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!

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It’s 1994: Let’s All Decorate Your Grandma’s House!

In this edition of Let’s All Decorate, we are delving into one of my personal fascinations: grandparents. For the design-obsessed, there’s something even more fascinating about grandparents than their stories about the Great Depression: their houses. It’s almost like irrespective of income or geography, everyone’s grandmas and grandpas were decorating from the same catalog.

The best thing about your grandma’s house – other than your grandma, naturally – was that it was sort of a time capsule. After a certain point, your grandma probably decided that she was done redecorating, so visits to her house were like going to the Happy Days set. Even my more modern, design-minded grandma had these amazing artifacts of my mom’s 1950s childhood in her basement and closets. Visiting your grandma was a bit like time-traveling or visiting a living history museum.

Like all of our Let’s All Decorate installments, we are focusing on a time in the near past – roughly 1994, during our peak childhood years. In 1994, the relatively hip baby boomers weren’t yet grandparents (my boomer parents have 8 grandkids, but they don’t have a “grandma” house). No, grandparents of 90s kids were members of the “greatest generation” – which did not stand for “greatest generation of decorators.”

Let’s all decorate in 1994: when your grandparents’ house was full of love. Love, and probably a wooden television case.

Candy You Weren’t Allowed To Eat

“Eat me!”, the candy said.

“Eat some candy!”, your grandma said.

“Don’t eat that!”, Your mom said.

Everyone’s grandma seemed to have glass jars of candy – gumdrops and Werther’s Originals were popular choices. And your mom never let you eat it. Was it old? Dusty? Merely decorative? Who would keep jars of candy that children weren’t allowed to eat? Old people, is who.

It’s like every trip to grandma’s kitchen was a visit to one of those wedding candy bar tables and nobody gave you a gift bag.

A TV In A Giant Wooden Box

 

In the 1950s, there was an unfortunate collision of home decor forces: the rise of the television, coupled with the rise of suburban Colonial Revival. The result: the television set they would have watched in Colonial Williamsburg, complete with spindles and a drawer that didn’t open.

Fun fact: I remember my grandma searching for a new TV in the mid or late 90s. She complained about how hard it was to find TV sets in the giant wooden box, which she preferred because she said it looked nicer and warmer. Grandparents found naked televisions sort of stark and electronic-looking.

Grammy eventually found the wooden 13 Colonies Television, by the way. I imagine it was in a special basement stockroom marked “Grandma TVs.”

Paneling, Somewhere

When the grandparents of the 90s were the parents of the 1950s – 1970s, somebody convinced all of them that wood paneling was easy to clean and maintain, and could look either stately or rustic depending on how you styled it. My dad’s parents proudly proclaimed that they would never have to paint their living and dining room again!

Yeah. Because it looks like Pa Ingalls’ cabin, instead.

By the 1990s, nobody was installing wood paneling, but most grandparents still had it somewhere in their home, even if only in a basement lounge.

These Bowls

You know why everyone’s grandma had these bowls – often in way less appealing colors? Because she bought them in 1961 and Pyrex is indestructible. My mom has a set too, and I wish I did as well, because these bowls are the best.

Carpeting Where There Shouldn’t Be

And it was always gold or brown for some reason? And just a little bit too long.

When my parents bought their house from some older people in 2000, the entire house was full of gleaming original hardwoods – except the kitchen and the bathroom. The two very worst places to have carpeting.

Possibly Some Clear Runners On The Hardwoods Or Carpeting

Why even have hardwoods? Or carpeting? It really added to the “this is a museum of American life in 1976” vibe.

Toilet Paper And Kleenex Receptacles

Where grandma’s glue gun chops really had a chance to shine. Grandparents loved keeping a spare role on top of the toilet, and covering it in either a floral and lace-trimmed box, or maybe a hand-knitted cozy. Sometimes the toilet paper cover looked like like a human woman from the past, to go with the misguided colonial motif.

Weirdly Dark Lamps

They’re lamps. Yet they’re somehow making everything look darker.

This one kind of chair

Both sets of grandparents had these. I scoffed, but now I kind of which I had them for some of those hard-to-fill corners of my house.

Drapes. Not Curtains. Drapes.

That you’d draw, not open or close. These were usually heavy, light-blocking, and in some kind of a gold  or mustard color.

A tweed couch

Not always the primary couch, it may have been a pullout in the family room for grandkid sleepovers. It wasn’t necessarily plaid.

