It’s 2016: Let’s All Decorate Like It’s 1979!

::SPOILER WARNING: If you have not watched the pilot of This Is Us yet, and you plan to do so, stop reading now and go to your nearest Hulu account or On Demand platform. We’ll still be here when you get back. ::

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 Did anyone else watch the This Is Us pilot with no idea of the twist — or that there even would be a twist in the first place? It’s a show about different people who were born on the same day and are turning 36 years old during the pilot. The conceit: the people are twins Kevin and Kate, their brother Randall who was adopted after Kevin and Kate’s triplet brother was stillborn, and the siblings’ father Jack. You watch the whole pilot thinking the characters are all contemporaries until the camera pulls back and you realized that Jack and Rebecca’s story is taking place in 1979, and he is the father of Kevin, Kate and Randall. You wouldn’t think that it would work, but it does.

The reason? Hipsters. Jack and Rebecca’s story takes place in their new home and in a hospital maternity ward. Anyone who’s been to visit a new baby recently knows that hospital decor is frozen sometime around 1972. As for the home, if you follow decorating websites and magazines, you will recognize that the hottest trend for hip 20- and 30-something professionals is to decorate like they’re in Pittsburgh in 1979. There’s stark white mixed with dark wood, orangey and earthy accents, and a whole lot of DIY-looking crafts. Can you blame me for not realizing that Jack and Rebecca’s story took place 37 years ago?

For a little context, my parents got married in 1975 and their first child was born in 1978. Like most couples, they acquired a lot of their decor in the first years of their marriage. I’m child number 4, born in 1986. The burnt orange carpeting, dark plaid sofa and geese in flight that my mom was carting off to Goodwill in the ’90s were all the same features you’d see in Jack and Rebecca’s home. They’re also the same features you’d see on Apartment Therapy and Dwell today – so maybe my parents should have suffered through 20 years of being unfashionable and waited for it to all come back around again.

Usually we time travel during our Let’s All Decorate posts, exploring trends like geese in bonnets or sponge-painting. This time we’re doing something a little different: it’s 2016 and we’re decorating a hipster haven … in the spirit of the late ’70s, the most hipster era of them all.

Macrame

Then: The hippie DIY craze was going strong and people were looking for a fresh way, other than paintings and photographs, to add some interest and texture to their walls.

Now: Literally just replace hippie with hipster. There are ‘wall hangings’ that are basically macrame everywhere from West Elm to Target to Etsy.


 Big Graphic Wallpaper

Then: The psychadelic late ’60s led into a more peace-and-love floral look in the ’70s, and the result was giant, bold patterns on walls.

Now: Although big, loud patterns are definitely in vogue – usually you’d call them “statement” now – they’re often paired with an otherwise calm color scheme so they really “pop.”


Plush Rugs

Then: The first big household project I remember, c. 1990, was my mom ripping out the orange shag wall-to-wall carpeting that basically sold my childhood home for my parents when they were 20-something househunters in 1979 (to reveal gleaming 1920s hardwoods, naturally).

Now: After years of low-pile, berber-style carpet, things have taken a turn. But don’t expect to see ’70s-style fitted carpets – now it’s more like a funky, comfy rug tossed across bare wood floors.


Dark Wood Cabinets

Then: If you’ve bought or renovated a 1960s – early 1980s house, there’s an excellent chance you’ve had to contend with the dull, dark-finish wood that ensconced cabinets during that time.

Now: After a late 80s through early 2000s flirtation with light oak and pine, darker woods are back. Unlike the ’70s, a glossier finish is in style.


Natural Elements

Then: We may associate the hippies with the late ’60s in popular culture, but a flip through a family photo album will tell you that the love for mother earth extended into the decorating styles of the ’70s and early ’80s. Natural stone, water features and big houseplants were especially groovy (NB: I’m told that hardly anyone actually said ‘groovy.’

Now: Look at any bespoke house in Dwell or Houzz and you’ll see that letting the outside in is a modern priority, too. Skylights and local stone are all things homeowners are wishing they hadn’t ripped out in the 90s.


Afghans

Then: The DIY craze hit the blanket industry hard and granny squares were too cool.

Now: They better be cool again because this is my living room (see sofa).

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Upcycling

Then: Yep, this started as a ’70s fad. The economy wasn’t doing so hot, and homeowners were getting creative. Popular projects included turning things into lamps, incorporating old whiskey barrels and wagon wheels into outdoor decorating, and creating planters out of EVERYTHING.

Now: Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s just homeowners following the adages to “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” and “reduce, reuse, recycle” – either way, there are thousands of tutorials out there to create a garden bench from an old crib, a table from a suitcase or a bedside table from a TV case. Again, I HOPE this is cool, because this is my bed with a barn door from the 1800s as a headboard:

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Color

Then: I think the 1970s are unfairly maligned as a decade with no taste. Sure, things got garish for a while, but after the sleek midcentury modernism and colonial revivals of the past decades, it’s nice that decorators were playing and having fun. Nowhere was that more evident in the uses of color. Lots of it. On things like appliances, even.

