place of comfort and refuge, and that’s becoming increasingly important nowadays, with our work lives invading our homes through technology and media. So that nostalgia is almost innate.’

The room gives a nod to 1950s and 1970s design, with a futuristic feel too, what are the influences behind it?

‘Since 2008 we’ve had this return to an even more ‘retro’ nostalgia, we’re back to a sort of 1930s prohibition period now — all exposed light bulbs and industrial style, it’s a design trend that’s everywhere at the moment.

‘What we’re seeing right now I think, is that trends are so connected to wider changes in the economy. When we are in recession, or feeling the pinch, we hunker down and look to the past for comfort. Gradually, we’re beginning to see a kind of optimism in the economy again, and also an optimism and boldness in design — we’re daring to look to the future. Which is why I picked the late 1950s and the early 1970s as inspiration — these too were times of the first stirrings of optimism after a period of austerity.

‘Midcentury is the trend that doesn’t die! We still like its modernity, and its clean lines. But it’s not the ‘austerity era’ of the 1950s that is influencing design today, but the optimistic second half of the decade: when Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said we had ‘never had it so good’. Rationing was over, the economy was lifting, and it was the start of the space race. Our homes started to change too, as we saw the arrival of mass-produced design products from America become widely available, and you begin to get the influence of people like Charles and Ray Eames come into Britain. It was a time of optimism — this is the 1950s that’s futuristic and bold.’

Which design decade inspires you personally?

‘The early 1970s influences me, because it’s the home that my parents created, and of my childhood. I remember the jazzy wallpaper that they had on the walls, and the colours — the mossy greens and mustards.

‘Favourites for me in this decade are the post-modern Italian designers Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsass, who were immensely influential and daring in the design of consumer products in the 1970s.’

Do you have any tips on recreating the look of this room?

‘Yes — buy the box set of Mad Men! It spans the decades of the 1950s to the 1970s, and in it you can see that transition from the late 1950s opulence, through the uncertainties of the 1960s, and into the 1970s. And of course, every single scene, every single set in Mad Men is beautifully designed with incredible art direction. It’s been so influential over the last few years — it’s one of the key influencers on trends.’

Vintage pieces from these decades have already stood the test of time — are they good buys?

‘All that Midcentury stuff has very often reached a price that most of us can’t afford as they’ve risen and risen. I think the 1970’s stuff is beginning to see that too — if you go round vintage and retro fairs, you’ll see it.

‘It’s about looking for where the cutting edge of retro interest is — we’re always most embarrassed by the immediate past. We want to move on from it as it’s no longer desirable, and yet, those are often the things that are worth hanging on to because they’re going to become fashionable again. Before you throw anything away, ask yourself — do you love it? Why do you love it? If you’re confident enough to know what the qualities are that you really love, be it the colour, or shape — don’t be afraid to keep hold of it.

‘Be confident in why you like what you like. What’s less important is treating your home like a fashion show and buying stuff you are going to throw out. Be confident in your tastes and buy for the long term.’