It’s 2016: Let’s All Decorate Like It’s 1979!

::SPOILER WARNING: If you have not watched the pilot of This Is Us yet, and you plan to do so, stop reading now and go to your nearest Hulu account or On Demand platform. We’ll still be here when you get back. ::

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 Did anyone else watch the This Is Us pilot with no idea of the twist — or that there even would be a twist in the first place? It’s a show about different people who were born on the same day and are turning 36 years old during the pilot. The conceit: the people are twins Kevin and Kate, their brother Randall who was adopted after Kevin and Kate’s triplet brother was stillborn, and the siblings’ father Jack. You watch the whole pilot thinking the characters are all contemporaries until the camera pulls back and you realized that Jack and Rebecca’s story is taking place in 1979, and he is the father of Kevin, Kate and Randall. You wouldn’t think that it would work, but it does.

The reason? Hipsters. Jack and Rebecca’s story takes place in their new home and in a hospital maternity ward. Anyone who’s been to visit a new baby recently knows that hospital decor is frozen sometime around 1972. As for the home, if you follow decorating websites and magazines, you will recognize that the hottest trend for hip 20- and 30-something professionals is to decorate like they’re in Pittsburgh in 1979. There’s stark white mixed with dark wood, orangey and earthy accents, and a whole lot of DIY-looking crafts. Can you blame me for not realizing that Jack and Rebecca’s story took place 37 years ago?

For a little context, my parents got married in 1975 and their first child was born in 1978. Like most couples, they acquired a lot of their decor in the first years of their marriage. I’m child number 4, born in 1986. The burnt orange carpeting, dark plaid sofa and geese in flight that my mom was carting off to Goodwill in the ’90s were all the same features you’d see in Jack and Rebecca’s home. They’re also the same features you’d see on Apartment Therapy and Dwell today – so maybe my parents should have suffered through 20 years of being unfashionable and waited for it to all come back around again.

Usually we time travel during our Let’s All Decorate posts, exploring trends like geese in bonnets or sponge-painting. This time we’re doing something a little different: it’s 2016 and we’re decorating a hipster haven … in the spirit of the late ’70s, the most hipster era of them all.

Macrame

Then: The hippie DIY craze was going strong and people were looking for a fresh way, other than paintings and photographs, to add some interest and texture to their walls.

Now: Literally just replace hippie with hipster. There are ‘wall hangings’ that are basically macrame everywhere from West Elm to Target to Etsy.


 Big Graphic Wallpaper

Then: The psychadelic late ’60s led into a more peace-and-love floral look in the ’70s, and the result was giant, bold patterns on walls.

Now: Although big, loud patterns are definitely in vogue – usually you’d call them “statement” now – they’re often paired with an otherwise calm color scheme so they really “pop.”


Plush Rugs

Then: The first big household project I remember, c. 1990, was my mom ripping out the orange shag wall-to-wall carpeting that basically sold my childhood home for my parents when they were 20-something househunters in 1979 (to reveal gleaming 1920s hardwoods, naturally).

Now: After years of low-pile, berber-style carpet, things have taken a turn. But don’t expect to see ’70s-style fitted carpets – now it’s more like a funky, comfy rug tossed across bare wood floors.


Dark Wood Cabinets

Then: If you’ve bought or renovated a 1960s – early 1980s house, there’s an excellent chance you’ve had to contend with the dull, dark-finish wood that ensconced cabinets during that time.

Now: After a late 80s through early 2000s flirtation with light oak and pine, darker woods are back. Unlike the ’70s, a glossier finish is in style.


Natural Elements

Then: We may associate the hippies with the late ’60s in popular culture, but a flip through a family photo album will tell you that the love for mother earth extended into the decorating styles of the ’70s and early ’80s. Natural stone, water features and big houseplants were especially groovy (NB: I’m told that hardly anyone actually said ‘groovy.’

Now: Look at any bespoke house in Dwell or Houzz and you’ll see that letting the outside in is a modern priority, too. Skylights and local stone are all things homeowners are wishing they hadn’t ripped out in the 90s.


Afghans

Then: The DIY craze hit the blanket industry hard and granny squares were too cool.

Now: They better be cool again because this is my living room (see sofa).

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Upcycling

Then: Yep, this started as a ’70s fad. The economy wasn’t doing so hot, and homeowners were getting creative. Popular projects included turning things into lamps, incorporating old whiskey barrels and wagon wheels into outdoor decorating, and creating planters out of EVERYTHING.

Now: Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s just homeowners following the adages to “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” and “reduce, reuse, recycle” – either way, there are thousands of tutorials out there to create a garden bench from an old crib, a table from a suitcase or a bedside table from a TV case. Again, I HOPE this is cool, because this is my bed with a barn door from the 1800s as a headboard:

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Color

Then: I think the 1970s are unfairly maligned as a decade with no taste. Sure, things got garish for a while, but after the sleek midcentury modernism and colonial revivals of the past decades, it’s nice that decorators were playing and having fun. Nowhere was that more evident in the uses of color. Lots of it. On things like appliances, even.