Now: We circled back to beige and taupe for a while, but unless you’re staging your house to sell it’s actually cool to have lots of bright color again. (Or… I hope so, because you saw those pictures of my house.)

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It’s 1975: Let’s All Decorate Our Porches and Patios!

Welcome back to Let’s All Decorate, a series examining the design trends and tribulations of years past. We’ve examined everything from 90s country geese to the early-DIY era sponge painting craze to your grandma’s house (yes, yours), but today we’re going to take it outside. Memorial Day is in the books and summer 2016 is unofficially here. For a lot of us that means planting our gardens, cleaning off the outdoor furniture and hanging hammocks. In the 1970s it meant all of that too, but everything was just a little bit uglier.

I don’t know why, but the 1970s just scream summer with me. Maybe it was my childhood obsession with Now and Then, or maybe it’s the bold, loud prints and colors of the era. Whatever it is, I can just see 1970s homeowners wearing polyester outfits, trying to gussy up their decks and patios before their swinging cocktail party. Plus, a lot of the 70s styles lived on in my relatives’ houses throughout my very 90s childhood, so all of this looks more than a little familiar.

Are you ready? Queue up your favorite 8-track, slip on your finest caftan, and start seeing the world through Harvest Gold-colored glasses. It’s 1975, let’s all decorate our porches and patios!

Pick A Color Scheme And Go With It. Really, Really Go With It.

Do you like yellow? Orange? Pea green? Throw it on everything! Those are your only color options, sorry!

My fav is the Big Bird pelt on the floor.

 

On one hand that’s a kind of cute, Liberty print-looking fabric. On the other hand, it is on everything up to and including the walls. BTW the woman looks like she’s posing for a picture, but the man is just looking at her.

 

Baby diarrhea. That’s the color of the background. Baby. Diarrhea.

April Showers Bring Macrame Flowers?

If you lived through the 70s, you probably had a cousin or sister-in-law make you one of these for Christmas. If you lived through the 80s or 90s, it was probably still in your parents’ house.

Were you born between 1972 and 1979? You may have been conceived on this macrame monster, CONGRATS.

Crimson Crystal Beads To Beckon

It is almost like instead of design books, 1970s homeowners were going off of the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning. I love her but it’s true.

Make Yourself Comfortable. If At All Possible.

The good thing is that by the 1970s, outdoor-friendly materials had come a long way! The bad thing is they were still plastic-y and uncomfortable. You’d probably stock up a few of these bad boys:

If you were born before 1990, you probably put a foot through one of these at some point.

 

And who could forget your skin sticking to these strips of woven plastic?

 

Then there were these not-at-all-soft, rain-resistant cushions.

Invite All Your 70s Friends Over!

You don’t decorate a porch or patio for yourself alone. Time to throw a bash for all your 70s friends!

They Were Astronauts: Mad Men, Time Travelers

In season 4 of Mad Men, school-marmish secretary Ida Blankenship died in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Bert Cooper remarked that Miss Blankenship wasn’t just a fusty old lady:

She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut.

Ida was not even 70 years old, but her lifetime stretched from an era of horse-drawn transportation to one of live television broadcasts and international flights.

If Mad Men characters were real people, most of them would be much older than Ida Blankenship. Don Draper is now roughly 90 years old – give or take a few, because, you know, Dick Whitman and everything. Joan is 84, and Peggy is about to turn 75. At 61, even little Sally Draper is getting AARP mailers and gearing up for retirement.

That’s right: Sally Draper is only a few years younger than Miss Blankenship.

The magic of old-fashioned style: Peggy actually looks younger in 1970 than she did in 1960.

The Mad Men crew witnessed as much change in the second half of the 20th century as Miss Blankenship did in the first. Contrast the first scene between Peggy and Joan with the last. In 1960 Joan told Peggy that the way to be indispensable at work was knowing what kind of liquor to stock for your boss. Working as collaborators was out of the question. By 1970 (spoiler!), Joan proposes that she and Peggy become partners in a production company. In 1960, Joan told Peggy to “always be a supplicant;” in 1970, they’re both bosses.

