What is Old is New Again: The Rise of Nostalgia in Design

Visitors to the “TOMORROW—Design Stories of Our Future” exhibition by BLACK can “borrow” copies of the letterpress-printed anthology and other audio-visual materials in the Reading Area. Image courtesy of BLACK.
Referencing borrowing cards that came with books borrowed from the library, the “TOMORROW—Design Stories of Our Future” exhibition used borrowing cards for every visitor who has read the letterpress anthology. Image courtesy of BLACK.
The living and dining areas of an apartment on Leighton Road, featuring classic interior design details to match with the homeowner’s Asia-inspired collectibles. Image courtesy of Lusher Photography and nude.
Mixing a bold colour with traditional details for the wardrobe gives it a current appeal. Image courtesy of Lusher Photography and nude.
A baby room in a private residence on May Road featuring various furniture items by LALA CURIO. Image courtesy of LALA CURIO.
A private residence on Kadoorie Hill featuring various furniture and home décor items by LALA CURIO. Image courtesy of LALA CURIO
TOP
691
39
0
 
16
Jun
16
Jun
CoBo Social Market News Reports

Designers talk about their favourite design elements from decades past and how to incorporate them into a contemporary setting.

TEXT: Jacqueline Kot
IMAGES: Courtesy of BLACK, LALA CURIO and nude

 

Design—whether in fashion or furniture, toys or telephones—has a way of coming full circle. Cassette tapes and Sony Walkmans were ditched in favour of CDs, only to be crept back into design’s consciousness decades later as a nostalgic look into consumer products and design from the past. In celebration of Chinese New Year 2021, Gucci launched a capsule collection featuring Doraemon, the beloved Japanese character that had many of us glued to our television screens after school. Even White Rabbit candy, the iconic chewy candy with a milky flavour that has been around since the 1940s, became a source of inspiration for desserts that evoke the taste of childhood memories. In Hong Kong, Yung’s Bistro at K11 MUSEA offers a custard made from the candy in the shape of a rabbit, while Igloo Dessert Bar in Central serves up a White Rabbit candy-flavoured gelato.

“It is like a time machine that transports the audience back to a bygone era that they can now look back with fond memories,” muses Jackson Tan, Co-Founder and Creative Director of BLACK, a design firm based in Singapore. “For the younger ones who have not lived in that era, it is interesting to physically experience a different era in time. In a way, due to the current situation, it is comforting to ‘escape’ and indulge in reminiscing about the nostalgic past.”

 

Visitors to the “TOMORROW—Design Stories of Our Future” exhibition by BLACK can “borrow” copies of the letterpress-printed anthology and other audio-visual materials in the Reading Area. Image courtesy of BLACK.

 

Tan, in particular, has a soft spot for the ’80s aesthetic. “That was when I was in my teenage years. It was filled with bright colours, graphic patterns and geometric shapes. From the aesthetics of the Memphis Design movement to the street art of Keith Haring,” says Tan. “In the last few years, there’s a wave of revisiting and new expressions of ’80s design. From the Netflix series Stranger Things; reissuing of the Nintendo Famicom Mini; furniture, decor and graphics inspired by the Memphis Design movement; and fashion inspired by ’80s pop culture and street art. It’s interesting to re-look the decade from today’s lens.”

Tan and his team at BLACK showcased the nostalgic elements from libraries from back in the day, before technology took over, when they worked on an exhibition called “TOMORROW—Design Stories of Our Future” for a design festival in Singapore called SingaPlural in 2017.

 

Referencing borrowing cards that came with books borrowed from the library, the “TOMORROW—Design Stories of Our Future” exhibition used borrowing cards for every visitor who has read the letterpress anthology. Image courtesy of BLACK.

