It Came From the '70s: The Story of Your Grandma's Weird Couch

August 27th, 2018

Futzing around on social media, as one does, I recently stumbled upon a meme that hit close to home. Over a picture-patterned sofa in an autumnal-colored velour with scrolling dark wood trim, it declared, “Everyone’s grandparents had this couch. Everyone’s.” I paused, because my grandmother did, in fact, have this exact type of couch. The site TipHero took the meme further in a list associating this couch style with an “ancient” television very similar to my grandma’s large floor model with turned wood in the frame. The list nailed Grandma’s house in other ways: “Bonzana” on the old TV, lace doilies, tomato pin cushions, hard candies, crossword puzzles, transferware, shag-rug toilet covers, and leftovers in Country Crock tubs.

“The good news was that fabric was going to last forever—but the bad news was that fabric was going to last forever.”

When I was growing up, Grandma lived in a small prefabricated Lustron house built for World War II vets on the northwest side of Tulsa. Grandpa died when I was age 5 in 1980, so my memories of him are hazy. But the couch was a part of her home as long as I could remember: It was printed with a repeating image that might have been a rustic barn with a wagon wheel perched outside or an old mill with a water wheel, surrounded by reddish orange and gold flowers, and possibly wild fowl like pheasants or turkeys. The fabric also had a fuzzy velour-type texture, but it was scratchy against the skin. And the arms, made out of scrolling dark wood covered in more of that fabric, were hard and unfriendly for leaning against.

The couch was perfectly set among the wood-paneling on the wall, the dense, rust orange carpet on the floor, the cuckoo clock, the dark-wood furniture, and the heavy, wood-frame TV set that never knew cable. On side tables, she kept a Sooner slag-glass swan bowl and a pressed-glass candy jar always filled with Starlite Mints in both peppermint and spearmint. When the TV was off, she loved to play country music, whether on the radio, vinyl, or cassette tape—from Hank Williams to the Oak Ridge Boys and Alabama to Randy Travis and Garth Brooks. Her tiny kitchen had a Formica table and roosters on trivets and tea towels. One of my earliest memories of the house is my cousin, Bryan, then 10 years old, eating cereal on his Spider-Man TV tray, watching “Dukes of Hazzard” next to the floor furnace, while Grandma sat on the couch, asking for help with “TV Guide” crossword-puzzle clues, nibbling on a frozen home-made oatmeal cookie she had retrieved from a Country Crock container.

Top: This sofa's shape, structure, and colors are almost identical to my grandmother's couch. (Via Coffeesnob) Above: The picture pattern of this wood-frame sofa may be closer to the actual print of Grandma's couch. (Via Reddit)

Top: This sofa’s shape, structure, and colors are almost identical to my grandmother’s couch. (Via Coffeesnob) Above: The picture pattern of this wood-frame sofa may be closer to the actual print of Grandma’s couch. These types of couches are sometimes billed as “Retro Gauche” or “Coloniawful.”(Via Reddit)

The Grandma’s Couch meme got me thinking about all the mid-century styles that design-conscious people would like to forget, from the low popcorn ceilings to wall-to-wall shag carpeting. Thanks in part to IKEA and Target, young people today are enamored with Mid-Century Modern furnishings and home goods with their clean lines, dainty teak toothpick legs, bright colors, and quirky-cute Space Age patterns. These trends obviously influence the current market for vintage wares. For example, vintage Pyrex dishes in solid primary colors or the pink “Gooseberry” pattern are hot, while the brown Pyrex pattern my mom has is not. While the ’80s have come back in the form of high-waisted jeans, neon colors, and retro radio, no one seems eager to bring back heavy carved wood furniture with brass fittings, conservative blazers with thick shoulder pads, or the brown-orange design palette I encountered everywhere before 1983.

All of this made me ponder: Where did this Grandma Couch—which is somehow both conservative and flamboyant at the same—come from? How did so many people have it, when it is largely ignored by taste-makers obsessed with mid-century design? What did life in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s really look like for the squares? What of the people who didn’t have the money or inclination to install their homes with all new Modernist furniture, who never embraced countercultural bohemia, who never donned a sparkly shirt to hit the hottest disco?

A 1958 still from the TV series "Gunsmoke" shows Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty and Milburn Stone as Doc Adams. (Via WikiCommons)

A 1958 still from the TV series “Gunsmoke” shows Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty and Milburn Stone as Doc Adams. (Via WikiCommons)

I reached out to Pam Kueber, who coined the term “Mid-Century Modest,” and runs the blog Retro Renovation, where she advises people who buy mid-century homes how to restore them in a way that actually reflects the period. Could she explain the Grandma Couch?

“Blame it on ‘Gunsmoke,'” Kueber tells me with a laugh, referring to the hugely popular Western TV show that aired on CBS for a record-breaking 20 seasons, from 1955 to 1975. “Although, there’s more to it than that.”

Ah, yes—Westerns. Before World War II, most Americans were still living in rural settings, and very much identified with the pioneers of yore. Grandparents born between 1910 and 1940, if they had electric wiring in their homes, grew up with cowboy heroes such as Tom Mix and the Lone Ranger on the radio. At the very least, they could catch a fantastic frontier shoot-’em-up drama at the local cinema. “Stagecoach” was the runaway hit of 1939, making John Wayne a tough-talking gun-slinging star who would reach the height of popularity in the 1950s and ’60s, the years we also associate with future-facing Space Age Modernism. On TV, “Gunsmoke’s” prime-time dominance was closely trailed by the NBC mining Western “Bonanza,” which ran for 14 seasons, from 1959 to 1973. A couch reflecting rustic prairie life in autumnal tones would have been appealing to the audience curling up to journey to the Wild West every week.

A found snapshot from 1977 shows a grandpa hanging out with his grand kids on a brown-tone floral Colonial-style couch. (Via eBay)

A found snapshot from 1977 shows a grandpa hanging out with his grandkids on a brown-tone floral Colonial-style wingback sofa. (Via eBay)

“During postwar years, we were very much about expansion of America into the West: Phoenix, Arizona, and Houston, Texas were exploding,” Kueber explains. “All of Texas and California were growing, growing, growing, growing, growing. So all things ‘Western’ were huge, from ranch houses to denim jeans. Along with that come all these Old West motifs in furnishings. My Grandma and Grandpa loved those Western TV shows when I was young. People were coming off the farm, too, like my grandparents, who moved their family from the farm in North Dakota to the suburbs of Southern California in the ’60s. In my attic right now, I literally have an ox-yoke mirror that came from North Dakota. Grandpa took this farm implement and upcycled it. It’s a part of America’s farming, pioneering heritage. But what am I going to do with it? I can’t sell it now. I can’t even give it away.”

“I will go to my grave saying most people—modern people—do want unnecessary decoration. We are decorative beings.”

During the Depression, my grandma’s family owned a general store near Jay, Oklahoma. My great-grandfather took so many IOUs that he went broke and the whole family had to work as sharecroppers for a grim period. Grandma met Grandpa at a square dance in Tahlequah. He served in World War II, while she took a clerical job at a home-front factory. They married when he returned from the war in 1946, and lived in Tulsa. Theirs is a hardscrabble all-American working-class story, but their photo albums reveal the days grandfather was making good money on the assembly line: Grandma posed in smart, blazered ’40s dresses near a streamlined classic car and outside the fashionable Kress department store in downtown Tulsa. Still, even though they lived in a city, I believe my grandparents always saw themselves as humble country folk.

