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.
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?
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.
“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.
“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 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.”
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.”
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.”
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 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 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.”
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 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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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We knew that indestructible fabric as DuraFab, available in Chicago at Courtesy Home Furnishings. I still remember the TV ads from back in the day:
Such a great piece. Thank you for writing it!
ILOVE THESE WINGED BACK ARMS ATTACHED VELOUR SOFAS AND CHAIR.
GOOD MATERIALS THAT HOLD UP HARD TO FIND. VERY COMFORTABLE AND RELAXING,WHEN FEELING BAD. WISH I HAD IT NOW.BACKS DON’T ARCH BACK LIKE SOFAS TODAY.
I just bought a love seat with the wing back in the rusty floral design and I have a wooden couch and chair with the waterwheel design in rust and orange colors. I love these old furniture pieces. Back in the 70’s I bought a wing back couch in these colors,gave it to my son and he had it for years.They last forever. I wish I could find some of that fabric.
Thank you for this article. I bought the wooden, couch..from Craigslist, in sun city ca..around 2012..for 50 dollars… it came with no cushion, but from an old couch 1 fit….it’s a on hold project…not sure to strip and restrain, . or just paint it……
it’s a patio couch…but I’m currently moving, so again it will have to wait…I just want to one day bring out, it’s beauty and joy of it’s comfort in the patio…I don’t think I will go with green apple though, my style always leans towards Spanish …best to you Elvia in norco, ca…
We still have that exact same bedroom set that was put out by Sears.we bought it back in 1974, we have it in the spare bedroom, yes , it is solid wood, tongue and groove drawers, sad to say we are going to start looking for a new bedroom set, that one has been with us for 45 years , it’s going to be like losing a family member.
Years ago, I used to work in a textile design studio that did work of this type. They were mainly aimed at the ‘sunbelt’ areas of the US. We used to joke that the colors, always bright, were “Spick and Span” colors. PS, they were usually printed on flocked fabric, which made them extra shiney.
My grandparents definitely had this couch up until the 90’s when I talked my grandma into a seafoam green sectional. My worst memory of the granny couch was being a typical kid and trying to do gymnastics on it and ending up with a concussion from hitting my head on the wooden arm.
So I actually currently have one of these couches…in fact, I have a pull out bed sofa and matching loveseat. They are SUPER comfortable which is great, but they’re super busy, and make my already tiny living room feel even smaller. Given the curved wingback shape of them, they’ve proven difficult to find a properly-fitting slipcover. Has anyone had any luck in finding a nice way to cover them?
We have a similar couch
Now…if you have to have your own…it will be made terrible..unless you want to spens too much.
Better off just keeping the old and fixing it up. OR, sell it for MORE that today’s new furniture.
While I do remember this style growing up, it was more what my parents had as hand me downs in the 80s and 90s. My grandparents were some of the few that went in for the mid century modern look. They came from farming communities and grew up during the depression, but my grandfather moved the family away and traveled the world. I think they may have been distancing themselves and the MCM decor was a way of signalling that they’d made it.
I love that wood Furniture set and coffee table with the cushions on it I have been searching for one for my house wish I can find one.
I just wanna say thanks for the writer and wish you all the best
I have a whole set of the wood furniture with the Water Well pattern with the coffee table with the cushions on each side I have the couch ,coffee table ,chair ,ottoman ,rocker ,and two end tables . They are from the 70s and belong to my mom .
is there ANY way possible to get patterns of Gunnysax dresses? i wore them in the 70s (plus my gypsy in fringe suede style). Then, i was size 7 & five feet tall. I always felt great in gunnysax. i’ve come across two in pricey vintage stores. but they’re tiny! need to find a way to wear gunnysax with a wider waist. Any ideas? help
and i remember the 70s living rooms and kitchens well. I hated the avocado & burnt orange & harvest golds. Fortunately i lived back-to-the-earth. but swam in the colors in family homes….. In 1996 my mother was sell ing the colonial couch with the western motif, orange and green& gold durable fabric. she was confused why no one snapped it up. ironically, now someone would…
A neighboring family where I grew up (and are still family friends) only ever had these couches. At least into the 2000’s, and knowing they got a new one sometime in the early 90’s. They loved the style and didn’t want to change what wasn’t ‘broken’. Thanks for sharing the history. They were very comfortable now that other commenters have pointed it out. Thiers was that popular ‘hang out’ house, so tons of fond memories spending time on those couches!
