30+ Things Everyone Had in Their House in the ’80s
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Originally called the Magic Cube, the puzzle was created by Erno Rubik, a professor at Budapest’s Academy of Applied Arts and Design. Rubik often built geometric models, and one of them, a 27-piece cube, was marketed in Hungary in 1977. By 1980, it was frustrating millions of North Americans. It was licensed to the Ideal Toy Corp in 1980.
Coleco Cabbage Patch Kids
One of America’s longest running doll lines, the Cabbage Patch Kids are soft sculptured doll-like creatures sold by Xavier Roberts. Roberts came up with the idea as a 21-year-old art student, when he utilized the quilting skills he learned from his mother and the historic technique of “needle molding” to develop his own line of fabric sculptures. The dolls were first manufactured by Coleco, then Hasbro, Mattel and eventually Wicked Cool Toys.
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The Care Bears, a fictional group of multi-coloured bear characters, were originally created by artist Elena Kucharik in 1981 to be used on American Greetings cards. The characters went on to become a toy fad in 1985, which then inspired TV programs and films. Today, there are 218 Care Bears.
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
From action figures to bed sheets, many boys around the world had some sort of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle memorabilia. The heroes in a half-shell started out in comic book form and then moved on to become action figures—but the phenomenon really took hold as an animated series in 1987. Old action figures can sometimes garner some money with the right collector.
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It’s no small wonder how Trivial Pursuit took off so quickly. (Who doesn’t love being able to voice their library of trivia knowledge in a socially acceptable setting?) Created in 1979, more than 100 million units have been sold—20 million sets were sold in 1984 alone—and the game has taken all kinds of different formats since.
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We all know who to call if there was something strange in our neighbourhood. The songs from Ghostbusters stick with us, and so did all of the merchandising that came after the film’s release. In addition to the two films in the ’80s, there was also a popular cartoon series. Even the kids from Stranger Things dressed as the Ghostbusters!
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Professional wrestling peaked in popularity in the 1980s: In 1987, Wrestlemania III drew a then-record 93,173 people to the Pontiac Silverdome to watch Hulk Hogan bodyslam Andre the Giant. Another million fans watched the event on closed circuit television spots at 160 locations, while yet another several million watched the pay-per-view event at home. From wrestling dolls to action figures to even lunch boxes, just about every home had something wrestling related in it.
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Walkman Cassette Player
The Walkman originally debuted in 1979, and it didn’t take long before everyone held one or had one on their hip. Sony sold more than 50,000 units in the first two months, and its popularity continued as it morphed to play CDs in the ’90s. The mp3 player, however, ended the Walkman’s reign in the 2000s.
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You likely had a few of these and other toys fall through a floor vent at some point. These Finger Monsters were just about everywhere in the ’80s with kids.
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One glance at an old Micro Machine commercial will take you back to a time where that’s all that seemed to play on Saturday morning television. The shrunk-down cars and trucks first appeared on the market in 1987. Later they became further intwined with popular culture by appearing in Home Alone and even became a video. For a decade known for its excesses, the Micro Machine seemed incongruous.
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The fanny pack became en vogue toward the tail-end of the ’80s and it still exists, albeit with hipsters and maybe professional wrestlers. It’s hard to remember the convenience it provided or why someone felt it a necessary fashion accessory.
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Garage Door Opener
As the U.S. emerged from the economic downturn of the ’70s and ushered in a new era of consumer spending in the ’80s, nearly every house on the block started adding garage door openers.
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Sewing Machines in the Laundry Room
This laundry room from a 1984 issue of Family Handyman showcased a room for all seasons and included a sewing station. We’d be hard pressed to find a sewing station in a laundry room nowadays, let alone in a home. This room also had a computer nearby to make it part hobby room too. You can already see the rise in plastic laminate coming into play.
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Kindergarten Classroom Wallpaper
This wallpaper featuring colours of the rainbow will seem familiar for anyone growing up in the ’80s. Maybe more so in the classroom, but it also appeared in a similar way in homes. Back in ’84, Family Handyman highlighted a computer program that told you exactly how much wallpaper you’d need for a room.
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A bread box seems almost anachronistic these days, but they used to be a staple of the house. We should people how to build this oak bread box back in 1983.