Knick Knacks From The Land Of Their Ancestors

Whether your grandparents were right off the boat or daughters and sons of the American Revolution, they probably displayed their pride in their ancestral homeland through figurines, dolls, and plaques.

[Aside: in my weird family, my grandpas were both those Irish-American guys for whom “being Irish” is like their number one hobby, so ancestral knick-knacks abounded. I don’t even think I knew until mid-childhood that my grandmothers weren’t at all Irish. Go figure.]

Maybe some religious stuff, too

This varied. I had one of those Catholic grandmas who had all of the merch, so there were statues, portraits and rosaries all over that joint. At the very least, your grandparents probably had a church or synagogue directory with their photo in it, and phone numbers of all the other old people.

There were other things some grandparents’ houses had, like absurdly old photos of you, old people smell, and plates full of baked goods that were foisted on you as soon as you walked in the door. But without the heart and soul of the 1994 grandparents’ house – their total love for and obsession with their grandkids – it would have just been a collection of decorating mistakes and DIY disasters.

It’s 1999: Let’s All Decorate With Giant Armoires To Hide Our TVs!

It’s another installment of Let’s All Decorate!, a series where we explore the design trends of the not-so-distant past! Today we look at what happened after the geese in bonnets and pastel southwestern decor was sent to Goodwill.

A wise man once said “when you’re living in America at the end of the millennium, you’re what you own.”

And when you were living in America at the end of the millennium, one of the things you owned was probably a bigass faux French-Country armoire that you hid your tv in.

We just all sit facing this closed up armoire GUYS IT’S TOTALLY NATURAL.

The question of how to make your television seem appealing is as old as TV itself. In the 50s, televisions were encased in these weird wooden tv boxes that were probably supposed to make them seem like furniture. My grandparents used one their whole lives. By the ‘70s, a lot of families had TV stands with shelves on the side and a big cut-out hole for the TV.

Raise your hand if you grew up with one of these guys; now raise your hand meekly if your parents still have it.

By the late 90s, we had moved beyond that. Television was no longer novel and impressive. All the fanciest people didn’t have giant televisions, they were bragging that they didn’t own one. What’s a TV junkie to do?

Sometime around 1997, some brilliant mind came up with a solution. Oversized, plush furniture was in vogue, and we all wanted to look like we lived in a cushy French country house. Except, with television. Because we’re Americans. So why not hide the TV in a giant tv sized armoire?

I’ll tell you why not. Because that was weird. First of all, most people’s TV armoires had the doors flung open all of the time anyway, because – will wonders never cease – people like to watch their televisions.

Second, why is your TV a secret? Are you actually embarrassed that people will enter your living room and know that you like to watch the NBC comedies on Thursday night? Do you even remember the late ‘90s? That TV block was amazing. I’d be ashamed NOT to watch it.

They even watched TV on TV.

And finally, is an armoire at all BETTER than a TV? If you’re going to be embarrassed about the state of your home, it’s probably worse to have guests think that you have so little clothing storage that you have to keep your armoire in the living room. Unless you are Belle (Poor Provincial Town Belle), and that thing is going to fling open its armoire arms and dress you in the finest French country fashions, it’s not a piece of furniture that needs to stay out in the open.

I can’t blame Americans for trying. At the time, I thought the TV armoire was a great look. Trading Spaces was about to hit the airwaves, and we were trying to channel our inner Grace Adlers. It replaced an unsightly television with a classy yet chunky piece of furniture. Then flat screen televisions came onto the scene, and as quickly as they appeared, the armoires were all sent back to… France? Maybe? Bedrooms? Closets? Where did they go?

Actually, a lot of people are finding fun ways to upcycle their TV armoires. And other people are still using them, which isn’t a terrible option if you don’t watch TV much or if it fits your living room. At this point they aren’t as ubiquitous as they used to be, so if you have a TV armoire today you aren’t following trends, you’re following your heart.

The point is, it took us decades, but eventually we realized that televisions are made to be watched, and hiding it in a weird piece of furniture doesn’t make it more attractive. No, what makes a television attractive is what is on it. Or who is on it. Whatever.

It’s 1995: Let’s All Decorate With Pastel Southwestern Stuff

Welcome to another edition of Let’s All Decorate!, where we explore the baffling interior design trends of days past! Today we look into a craze that swept the nation in the 1980s and 1990s, when pastels reigned supreme and appropriation was king. Long before we were all wearing “tribal print” shorts and flats, our parents were decorating in “Southwestern” style. Today, my friends, our walk down memory lane is lined with cacti.

