The Fifties was a key period in design. Madeleine Marsh sings the praises of the kitsch and the modern

The Fifties saw the birth of rock and roll, the rise of the teenager, the start of the space race, and the creation of a wealth of objects for a public hungry to consume. After the austerity of rationing, there was a huge demand for colour and extravagance.

Technologies developed during the Second World War revolutionised the home: fibre glass from the aircraft industry was transformed into colourful, wipe-clean chairs. Nylon, used for parachutes, made new forms in upholstery possible. Designers plundered the arts and sciences for inspiration: coffee tables were shaped like artists palettes; splayed metal legs on plastic bobble feet, were inspired by atomic imagery. Ads encouraged housewives to "Go Gay with Fablon" and fill their kitchens with bright surfaces and labour-saving appliances, while in the living-room the fireplace was replaced by the television set as the focal point.

Escalating prices and a shortage of good, available antiques from the more distant past has helped stimulate the interest in post-war decorative arts, and the Fifties is now recognised as one of the most influential design decades of this century. The finest pieces from the period are already being granted antique status by the major auction houses and Fifties plastic chairs are now sold alongside hand-crafted masterpieces from the 18th and 19th centuries. Furniture by Charles Eames and Arne Jacobsen, Venini Glass, fabrics by Lucienne Day, clothes by Dior and Balenciaga, and works by other designers of the period are sought after by collectors worldwide, and are attracting a new, younger clientele into the salerooms. In many instances prices have doubled in the past five years.

At the other end of the collecting scale, many Fifties favourites, from Homemaker plates to wire magazine racks, can still be picked up from flea markets and car boot sales. It is only comparatively recently that items such as Murano glass fish and Tretchikoff "green lady" pictures have become "amusing". In researching Miller's Collecting the 1950s, I encountered objects (and people) of every type. At the house of one enthusiast, I sat on a leopard skin bed, cuddled up to a hot water bottle in the shape of Jayne Mansfield, while its owner showed me her collection of Fifties fashion ranging from circle skirts covered with poodles, to a "bottom enhancer", a pair of foam padded knickers, designed to help 1950s ladies achieve the curves of Hollywood starlet. In the home of a very different aficionado, I sat on an austere, elegant convertible settee designed by furniture-maker Robin Day, in front of a table inset with tiles by Eduardo Paolozzi, drinking espresso from a cup decorated by the young Terence Conran. These interiors summoned up the two extremes of the Fifties - cheerful kitsch, and serious, modern design, both of which inspire equal passion among collectors.

My first encounter with the Fifties was a dressing-up box filled with my mother's cast-offs: billowing dresses decorated with red peppers and Parisian cafe scenes, net petticoats, boned bustiers and wickedly, vertiginous stilettos. These fashions encapsulate the appeal of period design: bold shapes, bright colours, brave patterns and above all, a desire for a new look and a sense of fun.

In Britain, the 1950s saw a dramatic move from austerity to affluence and a world, where as Harold Macmillan famously boasted: "You've never had it so good." For the ever growing band of those collecting the period, including myself, his words still ring joyfully true.

Alfies Antiques Market (13-25 Church Street, London NW8) is hosting a 1950s selling exhibition to coincide with the publication of Miller's `Collecting the 1950s' by Madeleine Marsh (pounds 15.99). The exhibition runs to 24 May; for further information call Alfies on 0171 723 6066. Other sources of 1950s items include: Atomic, 34b Heathcote Street, Nottingham (0115 941 5330); Flying Duck, 320-322 Creek Road, Greenwich SE10 (0181 858 1964); Ginnel Gallery, 18-22 Lloyd Street, Manchester (0161 833 9037); 20th Century Design, 274 Upper Street, London N1 (0171 288 1996).

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?