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Plastic kitsch from the 1970s: a tribute

Updated on December 30, 2012

Among the "symptoms" of approaching middle age is a tendency to look back on your early years and re-evaluate the things that your younger self took for granted. One such youthful axiom in my case was that 1970s design sucked, in a big way. It was cheap, nasty, plastic and horrible, and anyone with any taste either bought genuine antiques if they could afford them, or reproduction pieces if they were on a budget. (When I was a child my mother worked in a factory that made such reproduction furniture, and she had some interesting tales to tell. Like when a family of ten sat down at their newly-acquired mock Chippendale dining table on Christmas Day only for the table's legs to give way under the weight of all the food, resulting in some very unhappy diners and a large dry cleaning bill.) Anyway, in the 1970s, good taste came in one colour: beige - with maybe a bit of brown and olive green thrown in there to add interest. If you want a prime example of beige good taste circa 1975, think of Margo and Jerry's living room in BBC TV's Seventies comedy The Good Life.

Since then, my attitude to the kitsch end of 1970s design has changed.  For me the turning point came quite recently when I was browsing in one of my local charity shops.  While there, I came across something I hadn't seen for at least thirty years: a laundry basket, cleverly disguised as a stool.  It was made of white plastic and was stamped on the bottom with the words "Plysu Housewares".  The main part of the basket was covered with pink and orange floral wallpaper-like material, while the lid was slightly padded and upholstered with pink acrylic fur (but of course - what else?)  I fell in love with this iconic piece of 1970s kitsch, and yet it was something I would have totally spurned as a child/teenager.  The price?  All of £2.50.  I didn't have much fun getting it home on the bus, but on the plus side, I was able to fit the rest of my shopping inside!  Now the Plysu stool/laundry basket resides in our living room, where it doesn't really "go" décor-wise but it makes a divinely comfortable foot rest - when it's not occupied by one of our cats, that is.

Orange and brown Caroma stool
Orange and brown Caroma stool | Source

I've had a look round the Internet for other examples of plastic kitsch 1970s furniture and I think you'll agree they're the acme of so-bad-it's-good taste. The 1970s "Caroma" stool (see left for an example), was first designed by Charles Rothauser and Bruce Thompson in Adelaide, Australia in 1967. I'm not sure whether this particular stool was meant to be bi-coloured or whether it's actually two halves of two different stools married together, in much the same way as a dodgy second hand car. But I think you'll agree the colour combo of brown and orange is pretty masterful. Another designer name I came across in my Internet travels was Giotto Stoppino, who designed fabulous home décor items such as vases and magazine racks. Carlo Bartoli was another designer of 70s plastic furniture - an example of his work is the emerald green chairs, also below. Bartoli worked for the Italian company Kartell, which is still around today.

Green chairs designed by Carlo Bartoli for Kartell
Green chairs designed by Carlo Bartoli for Kartell | Source

1970s plastic kitsch tableware

Currently I'm enjoying a love affair with vintage Tupperware, in harvest colours. I have a little burnt orange plastic Tupperware salt shaker that sits next to my couch, waiting to be pressed into service every time I sit down there to eat a meal. But Tupperware wasn't the only game in town back in the 1970s when it came to tableware. Melamine resin (a polymer of melamine and formaldehyde) was used to make plates, cups and other kitchen utensils as far back as the 1950s. Although it never replaced ceramics as the preferred material for tableware (it had an unfortunate tendency to stain), it did continue to enjoy a niche in the camping market. Melamine tableware was sold under many names including Melmac, Melaware, Texasware and Dallas Ware to name but a few.

If you look at all the pictures I've assembled here in this hub, I suppose the one thing they all have in common is the use of bright colours. It's as though they're saying: "OK, so I'm made of plastic. So what - got a problem with that? Why should I pretend to be made from anything else?" To me - raised as I was on a décor diet of apologetic beige - that sort of confidence is now very appealing.

© Empress Felicity July 2010

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      ann c 6 years ago

      love the plysu laundry bin. I have one with blue flowery print. I will have to look out for a pink one.Things you would have thrown out a few years ago are making a comeback.Lovely cheery colours to brighten any room.Look out for the taller plysu laundry bin too.(same design as the small ones )My mum has one from the 70s.

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      Feline Prophet 7 years ago

      Those were the days, weren't they? I wonder why bright colours ever went out of fashion. What could be more cheery to have in the home than yellows and oranges and greens? On second thoughts, maybe not in plastic though! :)