During the first seasons, Mad Men’s costuming reflected early ’60s style — which, of course, owed a lot to the straight-laced 1950s. Men wore suits, women wore skirts, and pillbox hats were a hot accessory. By the last season, we saw glimpses of the fashion world we live in now. Characters wore casual clothing – jeans, even! – in settings they wouldn’t have dreamed of in 1960. Early on she dressed like a cat from a Richard Scarry book, but the Sally of 1970 could almost be mistaken for a teenager of today. Some of Mad Men’s 1970 styles look dated to us now – Pete Campbell has the semi-Medieval haircut of every man in my family’s 1970s photo albums – but most wouldn’t look out of place in a hipster neighborhood. By 1970 our modern fashion culture had emerged: much less formal and easier to maintain than the early ’60s looks, owing at least in part to all of the Joans and Peggys who were now working and didn’t have hours each week to press laundry.

RIP Sally’s knee socks.

Then there’s advertising. A few years ago I saw an old diner sign for pie. It said: “it is so good!” That’s it. That was advertising of the 1940s or so: tell them the pie is good. By the early seasons of Mad Men, more sophisticated targeted advertising had materialized. Pitch meetings involved discussions like “what kind of person uses this product?” and “who does the person using this product want to be?” By the finale, the public’s aspirations had changed. No longer striving for the middle class, suburban post-war ideal, the consumer of the 1970s wants to be enlightened, free-spirited and original. He wants to buy the world a Coke. With an ad concept that’s sure to get people talking, by 1970 we’re even looking at the start of viral marketing.

When I look at how the changing world affected these characters from 1960 to 1970, I have to wonder what would have happened to them after that. Throughout the 1970s, the firm probably focused on the youth-oriented marketing that was so successful in the Coke pitch. After all, the baby boomers had aged into that lucrative 18-35 demographic. Don Draper, at least trying to be a steady presence in his kids’ lives, stayed away from hardcore ’70s drug use. Sally had a misspent youth, as was the style of the time, and was just about the right age to hit the Studio 54 scene. Joan would have been hard at work at Holloway Harris. And Peggy… I can see the 1970s being Peggy’s decade, with the world finally getting a little closer to catching up with her. She and Stan would have made a great team both at work and out of it, and I’m sure Peggy got really into macrame decor, the ERA and oversized lapels. She would have spearheaded the firm’s pitch for a public service spot during the Oil Crisis. Baby Kevin probably ended the decade very wealthy indeed, because I can’t imagine Roger Sterling lasting that long.

The 1980s is when most of our characters would have seen a big payout. Most of our former “young professionals” would be in their 50s, the prime of their careers. Pete Campbell is still a weenie in the ’80s, because “Pete Campbell is a weenie” is an immutable truth. As a company man at Learjet, he probably made major bank targeting the Reagan-era business travel demographic. Don would find himself going back to the all-American family advertising of the early 60s, now that boomers were settling down with kids. Can’t you just see Joan getting really into ostentatious 1980s fashion as her production company booms?  Trudy is absolutely the kind of ’80s woman who decorated with ducks in bonnets. And of course, little Tammy Campbell would have graduated from Dartmouth in 1986.

Think of the popular advertising of your 90s childhood – all the neon and weird surfer slang. Some of it was coined by young ad execs, but there’s a good chance that those Nickelodeon Magazine and Sunny D spots were pitched by an aged Don Draper type. By the 1990s, the clunky typewriters are all replaced with computers, and 60-something Mad Men sat in front of desktop monitors waiting for the dial-up to turn on. This is probably the decade when most of our characters retired. 1990s Joan may be the world’s fiercest grandmother, with Kevin hitting his 20s and 30s. If Holloway Harris is a success, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joan keep working into her 70s.

With the 2000s recession, most of our characters would be relieved to have left the work force. But maybe someone like Peggy would have kept working into the information age. All of these characters who used rotary phones are now face-timing their grandchildren on iPads. 90-year-old Don probably gets a kick out of online advertising.  If you’re reading this as a 20- or 30-something, Sally is probably close to your mom’s age. Can you picture a middle-aged Sally moving her kid into college in the 2000s, or an adult Sally tuning into Oprah every day after work? Or maybe her trips into the seedier parts of New York City are a sign that she ended up living the Bohemian lifestyle that Betty never had.

Back to 1970: in the Mad Men finale, Don was hanging out with his weird friends and I saw something unmistakable. It was the same exact cooler that accompanied my family on every road trip throughout my whole childhood. Then I did a little math. Let’s say one of my parents got that cooler in 1970 – reasonable, since they were college students at the time – and I remember traveling with it in 1992. The duration between 1992 and now is greater than from 1970 to 1992. In other words: I’m as far from my own childhood as my childhood was from the Mad Men era. The show was set in another time, but I’m from another time, too. When we were kids, the world was full of a lot of the same people, attitudes, and even tangible objects that had been there in the 1960s and 1970s. The other day, my dad mentioned that when he was a kid, all of the “old people” were folks who were alive in the 19th century – and now there are only 5 people left from that century. My brother added that the year he was born is as long ago today as the Korean war was when he was born.

It’s not just Ida Blankenship, and it’s not just Mad Men: we’re all time travelers. We’re all astronauts.

