Photo by Glen H.

Update: The design quirks of the 1970s are very fashionable right now in interior design; however, the unfortunate design choices of 1970s architecture, is not. The split level homes, so cutting edge throughout the 70s, now seem outdated and are riddled with steps wherever you go. The modern taste for large, bright, open spaces is hard to achieve with this kind of architecture. But there are a number of ways you can reconcile the foibles of 1970s design with the needs of a modern homeowner.

Blending 1970s architecture with today’s interiors: By Barbara Schmidt

(ARA) — During the 1970s, more than 17 million new homes were built in the U.S, which means there is an abundance of split-level and ranch style homes that need updating today. Many of these homes were designed with small sinks, odd-sized tubs, small windows and dark earthy decor that can feel downright cave-like in comparison to today’s modern home.

This is exactly what Janell and Angelo Madonna were faced with when they entered and won American Standard’s “America’s Ugliest Bathroom” contest. Their 1970s master bath was crying out for an update, and it was my job to help with a new design. When I arrived, we sat down to consider all the possibilities and realized that we really needed to move walls and plumbing to effectively use the space and make it flow with the rest of the house.

We also considered what style decor the Madonnas used elsewhere in the house. Despite their home’s “soft contemporary” architecture, with its contemporary lines, minimal millwork and array of organic stone, they very much preferred American traditional furnishings. Every step of the way, we had to keep in mind the challenge of combining the two styles in a way that seemed natural and consistent.

The home’s architecture included open floor plans, vaulted ceilings and little to no woodwork. And organic elements like natural stone, glass tile and muted earth tones served to soften its contemporary lines. By blending the same kinds of lines and earthy elements in the redesign, we created a successful extension of the Madonnas’ soft contemporary home with their new dream bathroom.

That 70s Show: The Good and the Bad

Thankfully, 1970s homes were designed with more square footage than previous decades. Having enough space to work with is a very good thing. However, most of these homes were designed with tiny windows, and replacing them can add a lot of cost to any design project. Yet new, bigger windows are worth it as they let in more light and allow a design to incorporate more of a home’s natural surroundings. Today’s windows have also become far more energy efficient.

In the Madonnas’ master bathroom, we replaced two old, small 1970s windows with a large set of awning windows, and added a skylight. The awning style, as well as the simple sheet rock return treatment rather than millwork for the window surround, was consistent with the rest of the home. It’s very important in any remodel to maintain consistency with the interior and exterior footprint.

Cue the Laugh Track: Tiled Tubs and Outmoded Commodes

Janell and Angelo had one of the most unusual bathtubs I’ve seen in 20 years of interior design. Their tub was custom built in an odd shape and covered with torturous, cold 1 by 1 brown tiles. We quickly nicknamed it “the reptilian tub” and had it removed. The rest of the bathroom fixtures were worn and stained, and needed to be replaced to meet current building codes.

What most people don’t realize is that all toilets from the 1970s are out of code unless they meet the 1.6 gallon capacity low flow requirements. Most 1970s toilets are also shorter than today’s models and are uncomfortable for today’s taller homeowners. Therefore, we replaced Janell and Angelo’s old toilets with new American Standard Champion toilets. Champion toilets meet the 1.6 gallon low flow requirements with new flushing systems, making double flushing a distant memory. These new toilets come in a variety of styles, so blending them with the soft contemporary architecture and the Madonnas’ traditional furnishings was simple.

Brown, Beige, Taupe and Tan

Remember design motifs like mushroom stools, hoot owls and wheat stalks? If you don’t, try to imagine thousands of beige wheat stalks covering all four walls of the Madonnas’ bathroom. Add mauve shag carpet and we have a Petri dish for mold.

To update the Madonnas’ bathroom, we chose a pale gold wall color so the bathroom felt lighter but still blended with the rest of the house. The most ingenious trick was to match the wall and floor covering color to make the space appear even larger.

Another reason 1970s decor often looks outdated is that there is no visual relief in the color schemes or materials used for build out. With the Madonnas, we contrasted iridescent glass tile with creamy stone and rich chocolate wood. By mixing modern fixtures with antique furnishings we followed the exact blending formula already established in the rest of the house.

Get Your Groove On

Every homeowner has a preferred style. Look across your home and choose your top three favorite furnishings. Try to categorize those furnishings. For the Madonnas it was traditional American decor with a style similar to the empire or deco period.

Remember that no style is wrong. Some styles appeal to a broader audience and some are more in vogue than others. The most important formula is to mix in the new style selectively and match your home’s existing architecture purposefully. The best part of the Madonnas’ new bathroom design is that Janell and Angelo extended their preferred style into the new spaces. That’s successful design, and that adds top dollar to your greatest investment, your home.

Courtesy of ARA Content

EDITOR’S NOTE: Barbara Schmidt is a nationally recognized interior designer and style expert. Her work has been featured both on television and in publications across the country.

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