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. hidi says

    We are looking at a 1970’s MUSEUM home this weekend. I am sooo very excited. It even has a sunken living room and is done in the mediterranean stle. I cannot wait. It still has all of the original decor and furniture. YEA!

  2. Melinda says

    I have inherited my parents home built in 1970 and I am stuck on whether to renovate or sell. The only upgrades done to the home were the bathrooms and kitchen sink. Everything else has remained the same. By this I mean the mushroom wallpaper to the dark wall panel and kitchen cabinets and shag carpet. Does anyone out there have suggestions or know of a website that may have ideas on how to fix a fixer upper? Any thoughts, ideas and suggestions are greatly appreciated.

    • pam kueber says

      Melinda, this website is about preserving what you have that’s original-cool… or, about renovating in a style that’s sympathetic to the original architecture of a vintage home, including those built in the 70s. It’s not a flip-this-house kinda place…

    • says

      If you decide to sell, you’d be wise to sell as-is, as there are people who love that look. Or spend money on things like a new roof, or an updated furnace or hot water heater. I think it’s foolish to spend a lot of money on a new kitchen or bath, because those are such individual choices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into the salvage stores here in Seattle and seen brand new kitchens that have been ripped out by people who didn’t like the old owner’s taste.

      Don’t let the home improvement TV shows fool you. They are there to sell a product, not give good advice.

    • flyingethan says

      Melinda,

      Please don’t take out any of the 70’s stuff unless it is worn out beyond repair.

      Two and a half years ago I bought a house built in 1973 specifically because it had NOT been renovated. I love all of the 70’s stuff and would not have bought my house had all that 70’s loveliness been ripped out. I specifically wanted the dark wood, avocado sink, laminate counter top, built-in bar, etc.. I paid fair market value for my house and my stipulation to the then-owner was that if you touch anything in this house prior to moving out, the deal is off. They too were going to gut it and install granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, etc. until I came along. I did pay for that stipulation though. When they moved out they left all of their trash and cleaned nothing. O’well, it was worth it.

  3. Hidi says

    We closed today on the home I mentioned about 5 posts before this one..lol. I am soooo excited. It is beautiful. 1973 ranch with sunken living room, gold lame and red flocked wallpaper and paneling. Swoooon I am in love. I was even able to meet the daughter and then today met the one owner of the home. She and I were in tears. It was as if she passed the love to me. I am in heaven.

  4. Mitzi says

    Y’all, seriously, this house that Hidi bought is GLORIOUS! And the previous owners could not have sold to anyone who appreciates the beauty of this house like Hidi does… well, except maybe me, but I’m not in the market yet! LOL Congrats on your new house, girl… it’s going to be awesome!

  5. Drewster says

    I’m glad to see that people appreciate 70s homes and decor. I hear “The 1970s were sooo tacky. . .” I say, well just embrace the tackiness! Sure, some of it was a bit garish, but that’s the way it was. I love my 1972 beauty!

  6. Beth says

    We are buying a home built in 1970 and can’t wait to move in! It has the tiered wedding cake lucite chandalier in the large foyer with a brick corner wall planter. Steps lead up to a large living room through a formal dining room to the kitchen and then a sunken den seperated by a wrought iorn fixture. Coming back through the foyer there are curved walls and curved steps leading up to four bedrooms.

    The 20×40 foot cement swimming pool kinda just floats in the middle of the yard. The house just has this “groovy/warm” vibe.

    I agree with the author. I think we are going to see a huge “come-back” to the homes built in the mid sixties-seventies. Us baby boomers feel comfortable with them and the younger generation can afford them.

  7. sara says

    Maybe a little old lady 70’s house, one without pets. The rest are pretty worn out. I did see a pretty cool unrenovated 70’s house on a golf course sell quickly despite looking shagadelic, or maybe because of it. But it was custom and quite distinctive. I am on this site looking for a blog about rennovating 70’s houses, specifically how hard is it to remove the wallpaper–mine has 80’s or 90’s wallpaper–wondering if the NPC houses were primed before wallpapering. They cut a lot of corners in their heyday. I love 70’s homes primarily because they are one-story (surrounded by 1 stories) and on large lots. The baths and closets are too small and I hate the bath vanity open to the master concept. Although I paid $3 for a couple of swag hanging ball bath fixtures and kept them in my garage for years until I just gave them to Habitat. I was going to paint the base, remove the chain and run steel colored wire. The ball was a simple fluted style. It probably would have looked horrible. I’m glad its gone.

  8. Liz L says

    Wow! I know this thread is old (but luckily I’m not the only one still reading or commenting!), but all the psychological aspects people brought up really captured me. And some of them happened to me, and I’m still shocked!