But there’s so much more going on with these sofas than the country-home themes, the shabby barns, red and brown leaves, mantel clocks, or horses on the prints. While Kueber and I weren’t able to nail down an exact year or a maker, she was able to help me put the Grandma Couch into context.

Depending on the meme, everyone—or everyone's grandma—had this particular sofa. Here, the busy pattern on the synthetic velour includes a rustic cuckoo clock. At least, I think that's what's happening.

Depending on the meme, everyone—or everyone’s grandma—had this sofa. Here, the busy pattern on the synthetic velour includes an old-timey clock. At least, I think that’s what’s happening.

“This couch is a hat tip to Early American or Colonial Revival décor, which was massively popular through most of the 20th century—married to an indestructible, essentially plastic Space Age fabric, which our grandparents would have found appealing because our grandparents didn’t tend to redecorate constantly,” Kueber explains. “They had one sofa. They bought their furniture on a layaway, and by the time they found enough money for a sofa, they wanted it to last forever. So the good news was that fabric was going to last forever—but the bad news was that fabric was going to last forever.

“I say that in a loving way: They got the fashionable look of the day, which was this novelty print on their sofa, and it was made from a fabric that had all the modern qualities that one would want. So, hooray! I’m sure it was a big day when that sofa came home.”

The first iteration of Colonial Revival originated around 1876, when Victorians were celebrating the United States centennial, and the throwback interior style—which sought to shed the frilly excesses of cluttered Victorian neo-Rococo fashion—remained popular up to 1940. It branched off into two larger design subsets: 18th-Century Colonial Revival and Early American. The former embraced the stately, symmetrical style seen in the homes of the Founding Father elite—the exteriors defined by red brick, white shutters, and maybe symmetric neo-Classical columns; the white-walled interiors a combination of elegant, scrolling Georgian and Neo-Classical upholstered wood furnishings and gold-trimmed mirrors. Early American is more about the hard-working pilgrims, farmers, and pioneers in their log cabins and farmhouses with heavy, simple wood furniture.

The "floral sofa" in this Sears Open Hearth Country Home ad, which appeared in the May 1977 issue of "Redbook," is the closest advertising image I've found to the Grandma Couch. (Via classic_film on Flickr/Creative Commons)

The “floral sofa” in this Sears Open Hearth Country Home ad, which appeared in the May 1977 issue of “Redbook,” is the closest advertising image I’ve found to the Grandma Couch. (Via classic_film on Flickr/Creative Commons)

The two styles are cousins, connected by a sentimental, patriotic nostalgia for the birth of this country, and probably a lot of overlap such as Windsor chairs and other turned-wood pieces. In the early 20th century, Wallace Nutting made a name for himself building fine wooden reproductions of Colonial furniture, for example.

After the tumultuous years of World War II, Colonial Revival, and particularly Early American style, had another rebirth, popular among young families who wanted a return to tradition. The grandma factor is practically built in—even as a young woman, grandma wanted the furniture her grandma had.

“The Colonial Revival style endured, but it took on different forms over the years in post-World War II America, which is what I tend to write about and focus on at Retro Renovation,” Kueber says. “In the ’50s, the style looks more like it looked in the ’30s and ’40s because we were still recovering from the Depression and World War II, so there were carryovers. By the ’60s and ’70s, you started to see more marketers reimagining and playing with the concept of what Early American meant.”

An early '70s kitchen in Arizona with a patriotic eagle, Knotty Pine cabinets, modified Windsor chairs, and a Harvest Gold and Burnt Orange color palette. (Via Ugly House Photos)

An early ’70s kitchen in Arizona with a patriotic eagle, Knotty Pine cabinets, modified Windsor chairs, and a Harvest Gold and Burnt Orange color palette. (Via Ugly House Photos)

Kueber says her grandparents had a similarly unforgettable home as my grandparents’, but their family-room couch was covered in a popular plastic-based plaid marketed as Herculon in Sears catalogs of the ’60s and ’70s in the same drab color palette. The walls were covered in a type of Early American wood paneling known as Knotty Pine.

“Grandma and Grandpa had a small ranch house in Oceanside, California,” she recalls. “Every week, we visited their very memorable home, which had a swimming pool and a tangerine tree in back. They had a Knotty Pine family room, too, right next to the wood-paneled kitchen with the Early American cupboard, where Grandma kept her big salt-and-pepper shaker collection. Grandpa would offer us those Orange Slices, that jelly candy with the sugar coating. It was a very prototypical ’60s Grandma and Grandpa house.

“Knotty Pine walls and wood paneling were everywhere because Grandpa and Dad were still finishing rooms themselves,” she says. “So my dad put a lot of wood paneling in our houses all the way through to the last one they built together, which was in ’71. The wood paneling would’ve gone well with these Herculon sofas. I don’t even know what Herculon is, but it sounds really durable, doesn’t it? These sofas probably weighed a ton, and were probably well-made, with eight-way hand-tied springs and dovetailed everything. At that time, every piece of furniture a family purchased was a big deal.”

On the right side of this 1970 image of a Montgomery Ward floor, you can see a brown floral couch similar to my grandma's, as well as a Colonial Revival coffee table that resembles hers, but with different hardware. In the background is an orange plaid couch. (Via Pleasant Family Shopping)

On the right side of this 1970 image of a Montgomery Ward floor, you can see a brown floral couch similar to my grandma’s, as well as a Colonial Revival coffee table that resembles hers, but with different hardware. In the background is an orange plaid couch. (Via Pleasant Family Shopping)

Also, Kueber explains, houses got bigger from the late ’60s to the early ’80s, and Americans got bigger, thanks to all the food we had access to in the postwar prosperity. As a result, furniture got heavier and bigger. Cabinet and dresser styles I’ve found in ’70s Sears catalogs—often dubbed “Mediterranean” and “Spanish”—feature the faces of drawers and doors densely adorned with carved wood. In an illustration of a ’70s Montgomery Ward sales floor, I see a floral-print couch with the same architecture as my grandma’s, paired with a piece that looks like her Colonial Revival coffee table, which was open on the sides with turned-wood supports, and had a double-door cabinet in the middle. She kept our coloring books and crayons in the cabinet, while the coasters that had to be used for cans of pop were stashed under the sides. I remember running my finger over the planed wooden face of the cabinet, and how the ornate pulls would sometimes come loose and turn askew.

“We were better fed than our grandparents,” Kueber says. “Grandmas are like 5’1”; I’m 5’9”. So people started to need bigger sofas. As homes got bigger, you saw a move during those years toward heavier furniture with more wood embellishments, like Mediterranean furniture of the era, which has lots of gewgaws carved into it every which way. This sofa had that same kind of heaviness to it, and again had pieces of dark wood like oak showing. The kitchen in these bigger homes might open to a family room, while the formal living room would be sequestered off and rarely used. I associate these novelty-print sofas with the family room, which could be woodsier and more casual, with shag carpeting. And brown, lots of brown; everything was brown.”

