Houses & Trends in the 1970s

A decade of memorable extremes, some with a reprise.

Some things leap to mind, whether you remember the Seventies or just watch TV reruns: velvet stools with fringe, shag carpeting, macrame, beanbag chairs, floating staircases, rattan, lava lamps. The decade saw competing trends: oversized graphics, psychedelic prints, and neon colors on one hand; naturalism, autumnal hues, and brown neutrals on the other. And there is a split, as 1965–1975 were the hippie years; after 1975 it’s Disco. Mainstays included rock-and-roll, Danish Modern, and granola.

Well done! For a house built in the 1970s, Hull Works improved the sunken living room with this built-in sectional sofa framed in walnut. Note the rough stone fireplace wall, expanse of glass, and partial-sphere chairs.

Dubbed “The Me Decade” by novelist Tom Wolfe, in 1976, it was a period of strident individualism and freedom of expression. The self-help book I’m OK—You’re OK was published in 1967, The Joy of Sex in 1972. Everyone had long hair and bell-bottoms were a unisex fashion. Barriers were broken, or so it seemed, as people marched against the war, and for women’s and gay rights. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.

Against a backdrop of social change were the now-infamous appliance colors introduced: avocado green, “Coppertone” (dark brown with copper edge highlights), and harvest gold. Shag carpeting laid wall to wall was often brilliant orange or emerald green. Rust, deep royal purple, and hot pink were in style. Walls were papered in groovy patterns: bold geometrics and swirling, nontraditional paisleys.

Preferred house styles were ranches and ramblers or split levels. The sunken living room, aka conversation pit, occasionally was rendered with finesse, but other times seemed a silly hazard. In those days, the bonus room was called a rec room, and it was in the basement; its walls might be clad in faux wood paneling with outrageous grain patterns. Sprayed-on popcorn ceilings with sparkle rarely inspire nostalgia. 

Kitchens went wild in the Seventies. The fridge and stove and wall-hung phone were anything but white. Countertop laminates came in a host of colors, including lemon yellow and the ubiquitous harvest gold and orange. Dark-stained wood cabinets, red tile, and patterned linoleum were trending. 

Modern furnishings of the 1950s and ’60s were by now classics, but few iconic pieces were introduced in the 1970s. Semi-enclosed pod chairs—aka ball, egg, or globe chairs—are still interesting. The accents were of chrome and stainless steel; and ceramic, as for lamp bases.

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The ‘Arco’ floor lamp by Design Within Reach.

The worst of Seventies design is the stuff of parody, but some elements are enjoying a revival. Velvet-covered couches, shag rugs (the new ones are nice!), macrame, and cane or rattan furniture are easy to come by. Wallpaper designs of the era are back in production. And millennials love their houseplants as much as the boomers did!

  1. The ‘Arco’ floor lamp was designed in 1962 by Castiglioni, and became wildly popular after appearing, in 1971, with Sean Connery’s James Bond, in “Diamonds Are Forever.” Today the authentic lamp is available from Design Within Reach: dwr.com (Inexpensive versions of varying quality are sold online.)
The Petite Groovy Swivel Chair from West Elm.

2. The Petite Groovy Swivel Chair, shown in Dark Horseradish upholstery, is from West Elm Kids. In a choice of three colors, it’s 35.5″ wide. westelm.com

Tiger Orange retro rug from Rugs.com.

3. A new generation of shag and partial-shag rugs is afoot, but if you need a long-loop, retro rug in Tiger Orange, Grass Green, or another eye-popping color, find all sizes at rugs.com.

Hanging chair from Serena and Lily.

4. Who didn’t have a hanging chair? Rattan is an obvious choice, but you can find canvas and macrame, too. This iconic example from Serena and Lily comes in white or natural. Cushion and pillows extra. serenaandlily.com

5. Bradbury’s “Mod Generation” wallpapers channel the years 1965–1975 or so. Shown are ‘Reverb’ in Green, ‘Daisy’ in Coral, and ‘Wonderwall’ in Marmalade; there’s lots more. bradbury.com


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