Now: We circled back to beige and taupe for a while, but unless you’re staging your house to sell it’s actually cool to have lots of bright color again. (Or… I hope so, because you saw those pictures of my house.)

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It’s 1975: Let’s All Decorate Our Porches and Patios!

Welcome back to Let’s All Decorate, a series examining the design trends and tribulations of years past. We’ve examined everything from 90s country geese to the early-DIY era sponge painting craze to your grandma’s house (yes, yours), but today we’re going to take it outside. Memorial Day is in the books and summer 2016 is unofficially here. For a lot of us that means planting our gardens, cleaning off the outdoor furniture and hanging hammocks. In the 1970s it meant all of that too, but everything was just a little bit uglier.

I don’t know why, but the 1970s just scream summer with me. Maybe it was my childhood obsession with Now and Then, or maybe it’s the bold, loud prints and colors of the era. Whatever it is, I can just see 1970s homeowners wearing polyester outfits, trying to gussy up their decks and patios before their swinging cocktail party. Plus, a lot of the 70s styles lived on in my relatives’ houses throughout my very 90s childhood, so all of this looks more than a little familiar.

Are you ready? Queue up your favorite 8-track, slip on your finest caftan, and start seeing the world through Harvest Gold-colored glasses. It’s 1975, let’s all decorate our porches and patios!

Pick A Color Scheme And Go With It. Really, Really Go With It.

Do you like yellow? Orange? Pea green? Throw it on everything! Those are your only color options, sorry!

My fav is the Big Bird pelt on the floor.

 

On one hand that’s a kind of cute, Liberty print-looking fabric. On the other hand, it is on everything up to and including the walls. BTW the woman looks like she’s posing for a picture, but the man is just looking at her.

 

Baby diarrhea. That’s the color of the background. Baby. Diarrhea.

April Showers Bring Macrame Flowers?

If you lived through the 70s, you probably had a cousin or sister-in-law make you one of these for Christmas. If you lived through the 80s or 90s, it was probably still in your parents’ house.

Were you born between 1972 and 1979? You may have been conceived on this macrame monster, CONGRATS.

Crimson Crystal Beads To Beckon

It is almost like instead of design books, 1970s homeowners were going off of the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning. I love her but it’s true.

Make Yourself Comfortable. If At All Possible.

The good thing is that by the 1970s, outdoor-friendly materials had come a long way! The bad thing is they were still plastic-y and uncomfortable. You’d probably stock up a few of these bad boys:

If you were born before 1990, you probably put a foot through one of these at some point.

 

And who could forget your skin sticking to these strips of woven plastic?

 

Then there were these not-at-all-soft, rain-resistant cushions.

Invite All Your 70s Friends Over!

You don’t decorate a porch or patio for yourself alone. Time to throw a bash for all your 70s friends!

It’s Not 1912: Let’s All Decorate In A Titanic Theme

If you went through the throes of Titanic Mania, and were a tween or young teen, at some point the thought occurred to you: what if my bedroom looked like a Titanic stateroom?

And while “doomed to a watery grave” isn’t maybe the BEST decorating style, a cottage industry arose from that very dream. On this, the 104th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, let’s all decorate in a Titanic theme.

Titanic Duvet

On one hand, you could decorate with a bed from the Titanic era, which as a 90s child I’m fairly certain is this:

On the other, you could emblazon your bedding with the image of the vessel that carried thousands to their deaths. FUNSIES.

But like the MAIN THING about Titanic is how it sank, right? So let’s up the ante:

You remember the part with the giant sloth right?

Why Not Just Put An Entire Boat In There?

If you’re really serious about your Titanic themed bedroom, you would put an entire boat in there:

This was called a Titanic bedroom even if it does look more pirate-y to me. Also: COOL BEDROOM.

This is a bit closer. Nice waves on the hull there.

Not a boat, but GOOD GOD THE MIRRORED CEILING. Good news, this is a B&B, so you could stay here.

I believe in this scenario, the sleeping child is the iceberg.

Now let’s make it feel like drowning.

As we said, the main thing about Titanic was that it sank. So let’s pull a little “This ship is submerged in water and I’ll never let go” into the setup:

You could stain the concrete so it always look like your basement is under water.

Is the tub overflowing? Anybody’s guess but probably, yeah.

You could buy this lamp to pretend the ship is at full-tilt and all of the lifeboats have already been loaded with women and children.

Portholes Galore

In fairness, the icebergs were RIGHT OUTSIDE THE PORTHOLES if anyone had bothered to look.

This is a laundry chute, if every time you have to do laundry you would rather just throw it into the ocean instead.

If you’d like to imagine yourself on a pre-sunk Titanic.

Based on the hit 1997 film

Perhaps you’d like to bring Kate and Leo into this? Sure, why not!

Very Kates, Much Leo.

Thank you, Ugly House Photos.

The Ever-Popular Stateroom Chic

The easiest (and easiest on the eyes) take on the Titanic room: some brocade, some oak paneling, a few Edwardian antiques.

This is a garden shed and I am honestly very impressed.

Paneling, wallpaper, 4-poster. Read more about the Australian B&B at the link

How They Passed The Time Waiting For The Carpathia

Movie theatre. Where you sit in lifeboats. Surrounded by dry ice?

