One in a series of occasional stories on the summer of 1967, an era of tumult and change. Learn more about this project.
The year marked a turning point in society, culture, and design, abandoning buttoned-up for exuberant, minimalism for maximalism. Postwar consumerism and Kennedy-era optimism yielded to a rejection of materialism and disillusionment with government intervention in Vietnam. An influx of new music (most notably the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”), global styles, and psychedelic drugs added steam to the counterculture movement. The conformity of the 1950s gave way to personal expression, and, by 1967, Summer of Love-type style was evident not just in the Haight, but in people’s homes.
Women’s and decorating magazines of the era balanced the latest trends with the way people really lived. Pages featured rooms anchored with traditional antique styles and sprinkled with industrial-infused mid-century modern designs of the 1940s and ’50s, considered rigid by its detractors. The 1960s saw bright colors, bold patterns, and objects from new lands brought back from trips (made possible by the newly popular jet travel) introduced into the home, reflecting the country’s buoyant mood.
Leafing through archival issues of House Beautiful, the magazine’s editor in chief, Sophie Donelson, said: “The early ’60s were still dreary, but by 1967 color had exploded.” Donelson references a feature about a historic San Francisco home revamped with orange carpet and walls, noting that the owners were not trying to make a statement. “Orange was simply an accepted part of the design landscape.”
Color and pattern were at the forefront of advertising, too, with 1967 ads hawking apricot brocade mattresses, colorful sinks, wall-to-wall carpet, and wall ovens in “Tahitian” green. An Amana ad featured a kitchen with orange oversized-daisy wallpaper covering not just the walls, but the cabinetry and fridge.
Stephanie Granada, interim home editor of Woman’s Day, also cites bold patterns and a fearless approach to color, as well as global motifs, lightweight furniture, and graphic black-and-white schemes. “Unlike today,” Granada said, “editors didn’t have to urge readers to try a pop of color. They were more daring. I see optimism and happiness on every page.”
Not everyone wholeheartedly embraced the new look. A Chicago Tribune article in 1967 cautioned newlyweds against using wild floral patterns simply because it was fashionable. Paragraphs later, however, the writer recommends the color orange, as well as pink-and-red combos.
Dan Rubinstein, home and design editor of Departures magazine, notes that 1967 was the year mid-century modernism “began to truly fade away into memory.”
“While modernism was obsessed with rationality and uniformity, what came next was about celebrating the individual, creativity — color TV was becoming the norm, jet travel was becoming more accessible and widespread — and how people expressed themselves through design: from furniture to fashion. People’s private lifestyles became a political statement, and our homes reflected that. In the ’60s, modernism took on a more playful and individualistic attitude, which evolved into what we saw in the ’70s.” Modernism left behind the rigid lines of the industrial mid-century modern designers in favor of more sensual silhouettes. Created around 1967, the Face à Face sofa by French designer Pierre Paulin is a good example of the curvier, more free-flowing aesthetic that took hold.
Such avant-garde pieces may not have landed in middle-class living rooms but were conspicuous in interior designer Barbara D’Arcy’s model rooms on Bloomingdale’s fifth floor in Manhattan. The mastermind behind the store’s home furnishings department from 1958 to 1973, D’Arcy created environments as plush, styled, and on-trend as those featured in glossy magazines. D’Arcy’s 2012 obituary in The New York Times credits her “eclectic sense of style” as a major influence on Americans’ taste in home furnishings.
D’Arcy’s designs mixed antiques (she adored French country pieces) with furniture made from upholstered foam, Lucite and steel, and injection-molded plastic. Furniture forms could be anthropomorphic and low to the ground, rooms might be multilevel (think platform beds and conversation pits), and floors made from panels backlit by fluorescent lights. Op art, Indian and Moroccan rugs, primitive sculptures, tropical plants, and pierced fretwork made frequent appearances.
Boston shoppers also got ideas from model rooms. Jan Whitaker, author of “Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class,” recalled that Jordan Marsh hosted an annual “Good Taste in Living Show” from the late 1950s through the ’60s. A 1969 ad heralded 20 model rooms with comfortable, functional, space-saving furniture in simple lines. Carolyn B. Meek of the International Furnishings and Design Association, who taught interior design history for 25 years, recalled the store offering interior design services. “There was a gentleman who would go to your house if you were a customer,” Meek said.
Another strong influence on local decorating taste was Design Research in Cambridge. Founded by architect Ben Thompson, it was the first to sell a lifestyle the way the likes of Crate & Barrel and West Elm do today. Thompson’s more relaxed iterations of model rooms were filled with housewares sourced from around the globe, including many from Scandinavian designers. It was also the exclusive seller of Marimekko textiles in the States. In the 1960s, enamored of new plastic materials, Thompson imported playful pieces from Italy such as the Blow armchair, the first mass-produced inflatable chair.
