May 2, 2023

Woodgrain + chrome mania during the '70s (extensive image gallery)

The previous post laid out the Midcentury Modern roots of the "woodgrain + chrome" aesthetic that we commonly associate with the woody Seventies, which in fact also had to include the industrial / machine / futuristic material of gleaming silver-tone metal as well (and perhaps also smooth black plastic, like bakelite).

Another post will go further back to the Art Deco era, tracing the birth of this unique American contribution of primitive futurism.

There's not much to add analytically now, just an extensive image gallery in case some people are unfamiliar with the style's peak during the '60s and especially the '70s. Or want a nice soothing refresher for how many product categories it touched.

I'll only comment on one in particular for now: I was really shocked by the storage bins for VHS or audio cassette tapes. If you're Gen X or older, you've had these in your home at some point for years, and if you're younger than that, you've certainly seen them if you visit thrift stores. They were -- and are -- everywhere.

We all recall the woodgrain pattern around most of the box. But on the pulls, there's smooth black plastic -- and what looks like aluminum tape! A shiny silver-tone decal, at any rate. It's not even a solid piece of metal, just a thin sheet glued on. But they required that shiny silver-tone metallic accent, or else it just wouldn't be industrial, machine-age, and futuristic enough for American culture!

This aluminum-ish tape appeared on storage cabinets for 8 track tapes, cassette tapes, Betamax tapes, VHS tapes, and even CDs. It was no accident or after-thought -- it was obligatory, no ifs, ands, or buts. It can't be only primitive -- it has to be futuristic, too.

Just as the toaster and percolator, usually taking part in only the chrome and bakelite combo, eventually did get the woodgrain treatment as well. Not too futuristic, now -- we don't want to slip into Bauhaus decadence like Europeans from collapsed empires. We're Americans!

Finally, note the self-aware tone of the Panasonic ad copy: "With all that walnut-finished wood and midnight black and silver trim, knobs to finagle with and those wild-looking cylindrical speakers."


  1. Zenith ad also working in leaves from an out-of-frame plant, to add to the primitive jungle-ness of the woodgrain case, contrasting with the sleek black and gleaming chrome, and vivid colors of a human being soaring in flight. From 1982:

  2. Although Euros adapted the style somewhat, Japan was way more into it. Panasonic above all others, as they were the leaders in consumer products.

    Europeans were still partly trapped in their own collapsing empires, even if they were also now under the protective wing and drinking from the creative spring of the Americans.

    But Japan was never an empire (at any point in their history). Their recent attempt to dominate East Asia failed, but that's not the fragmentation of an existing empire. They got absorbed into another empire -- America's -- but that, too, doesn't mean they're suffering from an imperial hangover of their own.

    And they'd been betting on the Americans since the early 1900s, so they didn't mind joining our cultural sphere. They were already adopting American, not European, architecture and design by the 1920s, with Frank Lloyd Wright himself stopping by to seed the American Block Symphony style.

    Look at the buildings of the University of Tokyo -- they all look American of that time, although with a European-ish arch or colonnade at the entrance. It's like they're hedging their bets -- we'll make the building 90% American, but just in case Europe wins over America, let's make 10% of it European as well.

    Interestingly, their columns all have rectangular cross-sections, like Americans columns of that time (e.g., supporting the entrance porch of bungalows). Not like the circular cross-sections of almost any Euro style. The Japanese ones are more like piers inside a cathedral, but they're outside at the entrance. So it's not so Euro after all -- another 5% American.

    That's all way before WWII. They were already going to be adopting American rather than European culture.

    Even today, I've been looking at furniture stores for the Hololive honies to visit while they're in Tokyo, and by far they're centered on American styles (whether antique, vintage, or Midcentury Modern specifically).

    And of course the Holo JP girls are famous for their block symphony architectural style in Minecraft. It's a point of national pride for Japanese to have picked the correct group of foreigners to side with during the pivotal 20th C -- rather than foolishly jump onto the sinking ship of European culture.

    Very cute, and heartwarming. ^_^

  3. The woodgrain and metal aethetic seemed outdated to me as a teen in the late 90s and into tech. It was old enough to be outdated and lacking modern features but not old enough to engender nostalgia. It was just “all the older electronics around the house.” Solid black and even beige/white looked modern. Now, though, I see how so much of it has stood up design wise even today. I wonder if the style could come back in today’s cost reduced to the max consumer electronics world. The idea of a chrome and wood and black plastic PC build is appealing to me greatly at the moment.

  4. Yeah, by the 2000s there was an all-out war against woodgrain. All wood had to be painted in a solid color, and dark enough, or thick enough if light colored, to cover up all of the figuring of the wood. Every single item I can think of that we got at home, or I got on my own during the 2000s was like that. Black or "espresso" brown paint, no visible grain unless you got right up and could see the little grooves, but not the variation in color or line pattern.