Hakuna. Matata.

It’s 2016: Let’s All (Re)Decorate For Fuller House!

So remember a couple months ago when Netflix (pause: I was typing this and a Fuller House commercial legit came on the TV – it’s weird this popular streaming service is advertising on network TV. ANYWAYS) released the first promo for Fuller House? If you don’t, maybe it’s because you blocked it out after CRYING SO MANY UNEXPECTED TEARS.

It was the first look into the new era of a Tanner family, or rather “Fuller” family since that’s DJ’s married name now, and how things have changed since 1995. Specifically, it’s comprised of shots of an empty house, which looks all too familiar and different at the same time. For many of us, this home isn’t just the ‘house that built the tanners’, it’s the ‘house that built me’ as a viewer as well. But of course they can’t keep the exact same set from 20 years ago. It’s TV, things need to updated and shown that time has passed, so in conjunction with our ongoing series Let’s All Decorate, Let’s All RE-Decorate one of America’s most beloved houses and explore its new life in 2016.

 

The Living Room

THEN:

This living room is arguably one of the most recognizable in TV, and while its architecture is a classic San Francsisco Victorian row house, it was a product on the 1990s inside. In addition to the random decorative tchotchkes (tiny man with trumpet?) the most notable piece is the white and blue plaid couch. It’s been there since the pilot but what’s always been interesting to me is that it seems so small for a house of 9 people and a dog. And no other seating options? Actually if I recall correctly they sometimes had two chairs that weren’t present at all times?

NOW:

I still am unclear whether Danny still lives here (I’m assuming Jesse and Becky and Joey all moved out?), but he probably is the only one since DJ moves back in so easily. That could explain why not much has changed except for the pillows. WHY IS THAT DINGY COUCH STILL THERE??? Wake Up, San Francisco has got to pay you enough to buy a new one.

The Kitchen

THEN:

This kitchen boasts quintessential ’90s decor wood paneling, a matching wood kitchen table, cabinets, and chairs – Danny clearly wanted the seat cushions to match the living room couch.

NOW:

What’s interesting is that most of the kitchen is the same, save for new appliances and the backsplash near the stove, which I’m guessing has more to do with the fact producers wanted to keep the familiarity of the set but make it modern. Like how those seat cushions are the same, but 2016 is apparently the year the Tanners are super into signage (see:’eat’ and ‘home’ pillow on the couch.

D.J. and Stephanie’s/ Stephanie and Michelle’s Room

THEN:

I always thought this room was so cool- it had a bay window AND enough room for a table and chairs! The posters on the wall are always fun to look at and see where we were in this sliver of pop culture. Also Deej’s bed with the metal red frame is extremely 90s, while Steph’s bed looks like Danny got that bedding as a hand-me-down from his mom.

NOW:

Screenshot 2016-02-23 00.16.34

Per the trailer, Deej is living back in her old room, but instead of sharing the room with her sister, she’s sharing the room with her baby boy. She’s exchanged the George Michael posters for classier rorschach test-looking art pieces and Mr. Pillow for a plushy owl. Also she has three kids, so there’s that.

Michelle’s/DJ’s Room

THEN:

This room started as baby Michelle’s room, which explains the trend in the ’80s and ’90s of slapping a strip of wallpaper with a repeating pattern on the wall. Here, teddy bears are the theme (which is clearly a musical theme with the guys as well), whereas the one in my old room was a strip featuring a series of jovial clowns that definitely aren’t creepy in 2016.

NOW:

Screenshot 2016-02-23 00.26.39

Deej opted to exchange bears for planes, trains and automobiles in her son’s room (so she has two cribs? Or it changes mid-season?). It still has a warm vibe to it like it did before, and her oldest kid will probably come to DJ with a cue card presentation convincing her that he needs to have his own room because he’s too cool and his siblings are annoying and DJ agrees and the oldest and youngest sons switch places.

Jesse’s/Joey’s Room

THEN:

This particular picture is the Joey era of the room, as distinguished by the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin wall posters in the background. JOEY WAS A COMEDIAN, OK?

NOW:

Screenshot 2016-02-23 00.27.00

I’m assuming this is Kimmy’s room (she moves in to help DJ), since it’s bright and eccentric just like ostrich-owning Gibbler. In this scene she is literally doing the Hammertime dance because she can’t get out of the 90s. If there was a lava lamp in here next to a rainbow wax mold of her hand with a peace sign, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Joey’s Room/Jesse’s Recording Studio

THEN:

Before Joey more upstairs, he lived in the basement, a fully carpeted and furnished living area that was all his. Again, Charlie Chaplin continues to be an inspiration for Joe, and his lounge furniture a) has a random white design on it and b) easily looks like it could be patio furniture.

NOW:

Screenshot 2016-02-23 00.27.41

My best guess is this room is now Stephanie’s living quarters. We still don’t know what she’s been up to all these years, but if this is her room, I’m theorizing she’s a world traveler who teaches yoga, based on the couch threads, possible sombrero on the staircase and Indian-style pillow with an elephant on it. Or she could be like, a 4th grade teacher who’s really into global studies.