Patty Mulligan: Not sure you will see this, but I’ve run across them cheaply at thrift and cheaper vintage + used clothing stores; usually $20 (places that sell more casual, less expensive vintage). Or try online? You could make a pattern if you find the right size. Or if money is no object, hire a seamstress to duplicate the dress you find.
We never left the 50’s and live somewhere between 1955 and today.
We retired to Florida into a double wide. Ours and many others had the heavy wood style floral designed furniture. Loved it. I’m sure it was cheaply made but still looked great, when we left, 32 years after it was made.
Returned to midwest to a 1961 small ranch style home that time stopped, as the original older owners left it original. We even bought the 1984 ‘Laz-E-Boy’ floral hump backed sofa and wingback chair with octagon lamp table. The furniture store tag and date are on a cushion. Everything looks like new and feels comfortable. Even the 1984 Grandfather clock works.
I love the Spanish style furniture. The Biltmore House has a bedroom with this style furniture much older than you listed. It is made of solid wood.
A lot of this furniture was made by a company called Kroehler.
I’m a car guy and a house guy, and this just made sense to me on so many levels. I was born in ’83 but remember my earliest memories of ’85-86 and my parents/grandparents’ furnishings.
When I got into cars in the ’90s I remember seeing ’70s cars with the same garish, yet comforting interiors, especially in the bigger cars: Olds 98/Buick Electra/Cadillac Fleetwood. Ford Crown Vic/Mercury Grand Marquis/Lincoln Town Car. And the Chrysler Newport/Imperial/Dodge Monaco, etc.
If you want a near direct-comparison to Grandma’s Couch in car form, google “Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman.”
Yes, those living room suites were ugly, but the ones I’m familiar with as a child of the 70s were seriously indestructible. You could slaughter hogs on one of those coffee tables if you were of a mind to. I like the idea of upcycling them with paint and new upholstery so that they look fresh. Neither my grandparents nor my parents had one of the “grandma” couches, but many friends’ houses had them. I see a picture of them and I swear I can smell those living rooms – a homey combination of something cooking in the kitchen, Glade air freshener, and a patina of cigarette smoke.
I think there’s another interesting thing to point out – the color and material choices of the 70’s were also a reaction to the 1969 moon landing and the space age materials and imagery in home decor that preceded it (aluminium, formica, new plastics, high polish fixtures, atom prints) and the desire for something more “natural” – wood paneling, macrame, muted earth tones and the like.
My grandma who lives in the Midwest just recently sold her ranch house of 50 years this year. She had a set of these colonial revival sofas with the hidious brown/gold/orange floral print in the scratchy valour fabric in her dark paneled family room with the heavy book shelves and octogon end tables, clunky TV of the 70s that I remember vividly when we would visit in the 80s. The family room coffee table was complete with a hard candy dish and a wooden bowl with whole mixed nuts because she likes nuts more then candy. The sofas is where everyone would hang out when all the cousins, aunts and uncles would visit. When she redorated the family room in the early 90s the sofa set was moved down to the finished basement and she kept it there until she sold her house and she mentioned that she even still liked that sofa and thought it very comfortable when we were visiting a few years back with our own kids who wanted to check out the old basement and how much fun we had down there building forts with her old 1970s sofa set. The grandma sofas were ugly but they sure held a lot of great memories of my childhood. And my grandma did like to watch the old TV show westerns so it makes sense why she still liked her old sofa set years later. Great article thanks for writing it!