    I'm ashamed to say I took part in changing out the old family furniture back then. It was more about keeping up with trends rather than looking modern or stylish or whatever. We already had plenty of Midcentury Modern, but because that style had a crucial woodgrain component, it had to go. "Oh that woodgrain look? It's not the tacky '70s or the kitschy '60s anymore". Solid, painted, unfigured wood was in, forever after.

    I didn't go as psycho as the women did, though -- painting over all the woodwork inside a house, like exposed beams, built-in shelves, trim, doors, wood paneling on walls, everything. Look at houses or apartments on the market today -- all interior wood has been painted gray or white by these freaks.

    And they didn't stop there -- they painted over all sorts of wood furniture. Forget that they're not good painters and the result looks crappy on its own -- they're permanently erasing the woodgrain. Nobody is going to strip the paint, sand it, and stain / lacquer it again. Not enough to undo even a fraction of the pieces they've ruined.

    Literally no consumer product has had real or simulated woodgrain since the '80s. Thank god the psychos didn't buy up all the '70s receivers from thrift stores, paint their walnut cases turquoise blue or white or whatever the fuck, and then dump them back off at the thrift stores after no one bought them from their Etsy shop.

  5. It's really anything with texture, variety, grain / figuring, anything that connects us with an ancient or primitive past, that looks wild and untamed and natural. Same people who get queasy at the sight of pubic hair -- get a life, and a libido!

    Even brick! Look how many fireplaces are just painted over in gray or white, soul-numbing. Nobody can ever undo that.

    I don't care if they thought hardwood floors or granite / marble / figured stone counters were trendy for the past decade. Once the trend is over, they'll paint all that stuff, too.

    Once the MCM trend of the 2010s is over, they'll ditch the tiny sliver of remaining woodgrain in contempo design. They already removed the futuristic part of it, putting matte black paint on the metal, instead of it being shiny and silver-toned. Pretty soon it'll be a gray or white painted table top, with matte black metal legs.

    So they don't embrace futurism either. No chrome, no Swinging Sixties kaleidoscope of far-out colors, no dawning of a new age. They have no hope or optimism about the future -- understandably, but goddamn, don't blow up everything that we've already made that *is* stimulating and elevating!

    Erase the wild, untamed, natural past -- yet prevent its replacement with exotic, cutting-edge, New Age, wave of the future. It's like being drifting through a formless, colorless cloud, numbed out and wanting to kill yourself. They can kill themselves, but we're not going to!

    When I become dictator, first thing is forming a Design Protective Services agency. If you see your neighbor painting furniture or interior wood in the home, call the agency, and they'll show up right away, remove the helpless piece from its abusive environment, and nurse it back to health, while the offender gets thrown in jail. If you see something, say something!

    1. I understand how you feel:

  6. The '90s were an uneasy transition time -- my family home actually got more woodgrainy then. Partly due to a move, where the new house had exposed beams and wood paneling.

    But also due to buying new furniture, Danish Midcentury Modern specifically. I didn't realize until I looked through some old pictures (i.e. photographic prints) after studying these society-wide changes.

    I was really shocked how Mod our furniture was, and we weren't even trying. It wasn't a trend, an affectation, or anything fake and gay like that. By the '90s, American Block Symphony, primitive futurism, etc., were long accepted as our national style.

    Why *wouldn't* you get a Danish teak desk when you're putting together a home office?

    Why *wouldn't* you get a Danish teak draw-leaf dining table?

    Why *wouldn't* you get a set of cantilever Cesca-style dining chairs to go with it?

    Why *wouldn't* you get the La-Z-Boy recliners with the bentwood oak arms?

    And of course other things we had were more trad-looking. It wasn't like we were trying to recreate the Midcentury Modern ideal in every square inch of the home. That's too fake and affected. But it had become so standardized by that time, you couldn't help but go in that direction, by and large.

    My grandparents still had their original '60s La-Z-Boy recliner, which had an even more blocky / angular Mod styling to the upholstery, throughout the '90s. And they lived in the middle of nowhere, Appalachia. They weren't "fans" or "devotees" of Midcentury Modern -- they were just all-American people, and that's what the American style is.

    They still had dark green carpeting and wood paneling, for that matter. And probably a black bakelite + chrome percolator, too! Primitive, yet futuristic. American! Not European!

  7. As for computers, the best you can do in the meantime is to mix the key elements together across separate pieces of the set-up.

    Wood desk (at least the top), with a prominent grain, ideally in a red-orange-brown color.

    Black computer hardware -- seems to still be the standard, since the 2000s, other than Macs. It's best if the plastic is gleaming, and most of them are not that way. Or if the metal is painted matte black, it doesn't look too futuristic. But that's where the gleaming black comes in.

    And some other desk items in aluminum or chrome, perhaps unrelated to computers at all, but still part of the gestalt of the set-up. Some kind of small sculpture -- but I looked throughout Home Goods last week, to see how non-American today's Americans have gotten, and chrome and shiny silver-toned metal is not popular at all. There was only one desk sculpture that was silver-ish at all, and it was pretty matte, not gleaming -- more of the dull gray trend of the 2010s.