It’s the 90s: Let’s All Decorate For Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day season, I guess!  Valentine’s Day falls into one of my favorite holiday subcategories: a Snack Holiday. A Snack Holiday is almost a normal day, except there are themed snack foods. Snack Holidays don’t require gift exchanges or elaborate meals, which are entirely optional. Other Snack Holidays include Halloween, Fat Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day, and maybe Lincoln’s Birthday if you swing it right. Snack Holidays are closely related to, and sometimes overlap with, drinking holidays: Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday + booze), Independence Day, St. Patrick’s Day. I love them all!

You may be thinking that Valentine’s Day is NOT a Snack Holiday because presents and fancy meals are obligatory. However, except for a few couples I know, most people leave these big celebrations behind in their early twenties. You wouldn’t think so, but it’s actually pretty great being single on Valentine’s Day in your late 20s. Most of your friends who are dating, engaged, or married have been together so long that they aren’t into big, amateurish displays of affection. Most of them are spending the holiday ordering a pizza and seeing if there’s anything good on Netflix. Yes, except for a brief interlude from the ages of, say, 15 to 25, V-Day is a Snack Holiday we can all enjoy.

For those of us who grew up in the 90s, our concept of Valentine’s Day as a Snack Holiday was established in our classroom parties. So in this holiday edition of Let’s All Decorate, let’s take it back and decorate that classroom, why don’t we?

Beanie Babies

In the height of the Beanie Baby craze, there’s a good chance your teacher displayed seasonal Beanies on her crowded desk, probably next to the cold cup of teacher’s lounge coffee. It was one of the few attempts at teacher coolness that actually sort of worked, except that you gave her a bit of side-eye for displaying a “rare” holiday Beanie Baby on her desk without a tag protector or clear plastic coffin.

Shoebox Mailboxes

I’m going to go ahead and call this the most highly-anticipated busywork of the year. Sometime before your Valentine party, the teacher would bust out a stash of shoeboxes she had saved from every pair of sneakers, loafers and boots that she, her husband, and her children had bought for the past year. “Wasn’t it nice of her to save those JUST FOR YOU?”…  Is a thought that never occurred to me as a child because children are selfish little dirtbags. You would cover the shoebox in plain paper, then decorate with stickers, crayons, and if your teacher was exceptionally chill about classroom mess, some glitter.

The mailboxes served a triple purpose of keeping the Valentines neater than they’d have been in a pile on your desk, concealing who received which Valentine (although you had to give one to every kid, so whatever), and filling up a solid half hour of post-lunch time on a day when kids are bouncing off the walls.

Note: if your teacher’s children didn’t go through as many shoes that year, you may have decorated manila envelopes that you taped off the edge of your desk, instead.

A Bulletin Board Or Door Display Where Every Kid’s Name Appears On A Heart

Sounds really specific, right? But these were actually universal as chicken pox (Stuff 90s Kids Remember: Chicken Pox). Things have gone more high-tech now, but back in the day teachers used to spend a ton of time cutting out construction paper shapes and writing all of the kids’ names on them. How do I know? My mom was a teacher in my school… and she outsourced a lot of it to me. I stapled a whole lot of solid construction paper backgrounds and bulletin board borders in my youth.

For teachers’ sake, I shudder to think what the Pinterest Industrial Complex has done to V-Day bulletin boards.

For a true 90s experience, names should be: Justin, Ashley L., Ashley B., Matthew, Jessica, Sarah, Dave, Katie, Chris, Kristin, and Kevin.

An Art Project Where Things Are Made Out Of Hearts

A tree made out of hearts, a bee made out of hearts; a dog made out of hearts, a frog made out of hearts; a wiggly heart-shaped creature made out of hearts. The heart is a versatile shape, and nobody knew that quite like the elementary school teachers of the 90s. There was probably a wall somewhere during that party that was decorated with the childrens’ heart-shaped crafts. Gotta develop those fine motor skills!

Tissue Paper Suncatchers

Yet another example of letting the kids decorate for their own darn party, if it was Valentine’s Day, and it was 1993, and you were 7, there’s an excellent possibility that these were hanging in your window filtering those February afternoon sunbeams.

TREATS TREATS TREATS TREATS

The above “treats” should be read like the thumping bass of EDM music, because when we were children, Valentine’s Day treats were our molly (although I’ve always really been my own Molly). Favorite V-Day treats in the 90s included, but were not limited to:

  • Rice Krispy Treats with heart-shaped sprinkles in them – OR cut into the shape of hearts if the mom making them didn’t’ mind waste.
  • Jell-o Jigglers shaped like hearts, because Bill Cosby meant something different to us then.
  • Heart-shaped Little Debbie “snack cakes” which were the same as the Christmas-tree shaped ones you had two months before, except that I always suspected that the heart ones were a tad bigger.
  • Sticky, gummy heart-shaped brownies, also from your friends at Little Debbie, courtesy of a kid whose parents didn’t have time to make anything.
  • Punch made with fruit juice, Sprite, and sherbet, especially if the party was right at the end of the day and the teacher wouldn’t have to deal with you much longer.
  • Candy Hearts. Obviously.
Valentines!