This 1970s catalog page shows Spanish or Mediterranean style furniture, heavy with carved wood gewgaws. (Via Pinterest)

This 1970s catalog page shows Spanish or Mediterranean style furniture, heavy with carved wood gewgaws. (Via Pinterest)

So how did brown become the color du jour of the late ’70s? Well, as consumerism exploded in the postwar years, home furnishings marketers took a cue from Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors, who came up with the idea of tweaking car models just enough every year that Americans would covet a new car. Department stores and furnishing companies also began to change up their furniture and home décor offerings each year, presenting the “most current” colors and patterns in their catalogs and magazine ads. “Everything you bought became fashion,” Kueber says.

“Our grandparents didn’t want an ugly couch; these were seen as beautiful and stylish.”

In the 1950s, women were encouraged to embrace ideas of traditional femininity, which included a return to homemaking. While the ’50s housewife was focused on rearing the kids, she was also encouraged to shop and literally “make” the new suburban home. That, taken with the sunny postwar optimism, led to pastel-colored Princess phones, pink and turquoise bathroom tiles (also given a nod by TipHero), and sunny yellow kitchens. “Historian Thomas Hine dubbed this style Populuxe, referring to the pastel lollipop colors of the 1950s,” Kueber says. “Everyone talked about that era’s sense of exuberance.”

As youthful Mod fashions came to the United States in the early ‘60s, you saw housewives taking even more risks with bright daisy prints in vibrant reds, bright oranges, and lime green. But then, the American mood took a grim turn. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, and civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered on April 4, 1968. The United States was sending more and more young men to fight in the Vietnam War, and their deaths led to turmoil and protests including the “Flower Power” anti-war movement. Around the same time, the counterculture opposing the war was promoting a more anti-consumeristic ecology-friendly lifestyle known as the Earth Movement. Ironically, marketers saw dollar signs in the new looks created by the youth culture and, in the early ’70s, started offering furnishings in bright psychedelic patterns as well as muted “earth tones.”

In this 1970s ad, a stylish young woman on a floral Grandma couch while an unseen companion pets her golden retriever on shag carpeting surrounded by Colonial Revival furniture. (Via The Giki Tiki)

In this 1970s ad, a stylish young woman holds a book on a floral Grandma Couch while an unseen companion pets her golden retriever, who rests on shag carpeting surrounded by Colonial Revival furniture. (Via The Giki Tiki)

“In the ’60s, America sobers up and matures; and those sociological factors were thought to influence color palettes,” Kueber says. “Today, a lot of people are trying to correlate or ascribe historical events to changes in American color palettes or fashion preferences. Who knows whether it’s really true. Did the market want earthier colors and patterns, or did the marketers glom onto the Earth Movement and make the market want it?

Some people tried drugs or hosted swinging sex parties; others channeled their sense of adventure exclusively into garish upholstery.

“There were echoes of big color in the ’70s, remnants of the ’60s Flower Power,” she continues. “On Retro Renovation, we’ve looked at some ’70s furniture that is all orange or all lime green, which were big Flower Power colors. Whereas, I want to say Avocado and Harvest Gold started between ’66 and ’68, introducing drabber colors to the market. That’s what led to the gold, brown, and orange tones of this sofa, which is also more drab than the ’50s palette. Those Harvest Gold and Avocado were ginormous, powerful trends that lasted at least a dozen years.”

A Getty Image taken by Steve Errico (which you can see here) shows a brown-tone floral-print couch similar to the Grandma Couch in the context of a ’70s living room. There’s heavy but lightly printed beige drapery behind it; a splotchy brown, tan, and cream pattern carpet; dark wood paneling on the wall; a Colonial Revival coffee table with turned-wood legs; a rustic field-stone fireplace with something looking like an eagle on the mantel; and a wood chandelier that’s not a repurposed wagon wheel but a ship’s wheel.

The Spring/Summer 1976 Sears catalog shows a family touring the home of Founding Father John Adams in Quincy, Massachusetts. (Via eBay)

The Spring/Summer 1976 Sears catalog shows a family touring the home of Founding Father John Adams in Quincy, Massachusetts. (Via eBay)

The United States Bicentennial in 1976 prompted an explosion in Americana, including Early American and Colonial Revival furniture. The cover of the 1976 Sears Spring/Summer catalog shows a family of four posed at the Quincy, Massachusetts, birthplace of Founding Father and second U.S. president, John Adams. A flag waves against the blue-sky backdrop of the red-painted wood Colonial home. Inside the catalog, you can find plenty of furniture like Windsor-style chairs, plaid “country style” couches, and heavy-wood furniture lines branded as Early American and Colonial Style—including the Sears Open Hearth Country Home line. The corniest products of 1976 are known as Bicentennial Chic and came in the colors of the American flag with overt American symbols incorporated into the design. The catalog contains leather-covered bars with eagles and shields embossed into the front and bedspreads in “patchwork” and red, white, and blue patterns.

Why were these trends so universal? “My sense is that back in the day, the color and fashion trends lasted longer,” Kueber says. “Again, it goes back to ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘Bonanza.’ Even though families were starting to get cable in the 1980s, up until 1990-something, three major TV networks still dominated American TV. Before the ’80s and ’90s, we all watched the same mass media. We all watched the same major motion pictures. There were seven ladies’ magazines, meaning millions and millions of people were looking at the same ads for the same stuff. The internet didn’t even really work until 2010—not really. So there was a common culture, and true mass market you could sell to. We all bought the same colors and trends.

“Nowadays, fads are splintered a thousand ways because no matter what you’re into, you can find your own community that’s into that, too, on the internet,” she continues. “Even my community, which I’ve carved out of a niche, is made up of people who like the same offbeat vintage stuff. I don’t focus on upscale, designer Mid-Century Modern. It’s more of a community for thrifters.”

Another 1977 ad for the Sears Open Hearth Country Home furniture line. Tartan plaid made of indestructible synthetic weaves, Windsor chairs, red tile, braided rugs, and patriotic colors were all a part of the "Spirit of '76" Colonial Revival. (Via Pinterest)

Another 1977 ad for the Sears Open Hearth Country Home furniture line. Tartan plaid made of indestructible synthetic weaves, Windsor chairs, red tile, braided rugs, and patriotic colors were all a part of the “Spirit of ’76” Colonial Revival. (Via Flickr)

Because Early American furnishings were largely recycled ideas, only updated with technology and materials developed for the war, these time-worn styles don’t excite design-history junkies, who love everything cutting-edge and game-changing. Perhaps the relentless focus on clean-lined Modernism gives us a skewed version of what American homes looked like in the late 20th century.

“In my attic right now, I literally have an ox-yoke mirror that came from North Dakota. What am I going to do with it? I can’t even give it away.”

“I don’t think Mid-Century Modern was popular at all,” Kueber says. “Postwar Americans liked Center-Hall Colonials with traditional furniture like Early American décor, with a little bit of French Provincial maybe thrown in there. But then Early American sort of goes sideways into the ’70s, like with this novelty-print couch. Still, Mid-Century Modern is about the absence of unnecessary decoration. I will go to my grave saying most people—modern people—do want unnecessary decoration. We are decorative beings.”

