[Weekender] Retro is back, again

By Park Ju-young

Retro-inspired interior design is booming among hipsters in Korea

  • Published : Jun 15, 2018 - 15:26
  • Updated : Jun 17, 2018 - 17:44

After years of interior design trends dominated by white walls and industrial features, a more homely retro style is emerging as a new interior style in Korea.

Retro-themed cafes and restaurants are springing up in Seoul’s stylish neighborhoods, including Ikseon-dong, Mangwon-dong and Seongsu-dong. As the retro-themed shops become known as so-called “Instagram-worthy” spots, customers flock to the areas to take pictures and feel the trendy atmosphere.

The interior of coffee shop Jahn (Park Ju-young / The Korea Herald)
Jahn is one of such popular vintage cafes among Korean Instagram users. Located in the middle of Eulji-ro’s old buildings, cafe Jahn welcomes guests with a sense of secrecy. Only a tiny plastic signboard indicates that there’s a cafe upstairs, but the place is always packed with young customers who come to enjoy its retro mood.

“I have been collecting vintage items for more than 25 years,” said Louis Park, the cafe’s owner said in an interview with The Korea Herald. “I blended my taste into this space while I designed the cafe’s interior.”

The photographer-turned-entrepreneur added the retro mood to every nook and cranny of the store. Each wall is plastered in a different bold pattern, while shabby chairs and wooden furniture create a vintage atmosphere. The terrazzo floor of the 50-year-old building is also preserved as it was.

“I felt like I was visiting my grandmother’s house at first, but each detail of the interior looks stylish and chic. I can feel the owner’s preference for the retro mood,” said Kang Min-kyung, a customer of Jahn. 

The interior of coffee shop Jahn (Park Ju-young / The Korea Herald)

Retro-themed artworks and interior designs were preferred by a small group of designers in the past, but the style has become a leading fad among local hipsters in recent years, according to an interior expert.

“The release of the movie ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ sparked the retro boom in Korea I think,” Kim Jae-woong, a visual artist and interior designer of a studio named Rawpie, told The Korea Herald.

The movie is known for the director Wes Anderson‘s distinctive visual style, which highlights pastel-hued colors and retro furniture. 

The interior of coffee shop Jahn (Park Ju-young / The Korea Herald)

In terms of construction, Kim said there are specific materials used in retro interior designs. “The retro-themed interior design features the bold use of colors. Materials such as acrylic glass and patterned fabrics are often used for creating a retro atmosphere,” Kim said.

On the sidelines of retro style’s surging popularity, vintage items are also favored by interior decorators. 

“Small vintage lightings made with brass and wood are much sought after by the collectors these days,” Huh Geum-min, an owner of a vintage item shop Weekday, told The Korea Herald.

Huh’s store is equipped with more than 200 vintage items. Many of the products are produced between the 1950s and 1980s, especially in Europe and North America. The shop operator collects the goods via online auctions and antique shopping websites. Huh also regularly visits secondhand shops and markets in Finland, Netherland and Denmark to buy the items.

Small vintage lightings are the most popular items in Weekday (Weekday)

Her main customers are home decorators in their 30s, but many cafes or restaurant owners frequent the store these days.

“The business owners tend to focus on decorating spaces, as many young customers prefer visually appealing eateries for their Instagram photos. Vintage items are helpful to infuse a distinctive mood on the places,” Huh said. 

A large proportion of the sales are done via direct messages of the store’s official Instagram account, where Huh updates the new products on a regular basis. 

Among the retro items, vintage cups are all the rage now in Korea. The cups decorated with logos from the 80s might look kitsch and crude at first glance, but the colorful prints have captivated the vintage collectors’ hearts.

When searched “Vintage Cup” hashtag on Instagram, more than 36,000 posts pop up with the pictures of users’ collections. The prices vary depending on its uniqueness, but the expensive one, such as 1988 Seoul Olympics’ limited edition, costs between 40,000 won ($37) and 50,000 won per each cup.

“I love the prints on cups as they remind me a sense of nostalgia of my childhood,” said Lee Hyun-min, who has collected over 40 vintage glass cups since early 2018. 

In Jahn, customers can select their favorite cups before making an order (Park Ju-young / The Korea Herald)

In Jahn, customers can select their favorite cups before making an order (Park Ju-young / The Korea Herald)

It’s easy to find retro-inspired shops and cafes these days in Korea, but the trend is expected to grow further, according to the visual artist Kim Jae-woong. “It’s a growing fad now in the local design scene, so I expect people could see more of retro-themed places in the future,” Kim said.

By Park Ju-young (