 

 

This is where you let your interests fly – and Kid Code required that you act cool about what the other kids handed out, not making fun of the kid who picked a movie nobody had liked for two years. A few favorites:

It’s The 90s: Let’s All Decorate For Christmas!

Here’s a bit of 90s nostalgia you never hear about: Christmas decorations. That’s because holiday decor of the 1990s, like holiday fashion and holiday television, was delightfully cheesy. In this, the Let’s All Decorate Christmas Special, let’s look back at the Yuletide decor of the 1990s. Then next week, you can revisit 90s Christmas decorations all over again when you visit your parents who are still displaying the ornaments of your youth.

Ceramic Tree With Half Of The Bulbs Missing

For a 20-year period, everyone had one aunt who took a ceramics class where she painted and glazed a Christmas tree. You probably lost most of the bulbs within a decade (especially if you had cats). The “classy” ones were frosted white.

Lights Hung Inside The Windows Because You Didn’t Have An Outdoor Outlet

Outdoor electric outlets certainly existed in the 90s – but more homes hadn’t added them yet, so you saw a lot more lights strung up inside the windows. We’ve come full circle: I don’t have an outlet at the front of my house, so I hang twinkling fairy lights inside my windows.

Giant Bulbs

We are all Chandler Bing. At some point in the 1990s the tiny lights took over, but the big ones are sort of back in a retro way now.

Slow-Moving Animatronic Santa

Even at the turn of the millennium, our technology wasn’t really *all there* yet. It took us 5 minutes to sign on to the Internet and our cell phones were as big as kittens. These slow, jerky electronic Santas were pretty high-tech for the time. Also they looked like they were about to launch into a really awesome break dancing performance at any time.

Aerosol Spray Snow

I was never allowed to have spray paint snow, in part because my mom didn’t want to clean it up and in part because I lived in a city that gets 100 inches of annual snowfall. Still, these aerosol cans of “snow” were all the rage. Some people stenciled elaborate snow scenes, but most just frosted the bottom quarter of their windows and called it a day.

Precious Moments Nativity

Reignite THIS 90s trend, teenaged Tumblr hipsters! Precious Moments, deformed cartoon children who loved Jesus, were popular in middle class homes in the 90s. Somehow I ended up with a hand-me-down set, so just like suburbanites in 1991 I can reflect on these two weird-looking kids who have a baby.

Country Angels

My requisite Grandma Who Was Into Crafting loved making angels …  which are now part of my Christmas decoration stash because somebody decided I should have them. There’s a crepe-y one in “country blue,” a doll-like one with a raffia head, a puffy squat plush one, and a gingham-dressed doll with straw hair. Country Angels were the Yuletide companion to those damned country geese. If your mom decorated in powder blue and “dusty rose” and hung quilts on the wall, she probably had a country angel or two to herald the birth of the Baby Jesus.

Those Big Plastic Santas and Snowmen

Before those blow-up decorations burst onto the scene, these big plastic Santas and Snowmen were the in thing. Of course, if you were really into the *reason for the season* you probably had this bad boy:

Ceramic Ornaments You Painted Yourself

Every year as a child, I looked forward to a craft day spent meticulously painting these ceramic ornaments. And every year as an adult, I regret keeping so many terribly painted ornaments from my childhood (turns out kids aren’t actually meticulous).

A Village From Yesteryear

There are still plenty of collectors of Christmas villages, they were just bigger in the 90s. These elaborate villages were complete with cottony snow and tiny carolers. I thought they were awesome, but also sort of a tease because it was a whole set of cool toys that you weren’t allowed to play with.

Christmas villages were usually set somewhere in the 19th century, but has it been long enough that we can have a 1990s Christmas village? Because THAT is something I’d collect.

A Big Victorian Angel

Another thing that technically still exists, but has been phased out by most decorators of our generation. Nowadays people choose stars, less-fluffy angels, conceptual tree-toppers, or nothing at all.

Hess Trucks

I never got the connection between Christmas and Hess Trucks, but some people not only bought them every year (normal) but also displayed them every Christmas (okay).

Collectibles From A Fast Food Place

Fast food glassware is a thing of the past, but in the 90s you could go to Burger King or McDonald’s and obtain a set of Christmas cups or plates. Happy Meal toys could even be called into decorating service:

Yuletide Troll Dolls

I don’t know why we liked trolls so much, but we did – and even adults incorporated them into their holiday decor. There were plush trolls that a child could cuddle on Christmas Eve, too.

Holiday Beanie Babies

Now, everybody knew that the special holiday beanies were more “valuable” so you had to treat these gingerly if you wanted to sell them for big money in 20 years (oops).

A Christmas Barbie

I had friends whose moms collected the annual holiday Barbie. It was usually wearing some kind of swanky gown and displayed with pride in a mirrored curio cabinet.

A Porcelain Doll Dressed Like She’s From The 1800s

They always looked like a cross between a ghost and a rich girl from a Charles Dickens novel.

A Stuffed Bear In Outerwear

I just learned that K-Mart released Christmas bears every year, so I guess that’s where everyone was getting these from in the 90s.

 

It’s 1988: Let’s All Decorate For Halloween!

