Renovating 1970s houses: The next big thing

1970s interior designFor the past 10 years, I have been absolutely immersed in researching homes built from 1945 through 1963 — the classic, post-World-War-II baby boom years. And over the past decade — and the past two-to-three years in particular — there is no question that I’ve seen a major transformation in how mainstream media, real estate agents and — yes, prospective home buyers — view these homes. The original, high quality features… the architecture… and the wisdom of restoring, rather than gutting — yup, folks are starting to ‘get it’. To be sure, there is still serious work to do to showcase how smart appreciating and preserving these homes can be, but, we are well on our way, I am convinced. So, that gets me to thinking: What is “the next big thing”.  The answer, of course: 1970s houses. And buckle your seatbelts, peoples, because I predict that the love train for 1970s architecture and interior design will be even bigger than for 1950s and 1960s homes. Why? (1) Sheer numbers. And, yes, (2) the sheer amazing style, too.

historical housing data1. The Numbers: Long story short: There were more houses built in the 1970s — overall and as a percentage of population — than during any other decade in American history.

I am afraid this might bore a lot of readers, so I’ll keep this brief-ish. I have been doing research on housing growth, and this government report from 1994, is pretty informative. In one of the paragraphs above, it says:

The housing stock grew by more than 20 percent in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1970’s. Growth rates less than 20 percent occurred in the 1960’s and 1980’s.

The largest increase, 19.7 million housing units, occurred in the 1970’s, despite three economic recessions within the calendar years from 1970 to 1980s. The net gain in that decade represented an average increase of about 2 million housing units per year. Demand for housing was high in the 1970s as the leading edge of the baby boom population entered household forming years, wellin the 24-to-34 years age groups.

It. Always. Happens. About 20 years after a housing style, with its attendant interior design style — booms — we Hate it. This goes on for a while. About 50 years after, a shift starts to occur. There is a new generation — the grandkids, typically — who have fond recollections of their grandparents’ homes, and embrace they style. They also can afford these “stylistically discounted” — “dated” — houses. In addition, the larger population — including designers — has the perspective to look back and appreciate the best of a style, and let go of the rest. The 70s housing re-boom is on a trajectory to start in earnest in about eight years… and leading edge design savants are already heading there.

housing starts 1945 through 1969housing starts 1970 through 1989housing starts 1990 through 2010The housing boom of the 1970s was even greater — numerically and as a percentage of population — than in the now-infamous bubble of 2000-2010. Note: I am creating my own Excel spread sheet (shown above)(I already see how I need to fix where the 1990s tally up, but I am fed up looking at this and need to take a break). There are reports and reports, with a variety of government agencies (BLS pre-1945, and Census 1945-on), and technical slicing and dicing, to puzzle through. My numbers may not match other numbers. Unless I find someone who has done just the kind of timeline-report I am looking for, I have a bit of a journey ahead of me. Nonetheless, I believe my spreadsheet so far is directionally correct. You get the point.

1970s interior design(2) 1970s style rocks. Of course, 1970s style is infamous, too. The more I research and write about retro design — the more I love it. I want it. I am collecting it. And I will be writing more and more about it leading toward the big boom to come.

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Comments

  1. Richard says

    We are saving up to buy a 1970s tri-level home here in Denver. Want to find one un-renovated in all it’s swanky glory! Wet bar, mirrored walls, sunken living room, harvest gold kitchen, step-down tub, dark wood, vaulted ceilings. Always held an affinity for the era as a whole since I was a kid, then the show “Swingtown” secured my love for the chic, modern look the decade had to offer. Been buying up decor and furnishings of Milo Baughman, Panton, Weltron, Pierre Cardin and the like…even found glam wallpaper at “wallpaperfromthe70s.com”! Once we find the house, move in and start the return to 1976…I’ll definitely post pics.

    • flyingethan says

      I am really stoked for you. I did the same thing about four years ago. I bought a house built in 1973 and it was still just like it was in 1973, wet bar, avocado everything and all. After four years of replacing what had to be replaced it now looks like a cross between The Brady Bunch house and That 70’s Show house and my wife and I love it. My kids have adjusted and it’s life as usual in our house now. It was totally fun doing this and I’m happy to see someone else about to embark on a similar quest. Good luck!

      • Richard S. says

        Hi again! We FINALLY purchased our 1970s dream home in SE Denver. Sadly, the kitchen and baths were all updated in ’99…yet all the main living areas and bedrooms were untouched, except for the windows (glad for that with the cold here, LOL!). We moved in in September of 2014 and have been retro-fitting ever since. Love it! What a super fantastic experience. And our friends love it too! You should see the look of nostalgia on their faces with each and every visit. Sill retro-fitting and will send the pics to Pam when it’s ready. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Edward Howard says

    Its great to see this blog in appreciation for architecture of the 70s. I own a 1978 house and have kept the harvest gold sink and built in stove. as well as the walnut stained pecan plywood cabinates. But I have to find a sheet of wood paneling to fill in where original paneling was removed. Does anyone know a source for that?

    Thanks,
    Ed

  3. V. says

    Hey Pam, young 1960s-1970s enthusiast here–I’ve been following your blog since its beginning, and collecting retro furniture since I was 15! I know this post is a few years old but I couldn’t resist. My husband and I recently purchased an unfurnished time capsule-type 1972/1950s home (the 70s level was built later onto what we think is a 50s basement-level living quarters). Rather than modernize this lovely Ozarks abode like the previous owners begin attempting to do here and there, we’ve taken it back to its 60s-70s roots (with before and after pics!). We’ve enjoyed our minor renovations, furnishing and “retro-fitting” the place so much that I’d love to share pictures with like-minded retro renovators. Is there a way to have a home featured in your blog? We do have a design dilemma…

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