Courtesy of BOB OSWALD
Livingston County Chamber of Commerce President Cynthia Oswald and husband Bob at home in their authentic 1950s ranch home in Atlanta.
A very retro Christmas
Turn up Elvis Presley on your transistor radio dial. You might get “All Shook Up” rock ‘n’ rolling down memory lane.
For a couple from the Atlanta area of North Cohocton, finding their dream home meant the additional thrill of refurbishing it entirely with vintage 1950’s artifacts that everyone else was throwing out from grandma’s attic.
“It’s the funkiest house that we had ever seen,” said Cynthia Oswald, President of the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband Bob have been avid collectors for years.
Recessed fluorescent lighting, blond wood furniture and heavy gaudy drapes are the hallmarks of an open floor plan interior of a 1950’s ranch home. World War II was over, and America was settling in to a decade of growth and prosperity.
“We had to re-buy everything to live here,” said Bob, a retired Kodak employee and area photographer.
“People never saw the 50’s as being historically relevant. They threw away the Jadeite green dishes because they were cheap to produce, durable and stain and heat resistant when they could afford better. Convenience became the hallmark with TV dinners, frozen orange juice and boxed pie crust,” said Bob.
There are no outside holiday lights when approaching the Oswald’s blue house along a street where many of the neighborhood homes are decorated for Christmas. That tradition came after the 1950’s when the baby boomer generation grew up.
The Oswalds are quick to add that every room is used authentically complete with a holiday atmosphere in the living room for December.
The paper maché Christmas village scene and old black and white photo greetings slotted onto a tree-shaped cardholder are displayed on the coffee table. Assorted View Master slides and magazines on the inflatable-lighted hassock give a lot of clues as to fashion and the latest products for the housewife.
Bob’s collection of early highway maps is housed in drawers. Cindi’s holdings of anything to do with early Civil Defense during the Cold War era are stored away except for one sign identifying the house as being “a safe zone for children with a watchful block mother.”
Both like to rotate their pieces around the house during the year to keep up the nostalgic theme when guests tour their home.
In an era before permanent press fabrics, the Christmas tablecloth on the corner table in the dining area requires ironing. Extra linen cloths are draped on hangers over the back of a closet door.
Casual living became a hallmark of the period. The cocktail party was a way of entertaining in the spacious living room. In the warmer months the barbeque outside would be used.
The galley kitchen has a corner chrome table and curved booth. Cabinets are filled with Pyrex casseroles. The rotary telephone is on an open shelf nearby.
Post World War II introduced the American consumer to plastic. It was found in every room in a 1950’s house from kitchen Tupperware containers and utensil handles, plastic tiles in the bathroom and plastic baby dolls in their basinets. Lucite jewelry, plastic handles on poodle purses and cat-eye glass frames were desirable items for women.
“People were fascinated with plastic,” said Cindi.
“When a hostess brought out a Jell-O mold partygoers knew that she had a refrigerator, and no longer an icebox. It was a big deal. She had moved up socially,” said Cindi.
“My son and I found great pleasure retrieving lamps with fiberglass shades form curbsides. We watched the owners peeking out at us with amazement from inside wondering why we were so delighted with such hideous items,” said Bob.
The bedrooms are painted in pastel tones, and are complete with Haywood -Wakefield furniture and white chenille bedspreads. Hallways and the front entrance are wallpapered. The ornate gold and black leaf design is from the original home.
One of the requirements 13 years ago when the Oswalds moved from their Greece home was to find a place that had never been renovated. They wanted to live in the country, and the Oswalds first had thoughts of a Victorian home. They looked, but to no avail.
Then a turn of events happened that the Oswalds admit was remarkable. Cindi glanced at the top sheet on the piles of home possibilities that the real estate agent had to offer.
“This house was listed as ‘a ranch of the period,’ and I knew,” said Cindi.
Even more interesting was that its location was on the same street in North Cohocton where Cindi’s grandmother lived.
“I had been fascinated by the house when I drove by as a child. Generations of my family had lived near here. Bob and I had visited the area many times together.”
The Oswalds bought the house and then spent their weekends scouring Rochester in pursuit of 1950’s furnishings.
Romeo J. Babbin built the blue home on University Avenue in 1949-1950 for his second wife, Kathryn. It stood out from the traditional two story neighboring places.
Babbin was a potato farmer from Maine, who had come to the area during a period when growers from Long Island also were arriving. Babbin became a potato distributor with a nearby warehouse.
The home has some unique qualities such as radiant hot water heat and the first Anderson Thermal Pane picture windows that are sliders.
The original blueprints were left in the house. Each shows penciled-in details describing where furniture and flooring were placed.
The angle of the house is situated on the property allowing the sun to be seen all day long from the living room picture window.
“The house was built across the street from the school. We have dinner in North Cohocton, and go to bed in Atlanta,” chuckled Bob referring to their exact location in northern Steuben County.
Cynthia and Bob Oswald have achieved a retro style life just the way Dean Martin crooned, “Memories are Made of This,” on a 1956 45-rpm record.