Welcome to another edition of Let’s All Decorate! This month, we’re taking a look back at a creepy, garish, zany time, a time when people decorate their homes in the loudest, wackiest fashion imaginable … oh, and also Halloween.

It’s true- the 80s were a rough era, design-wise. So you’d think that incorporating the second-tackiest holiday of the year (after Valentine’s Day) would make things even crazier. However, that discounts one major development of the 2000s: the Halloween-industrial complex.

When we were growing up, the slate of Halloween activities was fairly limited. There were pumpkin patches, which were seriously just places where pumpkins were grown and sold. I thought I remembered a witch at the one we frequented in my childhood, but no: it was just a cauldron. Haunted houses and haunted hayrides existed. You’d have your classroom party, and you’d trick or treat. That sounds like a full month of fun to me, but as someone who’s recently taken kids to a “pumpkin patch” that features pumpkin catapults, a zip line, and go-carts, I can vouch that times have changed.

The simpler Halloween celebrations extended to home decor. My mom was notably Halloween-obsessed, and we had Halloween candles throughout the house, molded to look like ghosts and Frankensteins. We had a windsock that wailed whenever there was a loud noise, which meant that every family argument in October was punctuated by plaintive moans of  “ooo-OOOO-ooo.” There were stretchy cobwebs, plastic graves, and probably some fuzzy spiders. We hung a string of pumpkin-shaped lights in the window.

And that’s it. That was extreme in the late 80s and early 90s. It was before every family had a bin of fall decor that came out after Labor Day. Trick-or-treaters weren’t greeted by animatronic witches, and googley, glowing eyes didn’t peak out from the attic windows of half the houses on the block.

Wall hangings were pretty popular at the time. My mom was a teacher, and those bulletin-board shapes from Teacher’s World were tacked up around our downstairs. I think some non-teacher-kid friends had them too, though. By the way, Teacher’s World smelled like cold coffee breath, exactly like you’d expect.

Just like this. In fact, I’m positive we had the cat one – I was a 6-year-old cat lady, and I loved it the best.

Then there were the candles. In one of my earliest Halloween memories, my brothers were bickering over candy. As things escalated, my mother erupted at them – and just as she started yelling, all of the candles in the room flared spectacularly.

We lost our best vampire candle that day.

The survivors are in my house now, nestled among succulents which I imagine are the spookiest members of the plant kingdom, fly traps notwithstanding.

The survivors are in my house now, nestled among succulents – which I imagine are the spookiest members of the plant kingdom, fly traps notwithstanding.

If you were the kind of family who had an elaborate Christmas village with glittery cotton snow and tiny Victorian people, then you probably had a Halloween village, too:

In a lot of houses, Halloween treat buckets were sort of decor unto themselves. As I said, the options were more limited. Before so many parents proudly declared that their kids NEVER have McDonald’s, the Happy Meal bucket was the gold standard:

In another instance of combining form and function, we gathered our leaves in plastic bags that looked like pumpkins. Now more and more municipalities have moved to collecting loose leaves – which makes sense, because they can decompose a lot better when they’re not in bags – and these are becoming a thing of the past:

I’m sure they existed long before the late 80s, but crafty moms were especially into tissue ghosts:

The tissue-paper honeycomb industry was red-hot in the 80s, and there were standup decorations for every holiday, Halloween included:

The suction cup market was doing okay, too, as evidenced by these spider webs that were in my home and classrooms every October:

All of the coolest characters got into the Halloween spirit, and in a time when people weren’t as into integrating holiday decorations with their grown-up decor themes, these seemed like a legit thing to hang in your kitchen:But clearest in my memory – nay, in the memory of everyone growing up in a pack of argumentative siblings – was the dancing, wailing ghost windsock, which I’m now realizing my parents probably hung in our living room to mock us during our October fights.

It’s 1994: Let’s All Decorate Your Grandma’s House!

In this edition of Let’s All Decorate, we are delving into one of my personal fascinations: grandparents. For the design-obsessed, there’s something even more fascinating about grandparents than their stories about the Great Depression: their houses. It’s almost like irrespective of income or geography, everyone’s grandmas and grandpas were decorating from the same catalog.

The best thing about your grandma’s house – other than your grandma, naturally – was that it was sort of a time capsule. After a certain point, your grandma probably decided that she was done redecorating, so visits to her house were like going to the Happy Days set. Even my more modern, design-minded grandma had these amazing artifacts of my mom’s 1950s childhood in her basement and closets. Visiting your grandma was a bit like time-traveling or visiting a living history museum.

Like all of our Let’s All Decorate installments, we are focusing on a time in the near past – roughly 1994, during our peak childhood years. In 1994, the relatively hip baby boomers weren’t yet grandparents (my boomer parents have 8 grandkids, but they don’t have a “grandma” house). No, grandparents of 90s kids were members of the “greatest generation” – which did not stand for “greatest generation of decorators.”

Let’s all decorate in 1994: when your grandparents’ house was full of love. Love, and probably a wooden television case.

Candy You Weren’t Allowed To Eat

“Eat me!”, the candy said.

“Eat some candy!”, your grandma said.