The philosophy of Modernism goes back as far as 1880, around the time of the Arts & Crafts Movement, which promoted simple lines and hand-crafted, minimally decorated furniture as a response to the chintzy, cheap furniture produced in Victorian factories. In the early 20th century, Germans thinkers in the Bauhaus School merged the machines of mass-production with the clean lines of Arts & Crafts. In 1925, Swiss Modern-architecture pioneer Le Corbusier declared: “Modern decorative art has no decoration.”

“Around 1939, the men and women who were fleeing Nazi Germany came to America, bringing Modern design ideas like Bauhaus,” Kueber says. “Their influence led to what we call Mid-Century Modern—a term coined by Cara Greenberg in 1984—which included the Case Study Houses with these sleek, long, low sofas and tulip chairs that were very opposite of highly decorated furniture.”

The iconic Case Study House No. 22 was designed by architect Pierre Koenig for Clarence "Buck" Stahl and built in the Hollywood Hills in 1959. (Photo by Julius Shulman, © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles)

The iconic Case Study House No. 22 was designed by architect Pierre Koenig for Clarence “Buck” Stahl and built in the Hollywood Hills in 1959. (Photo by Julius Shulman, © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles)

The Case Study Houses were a series of experimental homes funded by “Art & Architecture Magazine,” between 1945 and 1966, and designed by major Modernist influencers including Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, Eero Saarinen, A. Quincy Jones, Edward Killingsworth, and Ralph Rapson.

But if you and I hopped into a time machine to our parents’ and grandparents’ worlds of the 1950s and early ’60s, we wouldn’t be in an all-Modern-all-the-time world. At Retro Renovation, Kueber has spent the past 12 years helping people find period-appropriate materials to restore their mid-century homes, and has learned a few things about what the design of the era really looked like, thus her “Mid-Century Modest Manifesto.”

“Mid-Century Modest is the counterpoint to this notion that right after World War II everything was Mid-Century Modern,” Kueber says. “My sense of looking back at design history of postwar era was that the masses of America were not buying that stuff, nor were they building Case Study Houses, which were, in and of themselves, pretty impractical. Most of America was steeped in a Colonial Cape Cod house ideal. The home in the 1948 film ‘Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House‘ was a Colonial Revival house.

An article in the September 1958 edition of "Family Circle" extols the virtues of affordable, new Colonial Revival and Early American furniture. (Via Flickr)

An article in the September 1958 edition of “Family Circle” extols the virtues of affordable Colonial Revival and Early American furniture. (Via Flickr)

“I say in the Mid-Century Modest Manifesto, maybe a million people had those fully Modernist houses. For every million people who had one of those, tens of millions of Americans had a more traditional home. Even in the new suburban ranch-house layouts, the majority of American homes and the stuff in them were what I call Mid-Century Modest, which was more like what we’re talking about, what your grandma had with her Early American furniture and sofa. They came from farms. They wanted something more conservative, traditional, practical. And they liked Early American décor.

“My mother-in-law, who was a high-end decorator, also had very traditional décor in the late ’50s and early ’60s,” she continues. “She says all of her friends who bought Mid-Century Modern regretted it and got rid of it as soon as they could. It was too limiting and specific. So she liked having a more traditional décor that you could play around with. You could change out the fabric. She would be one to change her draperies and her pillows, for example, to be more trendy.”

Speaking of fabrics, the wackiest aspect of the Grandma Couch is the Old West picture-pattern upholstery. It’s weirdly similar to Victorian wallpaper with the same idyllic scene over and over again—the sort of wallpaper disdained by British textile designer William Morris, who was one of the leaders of the spared-down and elegant Arts & Crafts Movement. While couches with plaid and floral prints were all over the place in the late 20th century, this rustic-image fabric is something that seems very specific to the ’70s: When “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” where winding down and headed to syndication-land, “A Little House on the Prairie,” which debuted on NBC in 1974, made the pioneer life of Laura Ingalls Wilder seem romantic. Suddenly, Americans were snatching up modest calico dresses from Laura Ashley, Jessica McClintock’s Gunne Sax line, and so on.

Game birds roost among wildflowers on this fake-velour '70s Grandma Couch next to a Christmas tree. (Pinterest)

Game birds roost among wildflowers on this fake-velour ’70s Grandma Couch. (Pinterest)

“I don’t think that novelty prints on sofa fabrics have been very popular throughout history,” Kueber muses. “Clearly, it was an experiment promoted by sofa manufacturers as a new look. And yes, for some number of years, customers went for it. But it didn’t endure.”

Repeating patterns were more common on wallpaper because it was a relatively affordable and temporary way to make a room more interesting, Kueber says. “If you look at pictures from the ’40s and ’50s, you’ll see houses weren’t so chockful of stuff; people didn’t have a lot of furniture or art on the walls, so the homemaker would choose lively patterns,” she explains. “Until the introduction of latex wall paint in the post-World War II era, to change the color of the wall, you had to put really noxious oil paints on it. They took days to dry and were nasty with lead and other toxins in the mix. You really had to hire a professional to put that stuff on your walls, but it lasted forever.

“It was cheaper and easier for Mrs. America to just put wallpaper up,” she continues. “I don’t know that Mrs. America necessarily changed wallpaper often, but she could. You do hear stories about people going into older houses, moaning that they had to strip off seven layers of wallpaper. So wallpaper was marketed as more of a fashion product that you could change out over time, cheap and cheerful. But a sofa is not typically viewed as a cheap and cheerful purchase. It is a lifetime purchase.”

A young dad cuddles with his baby on a Colonial Revival sofa with a brown Herculon plaid fabric in this 1979 vernacular photo. (Via eBay)

A young dad cuddles with his baby on a Colonial Revival sofa with a brown Herculon plaid fabric in this 1979 vernacular photo. (Via eBay)

The ’70s, however, was a time when everyone, even the Western-loving square, was more open to experimenting in some way. Some people tried drugs or hosted swinging sex parties; others channeled their sense of adventure exclusively into garish upholstery.

“In my mind, the ’70s was the most fantastic decade for décor because designers were just doing the craziest things,” Kueber says. “The design world had incredible energy. The decade was the last great gasp of frenzied sexual revolution, pre-AIDS. You could do anything. It was like there were no repercussions—until there were. Then we had the rise of the yuppie and The Preppy Handbook. Oh, my God, what a comedown that was. Honestly, I think the Grandma sofa is of that wild 1970s experimental ilk, too.”

Interior design goes through both evolutionary and revolutionary changes, Kueber explains. “With General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan would first alter the car’s tail fin, and then the headlights, and within a couple years, it’s a completely different car. But you didn’t really notice the changes as the years went by. Then sometimes design changes in a totally revolutionary way, where the pendulum abruptly swings the other direction. Somebody decides to shake things up and go in the completely opposite direction of what’s popular, and it resonates.

Pam Kueber's favorite "Bicentennial Chic" room from a 1970s Ethan Allen catalog. (Via Retro Renovation)

Pam Kueber’s favorite “Bicentennial Chic” room from a mid-1970s Ethan Allen catalog. (Via Retro Renovation)

“Changes in Early American and Colonial Revival are more evolutionary, like Sloan’s automobiles,” she says. “I’ll say, ‘Oh, I can see what they did. That’s a take on Early American over there but they changed the color and the scale.’ My daughter is getting an apartment, and I was showing her Ethan Allen furniture, which is a classic Colonial Revival company. Today, they’re offering this black lacquer cannonball bed, but they have totally blown up the scale of it. Clearly, it has Early American or Colonial Revival roots, but it’s fresh and modern.”

