American Style Through the Decades: The Sixties

updated Apr 14, 2019
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Look in practically any room today, and you’ll find some element that has its design origin ties to that high era of style, smoking and culture known as the Sixties. Sure TV’s “Mad Men” has certainly had its impact on the recent style resurgence in today’s interiors, but folks were going mad for 1960s style even before Don Draper started sipping whiskey at 10am in the morning. We delve into this decade to give you some of the reasons it became so popular, some of its characteristics and why we as society still love the look, over 50 years later.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The looks! The music! The clothes! To say the Sixties were an exciting time in American style history is an understatement. Though it can be said for every decade of our past, it’s somehow truer of the Sixties: America was changing. New ideas were flourishing. Rebellious thoughts and wild trends were making their way to the mainstream. Culture was rich and varied and many issues in sexism and racism were coming to the forefront to be debated and addressed. The Cold War was going on; tensions were high and a stream of anxiety flowed through everyone’s seemingly cool exterior. Conflicts like the Vietnam War made for tensions between differing political sides.

It was also a truly exciting time for technology and science. The Space Race sparked the imagination of millions as they all watched as man walked on the moon. Tons of progress was made in electronics, with new technology appearing nearly every year. There were huge leaps in manufacturing processes and you started seeing furniture made out of molded plastic and turned into pretty far out organic shapes.

This was also a jet-setting era of luxury, flamboyance and excess. Perhaps in contrast to previous decades, where the economy necessitated that we be a little bit more understated with our home lives, you saw interiors in the Sixties that were not only on the cutting edge of style, but ones that were highly personalized. People spent a lot of money on their homes because it was very much a statement of not just your wealth and success, but who you were. Perhaps most of all, there was a sense of fun. People loved to entertain, and fun colors, fun patterns, experimentation with new technologies, new ideas, and new furniture layouts reigned supreme. The Sixties were swingin’ and so were the interiors.

Things we love about 1960s design that we love seeing again:

    • Bold color palettes, with lots of neons.
    Brightly colored, textured rugs and rugs made in India and Morocco.
    • Pink plus red
    • Jaw-dropping patterns like Tie-dye, psychedelic, paisley and floral fabrics and ethnic prints
    • Graphic pops, like lots of black and white contrasts
    • Sleek designs from folks you care about
    • Scandinavian-inspired vintage wood pieces or handmade, modern-inspired today pieces
    • Wallpaper
    Wood-paneled walls done right
    Interesting accessories
    Flat pack furniture, “S”-shaped or pod-shaped furniture or furniture made of molded plastic
    • Open-shelving room dividers
    • Pop Art!
    • Geometric shapes
    • Lucite and colored plastics used for furniture and home accessories.
    • A clean, open look

Décor elements from the Sixties we could do without:

    • Shag carpeting
    • Wood-paneled walls done wrong
    • Shag carpeting
    • TV trays
    • TV being the center focal point of the living room
    • Design elements like Siamese cats, mushrooms, roosters, daisies
    • Shag carpeting
    • Lava lamps
    • Beaded curtains

(Just a few of the) folks who had a big impact on the look of 1960s interiors:

    • David Hicks
    • Verner Panton
    • Achille Castiglioni
    • Tapio Wirkkala
    • Marimekko
    • Arne Jacobsen
    • Pierre Paulin
    • Alessi
    • Charles and ray Eames
    • Herman miller
    • Warren platner
    • Eero Saarinen
    • Hans Wegner
    • Milo Baughman

Inspiration from Apartment Therapy posts:
The Drapers’ New Living Room Decor
ReadyMade’s Andrew Wagner Analyzes Mad Men’s Decor
Sex and the Sixties: Verner Panton’s Pop Fantasia
Modern Design Auction Preview: The Sixties
Bodum Brings Back Sixties-Style Cone BBQ… and More
Tenbosch House: 60s Scandinavian Style in Brussels
Art & Design: 1960’s Japanese Illustration
Set decor Inspiration: Mad Men

Because this is arguably one of the most beloved eras of interior and furniture design, many folks tend to define its style in many different ways. The ideas and people mentioned in this post are but one tiny little part of the look and style of the Sixties. We’d love to know what defines that decade for you. What colors, patterns and textures remind you of that era? What interior designers and furniture designers do you look to from inspiration? What artists do you covet for your walls? How do you interpret this decade’s great look for your own home? Please let us know!

Images: 1 David Hicks’ Archive via Elle Decor; 2, top half of 12, 13,14,15: David Hicks’ archives; 3: Retro; 5,11 House Beautiful; 4, bottom half of 12: AMC; 6: Hive Modern via Elle Decor; 7: Eames Lounge Chair; 8: Herman Miller Eames® Storage Unit – 2×2 at; 10: Verner Panton Panton Chair from, 16: Eero Saarinen from; 17: Eames® Molded Plywood Dining Chair from; 9: Achille Castiglioni Arco Lamp and Achille Castiglioni Splügen Brau Pendant Lights from 1stdibs; 18: Brass 24 Arm “Sputnik” Chandelier from 1stdibs; 19: Large ‘Pollo’ Porcelain Vase by Tapio Wirkkala, Free Form Glass Vases by Tapio Wirkkala and Leaf Tray by Tapio Wirkkala from 1stdibs