Over the past couple of years, vintage design and style has strongly picked up in mainstream interior design (as usual, it follows the movement of fashion towards vintage styles and trends). In the right house a retro or vintage style can look fantastic; in other homes, less so. I think a lot of it has to do with the balance between vintage cool and recreating the flavours of an era, to looking like your grandmother's house (nothing against grandmothers of course).
You also want to avoid your home becoming a hot mess of from 10 different eras. The 50s and the 20s were gorgeous, innovative and stylish eras, but they should not strongly mix in the same area. Before you contemplate decorating in this style, consider researching the different style movements of the 20th century, and find what style might suit you and your home best.
If money isn't a huge factor, I'd also steer clear of mainstream homewares specifically marketed as "vintage style". More often than not, these are low quality pieces with no true commitment to a specific style or era, and are just following the latest trend. Instead, pick longer lasting and high quality true vintage pieces - there's a growing market in the area of restored vintage furniture, especially from the 50s onwards. If you live in Queensland, check out Kat Creasey's work on My Little Rockabilly - she has expanded her business into custom vintage furniture restoration and the results are beautiful;
One aspect of vintage interiors that can get out of hand is the amount of kitsch to use. Now I love kitsch and kitschy items - they can really add a more playful level to your home - but you only need a few of these items to get the intended effect. If you're doing a classic 50s style bedroom, one leopard print item (like an ottoman) is really all you need to break up the style. I've always loved the idea that you need one "trashy" or cheap item in every room to give the design a bit of tension. It's a great concept and will eliminate the stodgy or sterile element. It will also stop your home looking too much like your grandmothers home, or a display home.
While I strongly encourage more in depth research, here's a quick run down of the eras and their styles
1900 - 1914: The Edwardian era. This era was dominated by Art Nouveau, so look into luxurious interiors; potted palms, bamboo and wicker furniture, light and airy spaces and pastels. Think Titanic or Downton Abbey.
1918 - 1929: The Roaring 20s. The Jazz age was a bastion of change and modernity with the introduction of Art Deco and Bauhaus designs. Black contrasts, hardwood flooring, strong colours, Egyptian motif wallpaper, and simple furniture. Watch Chicago, Midnight in Paris, The House of Eliot or Miss Fisher's murder mysteries for some inspiration.
1930 - 1939: The depression era. Though marked with economic downturn, design continued to flourish and grow towards modernism, with influences from art movements such as Neoclassicism, Futurism, Cubism, Modernism and Constructivism. Sleek style, modern lines, minimalism, exotic upholstery, muted shades of green and mustard. Take a look at Cinderella Man and The Artist.
1945 - 1959: The mid-century modern. The late 40s and 50s were defined by nature as post-war eras, and with this there was a strong move towards sentimentality and modern designs (and there's two very different ends of the spectrum; conservative suburban 50s design and rockabilly trends). Think flowery wallpaper, formica furniture, pink kitchens, leopard print, record players, and cadillacs. Take some influences from Revolutionary Road, Cry Baby, or American Graffiti.
1960 - 1979: Flower Power and Revolution. These decades took strong influences from the revolutions in society, music and fashion; middle class white culture began to explore Indian and Eastern designs. Psychedelic wallpaper, saffron and pea green upholstery, space age designs, Andy Warhol prints and plastic. Look to The Brady Bunch, Hair and Goldfinger.
In the end, find an era that suits you. You can employ the smallest of elements from it, like a distinctice couch or piece of art, to a full-blown reproduction home. If anything, it'll guarantee individuality and a wow factor.
And make sure to check Complete Home's interior design section and furniture sections for latest ideas and providers of gorgeous interiors.
PS. Check out some sweet Vintage styling on Pinterest. It's a vintage haven there!