Sunday, January 20, 2013

the couch

When I was born in 1950 we lived in one of the post-WWII housing boom neighborhoods. As the wealth of my family increased, my parents decided to move to a higher end neighborhood and they had a custom home built. Each of us three kids got our own bedroom.

My sister and I had shared a room before and we would often divide it and not let the other on 'our' side when we were angry. She was (is) three years older than I am and never wanted to play with me. Her side of the room always had the closet but my side of the room had the door. I always thought that was better especially if I could keep her out of our room altogether. Of course, I never could.

In the new house we had to share a bathroom which wasn't so bad as it had two sinks. Our brother had his own bathroom attached to his room which we girls thought was unfair, but then as the only boy and the baby, he got a lot of perks that we didn't.

I think I was about 8 when we moved which would have made my brother 6 and my sister 11. Since us kids were still pretty young, the front room, which would eventually become the formal living room and filled with Louis the XVI spindly legged gilt marble topped tables and carved curvy legged gilt and brocade and satin chairs and sofa, functioned as our playroom.

My parents were upwardly socially mobile and the formal living room was intended for entertaining or for us girls to sit with our dates while the rest of the family hung out in the family room. As it turned out about the only time it got any real use though was Christmas Eve. Our family always dressed formally for Christmas Eve dinner and that is where we would sit after we dressed while we waited for dinner to be served in the formal dining room which was attached.

The formal dining room was also a room that only got used two times a year, Christmas and Easter, as about the time the playroom was converted, my mother was accused of having an affair with the husband of their best friends, something she always denied. She told me once that he named her because she knew who the real paramour was but as far as I know, my mother never revealed the name of the 'other' woman and it wasn't like her to be that selfless.

Anyway, it was a real scandal that my parents never really recovered from socially and it made my mother even more desperate to climb that ladder to the point of denying me friendships with girls who didn't live in the right neighborhoods.

But I digress.

Back in the late 50s when we moved and my mother was furnishing the house, she was in the bargain basement of Foley's downtown looking for furniture for the playroom. She found and bought on the spot a 50s modern plastic leopard print couch.

The story she told was that it had been a special order for a woman who, when she saw it, refused to pay for it because she thought it was the ugliest thing she had ever seen and so it ended up in our playroom. From a distance, because the plastic was textured kind of hair like, it almost looked real. In fact, people often thought it was real leopard skin until they touched it.

The leopard print couch at the beach house. That's my mother on the left looking a little tipsy. As nearly as I can tell this photo was taken in the early 70s.

When the playroom became the formal living room in the 60s, the couch was moved to the beach house where it lived until it got so old and cracked that it would pinch anyone who unwittingly sat on it. Eventually, it was consigned to the dump.

I didn't much care for my mother's taste in furniture but I loved that old couch.


  1. Ms. Ellen: I think our Mother's were born of the same cloth (and it wasn't plastic animal skin. We too had the custom build (which I live in today, big deal) and a formal LR & DR that was visited only when company came calling (special company) and Christmas and Easter. What the hell were they thinking????? My folks were the perfect establishment couple...upwardly mobile, cocktails in the evening and the war on TV with dinner. But darn it, my Mom never found a cool couch like yours. I missed out. Oma Linda

  2. poor dear to have been subjected to the social scandal.

    loved the 'pinchy' plastic cracked couch. :)

  3. The dreams our parents had...Wonderful story.

  4. Thanks for the great story, leaves me wanting more, The life of Ellen and how she become so damned cool-Growing up in the fifties was so coated and ruled- it is a wonder we survived- I think the tipping point for me was when my date came to get me and I rushed out with my purse in my teeth , thowing my coat on saying "let's get out of here"...My mother was horrified of course and gave me a proper schooling when I arrived back home. NEVER run, be a little bit late, carry you purse on one arm, your coat on the other, give your coat to the date and allow him to help you put it on- Maddness! Crazy- I'll put my own damn coat on , thank you, and I don't want him to wait all uncomfortable talking to you! We, too had a combination of antiques and "modern" My mother went for the most awful "modern" furniture and would change it very often giving the old to the poor. My Dad would get a new car every year ! Must say I would love your plastic sofa today!It was grand and comical and I love it! Oh, and I love you too!

  5. My sister and I shared a room also. We also divided the room. I was older, so I got the windows and closet. She got (and deserved) the door. Mom's greatest decorating thing was plastic flowers all over the house.(she really wasn't in to decorating) Hahaha...what a great story!

  6. Only seven years difference and I knew I was the child of parents who knew the depression. It was make it do, wear it out, use it up at our house. However, my mother would have bought that sofa if it had been a deal.

  7. What a beautiful trip down memory lane. Isn't it funny how the most inconspicuous of objects can open up a whole world of stories from the past?

  8. A classic couch,I remember a few vinyl chairs as a kid

  9. That couch is GREAT! I bet people would pay big money for a mid-century leopard-print couch these days.

    I love how you wove a story about your family history together with descriptions of the house and the couch. Such dramas we all endure...

  10. Tis truly wondrous how a simple image can transport us back in time. That couch is wonderful and so 50's!!
    Love it

  11. Your mother looks like a very elegant lady, I could certainly believe that she might have had a flirtation or two.

    The ugly sofa is less appealing.

  12. That couch would have matched the living room of my youth - we had gold carpet & orange drapes :)

    Fortunately for me my parents were NOT social climbers. They had friends over every week to play cards at the kitchen table.

  13. Your Mom had an eye for a bargain - shame she couldn't have found someone a little more discreet.

  14. that couch is a classic!!
    I love the part about separating your room - as the oldest of 4 I never had anything that wasn't being stolen by someone else!

  15. OH i love this old stuff!! that couch...the whole definitely early 70's!!!
    (i was born in '53, so we're basically from the same time) i shared a bedroom with my sister. i had the door side of the room, she had the window side. supposedly (according to sally), i used to tell her she couldn't walk on the floor through my side of the room...she had to jump from bed to bed. (she was 3 yrs younger than me) i don't remember this at all!! haha

    thanks for sharing your memories!!

  16. What a great story. Wow.

    Both of those women look tipsy.


I opened my big mouth, now it's your turn.