THINK OF THE '70s as a burning building. What would you carry out of it?

One wit said, "the insurance policy."

Seriously, think about it this way: Moving from the 1970s to the 1980s, what furnishings and art objects would you like to move to the '80s, leaving behind the rest for a garage sale?

Joan Mondale, with a house full of the best art and crafts of our time, said, "I'd take Fritz, the children and run back for the cats." Then she thought a moment and said, "If I had to choose one thing from all these beautiful works of art, I'd never get out of the beautiful works of art, I'd never get out of the burning house. But in the end, I think I would take a little ceramic sugar and cream set, the first thing ever made by Eleanor Mondale [their daughter]. They're small, irregular, off center, and absolutely irreplaceable."

Lloyd Herman, director of the Renwick Gallery, said, "I would first carry out the Paley gates -- the ones that stand at the entry to our shop. But I'd have to get someone to help me. All that wrought iron is heavy." I for one would be glad to help -- they are one of the two or three best '70s objects in Washington. Herman commissioned the gates from Albert Paley, unquestionably the greatest heavy-metal artist of our era. The gates are elaborately curved and curlicued in a marvelous exuberance of feeling.

"I'd dash out to Barbara Fendrick's house," said Herman. "And rescue her Wendell Castel trompe l'oeil table, the one carved out of wood to look as though the tablecloth is slipping off. The tablecloth is wood too, and is actually the leg of the chair. It's a wonderful piece."

From his own Arlington Cottage, Herman would take his chair collection: his Thonet rocker, Peter Danko sidechair, the Richard Herz with the wooden back carved to look like rope, and the other chairs by George Nakashima, Eric Magnussen and Bruno Mathson."

Herman says he thinks of the '70s as the time when the cratfsmen made large scale, architectural pieces. And he's cheered by the 70s' use of crochet, knitting and embroidery to make wearable art.

Jack Lenor Larsen, a New York weaver and one of the great design catalysts of our times, would like to take with him the work of American craftsmen that came to maturity in the '70s. High on his list is a glass basket by Dale Chihuly, the glass blower whose baskets and cylinders were seen at the Renwick here in the spring. "Chihuly was a protege of mine," Larsen said. "He first came to me when he was trying to weave glass. And then we found out he was a natural glassbloweer.

"I will certainly take to the '80s Richard De Vore's double wall bowl. The openings in the side allow light to focus on the shelf below, like moonlight. He sometimes fires his bowls 17 times.

In furniture, Larsen has collected five or six pieces by the late Wharton Escherick. And he's recently commissioned furniture for his new loft by Nakishima and Sam Maloof. And "I treasure the antique tribal fabrics I've found in the last 10 years.

Larsen sees new colors for the 1970s. "We been in a beige, cream period for 10 years. Now I'm using soft clear flower colors. But it has to be done carefully. I think most people are looking for tranquility in their homes for the '80s. We need a secure place of refuge."

New York Furniture designer Vladamir Kagan and needleworker Erica Wilson (who are married to each other) tend to each want to take the other's work with them to the '80s, a happy note in these times when many couples don't want to take the other person with them to the next decade.

Kagan would rescue Wilson's newest book, on handmade Christmas projects (to be published this spring), especially so they can check the directions for lace Christmas balls -- lay the lace on a grapefruit, cover with Elmer's glue, allow to dry, remove the grapefruit, tie a bow and hang on the tree.

Wilson would take out Kagan's Cuisinart and Cusinart oven, because she's trying to get him to write a cookbook called "Better Than Sex." And she also would take with them his new version of his classic rocking chair -- she's just made a new needlework cover for it, as well as an 18th-century walnut fire screen, embroidered in silk and silver thread, bought last year in Bath, England.

Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art, wants to take his wife (they were married in the late '70s), his new son and his new East Building (he didn't say in what order) with him to the '80s. He'd also like to keep his horse, named after the espresso machines in the East Building, because he's brown and goes so fast, and his Labrador retriever puppy named Debo.But once I pinned him down, he admitted he'd take from the East Building "the Matisse blue nude cutout. From home, a mahogany Victorian desk I found in London in a furniture cave. I like it very much. It matches my Victorian house in Georgetown."

Paul Smith, director of the American Craft Museum in New York, would head immediately for the vice president's residence in Washington to save the Wharton Escherick library steps which his museum lent to Joan Mondale. "From our permanent collection I would also take Peter Voulkos' jar with a lid, made in 1953. It's such an important influence on every one else. And Lenore Tawney's wallhanging. There are lots of other things I'd want but that are too heavy to carry."

From his own collection at home Smith would take a small pre-Columbian figure from Chancay in Peru, one of the few objects to which he really feels attached.