Loop-de-loop florals, sky blue toilets, and inflatable furniture have yet to infiltrate today’s ever-tasteful lab-like kitchens, spa-like bathrooms, and neutral living rooms. At first glance, the white box with a pop of color prevails, but take a closer look. Design blogs and Instagram feeds are replete with décor elements that we can trace back to Summer of Love sensibilities. You may not recognize them as 1960s-inspired, but these trends are rooted firmly in the past:
The late 1960s saw a renaissance of handmade crafts. In 1967, manufacturer Dansk promoted its dishware line Generation
as workshop rather than factory made. “The ad talks about the items’ random specks,” said House Beautiful’s Donelson. “The description itself could have been taken right from Food52.” Indeed, Food52, a cooking website founded in 2009 by former New York Times Magazine food editor Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, has come to represent today’s craving for artisanal, maker-made items for hearth and home. Its aura is exactly the aesthetic Dansk was communicating back then. Jane Prentiss, an expert in 20th-century design at local auction house Skinner recalled, “In the late 1960s, people quietly started visiting New England craftspeople on the weekends to buy something handmade.”
With a profusion of houseplants, Moroccan-inspired tiles, handmade wall hangings, and patterned rugs, Justina Blakeney’s style epitomizes the bohemian aesthetic, minus the daisy chains and tie-dye. Blakeney, who grew up in Berkeley, Calif., and is the author of the upcoming book “The New Bohemians Handbook: Come Home to Good Vibes,” has hippie running through her veins. Her blog, The Jungalow, has spawned a design movement that embodies ultra-earthy California living amped up for the global generation. She likens today to the late 1960s, saying, “I love the resurgence of individuality.”
Back to the ranch
Once targeted as teardowns, ranch houses built as affordable housing for soldiers returning from World War II are becoming more desirable. Dan Sharry , an agent with Redfin working in MetroWest, says with today’s limited inventory in geographically desirable neighborhoods, buyers are giving ranches a second look.
Newton-based architect Deborah Pierce points out the versatility of one-level living for empty-nesters looking to downsize and age in place. “The design style has roots in Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style houses, the growing allure of sunny California lifestyles and surfer culture, and an increasingly leisure-focused American sensibility,” Pierce said. “Lots of glass and deep eave overhangs let in daylight while blocking glare. Patios extended to interior flooring materials. Ads at the time showed family BBQs with the kids and dogs running through wide-open sliding doorways. . . . It’s one of the uniquely American architectural typologies, along with the Cape in New England, the Midwest bungalow, and the “shotgun” in New Orleans.
“Today, part of the renewed interest is due to the realization that ranch houses are uniquely family-friendly and senior-friendly.”
Brookline ranch house owner Minnie Ames says the home’s easy access to the outdoors is ideal for family living. “Our back patio is an extension of the living-dining area, and the backyard is an extension of the patio,” Ames said. “When we were looking to buy a house in 2008-2009, the real estate market in many neighborhoods we were interested in seemed to consider ‘1960s ranch house’ as synonymous with ‘teardown,’ so they were listed at a bit of a discount, too.”
Design and society evolve on parallel courses; the material things with which we surround ourselves are in direct relation to our personal beliefs and the way we choose to live. We saw how vibrant, fluid décor emerged from a society preoccupied with free love. Just as changes in design echoed societal change in the late 1960s, so they do now.
It’s easy to observe parallels between 1967 and 2017 from a sociopolitical perspective. The awakening of political activism and resulting resistance movement that opposes the country’s current administration reverberate from an earlier time. Today, it’s not the counterculture versus the Establishment, but Middle America versus the so-called coastal elite. Like then, 2017’s tumult stems from issues of equal rights, environmentalism, and globalization.
Avocado appliances and orange wall-to-wall carpet are unlikely to infiltrate our homes again anytime soon (if ever). However, the change we’re seeing has the same mood. Now, as then, we are experiencing vibrancy, abandon, and individualism. Again we see life as a catalyst for design. And people finding their voices.
What’s trending now
We talked to experts who identified 1960s styles that are heating up:
1stdibs: Anthony Barzilay Freund, director of fine art at 1stdibs, an online marketplace, and editor in chief of Introspective, tells us that pieces from the late 1960s and early 1970s are increasingly
Wendell Castle, who was teaching at the Rochester Institute of Technology during that period, are much sought after.”
Everything But The House: This Cincinnati-based online estate-sale marketplace is seeing a big rise in Italian mid-century items, especially lighting. Ericka McIntyre, content editor of 20th-century design for EBTH, said in an e-mail, “Everyone is hunting for a Castiglioni Arco floor lamp. It’s one of the most-sought-after (and therefore copied) pieces. Stilnovo lighting sells well.”
Paddle8: Maura Smith, a specialist in US postwar and contemporary art for the auction house, has seen an increased interest in studio ceramics. She cites last month’s Contemporary Ceramics sale, which included newer works by 1960s artist Daniel Buren, as recognition of the growing importance of the medium.