Retro Wallpaper – 1920s To 1980s

Today’s post is all about retro wallpaper. But what is retro? What era can be considered retro? What’s the difference between retro and vintage?

The Oxford English dictionary defines retro as “characterized by imitation or revival of a style from the (relatively recent) past; (more generally) backward-looking, nostalgic, esp. affectedly so“. As for an era, nobody seems to be able to pinpoint that – it seems like it can mean anything from the 1900s.

Retro vs. vintage is also up for discussion. Merriam-Webster describes vintage as “a period in which something was made or was begun“. Some claim that for something to be vintage, it has to have been pre-owned whereas retro items do not. Others say vintage describes items from 1900 – 1950. Still others use the two terms interchangeably.

To me, the word retro evokes images of fun and funky (good funky) colorful, large-patterned items, usually from the 1960s and 1970s, but in order to cover our bases (and because it’s fun to see how the styles and designs changed), I’m including wallpapers from the 20s – 80s. Some are true vintage originals, others are reproductions.


In the 20s, interiors became lighter. Favorite colors included mauves, rich yellows, beige, grays, pale greens, and blues. White and off white were common choices for woodwork, and for wallpapers, which were very popular at the time, light and delicate floral designs in pale colors, as well as colorful geometric and figurative Art Deco-inspired patterns were in vogue. Here are some great examples:

1. “Vera” from Sandberg
2. “Tangerine Zenith” by Bradbury & Bradbury
3. “Storslingan” by Carl Malmsten (reproduction by Handtryckta Tapeter)
4. “Antinous” originally designed by Dagobert Peche for Wiener Werkstatte


In the 30s, the same color families were used, but people favored warmer, more muted earth tones. Both Art Deco and flower patterns continued to be popular, and it was during this decade that the first washable and fade-proof wallpapers made their appearance.

1. Art Deco floral on pink from Rosie’s Vintage Wallpaper
2. “Aeroplane” designed by Raymond McGrath (via Bradbury & Bradbury)
3. “Tvillingfunkis” (“twin functionalism) from Handtryckta Tapeter
4. “Deco” from Lim & Handtryck


The 40s saw a continuation of the muted colors and flower patterns, but more on the naturalistic side, as opposed to the more abstract Deco-type designs of earlier decades.

1. “Pauline” by Sandberg
2. Tapetorama (original by Kalmar Tapetfabrik)
3. “Elegant Hibiscus” vintage wallpaper from Vintage Home
4. “Gratulerar” from Handtryckta Tapeter


The 50s were the height of my favorite design style: mid-century modern. Clean lines, well-defined geometric patterns and muted colors (taupes, grays, blues, greens, and pale pastels) were fashionable in the beginning of the 50s, but stronger colors started gaining popularity towards the end of the decade. The term kitsch comes to mind, but oh, what glorious kitsch it is!

1. “Retro 1072” from Eco (via Wallstore)
2. “Airscrew” vintage wallpaper from Johnny-Tapete
3. Harlequin “Contour” from John Lewis
4.”Flygfoto” (“Aerial photo”) by Handtryckta Tapeter


Vivid colors were back in full force. No hue was too strong, no combination too wild. Mid-century modern design was in full swing. Plastic, disco-inspired mirrors and metallic, flower power, space age, as well as ethnic (Indian, Moroccan) design was hot. Favorite colors included black, white, gold, green, yellow, orange, red, purple bright pink. Op-art, pop art, paisley, tie-dyed, floral and psychedelic patterns were in vogue. Wood paneling was everywhere, but wallpaper continued to be popular as well. (For more bold color combinations, check out my Orange Wallpaper post).

1. “Streifen Orange” vintage wallpaper from Johnny-Tapete
2. Design by Jaakko Pietikäinen (available from Interior1900)
3. “Concord” originally designed for Lightbown & Aspinall (reproduction by Sanderson)
4. “Mellotron” by Bradbury & Bradbury


Mod was in, both bright and muted colors were in fashion, wood wall paneling continued to be popular, and ethnic influences were strong. White was a favorite furniture color, and sunny yellow, orange, brown, turquoise, purple, pink and avocado green were popular elsewhere in the home. Strong color combinations, such as pink and purple, yellow and orange, and black and white were used. Popular patterns included paisley, flowers, and geometric shapes.

1. Designer unknown, available from Interior1900
2. “Titania” by Wallpaper From The 70s
3. “Bubble Frog”, original vintage wallpaper from Johnny-Tapete
4. “Påfågel lila” reproduction by Handtryckta Tapeter


To me, the 80s are so recent I hesitate to call them retro… I think of shoulder pads, Dallas, Dynasty and, most of all, music when I hear 80s – Madonna, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Bananarama – perhaps because this was the decade when MTV first appeared. Decorating-wise, minimalism was out. Yuppies, glam and over-the-top was in. We decorated with white leather couches, plastic, flamingos, neon, disco glitter, mirror walls and smoky-colored glass tables. Unless you were into the other major style of the 80s – country cottage – pink and blue, flower patterns, and towards the end of the decade, shabby chic. Structural wallpaper and wallpaper borders were in.

1. Designer unknown, available from Interior1900
2. “Lollipop” by Handtryckta Tapeter
3. Designer unknown, available from Vintage Wallpapers
4. “Granatlilja” structural wallpaper by Duro

There you have it – 7 decades summed up in wallpaper. I definitely like the wall decor style of the 20s the best. Which one is your favorite?

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6 Responses to Retro Wallpaper – 1920s To 1980s

  1. […] designer whose works can be found in many museums (for more wallpaper from the 20s, check out my Retro Wallpaper […]

  2. […] that immediately brings Halloween to mind, but it was also popular in Art Deco (for more, see my Retro Wallpaper post). It’s a chic and retro color combo that works really well in the right home. I […]

  3. […] more vintage, check out my Retro wallpaper […]

  4. […] Soderstrom blogs about everything wall decor – from funky retro wallpaper to unusual wall lights – at […]

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