You don’t see it too often anymore. Once it was all the rage and a must-have in every living room. It was advertised as practical and clean—every housewife’s dream.
Many homes I knew in my youth had plastic covers on sofas, coordinating chairs, and lampshades. Clear plastic slipcovers protected the “good” furniture from family living and company. A few homes had plastic runners that directed foot traffic through the house. Who doesn’t remember pretending the runners were rafts protecting us from crocodiles lurking in the blue rug? Thankfully, plastic covered furniture had gone out of style with little hope of reviving, like bowler hats and foil embossed wallpaper.
We were a family of seven when my parents built their Sayville home in 1969. The big colonial included two-and-a-half bathrooms, four bedrooms, a generous kitchen, den, and the formal living room. The formal living room furniture was bought from an Ethan Allen fire sale—items saved from a huge warehouse fire. Mom couldn’t resist the bargain. The golden velvet sofa and comfy plush orange chairs sat sheltered under plastic for over 25 years. Each cushion, armrest, backing, and pillow accessory were covered. The thick seams were reinforced with white binding, and heavy zippers hid in the back.
The room looked like a showcase model encapsulated in time. Special occasion photographs were snapped in the formal living room. The plastic reflected uneven streaks and a “Do Not Touch” attitude. Although we kids were not allowed to tumble on the sofa or eat a cookie in the formal living room, the company could carelessly spill coffee or a sticky drink without a reprimand. Paper towels and window cleaner cleaned up the accident in a jiffy. Cat dander gathered in light piles from the static, making it easier to wipe away. The upholstery remained vibrant. Threadbare spots were nonexistent.
The big problem with keeping the formal living room furniture under wraps was that it was so uninviting. The plastic was stiff and whooshed when sat upon. Even if one could sneak into the room, the plastic robbed furniture of satisfying bounces. No matter how cool the room temperature, sweat soon pooled on guests’ backs and behind their legs. Even the bookish family members soon abandoned the room for more comfortable quarters like their bedroom or the bathroom.
The furniture lasted more than 25 years because it was barley sat upon, spilled on, or jumped on. The plastic became the repellant for family living.
Everyone was surprised by how comfortable the room became when Mom finally abandoned the plastic covers. The cushions were firm, and there was no wobble to the legs and armrests. It was cheaper to reupholster the sofa and chairs rather than buy another set. Thankfully, gold and orange velvet upholstery have not made a comeback.
The formal living room transformed into a welcoming living space. We could sit and chat without breaking out in a drippy sweat. Some family members now nap on the sofa. The great-grandchildren are allowed to eat a cookie while sitting in a big chair. It is now a perfect setting for the annual family Christmas picture with enough room to pile my parents’ brood of grandkids and great-grandkids.
It may not be the showroom, but it now lives up to its name—living room.
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.