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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring DIY—How Not to Decorate

by Lee McKenzie

Last week I was looking for something on the bookshelf in our family room and came across The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement. The book is part of a multi-volume set. We have Volume 1—A to Ame, but none of the rest of the set, and I have no idea where it came from. The inside front cover is inscribed with W. N. Watson, March 3, 1970, which is also the year the book was published, but we don’t know anyone named Watson.

My house is always up for a little improvement and good decorating, so I opened the book and took a look. Fifteen minutes and more than a few belly laughs later, I decided this was too much fun not to share.

Since the book was published in 19070, I’m guessing most of the photographs were taken of homes that were decorated in the '60s.

I remember the ‘60s well, although I don’t remember them being this red.

The table and chairs are fabulous, in a breakfast-with-the-Jetsons kind of way, but this photo is not meant to be an example of good furniture choices. This kitchen, with it’s two red arches (the one on the right appears to be refrigerator), is in the section titled "Accessories and Accents—Flowers and Plants." According to the caption, "There’s really no need ever to do without some sort of table decoration when it’s so simple to compose one with the fruits so readily available in the grocery store."

Until I read that, I hadn’t even noticed the fruit bowl! I think I was too distracted by the gold wall, red arches and purple carpet.

While we're on the subject of red...

This photo is in the section titled "ABC’s of Decorating—Windows." Apparently "instead of unbalancing the room, the windows help round out the color scheme and become an integral part of the color scheme." When they say windows, they're actually referring to the red drapes and the red blinds.

And is it just me, or does color "scheme" imply more than one color, or at least more than one shade of a color?

The jar of cigarettes and the ashtray in the foreground caused one of those belly laughs I mentioned earlier. Times sure change, don’t they? I can’t imagine seeing those in a recently published decorating guide.

Okay, enough red. Let’s move on to green.

I find myself inexplicably captivated by this room. It's as though I’ve wandered onto the set of a Barry Manilow musical. This photo is categorized as "Accessories and Accents—Light fixtures and lighting effects." Once it was pointed out, I could see that the floor-level lighting and the top-lit black cube do add some interest. But once again I was distracted by the "color scheme," and all those containers of cigarettes and ashtrays. In case you can't see them, there are three of each. And then there's the chair that is oddly reminiscent of a toilet seat lid.

These days, the designers on TV decorating shows often say they want to add a "pop" or a "punch" of color to a room. Taken to it’s extreme, here’s what happens. The captions says: "Walls can do much more than stand there and be decorative..."

I love the built-ins and recessed lighting but if I was updating this room, the first thing I'd do is paint the wall to match the cabinets. Let the accessories do the popping. I love the red chair and ottoman, and the television made me laugh. Does anyone remember those pre-remote days when you actually had to get up and go across the room to change channels?

This dining room is in the "Accessories and Accents—Rugs" section. Yes, it’s all about that rug. Feeling crafty? According to the caption, it's made from a piece of indoor-outdoor carpet with fringe glued around the edge.

I really do love the simple, uncluttered lines of mid-century modern furniture, and I think this dining room table and cabinet could easily be brought from the last century into this one. Providing I got rid of the too-short gold drapes and the amber glass light fixture above the table. And the red-fringed green carpet would definitely have to go.

Saving the biggest belly laugh for last...

Speechless, aren't you?

Once again, it’s all about the rug, which "catches the eye and sets the theme."

Theme? The caption insists "The effect is one of harmony," but this poor guest room has been turned into a kaleidoscope! I think I’d have trouble falling asleep, fearing the headboard might fly open and I’d be trampled by a herd of animals.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane as much as I did. And may I make one suggestion? If you plan to do a decorating DIY project this spring, you might look to something other than The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement for advice!

They say everything that goes around, comes around. Do you think that's true of '60s home decorating?

Until next time,


Lee McKenzie is not an interior designer. She writes lighthearted stories for Harlequin American Romance. Her second book, With This Ring is available as an eBook from and (Kindle edition). Her next two books (titles and publication dates TBA) are set in San Francisco, and the first book in the series was inspired by the '60s.

Tomorrow, Lee is being interviewed on the Harlequin American Romance Authors, and she'll be giving away an eBook copy of With This Ring. You’re also invited to visit her website and her personal blog, The Writer Side of Life.

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At 6:47 AM, Blogger Christine said...

Avocado green! I love it--and the rug--priceless. Still laughing.