It’s 1995. You’re a mom shopping out of the J.C. Penney catalogue, and you’re looking to revamp your home’s current look. All of those geese in bonnets and powder blue gingham are so 1890 1990. It’s 1995, Clinton is in office, TLC is on the radio, and “Navajo” motifs are all over page 178 of the fall Sears catalogue. You are modern, you are edgy, you are worldly, and now you own peach and seafoam lamps based on Native American vases. You are my mother. Hi, mom.

I think there were a few months when ducks in bonnets and “Southwestern” lamps lived in harmony in my childhood home. That’s before the Southwestern lamps killed themselves. One day one of my brothers knocked over one of the lamps. It was made of powdery terra cotta, and it shattered. The lamp was quickly replaced. Months later, we broke another one. My mom declared that the next person to break one of those lamps was going to pay for it themselves. Not a week later, she knocked one over dusting. Elizabeth Bishop had it right: “so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” Those lamps were freaking ugly, and eventually, they lost the will to exist.

It wasn’t just my family: plenty of middle-class Americans – some from the Southwest, but just as many from the Northeast like us – wanted to paint our living rooms with all the Colors of the Wind. Possibly in Benjamin Moore’s Blue Corn Moon.

This living room from Ugly House Photos is peak Department Store Southwest. Note the pastel teal, the Native American porcelain doll, and what appears to be a Horn Of Plenty on the side table:

And how about this bedroom? America: where we will take your sacred land and build a strip mall on it, then fill the strip mall with a Pottery Barn that sells knockoffs of your art and furniture. I do really appreciate how they incorporated both a canopy bed and tiny rodent pelts.

 

Faux painting was a 90s decorating trend I’d rather forget. We all remember sponge painting and marbling, but this home, featuring faux primitive cave etchings, really takes the cake.

Is this a set from the smash tv hit Hey Dude? No, it’s a house with dehydrated cow skulls. If it looks like clip art scenery from Oregon Trail, maybe it doesn’t belong in your house. Or maybe it does.

 

I believe the following look combines the 90s penchant for Southwestern motifs with our brief love affair with Magic Eye paintings:

 

Falling under the category of “well, at least it’s less bad than the trail of tears, but then again so is just about everything:”

 

You don’t see Southwestern interior decorating much anymore, at least not outside of the bona fide Southwest or actual Native American homes. In those cases, it’s great! But I like to think that in white, northeastern homes, all of these teal and peach monstrosities made like my mom’s J.C. Penney lamps and offed themselves while they could.

Design Spy: Crazy Decorating Styles You See At Open Houses

When my parents put the family home on the market during my freshman year of high school, they knew it was going to be a tough sell. The location could best be described as “drug dealer-adjacent.” The neighborhood even had a nickname – and not a cute New York-y one like LoMoFi or The Fishmonger District. No, it was called The Fatal Crescent, because if there was one thing we loved in the inner city, it was comedic nods to Mesopotamia. They knew that everything had to look amazing during the open house. They almost got it right, until they forgot to remove the laminated Mets poster that covered the buckling section of the wall in the attic bedroom. [I think it somehow explains a lot about me that all of my childhood posters were laminated. NO I CANNOT GET A GRIP. Getting a grip isn’t an option when you’re raised to painstakingly laminate Rose and Jack’s party in third class.] Imagine our dismay to come home and find that a prospective homebuyer had taken down the poster to get a closer look. I mean, God. That shit was loadbearing.

 

Through attending weekly open houses as a homebuyer, I’ve learned that my parents weren’t alone: a lot of folks just can’t get it together. So, as I get increasingly weary of comparing square footage and furnace attributes (who in the fresh hell has OIL HEAT?), I’m taking an almost anthropological interest in home decor instead. Sure, every family is different – some of them cover their buckling walls with Yankees posters, which may not even be laminated – but I’ve noticed some common decor styles:

 

Mormon Mommy Blogger

I’ve written before about my fascination with Mormon Mommy Bloggers, mostly for their effortless ability to do what I cannot: to exist as a generally appealing person who is also a lady. The Mormon Mommy Blogger decor style can be practiced by anyone — even if you aren’t Mormon, even if you aren’t a mommy. You need a bright and cheerful color combo, bird appliques, stripes and chevron, and tons of shit from Etsy. Just go to Etsy on a day – any day at all – hit up the homepage when they feature items that go together, and buy it. Then go to Anthro and buy a bunch of their stuff too. Most items you get will have the word “whimsy” or “tribal” in the description, which makes sense because you are part of the most whimsical tribe of all (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).

