Monday, December 11, 2017


Conversation pit of the 1970s, as illustrated in The House Book,
an influential design compendium published in 1974
by the Englishdesigner Terence Conran.
History has shown us that the bigger a design trend is, the harder it falls—and the more sought-after it later becomes as kitsch. For example, tailfins were the hottest automotive styling fad of the '50s, and the stegasaurus-finned ‘59 Cadillac topped them all. Though the Caddy’s reputation sank to abysmal depths soon afterward, it’s now rebounded to become the most beloved automotive icon of the '50s.

This curious law holds equally true in architecture. Given enough time, the odd and the excessive inevitably develop great appeal. In the early 60s, for example, countless kitchens contained that ubiquitous gold-flecked Formica pattern known as “Gold Lamé”. For two decades afterward, it was considered hopelessly gauche by designers. Yet Gen-Xers who grew up in these houses seem to remember the stuff with great affection—so much so that it’s actually being offered for sale again. It’s a case of “so uncool that it’s cool”.

Flock wallpaper: Instant Dodge City brothel.
Given that many products of the Mid Century era are already considered classics, do you ever wonder what kitschy treasures the more recent past might hold?  I do. Herewith are a few of my candidates for the kitsch hall of fame. Most are culled from the 1970s, which have now receded into that soft-focus distance that lets us remember even the crummiest things fondly.

•  The 70s brought us that immortal and un-scrubbable classic, flock wallpaper. With its velveteen texture and rococo patterns, it could magically transform any living room into a Dodge City brothel. I’m confident that genuine flock will soon be a cherished rarity, since hardly any of it survived the “all-white” rage of the '80s.  The largest single concentration can now be found in men’s barber salons.

And here's a '70s kitsch two-fer—a shag-carpeted wet bar.
•  Shag carpet is also bound to be a coveted rarity soon enough—it was so hard to keep clean that not even dogs could stand it after a few years. Hence, a nice big expanse of original shag will be a precious commodity indeed. If you have any left rolled up someplace in your garage, don’t throw it out. It could probably net you some serious money on eBay.

•  Conversation pits—coolest architectural fad of the '70s—will be a virtual nexus of kitsch in the few homes that didn't rip them out long ago to create more floor space. My prediction: not long from now, '70s revivalists will be pulling on Angel Flights, polyester shirts, and platform shoes and slouching into the conversation pit to drink Harvey Wallbangers.  Gold jewelry optional.

If you think the present is immune from future kitsch classics,
think again.
•  “Butcher Block” plastic laminate is my nominee to succeed Gold Lamé in the “God, remember that?” category. It’s rarer than Almond, the other popular laminate finish of the '70s, and for sheer shameless artifice, it pretty much takes the cake. In short, a classic in the making.

•  The wet bar—the only architectural fad to get even less use than a whirlpool bath—was another '70s must. Wet bars have been more long-lived than most architectural gimmicks, but only because ripping them out involves some nasty plumbing work. Consequently, most people just let them sit—a memento of the days when getting sloppy drunk in your own home was considered really cool.

•  Lastly, some advice for the hipsters among us who like to plan ahead: Take good care of that '90s-era concrete countertop, not to mention that vessel sink you installed last year. They'll be kitsch classics soon enough.

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