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There are a couple of things that make this room neat. One is the electric typewriter that many people had in their homes back in 1983, but there’s another thing that’s cool. The Family Handyman decided to build this room from castaway metal office furniture. We gave it a paint job in order to repurpose it.
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Redwood patio furniture seemed all the rage back in the ’80s and maybe even before that, too. We showcased this patio furniture set back in 1983. The modular design allowed for versatility in arranging the furniture and the lounge chair moved into different positions as well. If there’s one thing we’ve never been short on, it’s been patio furniture ideas.
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Cane Wood and Chrome Chairs
These chairs are similar to those the Breuer Chair Company produced during the decade and have long been a terrific vintage look for some people.
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Recipe boxes are kind of like family heirlooms as they, too, have become digitized. We created this see-through recipe box in 1983 to provide easy viewing while cooking and baking. Plus, the card wouldn’t get dirty from handling while cooking or baking.
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Fresh-squeezed orange juice used to be a chore in the ’80s and juicers like this one were commonplace in homes.
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Wallpaper remained popular in the ’80s as an interior design option and we profiled Karen Nyman back in 1982 after she started her own wallpapering business. She was one of the few women who ran their own wallpapering business at that time.
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Wrought Iron Outdoor Furniture
Wrought iron furniture has always found a place on the patio but this set with a floral pattern seems a little more specific to the 1980s. This set was made by Lyon-Shaw and is enameled wrought iron.
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Well, maybe, not every home had a floor-to-ceiling mirror but you probably saw it often enough in a film or television show. We displayed this setup in 1982 inside an apartment. We said back then that floor-to-ceiling mirrors added a feeling of more space and also hid cabinetry and an entertainment centre. You might notice the angled lighting creates a dramatic effect and helps point your eyes where the interior designer wanted you to focus.
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Polaroid cameras date back a long way but by the 1980s nearly every home had a Polaroid camera or at least something similar. We advocated for people to keep a camera in their toolbox to create an inventory of their tools and valuables at home. It’s a far different scene these days with people using their phones to capture nearly everything they do.
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This TV fit perfectly into a see-through divider we created back in 1981 but it could’ve easily gone anywhere else in the home like the kitchen or a bedroom.
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Those little doodles of 3D squares you like to do turned into furniture in our 1981 issue. We used ceramic tiles on wooden frames to create these pieces. We used them to display plants and though not every house had furniture like this, there was certainly an emphasis on geometric patterns in the ’80s.
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Blinds, especially mini-blinds started to take over in the ’80s. Even as soon as 1981, mini-blinds made up around 70-80 of the window covering market. In our story about windows in 1981, we said modern blinds can dramatize a window, de-emphasize a window or give a room an entirely new look. We even had blinds that seamlessly matched wall patterns. We said back then that blinds could be used to hide bad design or structural errors.
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This room we featured in 1981 features a little bit of every decor item that made up the ’80s. From the rattan table and baskets to the earth colors, it’s almost quintessential ’80s decor. The linoleum floor will certainly bring back memories for many, too.
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Faux Stone Fireplaces
There’s a lot going in this room but one thing that stands out is the faux rock fireplace. Homeowners moved away from the classic brick fireplace in the ’70s and ’80s to something like this. Then there’s the ubiquitous track lighting in the room and vertical blinds on the sliding glass door. Nearly every edition of The Family Handyman has track lighting somewhere in it. This is actually called platform furniture and we built it with plywood, 2x4s and carpet.
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The chandelier in this dining room comes with a lot of brass and geometric glass. These types of chandeliers appeared pretty frequently in homes, just like the wallpaper in the background and the glass hutch. In this 1981 story we updated this dining room and added parquet flooring as well.
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We had the emergence of the Rubik’s Cube and it seemed once that caught on, it followed to our walls as wallpaper. In this 1981 story, we transformed a garage into a hobby/recreation room for some additional living space.
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Hi-Fi Sound System
This Hi-Fi sound system came as part of the media room we designed in a 1981 edition of the magazine. In addition to the Hi-Fi, there was a projection TV, video disc player, VCR and turntable. Though you can’t see it, rest assured there was track lighting, too. Back in ’81 we figured a projection TV ran around $3,000, a VCR cost $800 and a videodisc player rang in around $500.
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