1960s Formica Girl adToday, I present 1960s polka-dot Formica Girl in a catfight smackdown against Medusa, the gorgon sister whose monstrous gaze turned mortal men to stone. Guess whose side I’m on? Warning: Uncharacteristic and generally-frowned-upon rant follows.

Medusa by Carvaggio

I have been looking at vacation condos in Florida recently. Everywhere you turn it’s: Granite on the countertops, bigggggg slabs o’ faux stone ceramic on the floors and backsplashes and even UP THE WALLS and not just on the bathrooms walls either. Shoot me.

All these baked surfaces are hard, cold, and they echo. The scale is usually way off. Moreover, the mass of stuff I’ve seen is just cheap crappola Applied All Over the Place. Sorry for my french and for breaking my rule about “not making anyone feel bad for their decisions.” But this mass hypnosis of the American public — which seems to go hand-in-hand with the Greige Nation — is just a crying shame. I am Very Tolerant about design choices. I really truly am. But this fixation on putting granite, faux-stone ceramic, stone and marble on every surface is Not Good. It is Not Attractive. I was not really aware of how bad it was, until I went condo shopping. Stop, America, stop!

I am a big fan of “mixing things up” when it comes to surfaces. Ceramic and/or marble and/or even some granite in the house is fine — in appropriate measures. Wood floors, cork, linoleum, VCT, carpet, rugs = Yes, there are so many choices, mix it up, have some fun! For midcentury modern and modest houses alike, laminate countertops are what’s *authentic* to the period. They usually suit the unpretentious character of the house.

Close your eyes to Medusa. Embrace Formica Girl and all her life-giving polka dot loveliness. Thanks to Formica blog for giving me permission to use their lovely photo. I’m sure they weren’t expecting this.

  1. Deborah says:

    When we bought our 53 modest 18 years ago, it was because it was cheaper than rent. It’s needed work for 18 years but we’ve never been able to afford to do much of anything to it since I have a strong aversion to borrowing against my home.

    I am actually very thankful we haven’t been able to ‘fix it up’. It’s kept me from doing anything I would regret later!

    I did last year put in a gas fired heater stove with some bonus money. My house didn’t have a fireplace and I had always wanted one. The cast iron stove was a way to do it with the least amount of structural modification. Wanting heat proof surfaces, I did have a small slab of marble put on the floor. (salvaged from a marble dining table bought for 99 cents!) And here’s a true confession: Lowes had pink marble tile for dirt cheap and it matched my pink livingroom. That provided more heat proofing on the walls behind the stove. I put Shanko tin on the upper part of the wall.

    No more marble! Honest! I have plans for knotty pine to fix walls with damaged plaster and VCT tiles in kitchen and bathrooms

    I will likely replaced my badly damaged Formica in the kitchen with one of the fun laminates I’ve seen here.

    Glad I found RR before I made any major mistakes!

  2. Midge says:

    We recently bought a 1961 (with a 1979 addition )home on a GORGEOUS granite boulder lot. When my sister came over, she looked at dismay at the original aqua/ gold flecked counter tops, she suggested that we replace them with granite -My answer was “I’m sittin’ on 1.16 acres of GRANITE- Why would why I want it INSIDE???

  3. Heart says:

    So Glad you are giving us a voice Pam. So true about the overdoing it with Granite. Matching the materials to the style/period of the home is KEY!

    FYI: One thing I learned as a building inspector, a long time ago, it stopped being about ‘health/safety’ & became all about ‘selling new products’. Rules are passed & laws are changed for the next product to be sold.

    Magazines/TV shows/Realtors pushing Products…

    So let’s see; Granite/Stone, shipped from all over the world. What’s the carbon footprint on that??? We Rule!

  4. Karen says:

    God, reading this, I feel like I have found “my people.” Two years ago, I went home hunting. Everywhere had the same granite greige counters and maroon crap. Don’t get me wrong — I like maroon — clothes. They look great with my skin tone. in the winter. Not for my home, though!

    However, the greige nation’s fixation was my gain. I found a cool two bedroom apartment built in 1965 that kept getting passed over because — you guessed it — it had the original lemon yellow cooktop and wall in over, gold fleck Formica kitchen counters and original tile and shower doors in both bathrooms. The greige nation’s stupidity has been my gain!

