Throwback Month

“Inspiration But Also Escapism:” Why Retro Interiors Are Taking Over Instagram

published Apr 26, 2022
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It started when she was a little girl. Rose Duke, a.k.a @70sworship on Instagram, was first fascinated by ’70s-style clothes, and then moved on to the music of the era. Soon she gravitated toward its earth-toned color palettes, and from there, Duke loved everything about the decade’s interiors at large.

“Not like, kitsch ’70s, but high-art ’70s,” she says.

It helped that her grandmother’s house was a ’70s time capsule. “She never changed the wallpaper, and a lot of the furniture was original. It was built in the ’70s. And so that really got me into the design component,” she says.

But most importantly, her grandmother also had a treasure trove of design books that Duke inherited. Today, she scans, color-corrects, and shares their imagery with the world via Instagram alongside other ’70s titles found at flea markets, estate sales, eBay, and Etsy. These titles include Houses Architects Live In (Plumb, 1977), Interior Design and Decoration (Whiton, 1974), How to Make Your Windows Beautiful: Vol V (Kirsch, 1974) — and each have their own take on style.

“It’s fascinating that people love to see physical spaces in a digital world,” she says.

Duke is just one of many Instagrammers who post yesterday’s interiors in today’s social feed. For example, see @disco_art_deco for ’70s and ’80s Art Deco revival, @80smodern for Memphis-meets-“Full House” looks, @miss_spaceage for highly geometric Italian-inspired picks, @90s.decor.and.interiors for “cute, kitsch, cringe,” and @conversation_pits for, well, that feature specifically.

There’s clearly a fascination with consuming analog home decor digitally right now, and if these kinds of retro accounts are taking over your Instagram feed, you’re not alone. This phenomenon, it seems, has everything to do with discovery and nostalgia.

“Whether it’s the sleek 1960s mid-century furniture, the 1970s bold color schemes, the 1980s post-modernism, or the pastel-hued 1990s, aggregated Instagram accounts allow you to see the breadth of the various eras of interior design through hashtags such as #retroaesthetic, #retrohome, and #retrohomedecor,” Matheus Lima, an insights strategist at Instagram says, adding that #retrohome had a noteworthy increase in hashtag usage in 2020 and 2021.

Lima points to @themallbats, @the_80s_interior, @the_60s_interior, and @luxurydeptstore as additional examples. Some of these throwback accounts have followers in the tens and hundreds of thousands. They garner heart eyes emojis galore, wishes for time machines, and comments such as, “I think my aunt had this comforter.”

These Instagrammers scan (often literally) old books, magazines, Pinterest, Flickr, tumblr, and Instagram itself for retro interior images to share and repost, “taking this love for design books into the Instagram space,” Duke says. “It’s so editorial. It just makes sense.”

Jonathan Alexander, who runs @disco_art_deco, says that interior design has become “democratized with the internet.”

“A lot of this material is sitting in these books, not necessarily out in the online sphere,” he says. His account is “a way of preserving the images, creating awareness,” he says. “It’s been really cool seeing people getting excited about projects that happened 30, 40 years ago.”

The images — with their curvy seating, super graphics, pleated lampshades, wall-to-wall bookshelves, and more — are a reminder that nothing that’s trendy in 2022 is completely novel. Perhaps what these accounts do is remind us that most trends and design styles are cyclical.

Duke says when she’s selecting images for her grid, she’s considering a few things: the color of the image, whether there’s a cool fact about the designer, and whether the photo incorporates any current trends. The current trends of checkerboard print, Cesca chairs, and cow prints, for example, are in several of her old books.

“Does it speak to me in a way that translates to the now?” she asks. “I love being able to incorporate that so people can see, like, ‘Oh, I can pair the wood paneling in my outdated apartment with this trendy cow pattern, and this is how I can do it in a way that speaks to the retro aspects of the space while sort of bringing it into the present.”

Duke says the reason these retro accounts garner so many followers is due to a newfound interest in bespoke and vintage interiors among a younger generation. Although she has some followers who were alive in the 1970s, most of her followers were born in the decades since.

“For the spaces, clothes, and things that we build our identities around, it’s becoming more and more important to people that it feels like they’re unique and not just pulling from mass-produced pieces of furniture,” she says. “I think vintage stuff really allows people to do that because you’re not going to find another version of this, chances are, in the world.”

Posting interiors that speak to you online is, in some ways, decorating a space of your own, even if that space is digital. It’s as much about inspiration and uniqueness as it is about a desire to return to past trends. Maybe Duke herself says it best: “It’s inspiration, but also escapism through space and time.”

Anna Stapor of @conversation_pits agrees and adds that the accounts provide a new-again alternative to the harder, more minimalist aesthetic of today.

“My theory is that we’ve kind of gone through this design period where there’s been a lot of neutrals and really clean, stark lines — a lot of marble and stuff like that,” she says. “I think a lot of people are excited and inspired by interior designs of the past, where where we embraced really vibrant, emotional colors in our spaces and really warm and inviting materials and textures. I almost wonder if people are yearning to do that again.”

So, hypothetically, while a @roaring_2020s archival Instagram account [or insert whatever holographic, AI version of Instagram we’ll be using in the future here] might include an all-white kitchen with fancy marble, perhaps it could also look like the images above. Perhaps these retro choices will be commonplace for a @30sflirtyandthriving account, and perhaps we’ll someday be scrolling from our very own conversation pits.

This piece is part of Throwback Month, where we’re revisiting vintage styles, homes, and all kinds of groovy, retro home ideas. Boogie on over here to read more!