My 92-year-old grandma in IL still has a set, and it’s in great condition. She has always called it a Davenport instead of a sofa
We had the orange and brown set with the combo coffee table/ottoman. It was our first furniture purchase when we got married in 1979. The reason we bought it was because the whole set with the end tables and 2 chairs included was pretty inexpensive. I think that could have made them so popular.
my mom and dad had this tiger stripe sofa in the 70s in a neat velour fabric–it was so wild. Oh yeah, and I mostly agree with the what being sick was like in the 80s except that Bob Barker most definitely did not have white hair during that decade. Get it right =)
During the late 70s/early 80s Fingerhut was very popular with young parents. They offered affordable things, including furniture that could be purchased with a payment plan. We were such a young family and we bought one of these woodframe couch sets. We had the choice of the “old gristmill” pattern or brown and gold plaid. We chose the plaid because we had seen enough of the other pattern on the couches of my husband’s mother and grandmothers’ houses. The sturdy construction and the durable fabric were strong selling points for parents of rambunctious young children. It wasn’t the most comfortable furniture and there were many bumps and bruises over the years from bonking heads, hitting shins or stubbing toes on the hard wood. The couch set lasted quite some time before we eventually replaced it with the more trendy blue corduroy couches that became popular in the late 80s when chintz and pastel colors were in style. We still had the end tables and the coffee table with the new couches for a while, we just put matching covers over the old brown plaid cushions on the sides of the coffee table. The next fad was the black velour couches with gold accents and brass and smoked glass tables and shelf units and a mirror cityscape mural on the wall behind the big couch. I was born in 1963 to parents who lived through WW2 and grew up with a frugal mindset, to try and buy things that would last, to repurpose and refurbish old things to make them new again. I really like how the people took that old tired living room set (that I call Fingerhut furniture) and made it into a nice, bright colored patio set (although I would have chosen to paint the wood red or white rather than green).
One thing I just remembered after reading this article is that the late 60s/early 70s was the time of an energy crisis resulting from the Oil Embargo. People were looking for ways to keep their homes warm, and dark, natural colors are a well-known method to make people feel warmer in a room. There was even an ad campaign on TV then suggesting people buy dark colored furniture, drapes, wall coverings, carpets, etc. and use woods so they could keep their thermostat set a little lower and save energy. This helps explain why ‘warmer’ colors were so popular at that time.
I had a boyfriend in the ’90s with one of these couches he bought at Goodwill. One day I ran and jumped belly first onto it releasing ages of dust from deep within the cushions straight into my mouth. After the coughing and gagging subsided, I rinsed my mouth a hundred times but still had a sandy mouth for hours.
I’ll never be able to see one of these couches without remembering how they taste.
I have the sleeper sofa in pefect condition Im looking for the ottoman coffee table to match the Autumn wooden house look
My Daughter still has the old floral printed sofa . She has a 5 piece set .
They are very sturdy. Right now it’s in the Garage and she is selling it in the spring
My grandma didn’t have that couch, but my aunt did, with the matching chair. Chunky, dark wood tables with heavy turned legs, and that sculptured carpet in blotchy browns and oranges. In my mind’s eye, that carpet is in every house I ever saw in those years.
Just as colonial/early American ran concurrently with mid-century modern styles in the 1950s, this 1970s style morphed into “country” in the 1980s and ran concurrently with the Art Deco-revival modern look of those years. We finally brown-ed out and the dusty roses, peaches, mauves and country blues were in. Dark pine lightened into mid-toned oak. Holly Hobbie grew up into Laura Ashley. Funnily enough, both the contemporary and country looks of those years shared the same color palette.
I am the owner of this couch the one 2nd picture with a wooden frame. It’s currently sitting in warehouse storage. No longer in that house anymore.
My family must have been the exception. My grandmother certainly did not have one of those patterned couches. Her furniture was French Provincial. (Fruit woods and upholstery, not that white with gilt stuff.) My mother’s was a combination of French Provincial and traditional. We all loathed Early American. I married young, at the height of the garish Spanish influence. I chose a combination Mediterranean and some of the more tasteful Spanish. Over the decades, I’m morphed into plain traditional with industrial accent pieces. I do remember seeing those patterned sofas in a lot of homes, and the awful ruffled lampshades, too. One of my aunts had all Danish Modern.
