HOOKED ON THE ‘50s : Santa Ana couple rocks around the clock with furniture, cars and clothes from their favorite era. They even have a Naugahyde bar.
Ricky Nelson biking home after school is the only 1950s element missing from the tree-lined Santa Ana street that Suzy and Buddy Dughi live on.
The small bungalows with their large front and back yards are reminders of a time when land was cheap in Southern California. And to the Dughis, the street is a living reminder of the time they wish they had grown up in.
“Our yard still has orange trees in it from then,” said Suzy Dughi, 25, “and a couple of blocks over there is a house with an orange grove on it. It must be one of the last left.”
The Dughis wear ‘50s clothing and drive ‘50s-style cars and have filled their home with household items from the time period in which they feel so comfortable. Their home is not just a nod to the ‘50s: from its Formica-topped table to the geometric-print drapes, it is the ‘50s.
“On this block there is a man about 85 years old who used to be a country and Western singer and played all around here in the ‘50s,” said Buddy, 32. “He’s really told us a lot about the history of this area. One of the Fender guitar people lived on this block too.”
It was Buddy’s love of rock ‘n’ roll and cars that got him interested in the ‘50s.
“The cars of the time really got me,” said Buddy, “and then the music and the guitars.” He is a member of a hot-rod club, the Lucky Devils, and owns a restored ’49 Mercury (Suzy drives a ’57 Ford). One room of their house is dedicated to things automotive, with trophies, car plates, original movie posters from hot-rod films and other such memorabilia on display.
Just as Buddy grew into collecting ‘50s things, so did Suzy.
“When I was little I liked the music and the furniture with the spindly legs. I liked it, but I didn’t know what it was. I had no influence from my parents since it was something they went through, but was no big deal to them,” said Suzy.
“About 12 years ago when the Stray Cats came out with their ‘50s-inspired music, I began dressing in ‘50s clothes and did my room with furniture from then. When Buddy and I got together we started collecting stuff everywhere we could find it.”
Luckily for the Dughis, when they started collecting, the ‘50s items were not yet as popular as they are now, so things were very cheap. The first end table they bought cost only $4, and other pieces were even cheaper.
Ironically, the first items each bought before they knew each other were the small radios that now rest on a shelf in their living room.
In the house they’re renting, the Dughis pulled up the carpeting and restored the hardwood floors. When they repainted, they kept the same soft greens and creams that had been there in 1954.
Draperies in the living/dining room area have a white background with geometric triangles in bright colors. The pattern is a typical one from 40 years ago when technical design was first used around the home.
Importance was placed on streamlined furniture; chrome was used on cars, furniture and appliances; vivid colors like hot pink, turquoise and orange were the rage, and there was a vision of a new, egalitarian society on the horizon made possible through science and industry.
“I read in a book about the ‘50s that at that time more people could afford to buy more things than at any other time in history,” said Suzy. “Things were priced so that the average person could afford to buy them.”
Buddy’s favorite piece of furniture is the bar in the living room. It was built in Australia in 1959 and features chrome, orange Naugahyde upholstery and a built-in light.
“I found it in a junk store and passed on it. It was $15. After two days of thinking about it, I went back and got it.”
On top of the bar is Buddy’s collection of cocktail shakers and glasses and a blue lava lamp. Behind it on the wall are two pictures of panthers in asymmetrical black wooden frames. The original $4 end table is in the living room along with another one that cost $100, evidence of how the look has caught on and raised prices.
On either side of the couch (in the ‘50s style but not an original) are Oriental lamps, the pair purchased for $25. Their shades look like the sails on a Chinese junk.
Over the fireplace is a ‘50s starburst clock. The space age-designed television in the corner still works, as do the four radios, one of them salmon-colored. A turquoise side chair is another favorite purchase.
In the dinette area, the Dughis have a chrome table with the original Formica top and metal base that was once used in a diner. Attached is a chrome brace to hold a menu.
Suzy collects salt and pepper shakers, and they’re displayed on the built-in shelves in the kitchen. Their dishes are Franciscan ware from the ‘50s with the blue star design.
In the bedroom is a dressing table that Suzy got when she was 16. “It is ‘40s and more Art Deco, but I really like it and feel that someone living in the 1950s might have had something like it in their home.”
Completing the look are fake leopard-patterned draperies and bedspread and a landscape picture with an asymmetrical wooden frame.
“We’re always looking for things,” said Buddy. “If we find something, (to make room for it) we’ll either sell what we have or give it to friends of ours who also collect.”
“Sometimes we just keep it and try to find room for it,” said Suzy, with a laugh. “If it’s neat, we’ll buy it whether we need it or not.”
“To us the fun of this collecting is to dig it up from places (where it’s not valued) and buy it cheap. Anyone can go to stores and spend thousands of dollars and furnish a house top-of-the-line with this look. That’s just great and that’s not what we do,” said Buddy.
Both Dughis are having to come to terms with the fact that the price of their favorite things is going up, though.
“I used to buy dresses for $6,” said Suzy, “but now, if I can find them, they can cost $40 and $50. And guys’ things are really getting hard to find.” Suzy thinks the women’s clothes of the ‘50s were feminine and pretty, and she likes them much better than current fashions.
The Dughis have more items that they keep stored in their garage and admit that they will eventually need a larger house to accommodate their collection.
‘We want to have things that people living then would’ve had in their homes. When people think of that time, they think poodle skirts, but that’s what kids wore,” said Suzy.
“We don’t want store-bought, goofball things like bubble gum machines. We want real things that adults would have had,” said Buddy.
Things like the pink plastic flamingos in the front yard.
Because even though the Dughis didn’t grow up in the ‘50s, they figure nothing’s to stop them from having the fun of living then.