Today, prairie fashion is making a comeback, as thrifters are hunting for prim Laura Ashley dresses with high neck lines, puffy sleeves, and big bows. And of course, we can’t talk about prairie style without mentioning the incredibly influential HGTV show, “Fixer Upper,” which ran from May 2013 to April 2018, featuring the Waco, Texas, based remodelers Chip and Joanna Gaines. Their so-called Farmhouse Chic style featured on each episode of “Fixer Upper” has taken over in a big way, but it looks very different. The goal of “Fixer Upper” is to make these old houses look light and airy with minimal patterns, as opposed to the dark-wood, drably earth-toned, and pattern-dense look of the ’70s “country style” living room. Although, there are similarities: “Shiplap is Knotty Pine hung horizontally and with no amber shellac on it, isn’t it?” Kueber muses. “Call me crazy, but I think that’s what that is.”

This 1952 ad for Formica countertops shows the modern material paired with Knotty Pine cabinets and paneling. The ad text promotes "the warmth and charm of the early American kitchen." (Via Retro Renovation)

This 1952 ad for Formica countertops shows the modern material paired with Knotty Pine cabinets and paneling. The ad text promotes “the warmth and charm of the early American kitchen.” (Via Retro Renovation)

That said, there’s no place for the Grandma Couch in the Gaines’ tasteful world with its distressed-paint antiques and repurposed farm gear. “Looking at this sofa today, I struggle to picture how you could integrate this successfully into a room you’d be happy living in your entire life, as opposed to something ironic,” Kueber says. “But I think there are other elements of the era that we might see revived big-time, like plaids. Even stuff like the drab colors, the Avocados, we keep seeing come back in fits and bursts. It’s a great color. Golds and oranges are great colors.

“In fact, we’re going to probably come up on another Colonial Revival soon because, as one of my readers recently said, 2026 will be our 250th anniversary of the Independence,” she continues. “Colonial Revivals often come during those big anniversaries. Millennials want to do the opposite of whatever their mother did, and maybe more like what Grandma did. They love Grandma, but they must disengage from their mother. Millennials might kind of like some Colonial motifs like cannonball beds. There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re beautiful.”

As for the Grandma Couch, it is not just snubbed by the Gaines and the high-brow coastal elite; it regularly wins low-brow online competitions for World’s Ugliest Couch. However, over at Retro Renovation, insults like “ugly” and “hideous” are not allowed. In fact, my mom tells me that when my grandparents purchased the sofa in question, they were so proud they were able to pay for a brand new couch and not use a hand-me-down for the first time in their lives.

 Christine's Creations in Woodstock, Georgia, upcycled this grandma furniture set into stylish outdoor furniture. But who's to say how long apple green and apple red will be en vogue? (Via Pinterest)

Christine’s Creations in Woodstock, Georgia, upcycled this grandma furniture set into stylish outdoor furniture. But who’s to say how long apple green and apple red will be en vogue? (Via Pinterest)

“That’s why we shouldn’t make fun of it today,” Kueber says. “Blogging at Retro Renovation over a dozen years, I have seen so many fashion fads in décor that people today make fun of, but were very fashionable at the time. Our grandparents didn’t choose them because they wanted an ugly couch; they chose them because they were marketed as the fashion of the time and they were seen as beautiful and stylish. It’s the old ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ trope.

“I’m sure that there are sofas being purchased today that are considered very au courant that will be memed viciously 10 or 20 years from now,” she continues. “So be careful: If you don’t want your sofa memed in short duration, choose something that’s not too specific, that’s not too ‘of the moment.’ Aim for a timeless look.”

What’s surprising about the TipHero list and even the “Everyone’s Grandma” meme is how sweet they are, made with an earnest love of grandmas and their hard-candy-filled homes. Recently, 47-year-old comedian, actor, and rapper Mike Epps posted a meme about “What Being Sick Looked Like in the ’80s” on Facebook. It included Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup (check), saltine crackers (check), Vick’s VapoRub (check), “The Price Is Right” (check), ginger ale (sometimes, but usually 7Up)—and another variation on the Western-themed fake-velour Grandma couch. This “ugly” couch with its hard arms and scratchy fabric has become a symbol of cozy comfort and healing love.

A Grandma Couch meme shared by comedian, actor, and rapper Mike Epps on Facebook.

A Grandma Couch meme shared by comedian, actor, and rapper Mike Epps on Facebook.

In fact, on eBay, I’ve found Polaroids and snapshots from the ’70s or ’80s of actual grandmas and grandpas with their actual grandchildren cuddling on the Herculon plaid and the earth-tone floral Colonial-style sofas. They are adorable in a way that makes you want to cry, rather than laugh.

“Maybe the fashion didn’t last—we all make mistakes,” Kueber says, admitting that the first impulse most young people have is to mock the Grandma Couch. “But when you marry the sofa with the hard candy, the whipped cream on every piece of pie, and the wave ‘Goodbye,’ then suddenly you just can’t help but love that couch. Many people have great memories of being in their grandparents’ house, so that sofa becomes part and parcel of those memories. You don’t want to make fun of it because it was all about the love—and that’s what we make homes for.”


A 1970s Polaroid shows a Grandma holding a baby on her couch. (Via eBay)


A 1970s Polaroid shows a Grandma holding a baby on her couch. (Via eBay)


An Early American wingback sofa from the 1970s. (Via PT Burnem)


Earl and Joy relax on their Early American wingback couch from the 1970s in the NBC sitcom "My Name is Earl" (2005-2009).


What an Early American living room looked like in the 1960s. (Via Pinterest)


A family in a 1970s ad enjoys a floral couch in their Colonial Revival living room. (Via The Giki Tiki)


This '70s model room has a brighter "Flower Power" take on Early American. (Via Pinterest)


A '50s ad for a Young Republic Living Room "in solid hard rock maple" declares "There's a place for Early American in YOUR home!"


In the late 1960s, Early American and Colonial Revival pieces were produced using modern, durable materials in drab colors, as seen in a 1965 Sears catalog.


Garish upholstery patterns and wood frames were also starting to appear around 1965, according to this Sears catalog page.


An example of a "Bicentennial Chic" model living room of the mid-1970s, from an Ethan Allen catalog. (Via Retro Renovation)


Grandchildren celebrate a birthday on a Herculon plaid couch in this found 1977 snapshot. (Via eBay)


A Kroehler furniture ad from the September 1969 issue of "Better Homes and Gardens." (Via Pinterest)


A grandma and grandpa rest on their plaid couch in this 1977 snapshot. (Via eBay)


Colonial Revival furniture pictured in a 1960 Sears catalog. (Via Pinterest)


Colonists didn't have color TV, but that doesn't mean "ancient" '70s TVs weren't made in Colonial Revival styles. An ad for a Magnavox Model 4656 Console Color TV from 1975. (Via The Giki Tiki)


The "That '70s Show" gang hangs out on Red and Kitty's rather tame Harvest Gold couch with their Colonial Revival coffee table.


