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.

CategoriesCountertops
  1. Jason says:

    We are with you Pam! People come to my 1956 house and say – “oh you didn’t put granite in” and/or “oh you didn’t get stainless steel?” because they know I had to gut the kitchen. No I didn’t people! I hope the sheet vinyl doesn’t push you over the cliff of disappointment.

    I couldn’t be happier with my Armstrong 20 year floor or my Wilsonart HD or my white easy to clean appliances. And, if I had the thoughts then that I have now I’d probably have boomerangs and VCT.

  2. TappanTrailerTami says:

    Actually Pam, I am pretty *sure* that there is a study somewhere that says it is healthy to rant once in awhile! Rant on! And while we are ranting, not to pick on poor Polka Dot Formica girl….but….. I actually have to RANT about laminates too (including Formica, Wilsonart, Pionite, etc)…..The Medusa granite girl has overtaken their designs as well.

    I just went and looked at the laminate samples hanging on the wall at Lowe’s and the overwhelming theme is granite or stone look-a-likes. UGH!!! If I wanted stone, I’d have stone. There is hardly any just solid plain colors unless you like Greige or black, and of course we all know what happened to the colorways of Formica’s boomerangs. Down to gray, and that is it.

    I’m not really sure what I want in a laminate, I just know what I *don’t* want. Granite. Plastic Granite made to look like real granite. Or Slate. Or Travertine. Or any other stone for Pete’s sake. I make exception for Carerra Marble, but that’s about all.

    Actually I do know what I want. I want a linoleum look alike.I want swirly marbled looking apple green or dark red. I want white with gold flecks, I want white with avacado flowerettes (like my vintage trailer has).

    So, maybe I’ll go back to considering cherry butcher block again. Hmmm….

    Best of luck looking for a Condo that hasn’t been stoned and greiged.

  3. Dulcie says:

    I just had this rant on Saturday. My daughter and I did a tour of a series of brand new houses built in our area and OMG! I got so sick of hardwood and granite by the end of the day I was practically foaming at the mouth. And neutral colors! BLEH! I can kind of understand the neutral since these are houses built on spec, hoping to attract an interested buyer, but what I noticed about my fellow house-walkers is that the rooms with exciting splashes of color got the most comments. I never heard someone exclaim about the beautiful beige living room, but heard plenty about one of the rare, red-painted dining rooms. I just can’t understand why people are so afraid of color. I even heard one woman say she would love to put red tile in her kitchen backsplash, but wouldn’t do it on the chance that they might want to sell their house one day and she’d have to switch it all back to neutral for resale purposes. Really? It’s your house and you’re afraid to put color in it because you might want to sell it some day? How sad.

    Sorry, rant over. 🙂

    1. Jen says:

      Neutral colors — yuck indeed! I am SO TIRED of seeing all these new housing developments that are just acres of beige. PLease, someone build a house and paint it pink or turquoise or orange!! I know, it’s not allowed in these “high class” developments, but who actually enjoys living in a beige world? Not this girl.

      1. Jamie D says:

        That kitchen is fabulous! We have the same Fiestaware color scheme, and I also painted my walls turquoise. Everyone loves it.

        I’ve carried over the color scheme from my last home – a little 1980s condo because we liked it so much. Unfortunately we weren’t so lucky with selling the condo (we’re renting it to someone who loved all our bright wall colors) but we did get great feedback from our realtor and all of our showings about the bright cheery turquoise kitchen and our bright color scheme throughout. We didn’t have any really serious potential buyers, but the ones who did see our place absolutely loved our MCM style and gave us good feedback. So I do think buyers are finally getting bored with seeing all the beige & granite cheap renovate-to-sell places.

      2. Jackie says:

        I can’t agree more on this. When we were stationed in Tucson, we bought an untouched 1959 ranch with two pink wall ovens, pink tile countertops, a pink tile bathroom with MCM fish tiles swimming across the top of the corner shower stall and 2 baby blue bathrooms with original cabinets and tile and wide plank knotty pine paneling in the family room. When I saw the pink countertops and ovens I was SOLD! When we moved on to our new assignment, our realtor (by default) told us we would have to put $30,000 into a new kitchen at least, or the house wouldn’t sell. Fortunately, we didn’t have $30,000 for a new kitchen. Six months later and no buyer we fired the old realtor and found a top notch new one. She took one look at the house and fell in love with it. In her ad she put “BARBIE WOULD LOVE THIS KITCHEN!”. The next morning after her ad hit the MLS the house was sold. By that same evening we had a backup offer! The man who bought it said he had looked at the previous agents ad which had basically said in so many words, this is another old house, so he never bothered to look at it. He was just as thrilled about finding an untouched house as I had been. So, don’t go remuddle your house just to put it on the market there are just too many people like us out there.

        1. Zoe says:

          Amen! I have been looking for houses in the Detroit suburbs, and I’ve specified to the realtor that I’m looking for ranch houses built between 1950-1970; nothing that has been re-modeled. Guess how many they have found for me to look at… almost none. I do better filtering the real estate sites for the criteria that is important to me — big yard, ranch house, basement. If the price is low, it’s far more likely that it’s un-remuddled. I’ll find something, eventually. But I wish someone could talk sense into people who update these houses only because of “resale value” — we all need to remember that there are people like us who VALUE the past.