"The '70s have been great for crafts," Smith said. "We recently judged the Young Americans [18 to 30 years old] metal exhibit and we were overwhelmed by the sophistication and great technical ability of the 570 craftspeople who entered three works apiece. You have to say there's been an enormous change in the attitude of people in general toward environmental conditions. I think we've seen the beginning of the end in the throw-away society. People today are much more selective, they buy quality."

Barbara Fendrick's Georgetown gallery carries many of the top names in art crafts, as well as easel artists. At her Chevy Chase home, she would head out of the door with her Robert Arneson piece, "Classical Exposure," a remarkable clay self-portrait of the artist as a flasher. She'd have to have help because it's 8 feet tall. She'd save their Qujar Persian lifesize painting of dancing girls and a Jasper Johns print portfolio from the gallery. "And I'm glad to hear Lloyd Herman is going to help with the Wendell Castle table. I'll go down to the Renwick to help him take out all the Otto Natzler ceramics. They are so beautiful."

Fendrick, whose current show is of Albert Paley's wrought iron sculpture, said she "will go out wearing Paley's magnificent jewelry. The silver articulated piece is sexy and stunning."

Stewart Johnson, director of the Museum of Modern Art's design collection, thought first of the Tizio lamp, designed by Italian architect Richard Supper. The lamp, which sells for about $250 in MOMA's museum shops, uses a hologan bulb, is manuverable and has two intensities.

"I met Eileen Gray [the furniture designer] in 1971 and knew her quite well until her death in 1976. Now I'm finishing up work for a major exhibition of her designs to open in February. So I think I would take with me everything of hers I could. I think particularly of a small side table she designed.

"The '70s were the end of the plastics. But I'd like to keep the Werner Panton purple plastic stacking chair, manufactured by Herman Miller. It represents the high use of plastic.

"Bang and Olufsen hi-fi equipment is certainly worth keeping. They are very handsome. Oh yes, my Honda. It's a super car, not a startling visual design, but very gas efficent."

Franz Bader, the pioneer in modern-art gallery-owner was 70 in 1973, married in 1971 and moved his gallery to a new location this year. "So the '70s were very good for me. I'd like to take with me into the '80s all the thousand people who came to my opening." When I pointed out that that was not practical, he decided he'd take with him all the photographs he's made in his world travels in the '70s, and the ones he exhibited at the Phillips Collection. "I'd love to take my Peter Milton daylily print, the drawing by Mitchell Jaminson, Bert Schmutzhart's wood statue and Alma Thomas's painting, "The Fire."

Sarah Jenkins, interior design director of W & J Sloane's, says she would take from the office all the Jay Yuang designs for fabrics produced by The Converters, the Clarence House fabrics on Schoonbeck frames and the new Clarence House sheets. "The great thing about the '70s has been the improvement in the price of well-designed fabrics." From their beach apartment, Jenkins would take her shells, and a painting of sea oats.

Claus Mahnken, head of home fashions at Woodward and Lothrop, said he'd like to save High-Tech for the '80s. "It's a real style, like ArtDeco." From his own apartment, he would save a tortoise shell, painted over with a malachite design, sort of a gilded lily, mounted on a marble and brass stand. He bought it at Atelier One in Paris. "I'm at last moving on my own apartment. I had some friends over the other night and sold off lots of things. I do think the '80s will be different, I'm looking forward to all those lovely muted colors." He intends to take with him lucite tables "by Jeffrey Bigelow of Washington and his better followers. Oh, yes, the new beautiful picture frames.

As for me, I came to the Living section at the end of 1970, so now looking back over the decade of the things I've seen, I think it has been a rich era of design. In 1970, the Johnson Collection of American Crafts, assembled by Paul Smith, and the American Crafts Council organization and museum were catalysts that brought about the renaissance of interest in American crafts. Since then, the opening of the Renwick Gallery and Joan Mondale's country-wide crafts campaign have been of major importance in encouraging and recognizing the great skill of the American artisan.

For the first time I can remember, politicans have made some effort toward the crafts. Rosalynn Carter has brought good contemporary design to the White House, with the help of her social secretary, Gretchen Poston. Early on she asked American potters and glassblowers to lend table settings for a congressional wives luncheon, recently she has asked the Corcoran Gallery to trim the White House Christmas Tree with their artwork.

Joan Mondale has chosen a set of tableware, glassware and ceramics to stay in the permanent collection of the vice president's residence. When Houses I and II in Washington are collecting the work of today's American artisans, we're certainly heading in the right direction.

After my family, what would I like to save? Otto Natzler's ceramic works; Wendell Castle's furniture; Albert Paley's iron gates, torchieres and furniture; Stanley Leutzin's jewelry; Dale Chihuly's glass; everything made in Vienna um 1900; the American Arts and Crafts oak furniture and silver objects; all the art works by my husband; and the people, more of them all the time, who care about design.