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Oh, Lee! Well, I have been a little bummed about how old my furniture is, but after looking at that toilet seat chair? I'll complain no longer. :)

At 8:23 AM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

My family had a whole set of avocado green appliances - fridge, stove, washer and dryer. Wasn't harvest gold was a popular color around the same time? There was also dark brown - coppertone? - but I think that came earler.

Years ago I rented an apartment that had a turquoise fridge and stove. I loved those. Very 1950s!

At 8:24 AM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

LOL, Gillian! I had to look at that chair more than once to be sure it wasn't a . . . well, you know!

At 8:33 AM, Blogger Judy said...

Oh, my. This is just... wrong, you know? On so many levels. It finally explains my parents black and red living room. Scary.

I find the red rooms painful to look at. Hard to notice any details when you keep looking away.

That green rug with red trim made me think "golf green!" And then I thought, "No, pool table!"

The green room is just... just so, so green. It sort of blends into itself.

The guest room is so BUSY! It looks like there was a controlled, sort of, explosion in there, and it's still happening.

The color therapist in me wants to run screaming. :-)

At 8:36 AM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

My eyes! My eyes! Good grief these people loved red! Looks like a New Orleans bordello meets a sixties dance club.

I can't laugh about the appliances though. I have a fridge that was made in 1957 which makes it one year older than me! Hey, it still works! But that tiny silver box that serves as a freezer is a real problem!

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Great summary, Judy! I totally agree there's nothing soothing or inspiring about all that color. Especially not the guest room, where it looks like something went SPLAT!

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Louisa, is your fridge the kind that has the rounded top? The kind that opens with a pull handle and closes with a latch? I love those!

Sadly, I think it's safe to say that if you buy a new fridge today, it's not going to last 50+ years.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Megan Kelly said...

Lee, these pix sure made me appreciate my home. I also thought of Graceland--Elvis had/has avocado and harvest gold kitchen accessories. I found the green room a relief after the reds, a kind of relaxation hide away, but yes, way too much of the same. Thanks for the smiles.

At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In its own way, that guest room is quite brilliant (in the metaphoric as well as literal sense).

What guest could stay longer than one, two nights max?

And laugh if you will, I quite like the archway with the fridge "hidden" in it. After a couple of nights in the guest room, you'd never be able to find it so there's a diet tip right there!


At 9:50 AM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Hi, Megan! The green room is definitely easier to look at than the red ones. But the tune to "Copacabana" keeps playing over and over in my head.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

LOL, Rachel! I hadn't thought about the guest room as deterring guests who overstay their welcome, but I'm sure it would!

Also laughed at the image of someone stumbling around in the dark, trying to find the fridge!

This is turning out to be more fun than I expected :)

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Marin Thomas said...

Great post, Lee!

Fun pictures! I don't care for the 1960's or 70's style of furniture but I do like the colors. I love decorating with bold, rich colors. Hlaf my office is a Ralph Luaren Life vest Orange color :-)

Marin Thomas
A Cowboy's Promise (April 09)

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Judy said...

Rachel, both the guest and diet solution made me laugh.

I confess that I do have an avocado refrigerator, but it was the right price (cheap) and it works.

Someday, I want one of the rooms in my house to have those gorgeous, bold, rich colors. Burgundy/black drapes that pool on the floor; throw pillows in turquoise and hunter green and purple; satins and silks... I can picture it, and those pictures definitely aren't it. :-)

At 12:23 PM, Blogger Christine said...

I know a new fridge won't last more than 7 years-- we had a new fridge in our townhouse and it died after 7 years. Most of the other appliances did as well.

But at least they were not avocado green.

I remember the harvest gold! Oh, I think we had that color in my childhood home.


At 12:33 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

I enjoyed the stroll down memory lane. Yikes on the guest room, but I see Rachel's point--a good place to put a guest you wouldn't want to stay long! :)

At 1:43 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

These are great pictures, Lee. Hilarious. Thanks for sharing. The last thing I noticed in the last picture was the rug! Too funny. My mom used to have a lot of those gold ashtrays in her house. And that old television did bring back some memories.

At 3:03 PM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

Lee, these pictures are hilarious!!! Makes me wonder what the decorators on Trading Spaces (who have some weird ideas now and again) would do with these rooms. :-)

Rachel, your diet tip was hilarious!! Maybe I need to try painting my fridge a color that will blend in with the surroundings, like you said, it could really help with the dieting!! :-)

Thanks for the fun laughs, Lee. If I lived in a house like this, I'm not sure what my writing would be like. :-)

At 3:04 PM, Anonymous Geneva Hagen said...