 

Women’s Fashion (According To A 1976 Encyclopedia)

Remember how, before the internet, we had to read real, physical books to find things out? In my family, that meant turning to the cobalt-blue 1976 Encyclopedia Americana. One volume in the set was a yearbook that detailed the world events and current trends of the age. I was so obsessed with the fashion section — both out of genuine interest and childish snark — that the book still opens right to that page.

In the mid-90s, I turned to the Encyclopedia for help with Social Studies reports. In the mid-70s, people were turning to the Encyclopedia for help with looking as fly as possible. Such was the pre-internet age.

Let’s take a walk through 1976 fashion, as described in the vibrant pose of the Encyclopedia Americana editors.

  • “Chinese fashion”

    Shhh! Nobody can tell I’m Caucasian!

* Women’s fashion was “influenced by denim and China.” I hope that means you could buy a mandarin-collared denim dress or one of those flat rice-picking hat in Levi’s blue.

* The photo of the woman displaying “The Chinese look” looks like she’s wearing a kind of racist Halloween costume. I guess at least they didn’t say “Oriental?”

* Sometimes when I read this entry, I feel like a time-traveler from the future and wish that I could just save everyone without accidentally killing my own grandfather. The editors write that “politically, the effects of detente with China may not be known for years.” Not to spoil it, but the effects are a little known now and HOLY SHIT WE ALL NEED TO LEARN MANDARIN. What are you DOING, 1976? Stop importing their beautiful silk daywear because they are going to RUN us.

* Bitches wore mad “frog closings” and “coolie” jackets, I guess.

* OK, the encyclopedia DID end up saying Oriental, and they only capitalize it like half of the time. Casual racism is one thing, but casual racism AND sloppy copy-editing? I can’t.

  • Denim

* Real sentence: “The jean craze continued to mushroom at an unbelievable pace.”

* Another real sentence: “The better the figure was, the tighter the jean.” Hey 1976, could you please give that advice to literally everyone I saw at the bus stop the other day? Because the 2013 rule of thumb is apparently: “no matter what the hell your figure looks like, just say “screw it” and buys your pants 2 sizes too small.”

* In the “most horrible thing I’ve ever heard of in my life other than disease, hunger, and genocide” category: the “two-zipper” was in fashion. Jeans closed with two side front zippers instead of the usual fly front. I don’t even understand how this would work. Maybe one of you has an engineering degree and can help? I’m picturing a weird flap that would hang down, like an overall bib except in your crotch neighborhood, with a zipper on either side. If there’s one thing I definitely don’t need, it’s a 100% increase in the likelihood that I’ll forget to zipper my pants. I imagine that if you have any kind of stomach or side fat, it will accidentally get zippered into the “side front zippers” at least once.

* Unsurprising: “work” clothes like khaki fatigues, railroad overalls, and mechanic suits took off.

* Surprising: This “was an expression of the belief in the virtues of honest labor, even if the person wearing them was not engaged in it.” Encylcopedia Americana? You’re reaching. Although, sometimes I do wear a full McDonald’s uniform or nurses’ scrubs just to demonstrate that I believe in work. Who am I to talk?

  • Ladylike Dressing

* According to this section, sometimes women wore skirts and dresses, but other times they wore pants. That’s really the gist.

* Sometimes women wore suits, with “dramatic capes and soft coats” over “multilayers of separates.” The encyclopedia isn’t scratch-n-sniff, but I’m pretty confident they also smelled like sweat and patchouli.

  • The Sporting Life

* The jumper was back. A million home-schooling moms rejoiced, probably.

* Sweaters were “an education in ethnic artistic expression.” I’d complain about the cultural appropriation issues, but I am wearing “tribal” flats right now. I like to pretend that there is just a tribe of Target People who live in the basement of one of their warehouses in Indiana or somewhere, designing these things. I bet they even have native folk songs. Maybe that’s what Taylor Swift is.

  • Accessories

* Scarfs were worn big, in the “simple peasant style” or “elaborately as Arabian or African headdresses.” On behalf of white people, I apologize. This is really bad. I get annoyed at racist Halloween costumes, but apparently in 1976, every day was Racist Halloween.

You could even wear your scarf with an elaborate Art Deco costume while shopping in a general store from the 1800s.

* “Handbags ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.”

* “oriental jewelry” was popular (read: jade). They used the lower-case “o” for oriental, so this may just be jewelry worn to the east of other jewelry, not Asian-inspired as such.

  • The Feminine Foot

* Engineers, HELP. The earth shoe was “designed to lower the heel and raise the sole of the foot for comfort.” Does anyone know how that’s comfortable? They sound like those terrible McQueen cloven-hoof shoes.

Based on the above, here is a rough sketch of The Woman of 1976.