Oh! Goody for Googie!

Retro, vintage, mid-century modern…today we often hear these rather ambiguous terms bandied around to describe almost any style of design that has even the merest whiff of the 1950’s… but in some minds these terms conjure very specific thoughts of an architectural and interior design style that originated in mid-century America and was most notably seen in the diners, drive-ins, and the gas stations of the era. Yet, few remember the name that was once put to put this very familiar and iconic style.


“Googie” or “Doo Wop” architecture has always been a somewhat controversial but much loved aspect of suburban Americana. This odd name was coined after the popular “Googie’s Coffee Shop” located on Los Angele’s ever famous, Sunset Strip. Googies was designed in 1949 and was one of the principle businesses that was responsible to putting this one and a quarter mile Hollywood boulevard on the map. It was popular hang out spot for likes of James Dean who was photographed there bringing the world’s attention to the little known coffee shop. Natalie Wood, Lee Marvin and Steve McQueen were also regular customers ‘back in the day’.


The architect behind the design of Googies Coffee Shop was interestingly John Edward Lautner, once an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect. Wright was known for his organic, ‘bringing-the-outside in’ nature based architecture, but Lautner, conscious not be classified as “Wright influenced,” developed designs that were anything but organic! Although historians claim that Lautner was not the first architect to conceive of this ‘new’ style, it was certainly the Googie Coffee Shop that brought it to the forefront.


This exciting futurist design style took hold in America bringing with it a sense of optimism and progress as the world propelled itself away from the war years and into the space age. Inspired by the hot-rod car culture, the rise of jets, international travel and prospects of the atomic age, Googie featured a bold use of neon, steel, glass and often rock and it balanced geometric shapes with sweeping curves.

There was a strong focus on the element of motion. Everything had fins! In 1952 when describing the uniqueness of the  Googie Coffee Shop, Douglas Haskell wrote. “…but suddenly it breaks for the sky. The bright red roof of cellular steel decking tilts upward as if swung on a hinge, and the whole building goes up with it like a rocket ramp.”


With its beginnings rooted in the Streamline Moderne architecture of the 1930s, Googie Style was influenced by, and very much took on board the ‘new’ air, sea, ground, and space travel and often depicted dynamic design elements such as boomerangs, flying saucers, parabolas and the iconic starbursts. The buildings took on a gravity defying concept, which made them appear to be ‘hanging from the sky’… and similar aesthetics rampaged throughout the interiors of these fantastic, futuristic creations… all the while proclaiming an exciting if somewhat chaotic hope for the future.


Things did not stay hopeful though after the space race. Growing questions about the ecological impacts of nuclear energy hampered peoples perception of ‘progress’ and with this Googie very quickly fell out of style. It became ignored by architects and designers, who deemed it kitschy, out of touch and too flashy. The whole movement was quickly shelved and many of the Googie structures were replaced in the 1970s. They were seen as culturally insignificant. Sadly the original Googie Coffee Shop was also demolished in1989 but its influence has lived on.


Many have recognized that Googie was a silent staple of the mid-century aesthetic and architecture… a style that has made many comebacks over the years, so-much-so that designers now deem mid-century styled pieces as ‘classic’.  Today we are seeing another revival of this look, which although nearly seventy years old now still retains an irresistible and vibrant ‘modernness’. We are once again seeing starburst ceiling lights, wall mirrors and clocks and space age floor lamps. Vintage style teak furniture is very in vogue now, as are the  bright and cheery colours of the era…in particular orange, aqua, yellow and lime green.

There is a lot of interest in vintage inspired patterns on throws, scatter cushions, accent chairs, wall papers and curtains. Many of these designs are available today but you could also compliment your ’new’ finds with authentic ‘used’ finds from auction websites, online market places or flea-markets.  Some pieces may need a little elbow grease but with a good wood polish or even some paint or stain, you can turn a classic piece destined for the tip, into the perfect mid-century treasure that your friends and family go “Googie” over!


At Peter Green Furnishers we have a huge affection for the Googie style. After all, our business came into being during the movement’s hey-day and some of the very first pieces of furniture that my father sold in his small shop in Eastliegh had their roots very much based in this fabulous style. And like an old friend it has come back again today and we love it as much as our customers do! It has not lost its glamour, its charm or its energy and still boasts of a fantastic future. It is truly inspirational. Come see for yourself, because amongst the ‘Great British Brands’ that we are known for, you will find the starbursts, the parabolas, the bright colours, the vintage inspired designs, the chromes and yes, the teak of yesteryear.


Forever modern Googie is back in town!

Oh! Goody for Googie!

8th June 2021

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