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Q of the day – Unfortunate interiors

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I put this book on my Amazon wishlist — and my brother got it for me on my birthday, the sick puppy — because we share a fondness for insane things like this. Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible ’70s (Crown, $23.95), is by James Lileks, a columnist for the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis. I was laughing so hard it hurt.

The pictures are mind-boggling, but Lileks’ commentary has you losing it within seconds. From the book description:

James Lileks came of age in the 1970s, and for him there was no crueler thing you could inflict upon a person. The music: either sluggish metal, cracker-boogie, or wimpy ballads. Television: camp without the pleasure of knowing it’s camp. Politics: the sweaty perfidy of Nixon, the damp uselessness of Ford, the sanctimonious impotence of Carter. The world: nasty. Hair: unspeakable. Architecture: metal-shingled mansard roofs on franchise chicken shops. No oil. No fun. Syphilis and Fonzie.

Interior Desecrations is the author’s revenge on the decade. Using an ungodly collection of the worst of 1970s interior design magazines, books, and pamphlets, he proves without a shadow of a doubt that the ’70s were a breathtakingly ugly period. And nowhere was that ugliness and lack of style felt more than in our very homes, virtual breeding grounds for bad taste, manifested in brown, orange, and plaid wallpaper patterns. This is what happens when Dad drinks, Mom floats in a Valium haze, the kids slump down in the den with the bong, and the decorator is left to run amok. It seemed so normal at the time. But this book should cure whatever lingering nostalgia we have.

The sad truth is that these interiors were commissioned by the homeowners. This means someone designed the rooms to look this way.

Q of the day: Did you ever have horrible decor in your home as a kid that dated this badly?

Oh, sweet god, yes we did.

Look at the black vinyl sofa, and the synthetic fiber avocado and mustard pillows my brother Tim and I are sitting on. ARGH!! This is our living room in NC, around 1972. And to add to the design misery, the room has Brady Bunch wood paneling. That is our dog Miffy as a puppy on my plaid-panted leg.

There is one picture in the book from a bathroom from the 70s that commits so many design crimes that someone needed to be in the slammer as a lifer. It looks like a spaceship interior. I cannot even begin to describe the horror — looong white shag/furry carpet, just for starters — in the bathroom. That’s just gross. Here is a thumbnail of another horrible room (that didn’t make it into the book, mind you). But it gives you an idea of what is in store — and this is a tame one.

Click the image to go to Lileks’ site for his description, which you must read.


Now that I am obsessed with Lileks’ sick, brilliant observations on twisted Americana, I’ve added this one to the list of must-haves, which features classicly dated ads, magazine articles, and government parenting guides — Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice.

Ahhhh, the 1940s and ’50s . . . a time when parents everywhere strove for the American Dream-manicured lawns, a shiny car in the driveway, and perfect children playing in the yard. Raising kids was simpler back then, or was it?

In Mommy Knows Worst, you’ll be treated to a visual feast of past parenting neuroses-as well as insight into why concerned moms and dads were driven to buy “delicious” baby laxatives, douse their baby in oil and put him in the sun, and strap Junior into a car seat that bore a strange resemblance to scrap metal. If you’re a baby boomer who lived through this childhood torture, well, we’re sorry. But if humor really is the best medicine (rather than bicarbonate of curd and mustard plaster, as was previously recommended for childhood ailments), then Mommy Knows Worst is cheaper than therapy.

I sense that this work will bear a strong resemblance to Daddy Dobson’s child-rearing and family counseling tomes.

I already have the orgy of bad recipes for “food” from actual cookbooks of the past, James Lileks’ howler, The Gallery of Regrettable Food. There are jello molds with mystery meat products; supposedly enticing peppers stuffed with marshmallow sauce, an unholy preparation of hot dogs in hurl-worthy recipes, and uses for ketchup as a base and spice in ways that make you wonder what the hell Americans were eating in the 1950s. Betty Crocker was tripping.

* The James Lileks web site. Spend time at his Institute of Official Cheer.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding