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mid-century modern dining room with table

Easily one of the most cringe-worthy decades ever, the ’70s had bold ideas but bad execution. Today, we can improve the sins of our fathers.

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When people think of iconic decades in decor, the 1970s are the one decade that makes most folks cringe a little. And why not?

With clashing patterns, color palettes that in hindsight included “rotting avocado,” “uplifting vomit,” and “burnt mustard I wouldn’t spread on my burger,” there’s a lot of cringe-worthy elements from the ’70s.

Some of it, though, I think is being updated to great effect today — or should be.

Here are some of my favourite ‘70s styles we either don’t see enough of or not at all:

1. Wood paneling

It’s ironic that wood paneling should be so closely tied to the 1970s, since slat walls have existed for centuries, not decades. The ‘70s, though, were the decade where they went to die. Never had wood panel looked so bad, and it was largely because of terrible reproduction quality, imitation wood, and bad early engineering attempts.

Today, engineered wood is a beautiful thing and comes in all kinds of tones, shades, and textures. Lumber options are also greater than ever before, thanks to global shipping and distribution abilities. Then there’s always the option of reclaimed wood and refinished shipping pallet planks that a lot of folks are doing great things with.

wood panelling living room modern

Instead of plywood panelling with lots of repeating patterns as was seen very commonly in the basements of homes in the 1970s, here’s Carrick Wall Panelling. It’s made from recycled MDF material (kind of like the material they use to make laminate flooring).

With a color wash, some stain, or just classic white paint, paneled walls can bring a lot of warmth into our modern era. Both stained and washed wood looks beautiful when offset by leather, metal, glass, and stone, so it’s able to span all decor eras. The only place we went wrong was in always having wood panel be dark or “natural” in color. Once you break those rules, the texture and lines become a more definable element in your space.

2. Colored glass

Remember that god-awful textured amber glass everywhere? Again: Promising idea, terrible execution. Colored glass is beautiful. Just stand in any grand cathedral on a sunny day and tell me the stained glass isn’t magical.

The ‘70s were a stained-glass crime. They smote all that was beautiful in stained glass. Mass production captured the color of the glass, but never caught the quality of it.

Even the amber and green glass lamp shades somehow lost all that we love about lighted glass. With today’s reproduction abilities and paint qualities, it would be nice to see more glass art or tinted lamp shades to bring different hues to our spaces.

3. Shag-a-delic shags

Shag carpets are getting more love than they have in a long time, but more people need to embrace the joy that is a great shag.

Where the ‘70s went wrong was in wall-to-wall shag. Now that’s just overkill, and it’s hard to keep clean. Rugs, though, that’s where we’re getting it right today.

lime shag carpet

Modern shag carpeting reminiscent of the 1970s, but designed for the 21st century. This one is woven from acrylic, a part of the Yanchi Area Rugs series from BuildDirect.

Deep plush pile rugs are the perfect place to sit or lie down. They’re sound-absorbing, fill the room with texture, and come in all kinds of bright fun colors that can really make a space today. Poly-pile shags and all those horrible synthetics of the ‘70s are a distant memory. Today’s shags can be made from enviro-friendly materials like bamboo and even recycled plastic, yet stay soft and comfy to the touch.

4. Big Lamps

We had some awesome totally ‘70s lamps I’d kill to own today. Large round brown fleckstone-covered bases with orange tweed shades that stood 24” high, for massive lamps that were nearly 3-foot tall on each side table. Now that’s how you finish a space! Drama!

But seriously, two would be a little much unless in a big room. But think of the big old tension pole lamps from the ‘70s that were spring-loaded and you could prop in your corner with three or four lights running up the pole, probably brass and glass in various places, maybe even some teak.

We often aim for subtle lighting today, but I’m a real sucker for lights with personalities, and the ‘70s brought us interesting ideas for lighting of all kinds, many of which we should revisit and tweak for today’s world.

5. Big Patterns & Texture

The ‘70s went big on texture and patterns. We had a tweed sofa when I was a kid. There was texture and pattern everywhere in my home. Loud pink-and-blue floral wallpaper, the lines from parquet flooring, stripes on curtains — you name it. And that was just in my home!

mid century modern 70s decor sofa

The ‘70s weren’t afraid of being loud and in charge. Dark, moody places were as frequently found as bright, pattern-filled spaces. There was room for everything in the ‘70s, but it was also when manufacturing hit a new level of omnipresence, and quality was lost for a while. Sadly, it showed.

With today’s tech, our more inclusive and bold color palettes, and the ease of recreating high-quality fabrics and materials with new printing abilities, I’d love to see more of the ‘70s influence with modern twist.

Wouldn’t you? What do you remember from the ‘70s? What would you like to see updated?

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.