I forgot to say that both my mother and grandmother had upholstered furniture recovered several times over the years. Furniture was refurbished, not sent to the dump in those days. I still have one of my mother’s French Provincial chairs. I’m almost 69 and it was purchased when I was in high school. I use it daily. It’s as sturdy as when it was new, although its been reupholstered three times. I have another chair that my mother bought with the first money she ever earned when she was a teenager. I don’t know what the style is, but it’s 75 years old now and still in use.
My aunt leatrice still has this furniture in her livingroom and it still looks brand new. She lives in graybow Louisiana in a little old house where she raised 12 kids n grandkids and the furniture still looks new. People didn’t have much money then and it was hard earned when they did have it and they knew they needed things that would last. You can’t find things now days that are worth the money spent and hard hours worked away from family to buy them and why cause they can’t sell more if they last they build cheap so you gotta buy more and that hits hard on alot of people. I was born in 1983 n remember this couch very well in my grandma’s and my childhood home and the few pieces left are still going strong with a few dings here and there but still good durable nice furniture that one can take pride in knowing their hard earned money was well spent on something worth having for thier family. Love this great read. thanks for your time and research on this.
My grandmother had a couch which I believe is identical to the one on the ‘Colonial Styling’ on page 1572 of a Sears catalog. I also found a chair identical to it at a yard sale and have both in my possession. I am not using either right now, but have in the past.
I have looked through MANY Sears catalogs for this furniture that is listed on page 1572 and I can’t find it anywhere! I’ve looked through catalogs from the 50’s and 60’s and some into the 70’s. Can anybody tell me which catalog this is actually in?? Please! It’s driving me nuts!! LOLOL
I was a child in the 1960s and a teenager in the 1970s. Lately, I have been feeling nostalgic about stuff I grew up with. Doing a Pinterest search for 1970s stuff I found this article/blog post. I love this! It really brings back memories.
As a teenager I remember wearing Laura Ashley and Gunne Sax dresses. I loved their femininity and the flow of the long skirts.
My parents had a lot of the items mentioned in this article. I have pictures of me and my family with these decor items.
When I was a child in the 60s, my parents had the Early American style of furniture and decor in the family room and dining room, including the braided rug (which I hated) and the dark wood wall paneling. In the formal living room, we had the “grandma couch” with the brown, orange, and gold floral print, orange shag carpet, an orange velvet chair, and over the years various coffee tables that were popular for the time period. I remember a small side table my parents had. It had a round glass top and sat on a crystal single pedestal with teardrop crystals that hung down from the round glass top. The base was gold tone and there was a switch to turn it on so that the crystal base lit up. It was sort of cool but did not really go with the heavy dark furniture. It was more 70s mod rather than 70s traditional.
In the mid-70s we moved into a 1959 California ranch-style home. The previous owners had done some interior updates to it so it was not fully 1959 in appearance.
They replaced the 50s stove with a 70s Harvest Gold stove and the small 50s wall built-in oven with 70s Harvest Gold oven. The kitchen cabinets had knotty pine and oddly, instead of Formica countertops, we had Harvest Gold tile countertops. The contact shelf paper was a 70s wild mod paisley design of avocado, gold, orange, and brown. The kitchen floor I think was Formica in a 50s boomerang and starburst pattern of gray and turquoise that did not go with the Harvest Gold in the kitchen.
The living room had orange shag carpet, the family room had a mixture of red and orange shag carpet. We had one of those big heavy dark wood cabinet TVs. My parents also had from the 50s a cabinet with a record player and radio.
The guest bathroom was very 50s in pink.
My parent’s bedroom had red shag carpet and they had a red velvet bedspread with their Early America style bedroom furniture.