The Bennington Pine catalog from 1976, plays up the "Spirit of '76" theme. (Via eBay)


This is what the Sears Open Hearth collection of bedroom furniture looked like. I'm pretty sure we owned it. Note the cannonball bed. (Via Pinterest)


A "Bicentennial Chic" red-white-and-blue boys' room with turned wood and Windsor chairs, as seen in a mid-'70s Ethan Allen catalog. (Via Retro Renovation)


A 1977 ad for the "Inheritance Cape Cod curtain," part of Sears' Open Hearth line. (Via Pinterest)


An ad from the late '60s or early '70s shows General Electric appliances in Avocado Green, set in a dark wood kitchen. (Via Houzz)


When "Bicentennial Chic" was applied to a 1970s kitchen. (Via Pinterest)


This is the Early American pattern Pyrex my mom has, presumably highlighting things you'd find in a Colonial kitchen, including a tabby cat. (Via Chairish)


Earth tone and slightly psychedelic Merry Mushroom canisters were popular from the late '70s to early '80s. (Via Pinterest)


The vintage '70s Gunne Sax peasant dress that every female folk singer and autoharp player wore. (Via eBay)

47 comments so far

  1. keramikos Says:

    Thanks for explaining why people in the days of yore ‘preferred’ wallpaper to plain, painted walls. I watch a lot of old movies, and some of that wallpaper just screams. >8-0

  2. Danny Says:

    Loved this. Really informative and fun. But “The internet didn’t even really work until 2010—not really.”

    That’s a bad take.

    Sorry for the criticism! Still loved this!

  3. Jon Greenbaum Says:

    OK, fascinating and revealing look at what really happened in the 60s and 70s (likewise, rock and roll and soul was less popular than easy listening and country).

    However, this wasn’t my ethnic experience at all (I’m a Puerto Rican Italian Jew) – immigrant grandma’s in metro NYC area didn’t care for gunsmoke or anything bulky with pine. At least none of my relatives. I recognize that look from my WASP childhood friends, but not my relatives.

  4. Lynda Says:

    I grew up in the 70s in a house with the brown-harvest gold theme. The kitchen had a cream/brown carpet pattern. Yes, carpet in the kitchen – it’s about a bad idea as you imagine it would be. The bathroom also had carpet. Again – bad idea. The basement had this orange stripey carpet. The piece de resistance was the gold shag carpet in the living room. It was easily two inches long. One of the daily assigned chores was to rake the foot prints out of the rug. There was hell to pay for the person who dared walk across the freshly raked rug. The younger hipper parents like mine didn’t have the ugly patterned couch. We had a monstrously huge dark brown modular sofa with pieces that could be arranged in any number of configurations. It was still made of the same indestructible fabric. My Dad was frugal and bought the sofa at a place that had fire sales – literal fire sales. This sofa had survived some warehouse fire and one of my childhood memories is the faint smell of smoke that fabric held onto for years.

    Thanks for bringing back some childhood memories :-)

  5. Roderick T. Long Says:

    My grandmother did not have that couch! She had a much more restrained/minimalist taste. So there.

  6. Joyce t s Says:

    My grandmother’s couch was much older and very special (but I am older than you all I am sure) but my Mother had lots of various colored couches. And I should send you photos of all of them. I don’t have the time or energy to look them up but I found it intersting. Quite a blast from the past. I am sure we had several used couches that would fit your interest. But I have no couch now and am on the floor right now.
    The first house we bought had paneled walls. These got very boring and irritating. One was “salt snorted” upon by the iguana, others merely got the Cat Treatment.

  7. Max Says:

    The “Game birds roost among wildflowers on this fake-velour ’70s Grandma Couch” is actually a 1920’s sofa covered in 70’s material. I usually think of these covered in that material which has the texture of velcro, but those were probably later recoverings themselves.

  8. kevin Says:

    this 1 from above
    i grew up with in the 80’s it was in my basement was great for making forts as a kid
    though it is missing 2 pieces there were 2 cushion arms rests that went over the wood they were held on with velcro straps made great arm shields lol

  9. Elizabeth Buchan-Kimmerly Says:

    Those wooden tables and dressers were not carved.
    The ‘carvings’ were glued on. Some may have been pressed wood or even machine carved wood, but most were plastic and later a hard foamed plastic.
    My mum’s dining room table, which is now my desk, is ‘traditional’ and was purchased circa 1953. It has plastic acanthus leaf decorations on each leg and a medallion on each side of the table. There were six chairs each with a glued on wheat sheaf medallion and a chest of drawers with three drawers and two cabinets again with a glued on medallion.

  10. Mikey Says:

    I read up until you said you had an ox-yoke mirror that you couldn’t give away. I be willing to to pay shipping and handle to take it off your hands. lol

  11. John Says:

    I was on the internet in 1988. I was also a little kid and it was very expensive, it didn’t last long. I took a long hiatus. Then I learned to play on the internet again in 2001, it was a full internet and much easier to use.

    Over time almost every small business and idea had a website but the internet was open to the world even earlier than 2001.

    The color schemes you shown haven’t been cool since the late 70’s. Tons of us have seen them because we all have older relatives or friends.

  12. Glen Says:

    I was going to say my parents had the big wooden frame couch with the watermill on it, not my grandparents, however… they instead had the ugly big yellow flowers in the 4th picture.

  13. joe osullivan Says:

    The hipper smalle house alternative in the late seventies included Danish modern. We had a small Cape Cod style house not far from Cape Cod. The kitchen had a dark green vinyl tile floor. The kitchen table was a satin white, small round ice cream parlor style. Our first purchase was a hanging wicker light with white globe over the table which was surrounded by four wicker seated bentwood chairs.

    We had a polished antique brass bed in the bedroom with a classic waverly print wallpaper with a small twisted ivy green veerical lined pattern. On the bed was a handmade patchwork quilt made by mother-in law who lived right up the street from the Adams House shown in the picture,

    The little pre-baby Meghan den sported a blue and white rya area shag rug over a short haired plush carpet. The danish modern furniture was beautiful. Clean lined solid teak that glowed for hutches where specual occasion china was kept. Those with dining rooms had beautiful sleek teak tables with teak slat backed chairs with black vinyl seats,

    The living room couch and chair were simple slatted wood with cushions we covered with an orange colored background. Meghan was born in June of 1976 and we rocked her in an early American rocket that iconic Jul 4th. We lived in Marshfiekd Mass not more than a dozen or so miles from Plymouth Mass. There was a 1963 VW bug in the driveway, The house was all if 25 feet by 25 feet. Hence the small furniture style with a cottage feel. Green Harbour beach was less than a mile away. We were in out twenties.

  14. Jaelyn Says:

    Okay, but what about the Danish Butter Cookie tins with sewing supplies and/or buttons. EVERYONE I know has a disappointing experience with those damn tins.

  15. Cynthia Wright Says:

    There were a LOT LESS furniture stores. The ones that were there in the 60’s -80’s were primarily U.S. based and not from other countries. We made American, we bought American and we were proud of it. Everyone and their brother wants to make a quick buck. Take the jobs and the pride out of the U.S. and employ people for slave wages overseas. What a damn shame….