A couple of my friends in the Sixties painted their living room black, installed a UV light, and decorated the walls with glow-in-the-dark artwork. Since they were both good artists, the effect was actually soothing.

Not so soothing was the kitchen in my New York apartment, which the previous tenants had decorated with moire wallpaper - something you do *not* want to look at when you wake up with a hangover! They had not only painted the floor bright yellow, but had neglected to clean it first, painting right over paperclips, bobby pins and dead cockroaches.

Near the ceiling, spanning the open area between living room and kitchen, was what I took to be a painted wooden beam. But when Christmas rolled around and I tried to hang a decoration from it, I found that it was only a long piece of styrofoam!

The kitchen counter doubled as lid to a huge clawfoot bathtub. The antique toilet, flushed by an overhead pull-chain, was in a separate tiny room down the hall. All the tenants had padlocks on their toilet doors. Since it seemed more likely that one would lose a key than that any street person who gained entry to the building would climb five flights of stairs in search of a toilet, the padlocks struck me as paranoid - until somebody stole my toilet paper!

At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Diane St Jacques said...

Hi Lee!

Wonderful post! It's so much fun going back in time. One of the things I remember growing up with is my parents floor length living room drapes..........patterned print with big wagons and green foilage on them! Whoa.......... And then the gold brocade chesterfield!
After 10 years of my "dusty rose" traditional living room, I have now redecorated my whole house in a contemporary theme. Clean and simple lines, minimal decorations, bold colors. My living room walls are red (tomato soup) with white mouldings/white ceiling, on pine hardwood floor. A multi-red area rug pulls it together. The sectional is soft beige leather and white simple coffee table/end tables. My accent color is chocolate brown for the few decorations I have. In a bright airy living room, it's surprisingly not gawdy!
Thanks again for the wonderful read over my lunch hour. Take care.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Marin, I always associate orange with Orange Crush, so your Life Vest Orange sounds delicious. And if you only used it in half your office, it sounds as though you have a color scheme going on!

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Judy, your dream room with the burgundy drapes, gorgeous-sounding throw pillows, and rich fabrics sounds wonderful. I hope you get the chance to turn your dream into reality.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

I love the look of new stainless steel appliances, Christine. Hm. I wonder if they'll look weirdly dated fifty years from now.

At 4:06 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Mo, thanks for joining this stroll down memory lane.

Yes, Rachel's comment about the guest room had created quite a bit of laughter :)

I'm still can't figure out how anyone thought that room was an example of good decorating, but in the early '70s I might have seen it differently.

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Hi, Theresa. The rug might have been the "inspiration" for that room, but it was completely overpowered by the wallpaper!

At 4:14 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Good point, Pris, about today's decorators would do with some of these room. I'm guessing they might take everything out of that guest room and start over :)

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Geneva, I've seen photographs of New York apartments that have a bathtub in the kitchen. I think there's a name for those kinds of apartments, but I can't remember what it is.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Diane, your living room sounds gorgeous, and I'll bet the white woodwork and furniture create a perfect contrast. Best of all, you have a color scheme!

At 4:36 PM, Blogger Angela said...

OH my GOSH!! Can you imagine waking up to that wall paper every day? I think I'd have to gouge my own eyes out...

At 7:01 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Well said, Angela!

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

This was hysterical. Thanks for the laugh. I have to admit we had an avocado green refrigerator, and I think the carpet in our first house could rival the rug in that one room. What was I thinking. Oh, yes, it was the 70's.

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

You pegged it, Lee. My little fridge that could looks just as you described. The paint job has been redone several times and now it is just covered with magnets from authors and conferences. Alas I don't think I will find another fridge as faithful as this one.

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Mimi Barbour said...

I love the green room but the red would leave me homicidal or suicidal or some kind of ahh..."idle"
Thanks for sharing Lee ....what fun!!

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

LOL, Merrillee. Decorating in the '70s was not pretty. My parents had green shag carpet. To compliment their avocado green appliances, no doubt. That crazy carpet had to be raked!

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Louisa, my husband and I had one of those old fridges in our first house, right after we got married. Going on 32 years ago. I think we paid $20 for it. That thing was a real workhorse, but I grew to detest defrosting.

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Hi, Mimi! That red bedroom really is something else! If the bedspread and drapes had been a nice rich ivory instead of more red, the effect would have quite elegant.


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