“Don’t eat that!”, Your mom said.

Everyone’s grandma seemed to have glass jars of candy – gumdrops and Werther’s Originals were popular choices. And your mom never let you eat it. Was it old? Dusty? Merely decorative? Who would keep jars of candy that children weren’t allowed to eat? Old people, is who.

It’s like every trip to grandma’s kitchen was a visit to one of those wedding candy bar tables and nobody gave you a gift bag.

A TV In A Giant Wooden Box

 

In the 1950s, there was an unfortunate collision of home decor forces: the rise of the television, coupled with the rise of suburban Colonial Revival. The result: the television set they would have watched in Colonial Williamsburg, complete with spindles and a drawer that didn’t open.

Fun fact: I remember my grandma searching for a new TV in the mid or late 90s. She complained about how hard it was to find TV sets in the giant wooden box, which she preferred because she said it looked nicer and warmer. Grandparents found naked televisions sort of stark and electronic-looking.

Grammy eventually found the wooden 13 Colonies Television, by the way. I imagine it was in a special basement stockroom marked “Grandma TVs.”

Paneling, Somewhere

When the grandparents of the 90s were the parents of the 1950s – 1970s, somebody convinced all of them that wood paneling was easy to clean and maintain, and could look either stately or rustic depending on how you styled it. My dad’s parents proudly proclaimed that they would never have to paint their living and dining room again!

Yeah. Because it looks like Pa Ingalls’ cabin, instead.

By the 1990s, nobody was installing wood paneling, but most grandparents still had it somewhere in their home, even if only in a basement lounge.

These Bowls

You know why everyone’s grandma had these bowls – often in way less appealing colors? Because she bought them in 1961 and Pyrex is indestructible. My mom has a set too, and I wish I did as well, because these bowls are the best.

Carpeting Where There Shouldn’t Be

And it was always gold or brown for some reason? And just a little bit too long.

When my parents bought their house from some older people in 2000, the entire house was full of gleaming original hardwoods – except the kitchen and the bathroom. The two very worst places to have carpeting.

Possibly Some Clear Runners On The Hardwoods Or Carpeting

Why even have hardwoods? Or carpeting? It really added to the “this is a museum of American life in 1976” vibe.

Toilet Paper And Kleenex Receptacles

Where grandma’s glue gun chops really had a chance to shine. Grandparents loved keeping a spare role on top of the toilet, and covering it in either a floral and lace-trimmed box, or maybe a hand-knitted cozy. Sometimes the toilet paper cover looked like like a human woman from the past, to go with the misguided colonial motif.

Weirdly Dark Lamps

They’re lamps. Yet they’re somehow making everything look darker.

This one kind of chair

Both sets of grandparents had these. I scoffed, but now I kind of which I had them for some of those hard-to-fill corners of my house.

Drapes. Not Curtains. Drapes.

That you’d draw, not open or close. These were usually heavy, light-blocking, and in some kind of a gold  or mustard color.

A tweed couch

Not always the primary couch, it may have been a pullout in the family room for grandkid sleepovers. It wasn’t necessarily plaid.

Knick Knacks From The Land Of Their Ancestors

Whether your grandparents were right off the boat or daughters and sons of the American Revolution, they probably displayed their pride in their ancestral homeland through figurines, dolls, and plaques.

[Aside: in my weird family, my grandpas were both those Irish-American guys for whom “being Irish” is like their number one hobby, so ancestral knick-knacks abounded. I don’t even think I knew until mid-childhood that my grandmothers weren’t at all Irish. Go figure.]

Maybe some religious stuff, too

This varied. I had one of those Catholic grandmas who had all of the merch, so there were statues, portraits and rosaries all over that joint. At the very least, your grandparents probably had a church or synagogue directory with their photo in it, and phone numbers of all the other old people.

There were other things some grandparents’ houses had, like absurdly old photos of you, old people smell, and plates full of baked goods that were foisted on you as soon as you walked in the door. But without the heart and soul of the 1994 grandparents’ house – their total love for and obsession with their grandkids – it would have just been a collection of decorating mistakes and DIY disasters.

It’s 1996: Let’s All Decorate Our Childhood Bedrooms!

In this Let’s All Decorate, we’re taking it back to 1996 – one of the summers that stands out sharpest in my memory, although I’m not sure why. The Olympics were on TV and I was obsessed with the entire U.S. Gymnastics team and their flat snappy hair clips. My brothers and I knocked a pint of wall primer onto the hall carpet imitating old people at a wedding dancing the Macarena. I spent my days at acting camp, falling hard for improv. Mitzi, my beloved, gentle mutt, slipped out of the front gate and was never seen again. My mission in life was to be the kind of person who owned a bra, and by fall I had one (I concede that it was, and is, completely unnecessary).  Inspired by the summer’s hit film Harriet The Spy, I took to observing my inner-city neighbors and writing down their activities in a notebook … for about two weeks, when I forgot. There were kind of a lot of drug deals, to be honest. And with my older sister about to head off to her first year of college, we were all shuffling bedrooms.

