Everything old is new again

Cindy Phillips posted Oct 4, 2013

I recently had lunch with a young female dentist who talked about the home her and her husband, also a dentist, were in the process of buying. The house sits in a very upscale neighborhood that is transitioning from successful retirees to young professionals. She lamented that although the layout was exactly what they wanted, the house needed updating. I suggested she live with it “as is” for about five years when everything would simply come back into style.

The conversation got me thinking about homes of my past including the one where I spent my childhood.

The two-bedroom house my parents bought for under $10,000 in the 1950s came with hardwood floors – knotty pine if I remember correctly. My mother would clean those floors on her hands and knees with a scrub brush and a bar of brown soap. When they were thoroughly dried, she applied a coat of shellac – something I only relate to when it comes to my manicures.

Trying to work two jobs while raising three girls became a bit overwhelming for my mom, and something had to go. It was the hardwood floors. The carpet I most recall from the succession of those that marched through our living room was a blue and green Berber. The walls were painted blue except for the one that was covered by a plastic molded faux brick. It was white and the thousands of crevices used to make it look authentic were pure dust collectors. I remember plenty of Saturdays spent scrubbing the wall – one fake brick at a time – the same method my mother instilled when hanging tinsel on the Christmas tree, one strand at a time.

Our sofa was Danish teak that held one long cushion for seating and one long bolster for the back. Though it decorated our living room in the 60s, it reminds of something I would find at IKEA today. The design was the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the oversized, sink-down-deep-into-the cushions models found at my grandparents’ houses.

Our dog, Bonnie, loved the couch. She was only allowed to stay in the kitchen – the only room without carpeting. But since the couch was raised up on skinny legs there was plenty of room for her to lay underneath it. Though she was in plain sight, in her mind she was hidden from view. My sister and I simply pretended we didn’t see her there. She would sleep comfortably until mom chased her back onto the kitchen linoleum.

The color schemes in the house changed every few years. Walls were painted, carpets replaced. It was a small house, so redecorating wasn’t necessarily very expensive. The bedrooms, bathroom and living room were all done in different colors. I remember carpets in pink, gold, blue and a black/white tweed. The wall colors changed often and the woodwork was always given a fresh coat of bright white, oil-based enamel. The bathroom and kitchen eventually were wall-papered. And then the living room succumbed to paneling. Luckily, it wasn’t a dark, dreary paneling. It actually resembled distressed wood and was very light in color.

My mother sold the house in 1980 for $25,000 – not a bad profit margin. Ten years later, houses in the same neighborhood were going for $90,000. I’m sure whoever bought that house had a field day when they pried off the paneling and pulled up the carpeting. That hardwood flooring was probably a very pleasant surprise!

My first two homes after I got married were built by us. There is nothing better than being the first person to live in a brand new home. I spent hours choosing wallpapers, appliance colors, cabinets, lamps and fixtures. I always wanted a kitchen with a red floor. I got it the year my husband dropped a burning pot on the vinyl and insurance paid for replacement.

Our third home, in Salt Lake City, was our first resale. It was hard buying a house someone already decorated, especially when their taste was completely different from ours. The kitchen also had a red floor – well, it was red, orange and black and made me think of Flamenco dancers. The kitchen counters were also red. So why the appliances were avocado green was a complete mystery to me. I guess they felt it was a good match for the gold and green shag carpeting.

As Boomers, we look toward downsizing and simplifying our lives. We want laminate floors that look like wood but are easier to clean. We aren’t picky about the color of the appliances, we just want them to be self-cleaning. We keep walls a neutral color so the place will be easier for our kids to sell when we move into assisted-living. We steer clear of houses with stairs and we want tiny yards that are maintained by the homeowner’s association. And we hope to live long enough for everything in it to come back in style.

Cindy Phillips is a freelance writer for The Mountain Times, she can be reached at

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