    Maybe the table legs could be chrome, or the desk chair legs, or a little side table next to the desk with chrome framing. IDK.

  8. Scored a woodgrain plastic wastebasket at the thrift store today. Synchronicity! Heavily burled grain, warm medium-brown color -- and Made in USA! Pretty recently, too, has a website on the manufacturer's sticker.

    God damn, is it mating season out there, BTW! Stalked and prowled by so many honey bunnies today -- hop hop hop! Nearly got sandwiched between two at the same time. Spring hormones are in the air! ^_^

  9. Gooba more energetic from eating better, and moving to protein shakes instead of Ensure! :)))

    I know how much you love strawberries -- have you ever tried eating them with cheese? Rich, fatty goodness, with a bit of protein -- it'll satiate you a lot quicker, so you don't plow through the berries so fast. And it makes the whole ensemble taste so much better -- like cheesecake (but without the added sugar). Hehe.

    Any cheese should do, as long as it's not skim or non-fat or something fake like that. You like funky smells and tastes -- how about blue cheese crumbles with strawberries? Mmmmm. I just had some gorgonzola with mixed (frozen) berries, while watching you stream tonight. Pungent, earthy, tart, and sweet, all at once. Yaaami. ^_^

    You wanna know my other secret? I also had some of this tonight while watching you. The simplest and healthiest snack in the world -- almond butter, and butter. That's it! Crunchy or creamy doesn't matter, just check the ingredients to make sure there's no palm oil (that's usually what they add to make it "no-stir"). Just almonds.

    You may have to stir the real stuff up a bit first -- use a fork (not a knife) to spear it and dig away at it, turning the fork, to make your way down, and after doing that in several places, you can start stirring as usual. And then refrigerate it to make it set even better.

    Then cut off 2, 3, 4 pats of butter, and use a spoon to get a little almond butter, and then a little piece of the butter, and then here comes the airplane. Super rich, satiating so you don't need to eat a ton of it, very flavorful, and takes less than a minute to prepare!

    I had that, plus the cheese & berries, with a cup of green tea for a little caffeine hit. That was after my dinner of ground beef, cauliflower, and carrots (from the crockpot yesterday), with some jalapeno cheese melted on top (real cheese, not cheese-flavored soybean oil).

    Please go with your gut (heh) and have a nice roast, rather than listen to enablers in chat urging you to eat an XL pizza for dinner! We've all been there at some point, but you had the right instinct to begin with. Don't get one-guyed into an insulin coma!

  10. Mmmm, and if you need a small meat dish during the day, but don't have much time or are afraid, like most girls are, to dig into a meat-heavy meal before dinner -- a tin of sardines! Buy a bunch, and you'll always have a tin on hand, no need to go to the grocery store or, even worse, have a slave deliver food to you.

    The kind in just plain water are best -- you just push in the tab, let the water drain out of that little hole, and then remove the lid. You can cut them up & mix whatever you want to make a nice sardine salad of them.

    My fave is sour cream, dill, minced garlic, and lemon juice. So good!

    You're a fish-loving Atlantean, it'll be second nature for you.

    On the side, something simple like baby carrots. Or cucumber slices (instead of shredding and straining them to mix into the dip, a la tzatziki). So very bright and refreshing. :) And there's tons of fat and protein in the sour cream and sardines (oily fish, like your beloved salmon).

    Won't take more than 5-10 minutes to prepare!

    If only the Silicon Valley nerds had invented smell-o-vision instead of social media, we wouldn't have to imagine, once you started streaming.

    "Mmmm, savory shark breath -- with a bright refreshing note of cucumber!" Hehe.

    If only your ebi army could be your IRL personal assistant, you'd be eatin' good all day, every day -- without having to lift a finger yourself. Alas, here we are, on the other side of the screen...

  11. Whole sardines, BTW, not those "boneless / skinless" things, bleh. Get you some organ meat while you're at it!

    No need for a fish liver oil supplement -- just eat the whole sardine, and you'll get its liver too! Mmmm, retinol, not those ineffective pseudo vitamin A precursors like in spinach or carrots (nothing wrong with those foods, just can't hold a candle to liver, for getting vitamin A).

    Keep that shark skin looking smooth and plump, before the aging process even gets started.

    Mmmm, I got one of those whole roasted chickens at the supermarket a few nights ago, and while carving it up, ate the liver, heart, and gizzard on the spot. Imagine throwing away some of the most nutritious and flavorful parts of the chicken!

    OK, I go now, for real. ^_^

  12. Massive haul of woodgrain & chrome goodies this weekend, some at thrift stores, some at antique stores. No crazy prices either, including one I let go (the grain wasn't too visible). Will update with links to pictures elsewhere, later.

  13. 70s bowling trophy in woodgrain & chrome Art Deco style, in case you thought all this cool modern design was anything other than all-American:

    It's the wood -- it's not solely futuristic, it's relatably futuristic, familiar futurism, grounded futurism, earthy space-age. We're anchored to our primeval roots, not floating adrift or sucked through a wormhole by the new technological age.

    It's comfy!


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