    I’m GenX and grew up thrifting, first being drawn to the 30s and 50s, and simultaneously just overall at all times being scarred by the 70s aesthetic. The palette, the materials, the lines, and what I felt, in some elements, was a corruption of original sources that I might have been able to appreciate, all made me uncomfortable and tense. Heck, even angry-feeling (!), on walking into an avocado and orange kitchen or some other stereotypical example.

    But what made me write is that, while my tastes in how I want to live in my own place as well as items or looks I can appreciate elsewhere have become vastly more encompassing and less neurotic, I. still. hated. ALL the 1970s! Still the same edgy feeling on seeing a macrame or owl or anything with a sunset (we were in California then). Still the anxiety when confronted with molded plastic mushroom clocks. Still the creeping dread of oranges, rusts, goldenrods, and olives.

    Then (I’m a renter) I took over a sublet with all sorts of lovely painted walls, in which the kitchen was a variety of bright, deep gold. Instinctively, I tried to avoid the room – which was mostly easy as I don’t cook at home, but challenging at times because I need my Diet Coke and tea.

    Then – this is the weird part for me – at thrift shops and estate sales (that part of my GenX heritage has not left me) my eyes started to be drawn to 70s items that would complement this kitchen I dreaded. I dressed it up with all kinds of original and repro-or-just-stylistically-or-color-appropriate items. Then I moved to a new place where this color scheme worked equally well, with light brown walls and contemporary honeyed brown cabinets, and now, for reals, I have a darned 1970s Owl Nook over the 30s Samson wood-look card table with its 50s dark-wood Asian-influence chairs with 60s orange/yellow/black striped upholstery. I put a dark-stained wood shelves over the dark-stained turn-of-the-century buffet, and threw 40s bird statues on it — which I had unconsciously bought because their colors matched the 70s stuff, so my eyes were drawn to them!

    What???!! And I realize the eclecticism of that particular room or the rest of my place may very well only succeed in my head, but just the fact that at any point in my life I could not only not feel like retching and stabbing toothpicks in my eyes when in the presence of these items — but moreover be able to incorporate them into my living space — weird, weird, weird…

  9. Rebekah says

    I too love houses from the 70’s. When I was looking for a home to buy, I was looking for a one story home, but ending up buying a two story 1978 home that was four houses down from my mom’s house. I had to go through the process of returning it back to the 70’s, I went to the restore and bought an avocado green kitchen sink to replace the dull stainless steel kitchen sink and vintage chandelier for my entryway along with numerous other items. I went to my local Goodwill and bought a Formica dinette set for my kitchen. The master bathroom had been renovated in the 90’s, and I am slowly in the process of returning it back to the 70’s. Most of the homes in my neighborhood are either owned by their original owners, kids who were raised in the neighborhood and later bought, or newbies due to the foreclosure crisis. Unlike most home built in the 70’s, the homes built in my neighborhood, were built by a retired air force general who became a home builder in the 70’s. Hetherington built very well constructed homes and when I have handymen come by to quote me bids they are surprised at how well built my home is.

  10. Robin, NV says

    I realize this is an older post but I thought I’d add my thoughts. The fact is, there are good and bad things about every period of design. Even those of us into mid century design pick and choose the bits that we like and leave out the stuff we don’t like. Case in point – I received a rather snotty reply to a post on my blog when I pointed out that the vast majority of mid century homes did not have the sleek, minimalist couches that are so popular for mid century retro remodels today. Most homemakers actually preferred plaid couches, wood colonial/country furniture, and Laz-e-Boy recliners. We’ve conveniently turned our eyes from that fact and have embraced the bits of mid century design that are palatable to our modern tastes.

    In a way, the opposite is true of 1970s design – we tend to focus on the stuff we don’t like and ignore the stuff that was actually great about the 70s. This will change and I can see it changing already. Pam is (as usual) spot on in predicting that with time, the 70s will be cool again. I remember that every medical office back then had these wonderful wood paneled walls (often installed diagonally), wall murals of nature scenes, and hanging plants. There was a nice comforting, natural feel to professional offices that I truly do miss in our modern no-nonsense, sanitized, greige world. As a kid, I thought Mary’s apartment on the Mary Tyler Moore Show was the height of coolness. I tend to think of the 70s as a toned-down version of the hippy 60s – colorful (although more muted), earthy, comfy, and liveable. And don’t forget the explosion of colonial decor around the time of Bicentennial!

    I also love good, well executed 70s architecture – striking angles, immensely tall windows, and natural wood siding. However, the millions of poorly built and designed 70s tract homes will never receive much love from me. One of the problems with the 70s was the decline in good lumber as our old growth forests disappeared. Most homes built after 1965 suffer from the use of laminated beams and generally weaker wood.

  11. 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!

  12. 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

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