The master bathroom was 50s style, but instead of it being pink or blue, which was often typical of the 50s, it was an odd shade of pale salmon.
My teenage bedroom had the popular 70s French Provincial bedroom set in white and gold with a canopy bed with a pink ruffled canopy and a pink ruffled bedspread. I had white and gold shag carpeting.
Each room of the house was painted a different color. Our home had that stinky oil paint that takes days to dry and was most likely filled with lead. I do not remember what color all the rooms were, but I remember my parents’ bedroom was painted yellow and mine was painted robin’s egg blue.
My parents had a walk-in closet that the hanger railing was painted bright orange.
The architecture of the home was still pretty much 1959 and not much was done to it to update it to the 70s when we moved in.
There still was a 50s metal patio cover in white with a gold starburst design.
The entryway to our home, the foyer, had gold foil and white flocked French fleur de lis wallpaper which I think was very much a 70s thing.
We had low popcorn ceilings and the ceiling lights were 50s white and gold with a starburst design.
There was a pony wall with columns separating the entryway from the formal living room.
I actually miss a lot of this retro funky stuff. I now live in an apartment that I would like to furnish with some of this retro-style stuff, but I live in an area that there are no places that sell retro stuff or even retro reproductions. I also really cannot afford to refurnish my home right now. The one item I really want, if nothing else, is one of those 70s wood cabinet TVs. I would pull out the old picture tube TV and put a modern smart TV in it. I love the retro look of that big old heavy dark wood TV cabinet.
Maybe someday I will be able to redecorate in a retro style that I like. But for now, I have my fond memories and family photos.
My favorite memory of a ‘grandma couch’ was spotted in rural Arkansas, probably a decade or more ago. Some industrious folks had suspended theirs from chains on a steel A-frame under a nice big shade tree in the yard, instead of the more typical porch/yard swing you’d normally see there…I only wish I had a picture of that now…
In my neck of the woods (Chicago suburbs) during the late 80s and 90s, this couch was also known as “The Basement Couch” and “The Couch at the Cabin.” hahaha
the material you put on was dreadful. they are some beautiful prints out there for sofas and they cost lots more money to cover the sofa. I know i just bought one at raymour flanigan and the cost was a hell of a lot more to choose the fabric i wantwsd real joke they juse to put the materials attached to the sofa you wantwed and could pick at the same price
broyhill furniture had beautiful fabrics i had a navy background with a floral pattern many compliments just gave it away sorry I did. the coach i bought looks like crap compared to my couch and loveseat from broyhill
This was great to read! Thanks so much for blast from the past! I remember most all of those furnishings in our home or in my family’s home.
As someone who grew up in Grove and whose dad worked in Jay, and who now lives in Tulsa, I just had to leave a reply on this fantastic article. So informative! Thank you. I had one Gramma with the orange hued frontier theme couch, and another Gramma with one of the plaid couches. Oh, and our house was full of that dark wood cabinetry–Montgomery Ward and Sears all the way.
Today I walked into a thrifty on a mission for lace to be used in a hand stitched wedding dress. I squealed in delight and called my husband immediately, sending picture after picture of a “Grandmas Couch” 4 peace set for $90! To many, this is a pattern best forgotten with time. But to my heart, this brings back memories of a childhood filled with innocence and love. A childhood on an army base in base housing with basic necessities. Of nights snuggled with peppermints and housecoats and old televisions. You see, we moved from that when I was 10 and I was introduced to the cold dark realism of the Northeast and racism. The one comfort through those years, was still Nanas couch. She passed when I was in 8th grade and my young soul was crushed. The last person whom I connected to, she raised me while my parents worked, was gone … as was Nanas couch. Now I am almost 40, with a 110 year old farm house and littles of my own as well as grandbabies. I cant wait to get this home, and relive these memories that once again will bring great joy.
My daughter is remolding her great grandmothers house and this sofa, love seat and rocker chair is in the house. I am trying to get rid of it but not sure who may would want it or how much to even ask for it. It is is in great condition .