Retro interior design – Why interior designers choose vintage materials

retro interior design
retro interior design

By Lara Knight

Retro & Vintage props intensifying storytelling

Around the world nearly every product and every sale relies on some kind of photography. We are hit with thousands of visual stories every day.

When you work with photographers and stylists you realise how much effort goes into each image to hold your attention. The team has to combine concept, direction, props, location, lighting, talent and product and make sure everything merges so well the viewer doesn’t notice the effort behind the scenes.

Food styling is particularly challenging. Icecream melts and salads wilt under hot lights; hot food steams too much or congeals nastily as it cools. Stylists have some amazing tricks up their sleeve to make food look delicious and photograph well.

Great food stylists also have a keen eye for props. The same meal photographed on an oversized white restaurant plate and linen tablecloth will look completely different scooped into a rustic peasant bowl on a worn timber table. Props tell the story.

retro interior design
retro interior design

Retro Interior Design Prop Hire

Melbourne food stylist Kirsty Bryson is so obsessed with props she’s put her collection up for hire at her second business The Prop Dispensary. I’ve been following Kirsty for a while on social media and what I like about her work is nearly all of it uses vintage utensils, rustic surfaces and richly layered textures.

You may not choose to eat off flaking paint or tarnished silver in real life. But as a way of transporting the viewer to a tiny, garlicky bistro in Provence, or Grandma’s cinnamon-scented farmhouse kitchen, vintage props offer an endless array of possibilities.

Have a look through your favourite cookbooks and magazines. You’ll find stylists mix ethnic, rustic, antique and modern pieces to give depth and ‘flavour’ to the page.

All our personal experiences, from childhood memories to overseas travel, help us respond to two dimensional pictures. Effective styling builds layers that, consciously or unconsciously, spark recognition or emotion in the right audience. Unless you are marketing to children, everyone has a range of experiences and memories that respond to time-worn accessories.


Upcycled industrial crates and pallets for retro interior design

Recycled timber restaurant interior
Recycled timber interiors

Unconventional materials fuel creativity

The popularity of recycled timber furniture and fit outs is growing in Australia and you’ll find plenty of passionate timber suppliers and makers on our pages.

What stood out when I tripped over Viridian Wood (based in Oregon, USA) was the type of recycling they specialise in. Rather than concentrating on big beam timbers from demolition, Viridian started out tackling post-industrial shipping waste like crates and pallets.

In 2004, friends Pierce Henley and Joe Mitchoff noticed the huge volume of exotic timbers sent to landfill from their local port. They decided to do something about it and slowly developed efficient ways to repurpose and remarket scrap timber.

Black-stained crates, used to transport steel railway tracks, sold well as rustic cladding. Mixed hardwoods machined to striking multi-colour panelling and flooring. Over time the steady supply of by-product shipping timbers from Europe, Russia, Asia and the US allowed Viridian to develop versatile product lines from one locally-sourced stockpile.

Take a look at the Viridian portfolio projects above. All recycled timber fit outs. Vastly different moods. Designers have used the unique surfaces and sizes of Viridian products as an atmospheric anchor, and finished each design with simple accessories.

Recycled timber feature wall
Recycled timber cafe interior

Recycled materials can be labour-intensive for suppliers and challenging for builders. But, as a starting point for high-impact designs they tick a lot of boxes. Creatives love to experiment with unusual ingredients. And consumers respond to innovative spaces.

The trick is not to use aged goods in exactly the same way as new. Sensitive designers respond to the imperfections and oddities of recycled materials and look for fresh ways to display them.

As consumers tire of excessive waste and mass-produced sameness, we seek more integrity in our purchases. Upcycling and reuse is a fast growing trend with resourceful leaders. It will be interesting to see how the combination alters the world.

Styling photos: 1 Bec Hudson; 2 & 3 James Morgan; 4 Bec Hudson for Yarra Valley Cheese; 5 & 6 Bec Hudson. Styling by Kirsty Bryson. 

Interior photos: Reproduced with permission from the Viridian Wood portfolio.

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