The ‘70s are Back: How This Era is Influencing Modern Design

The 1970s were known for a lot of things—bell bottoms, Star Wars, disco—but the decade was also a bold, expressive era that challenged traditional styles. While I do believe that some design choices should remain firmly in the past, I’m excited that the 1970s are making a comeback in the world of design.

You read that right: The ‘70s are infiltrating residential spaces and are making their way to commercial spaces, too.

Honoring Priorities

After spending the last few years bound to our homes, we began blurring the lines between where we work and where we live.

Offices don’t have to look so corporate. They can be warm, approachable and enticing. Just like the design of the ‘70s, which inherently has a relaxed yet sophisticated feel, allowing us to blend work and live environments in a refined and inviting way.

As a result, people who use commercial spaces are re-evaluating their priorities and desires of where they spend their time, particularly Millennials and Gen Z members of the workforce. They want workspaces that have a cool factor, a more comfortable, relaxed, warm and homey space than those traditional, sterile workspaces.

Trending Example: The Conversation Pit

Influenced by other social gathering sites—including the ancient Chinese kang (communal platform seating area) and the Spanish estrado (raised platform performance area)—the conversation pit was one of the most notable design trends to emerge from the 1970s. By centralizing the furniture layout, conversation pits became the focal point of the room. They could accommodate large groups, offer spatial efficiency, encourage a friendly spirit and provide a more intimate space to talk.

Today, conversation pits are the objects of allure and interest, reminiscent of an era when living space was arranged not around a flat-screen television, but rather focused on in-person communication. Some of the residential design “tidbits” we’re applying to the commercial side include building location, simple architectural moves, various types of gathering spaces, warm color schemes, intentional furniture layouts, moments of texture and pattern and, ultimately, the purpose of building confident connection via conversation. What’s that saying? “We are better when we are together.”

Key ‘70s Design Elements Making a Contemporary Comeback

  • Earthy Color Palettes: Rich, soothing earth tones were hallmarks of ‘70s design. Think terracotta reds, warm browns, mustard yellows and olive greens. By eschewing the grays and whites that have dominated commercial spaces in recent years, we can create a warm, inviting atmosphere that is reminiscent of nature.
  • Natural Materials and Textures: Use of earthy colors is a way to establish warmth in space. Natural textures are also coming back in a big way. Materials like rattan, shearling, velvet, and leather are becoming more popular in both furniture and décor; in general, we’re seeing texture prioritized over form, with simpler shapes covered in softer colored materials. In addition to adding textural interest, these materials are simply more comfortable and inviting.
  • Bold Patterns and Prints: Of course, we can’t talk about the ‘70s without mentioning bold, vibrant patterns. From wallpaper to rugs to upholstery, there’s intentional placement of the visually interesting—think geometric shapes and floral motifs. But don’t worry, these ‘70s-inspired prints don’t have to be overwhelming, rather understated and simple.
  • Curved Furniture and Soft Silhouettes: Angular, overly structured furniture is out—today, the focus is on a relaxed and social atmosphere. Rounded, low-slung sofas and armchairs flanked by homey coffee tables are cropping up in lounges, co-working spaces and huddle rooms across the country. The soft curves and rounded edges of these pieces evoke a sense of relaxation and warmth, contrasting with the sharp lines of modern design.

The Power of Nostalgia and Design

Why are people so drawn to the warmth and comfort of ‘70s design? Perhaps it’s because of our longing for the past. We remember times when our lives weren’t so complicated. Maybe we were listening to our favorite album on vinyl with our friends in the living room. Considering the state of our world and how hopeless things can seem, some people are using nostalgia as a coping mechanism.

While nostalgia does provide a sense of comfort and relief, remembering the power of design is also helpful. That nostalgia comes from those objects and spaces that were, then, thoughtfully designed to promote our relaxation and social desire. There is a reason our mind goes back to this era. And remember, for some of us, this era is new and cool and vintage.

There is room to use historic references and motifs as a springboard for the future. Every design comes from a series of thoughtful and educated decisions. We can’t make those decisions without the one thing these design moves are trying to nurture: our relationships. Our real-life human relationships are brought forth by conversation and connection, in-person. These relationships allow us to restore hope by creating shared visions. Visions that might encourage conversation, build trust and belonging. Visions that might celebrate the past while allowing us to embark on the future – together.