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Back to the Future: Recycling the Past through Retro-Design

Industrial Designers Society of America
National Education Conference
August 2003

According to the February issue of Metropolis , La-Z-Boy has “formally embraced the midcentury Modern aesthetic with the introduction of the Todd Oldham by La-Z-Boy Collection.” According to Larry Thomas, editor of Furniture Today , “they're definitely going after the under-40 crowd with Todd Oldham, maybe even the under-30 crowd, if that crowd has any money to spend on furniture.” Is this just another product launch aiming to cash in on the recent mid-century modern revival? Perhaps, but this one is ironic, as noted in the caption beneath an Alvar Aalto-inspired chair and ottoman: “The fifties (think Swanson TV dinners) meet the fifties (think Denmark) in Todd Oldham's midcentury Modern-influenced designs for La-Z-Boy.” Both the old (stuffy) image often associated with La-Z-Boy and the new (hip) image currently being developed share the same origin: “the fifties.” In order to capture younger buyers — and rejuvenate the La-Z-Boy brand — Oldham is looking not to the future, but to the past. Of course, La-Z-Boy is hardly the only manufacturer to realize the power of Retro-Design . From Eames knock-offs to DeLonghi toasters to the Retrofuturism of car designer J Mays, it looks like the future of design may be (design) history.


Industrial Designers Society of America

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