Instructions Included

Some people aren’t able to get through their daily life without signage telling them what to do and where. They may forget to Live, Laugh, and Love if it isn’t written down somewhere. In the kitchen, there is a big sign that says “EAT.” Over the bed: “DREAM”, or, for more whimsical people (but not, like, Mormon-whimsical) “Always kiss me goodnight.” In the family room: “FAMILY.” I’m sort of surprised their bathroom wall doesn’t proclaim “POOP” in Helvetica.

I might do this in my house, but I’ll make it a little more realistic. Kitchen: “REGRET.” Bedroom: “Always spend a half-hour deciding what to fall asleep to on Netflix.” Family room: “DVR.”

Page 104 of the Spring 2011 Pottery Barn Catalog

Decorating comes naturally to some people – and to others, The Pottery Barn catalog comes quarterly. Close enough. These folks will buy a coffee table, and also buy the exact flat bowl, weird twine ball, and candlestick holder that appear with it in the catalog. These houses look nice, but I’d like to see what these people do if you give them an off-book vase or picture.

Mid-20s pastiche

No, not the 1920s, though I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more art-deco homes. I’m talking about being over the age of 25 and having never bought furniture on purpose. These people have the plaid couch from their college house, the IKEA desk from their first apartment, the weird rococo chair from their nana’s den, and the dining room table that their parents replaced. I’ll admit that my furniture comes from all kinds of sources, but I make an effort to paint or upholster things so that it all goes together. Mid-20s Pastiche is more of a stylistic melting pot.

The ‘Car Interior’ Interior

I’ve been to a few houses that are very clearly Men’s Houses By Men Who Would Like You To Know They Are Men. Walls are painted a carseat gray. Accents are in some shade of red. There might be black bedding. There’s definitely chrome, and possibly framed car photos. The homeowner definitely uses some sort of hair wax. Ladies, if a gentleman brings you back to a house like this, it’s always okay to make an excuse to leave, because otherwise you might get killed. I don’t know why, but this style sets off my creep-o-meter.

I enjoy being a girl!

This is the female analog to the car interior style – in fact, the houses in these two styles are essentially the adult version of the Barbie/Hot Wheels Happy Meals. You can expect the following: Animal print. Hot pink. Wine glasses with maribou on them. Wall art celebrating martinis. Some sort of artistic depiction of shoes.

This woman doesn’t have a tinted black and white poster print of little girls she doesn’t know with caption “girls just want to have fun!”… but she did in college. There’s a very real possibility that she was in a sorority, but make no mistake — not all sorority alums are like this. She knows exactly which Sex And The City character she and her friends are (she’s “a Charlotte,” but probably more like a Season 1 Shoshanna.)

The Feral Child’s Keeper

This goes beyond babyprooofing – these people are actually afraid of their children. Every surface below six feet is completely devoid of ornamentation. Furniture is bolted to the walls. Bills are stored in something you have to lock. Crayons and markers change locations as soon as kids figure out where they’re stored in case they do some rogue wall coloring. Furniture is covered in sheets (“the one time we took off the sheets Emma-Lynn spilled a gallon of chocolate milk on it”). Floors are covered in dropcloths (“sometimes Ayden trails paint behind him – house paint.” Ayden is a baby). Light switches have duct tape over them (“otherwise Kayler likes to play with the lights” Kayler is over the age of 7). The kitchen has a lock on it. Everything has a lock on it. These people cannot have nice things because their children will ruin nice things (their children are not Mormon). I picture parents setting up the Frozen DVD then slowly backing slowly out of the room, occasionally opening the door a crack to throw in bags of fruit snacks then slamming it so the feral children don’t nip at them.

The Collector

Hummels. Camels. Precious Moments. Lladro. Bells. Teaspoons. Ashton-Drake plates. Madame Alexander dolls. Tchotchkes representing the land of your ancestors, even though they immigrated in the 19th century. These people never met one of something that they wouldn’t rather have 30 of. On the plus: they’re probably super easy to buy Christmas and Birthday presents for.

Crockpot Method

As in: Set It And Forget it! These people decorated their house one time, in the past. These are the best houses to go to because you feel like you’ve entered a time capsule or a living history museum. The classic crockpot house has 60s or 70s decor – big yellow flowered wallpaper, shag carpeting, avocado appliances, a bathroom fit for one of the Pink Ladies. But as more baby boomers move out of the houses they raised their kids in, sometimes you see an 80s or 90s house, with Laura Ashley curtains, light pine tv cabinets, and geese or ducks wearing bonnets.

