THERE WAS A TIME, mostly in the 1960s, when the "life style" of a person had to do with politics, concern about war, humanism, even their economics. Life style meant Weather Underground or peacenik, vegetarian or commune-dweller. Life style meant a subculture, each one dramatically different from others. There was cachet in being not at all mainstream.

It was a time when trappings seemed less important than ideals, when orange-crate furniture and cinder-block bookcases and geodesic domes were statements themselves. In the '70s, there was an upgrading: corduroy floor pillows were traded in for uncleanable Haitian cotton sofas, and when batik bedspreads wore out they were replaced with down quilts.

In the 1980s, life style seems to be increasingly more about objects: a way of life can be evidenced by upscale purchases and cushy interiors. At times, life's mission can seem to consist of traipsing through the home furnishings department in search of the certain something.

Nevertheless, the decisions people make about where to live and what to do and who to be cannot be embodied in something that is upholstered, wrapped up and installed in the living room. This Design issue of The Washington Post Magazine is dedicated to

living styles of the 1980s -- how people think and work and live and how those activities are manifested, sometimes grandly, sometimes simply, in their homes.

It is not about dictated style, not about a look. It is about good sense, good taste and confidence, about personal styles that cannot be squeezed out of a tube. Living style is a mental process, an acquired art -- not a shopping trip.

Washington has its own many styles, and, forces of attraction being what they are, certain parts of the Washington area are alluring to certain people. The young congressional aide may head to the Capitol Hill English basement; the newlyweds choose a town house in Mount Pleasant; a family heads for open suburbia. These are not stereotypes; these are the simple facts of life -- that people have their wishes and their needs and that cities and communities rise up to meet those needs, and that the force of the interaction between people and their environment is always electric and imaginative -- and often quite beautiful.