Chartreuse Dining Room Chairs

Richard Russo writes in his memoir, Elsewhere:

One of the sadder truths of childhood is that children, lacking the necessary experience by which to gauge, are unlikely to know if something is abnormal or unnatural unless an adult tells them.

In the 1970s, my family had chartreuse vinyl upholstered dining room chairs. Chartreuse vinyl? Not only unnatural, but also abnormal.

In fairness to my parents, it was the 1970s. But despite their subscription to Sunset: The Magazine of Western Living, they were not paragons of style.

I’m not claiming that I was grossly warped by my family’s home decor. The decor doesn’t even make the top ten list (like this and this).

I don’t even think about those chairs that much. But I did think about them this week. I was on a walk in my neighborhood. It’s summer, in a college town. Leaving furniture “free to a good home” on the sidewalk is a common practice. A neighbor had some chairs out that caught my eye. They were an ugly orange color. Not a familiar color, but something about them was familiar. The upholstered vinyl. Ugly orange cousins of the ugly chartreuse chairs! Photographic evidence below.

chartreuse dining room chairs and orange dining room chairs
Left: 1980. Right: 2020.

Thank goodness for my sister, my witness to the horrible fashions and the general abnormality of our childhood. Richard Russo observes that as an only child, he had no one to compare notes with. Here we are, comparing notes, or at least commiserating about the unnatural itchiness of polyester pant suits.

1977 #pantsuitnation

7 Comment

  1. Christina Galante says: Reply

    Those orange chairs would be in high demand at the Rose Bowl Swap Meet here in Los Angles. As would your families chairs! I love the cute photo of you and your sis…it brought back my own pantsuit memories and how I just wanted to be as stylish as Mary Tyler Moore.

    1. laurakornish says: Reply

      Dear Christina,
      We had no delusions of being stylish!

      I’d take a 70s pantsuit photo from you. I think I might need a follow-up post with readers’ contributions of 70s style. 🙂

  2. Paula says: Reply

    Your 1980s chairs were probably relics of 1960s avocado. Definitely not chartreuse. Pierre Le Tan painted his Paris apartment chartreuse to great effect and had a few chartreuse chairs as well.

    1. laurakornish says: Reply

      Dear Paula,
      I’m sorry, but these are “the chartreuse chairs” of our family’s lore. They may be some other color, even avocado. They could even be red, or orange, for that matter, and they would still be chartreuse to me. I can be flexible about some things, but not this.

  3. Rachel says: Reply

    Funny perspective Laura! I remember the room off of your kitchen as being cool. Bright green, definitely, but wasn’t there some kind of floating tube like shelf? Maybe something chrome-y too? I remember that it felt like the future. Of course I was in the fourth grade too.
    Author Paul Auster would call those chairs on the street a rime in your life. Keep your eyes out – you’ll probably come across them again.

    1. laurakornish says: Reply

      Dear Rachel,
      Good memory! Yes, the white tube shelf. This came up in the discussion last week with my parents when I showed them the picture of the orange chairs. We have a joint recollection that it came from the modern furniture store HUDDLE (which I remember as H.U.D.D.L.E.). And a “chrome” pillar, yes.

      “Rime” is a great word. I will check out Auster’s thoughts on that. Thanks!
      Miss you!!

  4. SJG says: Reply

    I think a sadder truth is that children allow adults to tell them what is abnormal or unnatural. Chartreuse vinyl is cool!

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