The 70s Are Back. Can Ya Dig It?
No need to cringe. Groovy design blasts from the past are updated to look fabulous today.
The thought of a lot of 1970s style makes many of us shudder, but the era did have some serious swagger. While no one is predicting harvest-gold appliances will be must-have kitchen items again anytime soon (or ever again), there are plenty of elements to pluck from the era and think of in a new way.
Grab these exciting parts of seventies style without going full-on Brady Bunch:
Doughnut phones. While Blondie didn't release "Call Me" until 1980, the song may have been written while contemplating one of Western Electric's doughnut phones. They are so much better looking than any cutting-edge cordless out there.
Add orange — in moderation. This clean, white and determinedly contemporary room has been given a throwback flavor chiefly by the bold streak of orange that is the fireplace and chimney.
The arc-style floor lamp echoes the period theme, as does the sectional sofa — which would create an entirely different effect in predictable brown corduroy. This scheme, however, is an exercise in restraint — quite unlike the original 1970s.
Strong curves. In the '70s round conversation pits, circular rugs and curved sectionals were the grooviest, and updated to a contemporary scale and balanced, they've still got it.
Large abstract paintings. These brought in bold colors in the '70s, often too much bold color. Here the use of the bright colors is restrained, picking up on the painting's palette but not overwhelming the room.
Groovy L.A. looks. Somehow Los Angeles managed to do the '70s very well, then and now. Trellis and lattice patterns, large-scale curled coffee tables and bright yellow are plucked right from the era.
Malibu surfer chic. Also coming from California is the laid-back style of old surf-shacky Malibu. My favorite description of Malibu in the 1970s was written by Rob Lowe in his memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends. He paints a picture so markedly different from movie moguls' blocking off beach access with their megamansions. Moroccan rugs and live-edge wood in an all-white room are exotic and organic updates on surfer and hippy style.
Brown and orange. This was a go-to color combo in the '70s, but it often made rooms dark and depressing. On an accent wall balanced by light neutrals, this bold floral wallpaper from Osborne & Little evokes a far-out feeling.
Grass cloth. This wall covering was found mostly in tan and other brown hues back in the day, but now it's available in a wide range of colors. Designers love the rich texture it brings.
The glint of chrome. Metal furniture and accents were part of Jetsons-inspired futuristic '70s style.
Brass. This metal finish was perceived as gaudy by the time we'd all seen enough of it through the '70s and '80s, but now it's being used in sophisticated ways in homes from traditional to contemporary.
Foil wallpaper. Happenin' rooms from the era also embraced the metallic look in wall coverings. Today we appreciate the way these coverings reflect the light and add glamour.
Original photography. The large picture above the sofa is by cult 1970s photographer Slim Aarons, whose prints are now quite widely available. This one, Poolside Gossip, was taken in 1970 and sets the tone for this room. Other flashes of the era build the retro scheme, but subtly: the neutral colorway gives the retro-patterned wallpaper a fresh look, while keeping some oh-so-70s orange to a discreet splash ensures the reference remains a gentle hint rather than a sledgehammer blow.
Lucite. The '70s offered plenty of new ways to work with Lucite. Today's designers appreciate the glamour of the material as well as the way its clear views make a space feel larger and airier.
Solar panels. The Carter Administration made a big push for using solar energy, even installing solar panels on the White House in 1979. Unfortunately, we burned through a lot of oil while the idea slowly caught on and the technology improved. (The panels were removed during the Reagan Administration in 1982.) But solar panels returned to the White House in 2002, and more were installed in 2013.
Pops of happy florals. This clean, contemporary space doesn't take itself too seriously; it's punctuated by pop floral prints atop the bar stools.
Rediscover stone cladding. No, really. Until recently, homeowners have despaired at their forebears’ fondness for cladding internal and external walls with a decorative stone veneer. It could be a nightmare to remove and often wasn’t pretty.
But could it be coming back into fashion? This time around, let’s clad with care. This tunnel-style fireplace looks fabulous with its sleek slate finish, and brings to mind Palm Springs in its midcentury heyday. (If you’re tempted by 1960s and 70s architecture, look up images from Palm Springs Modernism Week — it’s most inspiring.)
Bold florals. Florals in the '70s were big, loud and proud, in some color combinations that were downright obnoxious, brazenly expressed in bold geometries. Here a more subdued floral mixes with an op-art-like floor in an eclectic mix.
Organic architecture. A style that was very popular during the era is enjoying new life, with architects updating the buildings, retrofitting them for modern life and adding on to them in ways that enhance the original architecture.
Shag carpeting. In the '70s the thicker a carpet was, the better, and it was often used wall to wall. Today thickness comes in smaller area rugs or rugs that don't reach the walls for a more chic look.
Bright countertops. These were likely to be Formica in the '70s; today recycled glass and custom-colored concrete (seen here) bring big color to counters.
Brightly colored cabinets. Turquoise, taxicab yellow, kelly green — not all was avocado or harvest gold during the era. After so many years of natural wood stains or white, colorful cabinets are back in both high gloss and matte.
Make it glamorous. There’s nothing kitsch or tacky about this elegant house in the Hamptons, and yet the 1970s styling couldn’t be clearer. The plush, wall-to-wall carpeting creates more than a nod to the era, as do the two geometric prints, artfully clashing with that rainbow-reminiscent artwork above the sofa. The trick here is the dominance of blue, a distinctly non-period-appropriate shade. It cleverly tones down an obvious tribute.