    My own rant is towards Dwell magazine. Is there anybody out there besides me who finds it incredibly boring? Somehow, I ended up with a year’s subscription to it (I think that a well meaning friend gifted it to me) and I have never found it the least bit interesting. I find myself flipping through it quickly, basically to get it over with, searching for the one piece that I will find that is remotely tied to what I love about mid mod design, “Oh look, a fiberglass Eames chair, but it is off white in a room of charcoal and dark brown” and not seeing one more thing that remotely speaks to me.

    Thank God for Retro Renovation!

  5. pam kueber says:

    I was looking at real estate listings in St. Petersburg, Fla. this weekend. Oh my gosh, it was HORRIBLE what was going on in 99.9% of the new listings. The American people are not getting good design advice today.

  6. amber says:

    I haven’t even bought the house yet but this appeased my guilt about ripping out new granite. 1958 lakehouse____ extensively remodeled unfortunately but thank goodness the original sun porch crank windows are there.

  7. Linda says:

    RIGHT ON, Pam! You rant, baby! Heck, yeah, I’ll rant with ya! Stop the madness NOW!

    I’m house hunting as well. When I calculate the astronimical price it costs just to have this crap REMOVED, I sadly have to pass on some otherwise great, older homes.

  8. Heidi E. says:

    I’m inclined to agree on, “love retro, but not Formica”. Most countertops I’ve had in my life have been Formica and it just doesn’t stand up to much use at all IME. Nor does linoleum, if you’re a dog rescuer like me and get a pup with separation anxiety—the ” Jack Cheese ” ripped half the kitchen down to subfloor and the Catahoula Leopard finished the job and moved on to the bathroom. That said, I don’t necessarily need granite and I think travertine is plain ugly. When I was little we had an early 60s home where the countertops were made with 4-inch tiles similar to the bathroom tiles and I think I saw that on one kitchen here also. I’m strongly considering that for my next kitchen.

  9. pam kueber says:

    Well, this one continues to get some commentary so I will reiterate, I said:

    “Ceramic and/or marble and/or even some granite in the house is fine — in appropriate measures.”


    “For midcentury modern and modest houses alike, laminate countertops are what’s *authentic* to the period.”

    The rant was about my experience condo-shopping and seeing cold hard stone, granite and ceramic on so very many surfaces within the same home. While I understand that lots of folks like their granite countertops and will make that choice, they are not period-appropriate — and this blog is about helping folks find period-approprate resources, so, I don’t write about or advocate granite countertops for that reason. Finally, my laminate countertops have been in place for 10 years now. I see a bit of wear near the sink; otherwise they still in great shape. For hot pots, I put a slab of stainless steel (instead of laminate) next to the stove; works great. The thought of putting any other material but laminate on my vintage steel kitchen cabinets gives me massive design cognitive dissonance. I just couldn’t; it would not look right. If I were in a different house, designed a different way — hippie eclectic would be my “dream house” — I could imagine using a solid surface material without getting that cognitive dissonance. But even then, I wouldn’t…. for the hippie eclectic house of my *dreams* I would use something salvaged! But that’s me. I like doing things the hard way. And when I can be creative and save lots of money at the same time — all the more so

  10. Felicia says:

    Thank you so much, even five years after the fact, for your inspiring story! We’re getting ready to put our 1970s lakeside rambler-in-the-forest onto a VERY tough market in an economically depressed area. One realtor who came in to look over the house last year advised us to tear out the Corian-topped master bath vanity because it’s not up to current height standard, to replace the blue toilet in the hall bath with a white one, and she hinted that updating the kitchen would really help sell the house because buyers “at our level of the market” would expect everything to have been updated. (These pricey updates were recommended in addition to switching out ALL the brass hardware on the kitchen cabinets and ALL the brass door handles on the bedroom doors–replacing them with brushed nickel, of course–and replacing the brass ‘n’ glass ceiling light in the hallway). A second realtor, who looked at the house last month, recommended a lower asking price but advised us to just fix what needs to be fixed, remove the cat-shredded wallpaper, declutter, repaint where needed and freshen up. He thinks that expensive major updates are a waste of money in our currently depressed housing market. I think I know which realtor we’ll be hiring : )

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