 

They designed a makeshift “library” that offered a book in the same name as the exhibition, a collection of stories and illustrations from 10 designers and 10 illustrators that speculate what everyday life in Singapore will be like in 2065. The décor was an intriguing mix of the old and the new—visitors can borrow the book as a slide to be viewed on the overhead projectors set up in the space, with nary a touch screen in sight as an alternative, while the staff used index cards and rubber stamps whenever a guest wanted to “borrow” a slide or a book, and there were vintage typewriters placed around the space. “It was a new and innovative way to express nostalgic design elements from libraries of the past,” says Tan.

When it comes to residential spaces, Natasha Usher, Founder of the Hong Kong-based interior design and architecture firm, nude, gets inspired by many of the features found in older buildings in Hong Kong, such as the unique metal folding shutters seen along antiquated shop fronts around the city that are now a rare sight. “Additionally, the classic wooden French window shutters from the past still provoke a timeless appeal and add charisma and warmth to homes,” she says.

 

The living and dining areas of an apartment on Leighton Road, featuring classic interior design details to match with the homeowner’s Asia-inspired collectibles. Image courtesy of Lusher Photography and nude.
Mixing a bold colour with traditional details for the wardrobe gives it a current appeal. Image courtesy of Lusher Photography and nude.

 

“I particularly like the traditional pressed metal tinned ceilings, which are very adaptable and can look trendy in bars and restaurants to this day,” adds Usher. “Another vintage feature are the small geometric mosaic tiles that you find in some older residences, which can be tweaked and modified to make it look more current. Classic ceiling fans in a modern space can also be very complementary, as well as providing a focal point that never goes out of fashion.”

“What also remains present are the retro 1920s and 1940s stylised art posters popular in advertising and media kits that I absolutely love, you can find it in old Coca-Cola ads that were popular for promoting family feel-good shots. They retain its appeal today and I see this stylisation in menu designs, graphics and artwork, especially in trendy restaurants,” says Usher. “I think the idealised suburban simple life that this stylisation evokes makes this nostalgic reference to the past very appealing.

Usher also attributes the comfort drawn from nostalgic design to the history and storytelling behind it, especially as so many elements of our daily lives now involve technology.

“The familiarity of the past makes it personally more relatable to people, which makes is easier to visually appreciate the design or piece,” says Usher.

Storytelling, and honouring the craftsmanship of a product, is something that is close to Laura Cheung’s heart, the Founder of home décor brand LALA CURIO. LALA CURIO specialises in reviving traditional craftmanship and designs with a contemporary twist.

 

A baby room in a private residence on May Road featuring various furniture items by LALA CURIO. Image courtesy of LALA CURIO.

 

“I grew up in Hong Kong during its colonial times and I can still remember the romance of the chinoiserie interiors and collections of bespoke furnishings at the home that I grew up in, which were all from my grandparents’ collections,” says Cheung. “The whole premise of LALA CURIO lives in this romantic nostalgia, reinvented with playful colourways and contemporary subjects.”

“I think nostalgic design is subject to a different interpretation for everyone. For me, because I grew up in a family that specialised in decorative arts, in imperial crafts such as cloisonné and Chinese ceramics, which were made in the taste for the West for export, so whenever I see chinoiserie objects, it brings back childhood memories.”

 

A private residence on Kadoorie Hill featuring various furniture and home décor items by LALA CURIO. Image courtesy of LALA CURIO

 

And as with anything chosen to make a visual impact, there is a fine line between a well curated collection of nostalgic design elements that all come together to enhance a space, and an overload of objects that ends up looking cheesy.

“A beautiful interior should reflect the owner’s personal taste, hobbies, likings, collections of their own over time. An interior decorator’s role is to create a palette where all elements can be curated and woven within the space seamlessly and harmoniously,” says Cheung.

For Tan, it is important that any element of nostalgia is approached with the criteria that it must fit within contemporary décor. And to have a good idea of the background of the chosen pieces or elements, instead of relying simply on the fact that it looks good.

“Research to have a better understanding of the design aesthetics of the past. Understand the cultural and social context of why it came to be popular and how it can be relevant to the audience now,” he says. “It is important to be inspired by the past but visually express it with contemporary sensibilities and considerations.”

 

 

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply