All-American Style: Gritty 1970s New York City Design

Austin Interior Designer Amity Worrel Reflects on 1970s New York City Design and Why 1970s Interior Design Trends are Coming Back in Style

70s influenced interior_AWCO

On my cross-country road trip to discover all-American interior design styles, I’ve decided to make a U-turn and go back in time to 1970s New York City. Let’s explore the groovy (and gritty) 1970s New York City design era together. You may be surprised just how many of these 1970s interior design trends are coming back in style. Buckle up! We have some far-out cribs to explore.

We have a little way before we make it to the Lincoln Tunnel. So, let me start with why 1970s NYC design is so captivating to me. Growing up in Austin, Texas, I spent my youth thumbing through fashion magazines shot on NYC streets and tuning into SNL. I decided at a young age that NYC was where I belonged. The stories of the rats, subway delays, and dangers lurking around every corner didn’t turn me off. I wanted to be part of the city because of the grit, not despite it. After all, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. By the time I made it to NYC at the age of 23, Giuliani had already begun cleaning the streets. But if you looked close enough, some of that real NYC grit was still there.  

My Windows into 1970s New York City Interiors… 

While the gritty 1970s NYC design era was long gone by the time I moved to the Big Apple, I still had windows into the style that captured my attention. I could watch SNL original cast reruns, catch a Walter Matthau movie, and take a peek into some rent-controlled apartments.  

NYC Window Watching 

My first windows into New York City interior design were…well, windows! After I got off work at Christie’s auction house, I’d drop myself off in an unfamiliar neighborhood to explore as I navigated back to my Upper West Side apartment. I spent my walks taking in the city and peering into people’s apartments any chance I got. The best time was early evening when folks were getting home from work, and it was just dark enough outside to see the illuminated interiors. This practice may sound wild to a suburbanite. However, window voyeurism is a very real and accepted NYC pastime no different than the French flaneurs participating in people watching from the comfort of a cafe. Living in the city is like watching Hitchock’s Rear Window — you are constantly exposed to walls of open windows. However, the activities inside are typically much more mundane than murder. I was never looking to see something scandalous, but instead taking in someone’s paint color choice or how they positioned their TV. How people inhabit and use their homes fascinates me, and knowing how to design around how people live is a pretty big part of my job as an interior designer. 

Rear Window By Paramount Pictures

Fifth Avenue Window Displays and Street Style 

When walking down NYC streets, you also come across windows designed to be seen and capture attention. On my occasional strolls past Fifth Avenue shops, I’d think back to 1960s Park Avenue glamor and Holly Golightly peering into Tiffany’s — admiring the shiny diamonds she could only dream of purchasing. I consider these refined displays contrasted with grungy streetwear and the loud vibrancy of 70s disco fashion. Back in the day, designers like Halston and Gloria Vanderbilt were redefining what it meant to be stylish, influencing how people dressed and styled their interiors. Halston embraced disco fashion, bright colors, and flowing fabrics in clothing while creating streamlined and neutral interiors in his Manhattan townhouse. That way, his stylish friends could show off their looks without competing or clashing with the sofa. Gloria Vanderbilt was more concerned with pioneering the designer jeans fad and filling her home with a patchwork of patterns and frills. The 70s are full of visual contrasts, and I absolutely love it.  

Gloria Vanderbilt and Halston

The Set Styles of Saturday Night Live

Before I made it to NYC, the TV screen was my only window into the world of the big city. So I’d stay up late to watch SNL — back in the Bill Murray days. Oh, it felt like such a thrill! The 1970s sets and fashions of SNL intrigued me. I was fascinated by how grungy NYC streets looked from the stills and captivated by wardrobe and set design choices. I couldn’t look away. It made a huge impression on me, and I still return to those reruns with the original cast.  

The Nitty-gritty Film Genre 

TV was a great introduction to life in the city, but I had to hit the movie theater for some larger panoramic views. Crime in 1970s NYC was rampant and inspired an entire film genre — these “nitty-gritty” film noir reminiscent pieces. These movies showed the underbelly of the city, tackling crime, gangs, and violence — a far cry from the NYC depictions of 90s rom coms like You’ve Got Mail! One of the most notable films of the era was The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, a fictional story of a subway car taken hostage starring Walter Matthau. While chilling, it wasn’t enough to scare me from riding the subway to work. 

The Taking of Pelham 123 Film Still

Exquisitely Designed Interiors, from Brownstones to Penthouses 

If you haven’t looked back on the pages of old interior design and architecture magazines, I highly encourage you to do so! It’s great fun to see the “latest trend” of the era advertised and even better to take in the interior photos! In the 1970s, Albert Hadley was leading the interior design world. He designed for the likes of American royalty, including Rockefeller, Astor, Getty, and Mellon. His style included modern elements mixed with a perfect balance of eclectic pieces that fit together in unexpected ways. He lived by the principle of “never less, never more.”

Are 1970s Interior Design Trends Coming Back in Style? 

For me, my love of the gritty groovy 1970s aesthetic never went out of style. However, today we see many 70s and 80s trends coming back in style, including higher pile carpets, wood paneling, rattan, and even avocado green. As the popular 2010s revival of the mid-century modern movement phases out, it seems like we are following the timeline into the next era of “retro-chic” — 70s design styles. I think it will be fun to jive with the revitalization of these looks. 

Catch you on the flip side!  

70s influenced interior By Amity Worrel & Co.

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Further Reading

All-American Style: Punk Interior Design


Amity Worrel

Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.