  16. Roberta Says:

    I’ve been here through most of the years that you’ve talked about and run through most of this furniture (Well, not the Spanish influence. I even thought that sucked.) and laughed at the advice “So be careful: If you don’t want your sofa memed in short duration, choose something that’s not too specific, that’s not too ‘of the moment.’ Aim for a timeless look.” Care to tell us exactly what that is? Meanwhile, I’m keeping my repeat pattern wallpaper, thank you very much.

  17. sk Says:

    Laughing at the “That ’70s Show” picture because until about five years ago my parents had that EXACT. SAME. COFFEE TABLE.

  18. Vicki Says:

    OMG! i have the Sears Open Hearth Bedroom set. It also comes with a tall thin dresser with half size drawers. Bought them from an estate sale few years ago. They look brand new. Wow never knew they were that old. lol. Awesome!

  19. cindy duncan Says:

    you guys forgot back in the 70`s they had wood paneling on the walls

  20. M J Marra Says:

    Really? Your writer appears to be young enough that she could have simply asked her parents instead of theorizing about where this look came from. In fact, there are lots and lots of people left in the world who could have supplied answers without going into the history of the world pre 1960. Dude, we were THERE.

    The earthtone pallette had a lot more to do with the hippie movement of the 60s, and the anticipation of the American Bi-Centennial in 1976 than any influence from the 1930’s, which by the way, our parents struggled to forget just as quickly as possible, much as we struggled to forget the 1970s. A revival? OMG NOooooooooooooooooo! The 60s and 70s were brutal and confusing to live through, and we’ve paid our dues, thank you. Meanwhile, when you write an article about something that happened before you were born, why don’t you simply ASK somebody who was there?

  21. Verna Linney Says:

    Brown has the virtue of hiding dirt. Patterns hide dirt much better than plain fabrics.
    Mom hated the colonial style. She decorated in American traditional.

  22. Neil Says:

    It depends on your tribe, doesn’t it? My grandmother, and great-grandmother, in Kentucky had 30’s sofas slipcovered in a parade of soft granny-chenilles through the years. My mother had a 40’s neo-classical couch, with genuine carved wood embellishments and claw feet, reupholstered in cut velvet in tasteful floral tones; it was the South, and antibellum chic was the highest interior aspiration, don’tcha know. My other grandmother had a 40’s divan that folded down into a twin+ bed, and it was a darned hard thing to sleep on, I can tell you.
    When the bicenntenial chic of the mid-seventies clamored into town, it hurt my eyes. And still does. Most of the sofas I saw as a child were those synthetic boucle jobs that never, ever wore out. But, they were a delight to look at with their 50’s design lines.
    For some reason, even though I was in many, many living rooms during the mid-century, I never saw a single stick of mcm in person.

  23. Sesaria Ranis Says:

    My parents also had a couch like the first picture. It lasted a long time. This was way back in the 70’s and I was a teenager in jr high school.
    I have no idea what happened to that sofa, they bought a new set in beige later. I got married had my own home and family.

  24. Sesaria Ramos Says:

    My parents had the exact same sofa as the first picture. Back in the 1970’s, I was in Junior High School.
    It lasted a long time.

  25. Chris Guleff Says:

    One thing I remember (I’m 71-years-old this month) is that there WERE quite a few people (including my favorite Aunt & Uncle next door) who had mid-century modern blonde furniture with pastel accessories and kitchenware to match, or Scandanavian furniture and matching decor — it was NOT that uncommon — at least not in Indianapolis Indiana. I DO, of course, certainly remember seeing the sofas and treatments shown in this article, as wel as the Colonial and Early American furniture of the 1950’s — these styles were especially popular in kitchens.

    As an aside, among the immigrant grandmothers from Greece and Eastern Europe I was raised among, the preferred styles were French Provincial or Duncan Phyfe. Accessories included lace doilies & tablecloths, flowered wallpaper, Oriental-style carpets, heavy Venetian blinds, sheer curtains underneath heavy draperies, heavy plush sofas and arm chairs and large wooden occasional chairs which resembled thrones.

  26. Chris Guleff Says:

    By the way . . . this was a very FUN article to read . . . I really enjoyed it . . . THANX!!!

  27. Accalia Luprine Says:

    Hated the stuff from the 70s. My folks went with stuff from the 40s. There was this black slink back chair with steel legs that I loved and a black and white stripped lamp that came from that era. Mom would be ribbed by her friends to go with the fashionable and boy did she glare at them.

  28. Mar sing Says:

    It will all come back in style just you wait, I guarantee it will be back. It really feels earthy and rustic and suburban, clue adjectives for that era. And, these are all coming back. It’s just like fashion it comes and goes and comes again. It is all art, and these things come and go: paintings, music, movies, literature, clothes AND interior decorating/architecture.

  29. Laura Burgess Says:

    JFK was assassinated on November 22nd, not the 11th. But otherwise, thank you for this thorough and fascinating article.

  30. truthordare Says:

    What a fun article! Full of nostalgia with amusing anecdotes and old catalog pictures. I am a grandma’s age woman, never owned these plushy couches, or the carpets that went with them. My first apartment was furnished by me landlord’s extras, like an orange plastic sofa bed, a pine hutch, a formica table, no chairs, a metal bed frame and mattress.

    Today, I live in an old detached house that still had it’s original carpet, of orange swirl on a beige background from 1979. (removed and replaced with hard flooring, We got an orange a brown cushion set on a solid wood and heavy chair rail lover’s seat with a spring base. This comes in handy for our big dogs, also replaced cushions with a new futon. The small couch was acquired at a garage sale across the street, from a great grand-mother. My favorite oldie but goodie are those solid wood dark stain captain chairs for the dining room, refinished and splendid as corner seats. Lots of work in this article, some of us still handles this old stuff, recycled for our current needs, but they also make me smile.

    Good idea to email these, or would have missed it. Thank you.

  31. Angie Thomas Says:

    My family had furniture salesmen on both sides. The distinctions in styles were class based. We were near a cutting-edge science and academic community who favored MCM and Hollywood-appearing sectional sofas. Working class people favored Early American, usually poplar stained to look like maple. Upwardly mobile workers wanted white French Provincial, a style my dad privately called “Whorehouse Louie”.

    The Grandma Sofa with rolled arms was a worker’s dream. It is an insanely comfortable item and the sofa begged for lounging. The fabric repelled stains and softened with age, although it was vulnerable to cigarette burns.

    The pine Ranch Suite (always pronounced “suit” on the sales floor) appealex to families with young children, whose priority was indestructibility. They were den furniture and are being repainted for yard furniture. My dad sold hundreds of ranchers and Grandmas in his career.

    MCMs often are easily reupholstered, but the joints and venerrs of many have succumbed to damp. Repegging and regluing can salvage them.

    Grandma suites are far too comfy and durable to be consigned to the landfill. Only time will tell if revivalists can warm the public to their endearing ugliness.

  32. Pat Smith Says:

    Just married, 1967, in PSU grad school we had sofa/chair with the turkeys. I liked eagles too. Cheap and along with oriental rugs didn’t show dirt. I think maybe from Sears? Kept it until we got our first house and bought modern love seats in a green/white lattice patterned fabric for a small living room. Husband hated them, too low and couldn’t stretch out LOL.Had a sleeper in the second house 1980’s bold pattern. Now have my mom’s safe/loveseat set in a tan/gray floral slip covered in white. And mom recovered in pinkish brocade my great grandmother’s made to last Victorian sofa which she napped on…and my 16 yo grandsons do too!