        2. 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 : )

    2. Just another Pam says:

      Dulcie, some of us aren’t ‘afraid’ of color but find it to be too stimulating covering a whole wall so it has to be used in other ways. I find white and black calming. I have some black walls, all my doors are glass and black, the back stairs are now black and white lino though the wall at the bottom, like the exterior doors, is a very bright acid lime green.

      I do have more black walls than the two I’d planned but it turns out vintage teak looks a-freaking-mazing against black where it just looked nice against any of the other colors I tried.

  4. lynda says:

    I think everyone had to have granite due to watching certain HGTV episodes and the real estate agents. I didn’t like granite when it first came out. I used to think only in America can we take a hunk of stone from the ground in Africa, or wherever, ship it to Italy to be polished and ship it to America to be fabricated into counters. Doesn’t that just seem like a huge waste of energy? I have managed to talk some out granite in remodels, but not many. Most people are so afraid of resale values. I predict there will be many “how to” ideas on how to use the granite in the garden for benches, stepping stones, patios etc!

  5. Pyrexmaniac says:

    thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, Pam. I know that in twenty years people will look at homes with granite, marble and earth-tones as “so 2000.” IMO, granite and marble are in the same category as mcmansions and palladian windows. Heavy white plantation shutters, massive entertainment centers, two-story grand foyers and “gourmet” kitchens with carved wood, cornices and of course, natural stone counters scream nouveaux riche. I’ll take my cork, laminate and mosaic tile any day.

  6. lady brett says:

    oh, 60’s is not typically “my thing” (i’m more of a 40’s simplicity sort of girl), but i want formica girl framed on my wall! she’s just amazing – despite that formica is not really “my thing” either.

  7. Jen says:

    It’s a status symbol, of course. Granite and marble is expensive. Put it everywhere and it’s evident that you’ve got the mohn-ay. I put a Silestone kitchen counter in for the durability, but that is the only surface where it’s used. My bathroom still has it’s original 1950’s plastic tile … and I love it. 🙂

  8. pam kueber says:

    I need to clarify: I don’t have any problem with any of these materials per se. But, it’s the old saw: “Any strength taken too far becomes — a weakness.” As with greige, do we have to have this stuff on Every Possible Surface? It’s just unimaginative design.

    I DO also want to recognize the comment by Nathan, which underscores that in Florida — where they are in constant battle with termites and humidity and the like — hard surfaces are very functional. But, there are lots of hard surfaces, even, to choose from. Saltillo tiles? Yes — Classic! And YES to the reader who asked about terrazzo; it’s quite expensive new, but if you have it original: YES!

  9. Chris z says:

    I live in Dallas, a city notorious for demolishing anything over 20 years old. I was thrilled to find my 1955 ranch with all original ceramic tile bathrooms, hardwoods throughout, and mostly original kitchen. The important elements – wooden cabinets, cracked ice countertops, and pink Frigidaire “built only by General Motors” built-in stovetop, are still in fantastic condition. I had to buy fridge and dishwasher – went stainless and they blend in well. The sad thing is that if I ever decide to sell, I “will have to upgrade to be marketable” Whatever… As long as I live here, it will all stay true to 1955

    1. Lauryn says:

      Chris, I can’t speak to Dallas real estate, but I know when we were looking at houses we walked away from countless houses where someone had tried to do the remodel-to-sell thing. I simply didn’t want to pay for someone’s crappy remodel that I hated anyway. As you can see by the comments here, there are plenty of people out there who LOVE finding a home with those original elements. Trust me, we looked into the “new” cracked ice laminates and they’re not really even close to the same thing as the original. So I hope you and everyone else with the good fortune to have original design elements seriously re-think the remodel-to-sell mindset. Let the next owners make those decisions … you never know, they may also want to stay true to 1955!!

    2. JKM says:

      Chris z – I, too, live in Dallas and know what you mean. In my sister’s old North Dallas neighborhood of early 1950’s rambling ranch houses on 1/2 acre lots (south of LBJ – you know the area), they’re either knocking them down and putting up gigantic pseudo-Normandy/Tudor/Colonial/Sometimes all-in-one mansions or “updating” the large rambling homes with all the “latest” bells and whistles today’s modern homebuyer wants – ugh.

      Two neighboring houses were purchased from the estates of long-time elderly owners and gutted to include all the trappings – granite countertops with tumbled marble backsplashes, travertine floors, stainless appliances, tan walls with white trim, six panel colonial style interior doors and enough “old world” faux finishes to make one gag. All this in sleek, long, low, mid-50’s homes. About the only worthy component remaining were the beautiful wood floors, which had all been refinished, thank goodness. Pink and green bathrooms were destroyed and pitched into dumpsters and, in one case, a steel St. Charles kitchen – simply mangled beyond repair. We were sickened.

  10. oldgun31 says:

    I worked construction in Vegas for years and i hate travertine now. It was in every cheep tract house and 200k kitchen. I know in 10 years it will be the new pink tile that everyone wants to rip out as soon as they can afford to do it. I hope when they do rip it out its replaced with pink tile.

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