Circa 1980: What you need to know about “absolutely stunning” kitchens and bathrooms
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A real estate agent with knowledge of housing styles and periods can be much more competitive in the market than a uniformed realtor. Homes built in the 1980s were generally 20 percent larger than homes built just 10 years ago, with three bedrooms, a living room, a family room, and a recreation room.
Large tracts of land were with most of the houses as well as double garages. As Americans prospered, they desired bigger houses and more storage space, so garages became storage spaces rather than car storage spaces.
The 1980s can be described as a “more is more” period with innovative technologies and building styles. Energy efficient construction, improved insulation and new materials such as vinyl siding and thin decorative bricks for exterior cladding have been adopted.
Better vapor barrier windows were available, allowing for larger window openings and more use of skylights. While traditional colonial houses with a central hall were still under construction, architects expanded into postmodernism, which included classical elements such as columns used in new ways.
Bright colors were commonly used in the 80s as an expression of youth and optimism. In particular, pastels were popular, as well as large flashy patterns on fabrics and interior items. Cathedral ceilings were in demand in new homes, and most homes featured track lighting and wall-to-wall carpeting.
What is being prepared?
Kitchens were still bigger, brighter and whiter. The most commonly seen style of kitchen cabinetry, both in new build and refurbishment, has been a vanilla-colored plastic laminated door or drawer front with a light oak stripe at the bottom.
Honey oak cabinets with matching floors were the second most popular kitchen cabinet material. A kitchen cabinet with hinged storage doors was introduced to store canned food and packaged foods.
This full-sized cabinet was usually located next to the refrigerator and was similar in size to a side-by-side refrigerator. Ceramic tile countertops and backsplashes, often with floral or geometric patterns, complemented laminate or wood cabinetry.
The “rustic kitchen” style, with tiled hoods and heavy use of brick as wall surfaces, could be seen in many higher-end homes. Heavy stuccoed wood cabinets were used in traditional style homes, while sleek “European style” laminate or lacquer cabinets began to hit the market.
These cabinets featured molded plastic drawer dividers and adjustable shelves. Some wall cabinets were hinged to open from the top instead of the side. This was an innovation requiring new types of equipment and hydraulic lift joints.
Innovations and trends
Appliance colors were toned down, with minimalist beige, almond, white and black being the top sellers. Microwave ovens were used by the most advanced homeowners, many of whom were concerned about the health hazards that could result from the use of these devices.
The built-in microwave has not yet been mastered. Very large tabletop models or microwave ovens that stood on carts in the kitchen were seen as a status symbol as well as a convenience.
Home cooks have had to rethink their cooking methods to accommodate this new appliance, and a plethora of cookbooks and specialty microwave cookware have been sold and enthusiastically received.
Trash compactors were a newer appliance that also started showing up in kitchens as homeowners became more aware of recycling and minimizing their carbon footprint.
Research has shown that more than three-quarters of homes in the 1980s were built with dishwashers, up from about two-thirds in the 1970s. In general, the instruments were larger and less sleek than those seen today.
Another innovation that is key to being in a circa 1980s home is the greenhouse window, often above the kitchen sink. This glass-sided window with a top visually expanded the kitchen, bringing in more light inside, as well as providing an opportunity for plants to propagate.
The kitchens were lit with fluorescent lamps and built-in lights, some of which could be adjusted with dimmers.
The floors were often wood to complement or match the furniture. But terracotta flooring, which until now had only been seen in commercial kitchens, began to appear in residential kitchens.
Domed pendant lights and various pendant lights, which were mainly used on the islands and peninsulas, were ubiquitous in the 1980s. Glass blocks were another building material that found its way into 1980s homes as room dividers or accent walls.
Sometimes the glass block was illuminated from behind or from within with bright light, creating an accent wall.
Bathrooms in 1980s homes were large and extravagant. Advertising from the period depicts tiered bathhouses with fireplaces and conservatories next to luxurious dressing tables and built-in storage.
Homeowners have been enticed by sunken or raised baths, offering them the opportunity to unwind after a full day or week in the office. Private showers were accompanied by bathtubs, and skylights welcomed abundant sunlight into the bathroom.
Many bathrooms had crystal chandeliers. Stripes of white light bulbs and theater-style makeup lamps surrounded large mirrors in 1980s bathrooms. Wall-to-wall carpet, plush and shaggy, found its place in the bathroom, next to the marble and ceramic tiles.
Subdued tones for sinks and tubs included “innocent blush” and “seafoam green”, although dramatic colors such as black and gold were also seen. After all, the 1980s were known for introducing mauve or burgundy hues into home design.
Baths had benches for guests or visitors to bathe or soak with you, and luxury bathrooms often featured large, even irregular, amoeba-shaped tubs.
Both bathrooms and kitchens immediately give a clue as to what year the house was built or renovated. A real estate agent who is observant and savvy can identify and discuss these features with their buyer or seller, helping to highlight their value.
An informed agent is successful, and a superficial understanding of design can help list more properties and close more sales.
Gerard Splendor is a licensed associate real estate broker. Warburg real estate in New York. Contact him at LinkedIn.