 

All The World’s A Stage

This house looks awesome. The decor is current but not so trendy that you can’t see living there. It’s natural enough that it doesn’t look like a catalog page. But look closer – is that plastic lettuce in the kitchen? Yep – the house has been staged.

TV Characters’ Bedrooms That I Covet

As a kid, your bedroom is an important place. It’s the only place that’s really YOURS – or maybe shared with one or two other people, but still. It’s a no-grownup zone, and though your parents probably made you clean it and set some parameters, you had a bit of free reign as far as decorating went. I seriously went with it – in fifth grade, when I got a new bedroom, I went antiquing to pick out the right accessories, and pored over catalogs for months until I found the right bedspread. Even now that I’m older, I love seeing character’s home spaces on tv. Like a child’s room, the way these people decorate their bedrooms – the place in their house that outsiders wouldn’t usually see – tells you a lot about their character. Plus, the set designers just make them look really, really cool. Until I was preparing this post, I didn’t realize that set decorator would probably be my dream job. Here are some of my favorites.

Clarissa Darling Obviously, right? Clarissa’s bedroom had everything! Her own computer game system. An amphibian named Elvis. Multicolored, hand-painted furniture. Mismatched quilts. A hat collection. Partially painted-over wallpaper. Hubcaps. License plates. SAM.

Carrie Bradshaw

I know Carrie’s apartment is pretty unobtainable, but I love how her bedroom wasn’t TOO perfect. It was cozy, with bookshelves and a big comfy duvet. Even her radiator was cute. I remember reading an interview with the set decorator back when Sex and the City was still on, and she said that Carrie’s apartment was done in the shades of a bruise, since she was a little brokenhearted when she moved in. While that sounds grody, it’s actually a really pretty color scheme – soft gray, light green, and shades of blue and violet.

Jess Day

While the word “adorkable” could go away forever, this bedroom kind of IS adorably dorky. I love the bright teal wall contrasted with the brick, the clustered prints over the bed, and the fun printed bedspread. I could actually see Jess picking out all of these items. While Jess has some ditzy moments, she’s a teacher so we know she isn’t dumb. I’m happy to see some books in here to remind us of that.

Literally All of the Main Teens in Pretty Little Liars

I like how dark Aria’s room is, actually. Plus the gumwood gives it a craftsman vibe, and all I really want right now is to own a pre-1940s bungalow. My dream Arts and Crafts house is on the market now, about 10K too high and 4 months to early for me to buy it, so this is all a little fresh for me. Anyway.  The window seat is to die for. I’m usually not too into bedroom wallpaper, but this is so soft and pretty with the light furniture and white  french doors. I wish I could find a picture of the whole bedroom, because while the decor is pretty dainty, Spencer has a hardcore desk/bulletin board situation. So Type A! I know at some point we’ll all be over gray as a neutral (we got there with taupe, after all), but Hanna’s bedroom is just so nice. I’m less jealous of the bedroom and more of the adjoining bathroom with a clawfoot tub. I’ve always sort of wanted a white iron bed, so of course I love Emily’s bedroom. Plus an alcove AND a window seat!?! Between that and the cheerful, but not to bright, yellow and green color scheme, this is a winner.

Cora, Countess of Grantham

This image is from http://chameleon-interiors.blogspot.com/2012/02/downton-abbey-putting-downton-to-bed.html, which has a great analysis of Downton Abbey bedrooms, if you’re so inclined.

Really, I love all of the bedrooms in Downton, but I especially like how, despite the heavy furniture and being in a stone castle, this feels breezy and airy. I love the fireplace, too – so cozy! I expect that this bedroom comes fully equipped with a lady whose job it is to brush and braid my hair before I go to sleep. It goes without saying that I picked Cora’s bedroom over Mary’s because a Turkish houseguest didn’t pass away in the bed.

Based on the above list, I think I have some criteria for a perfect bedroom. Sloped ceilings or an alcove, mixed prints, giant plush bedding, books, and some kind of windowseat or built-ins. When I was a kid, I loved kids’ rooms with multiple sets of bunkbeds or rows of beds. Like Madeline, except that I don’t want to live with a dozen French orphan children. Basically, if I end up in a tiny house with a ton of kids, I’ll be all set, decorating-wise. Otherwise, I’m screwed.