  33. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for the catch, Laura. It’s my dad’s 17th birthday, so I shouldn’t have made that goof.

  34. Lisa Says:

    Hey M J, I did talk to my parents, and they couldn’t remember when my grandparents bought it. In fact, they read the article and gave me feedback.

  35. Christie Says:

    My maternal grandparents were not fashionable people (my grandma pretty much lived in gingham dresses she made herself), but they had MCM pieces in their living room. The sofa, which they always called a davenport, did have scratchy, synthetic fabric. The color was taupe and close up there were all these looped plastic threads. There was a tall, dark, round table with brass-capped Sputnik legs that had a drawer with a modern brass pull. When it wasn’t holding a really cool turquoise ceramic lamp it was the spot where they’d put their Christmas tree.

    My parents bought their first house in the late 70s and the only real garish thing they had was a gold floral brocade sofa like Red and Kitty’s. It was replaced by a beige floral model in the early 80s during the height of the beige-mauve-peach era. The original (non-shag) carpet in my room was Kermit-the-Frog green, but I actually liked it and it wasn’t replaced until 2002. Hard to believe since my mom was a huge redecorator. All carpet (red, light blue and tan) in the house went beige in the early 80s, except for mine.

    We did have a fair bit of Early American/colonial revival furniture, in the form of Ethan Allen poster and cannonball beds and their modular Custom Room Plan (CRP) pieces, all in nutmeg stain, in kids’ rooms. I think they made CRP for 40 years. As there is a ton of it out there it’s not hard to believe. I bought a few pieces in white for my living room and have a couple nutmeg stained pieces in a guest room. It’s smart storage and I still love it.

    The really garish stuff like the sofa you chose I rarely saw growing up in the 80s. Plaid fabric was more popular amongst my friends families.

  36. Jodi P Says:

    Yep, we had one of those…. a sofa, loveseat, and chair set, with the cushioned arm rests. Ugly………………..but WONDERFUL to sleep on!

  37. The Old Salt Says:

    My early years were spent in a small (900 square feet) Cape outside Milwaukee, decorated in Early American style. In the early 60’s my parents built and decorated a MCM home in which they lived for the rest of their lives. While the MCM furniture was visually spectacular, I never found much of it anywhere near as comfortable as the older Country or Early American style. I always liked the Ethan Allen Colonial Revival look, and still have their bookcases in our current home, but they changed their style to a more modern look in the early 80’s which to my eye was not as attractive. Great article!

  38. Danielle Says:

    My grandparents had the Sears dark pine furniture and the fruit couch. They had dark wood paneling on their walls, deep red carpet and a tiki bar in their den. I recently bought a split level built in ‘72 and renovated it in 70s glory. I love Retro Renovation and found my bathroom tile on there. My parents owned a house built in 1907 and it had the knotty pine kitchen. Thank you for this article I love it.

  39. Shawn Says:

    Even today mid century modern isn’t especially popular in the US. It has a cult following among people who really like it. But sectionals and plain gray sofas are a lot more popular than they used to be, plain designs built more for comfort than for looks. Usually with tables that are toned down craftsman or colonial in style.

    We used to have a set of grandma couches that was green and brown plaid, and it was my favorite set of couches we ever owned. We still have the heavy carved coffee tables that went with it! There was even matching moss green textured carpet in the room(was very soft and cushy. I used to sleep on it). Parents replaced them with a new set about a decade ago. The overstuffed style that was popular around that time. Course now its all about sectionals and gray, lol. Either that or toned down IKEA syuff. No imagination whatsoever. At least the overstuffed couches and chairs of the early 2000’s had colorful patterns.

    I’m an artist though, so that tends to influence my taste. I like things gaudy and colorful, lol.

  40. Tara Fly Says:

    My grandparents’ couch was a mid-century green velvet, alongside a matching velvet chaise, both of which complemented her botanical fern printed wallpaper and drapes. Her living room carpet was a textured eggshell white.

    Elsewhere in their large brick Colonial house, where I grew up, they did have an olive green shag carpet, mustard yellow or robin-egg blue walls, and wood paneled accent walls upstairs in the bedrooms. They even decorated their spare bedroom/office with a lunar-scape wall mural. “One giant leap for mankind!” Haha

    My mother’s tastes were decidedly bland 1980’s – pastel geometric shapes, mirrored surfaces, and gold accents everywhere.

    What I find so humorous, though, is that nearly everyone else had one of these 1970s “Coloniawful” couches! It became a joke for me, as a teenager, walking into someone’s house for the first time:
    “Oh my God. It’s The Couch! You have The Couch!”

    Today, I get my fix looking through real estate listings, and The Couch is still alive and well, living in finished basements across the region! I share the listings on Facebook whenever I find them. :D

  41. James A Dawson Says:

    I just cleaned and installed the couch and love seat in the second picture in my brand new house. It’s the exact same as the one my grandmother gave to my parents back in the late 80s. I bought property that had an existing 70s model double wide trailer on it. They were in the house. It was the whole set. I’m trying to find out who made it because the end tables were destroyed from a leak in the roof. Does anyone know who buit or sold these sets?

  42. dave bailey Says:

    The main images on the cushions & the foliage look like they’ve been lifted from ceramic plates.
    Don’t all the major dye, ink, fabric makers & designers pantone etc. agree the next seasons look ?

  43. Diane Says:

    We didn’t have that couch but my friends’ parents did. Our couch was more flamboyant—furry brown and black striped soft and square cushioned set from JC Penney (1973) — mom had flair. But we had a lot of heavy wood. This article was very thorough and interesting. Two trends worth mentioning re early American furniture: the discovery and rebuilding of Colonial Williamsburg in the early 50s, and FHA loan prescriptions for house design (salt box).

  44. Karen McConnell Says:

    That couch… omg. Every one had it, I had 2 versions of it in my first apartment I hated it!
    My grandparents had theirs covered in plastic that you didn’t dare sit on, in the room covered in plastic you didn’t dare go in, that’s where the grandfather clock was and even the carpet had plastic on it… supposedly it was used during holidays though I never got to sit in that “sitting room “ ever!!!

  45. cc Says:

    We bought our living room furniture in the late 1980’s. The pattern is an old barn, outdoor water pump with a milk can under the spigot, and large flowers. The fabric is starting to tear and will need replaced or reupholstered soon. I love it as it is comfortable and long lasting. The furniture is still in good condition as far as seating.
    I WOULD but this again as we very much got our moneys worth from it, with 3 kids and many dogs

  46. Sarah Says:

    I love the Early American furniture and all the beautiful patterns and materials used to make those so called, “Grandma” couches. There’s nothing wrong with them, the scenes on them are lovely, and those who owned them took pride in them. I go to Goodwill to find this type of furniture, and have some of the exact pieces shown in the catalog ads you’ve displayed, and they are beautiful, quality pieces of furniture and will last a lifetime, compared to the modern pieces out there now. So….I don’t see why these couches, etc are being termed “Grandma”. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I happen to like them!

  47. Kirby McKinney Says:

    It is rare that I come across an article that I resonate so much with. This is my childhood at grandma’s all over again! I love it!

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