Yesterday's Stories

An Ode to Plastic Covered Furniture

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.

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12 thoughts on “An Ode to Plastic Covered Furniture”

  1. You brought back so many memories. I remember some of my great-aunts did the exact same thing. Thinking back the rooms felt like a museum instead of a living room. I use to think, what’s the point in having a house if you can’t live in it. Excellent pictures. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Like

  2. An excellent capture Antoinette.

    I well recall the small living room of a distant and aged aunt. She was very old and had only a few rooms in her small residential apartment. Our weekly visits included her plastic clad living room, with all its small trinkets and inexpensive pieces of strange art – a museum of sorts to her ancient memories. While mom and she visited, my sister and I were allowed to explore her oddities and even “hold them very carefully”, which we preferred doing rather than sit on the awful plastic covers.

    This was the pattern until one day, she gave each of us children an item from her collection, something she had seen us enjoy several times. I was mystified as to why she did this and mom only shrugged when I asked, but that was the last time we saw her as she died within the week.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. dear Ann

    We also had a gold plastic covered couch but when Angela got married
    Aunt Rosie took it off for pictures
    Wow it was like brand new
    Love ya joann

    Like

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