Nothing says “child of privilege” more than getting your very own bedroom, and being given permission to pick out a new bedspread, wallpaper, and accessories. I took the mission very seriously for an almost-10-year-old: I went antiquing. However, most of my planning consisted of flipping through the giant fall Sears and J.C. Penney catalogs and dreaming about the perfectly coordinated tween bedroom.

A Stupid Comforter

THIS EXACT SET. Yes. The back had pink dots and teal bows.

Now, as an almost-fifth-grader, I wasn’t going in for licensed character merchandise anymore. But there was a comforter set for any tv show, movie, or hobby you were into. In my previous bedroom I had Minnie Mouse because my mom predicted that I’d only be into Beauty and the Beast for a year of so (so instead I got a character I was never into ever).

Here, you like unicorns? Of course you do. Enough to sleep under them? Hell yes:

Sports? I don’t get it, but sure, why not:

Maybe you’re just generically the kind of kid who likes to listen to music and eat ice cream, probably? (AKA the “your dad’s new girlfriend helped decorate a room in his new townhouse and things are okay, but sort of weird” set)

Curtains That Match The Comforter A Little TOO Well

I have to go put my head between my knees for a sec. Yikes. That’s a sick Mrs. Potts on the bedside table, though. Also: canopy beds. YES. Yes. Like sleeping in your own secret tent/fort every night.

But did anyone have parents who bought the whole curtain/rug/bedding set? Because my mom was always  like “come on, Moll, you can have the comforter but I’m just getting white curtains from K-Mart.” Unlike this nerd (who is probs really great at Carmen Sandiego):

A Bed That’s Trying To Be Something Else

Today my bed is just trying to be a bed. Well, I made the headboard out of an 1800s barn door, so I guess it’s trying to be that, but it’s mostly just a bed. But in 1996, your bed could be anything! It could be a race car, a doll house, or – as I had c. 1999 – a bookcase. I don’t know why beds couldn’t just be themselves but it was sort of a weird time socio-culturally.

Like, look at this lucky freaking kid. You just know that in 2015 she’s one of those girls who has a ridiculously lucrative job doing something vague in marketing and who actually enjoys bridal and baby showers, because her life has been blessed from day one:

By the way, I slept in my nephew’s race car bed last year and it was just like a tiny, awful bed with static electricity on the sides.

A Desk You’ll Never Use

Yeah, you’ll never use that desk. You do your homework at the dining room table.

Above is Abbi Jacobson’s childhood desk, and who knows, maybe she DID use it. Maybe that’s how she became who she is today, by being the kind of person who actually uses her desk.

A Regrettable Chair

Hey, former 90s kid, current adult person! How’s your back feeling? Not awesome? Yeah, that’s because we sat on bean bags and, like, pool toys. The inflatable chair was more late 90s and the bean bag was more early-mid, if memory serves.

Fun fact: my cat used my inflatable chair as a litter box (as it should be, honestly) and then my dad sloshed cat pee everywhere getting it downstairs. So not worth $21.99 from the Delia*s catalog.

A Shelf For Your Treasures and Collections (AKA Beanie Babies and Creepy Porcelain Dolls)

In the 90s, children and old ladies alike were really into collecting useless things. I actually still have a mix of mine and my grandma’s 90s porcelain doll collections in boxes in my attic that I won’t open because they’ll probably start haunting me. Like Kirsten Dunst, pictured above, you probably used your shelves to “express your personality” and stash your Dottie the Dalmation and World Book collection, plus maybe a Sand Art creation or two.

Maybe A Rug That Looked Like A Road?

As far as I was concerned, these were strictly for rich kids and dentist waiting rooms.

It’s 1997: Let’s All Decorate With Sponge Painting!

Welcome to another edition of Let’s All Decorate! It’s 1997. Maybe we’ve discarded our bonnet-wearing geese, and maybe the last of our weird pastel southwestern stuff has been shipped to Goodwill. If we’re really cool, we might even own a giant tv armoire. But if we are creative, artistic, and like to amp up our home decor using household cleaning products, we have some serious sponge painting going on. It’s like when Elaine Benes wondered who was sponge-worthy, we as a people said “NO. The question is what is sponge-worthy?” And then we collectively answered: Everything. Leave no wall un-sponged!

If you’re too young to remember, or just preferred your walls to be one continuous, non-spongy color, let me explain sponge painting. First you’d paint your wall a base color. In modern times, that is where we leave it. But it was 1997, you were blasting Hanson or Jewel on the radio, wearing one of those shirts with one big stripe across the chest, your curled-under-with-a-round-brush bangs hadn’t drooped yet – you were feeling good and you wanted to keep going. Did you have a sponge and a second paint color? Well then you were ready to create a home decorating masterpiece trainwreck! You’d get a bigass sponge – not a flat kitchen sponge but a big old textured mofo. You’d dab it into paint color number two, then you’d just freaking blot it all over your walls. I mean, you’d re-up the paint when it ran out, which was often because it’s a SPONGE whose job is to absorb stuff. Like, the sponge tried to prevent this decorating atrocity from even happening, but we just kept at it.

You could have more or less overlap depending on how much of the “base” you wanted to show. You could leave the sponge ghosts loud and proud instead of overlapping, like these brown kitchen people. Yeah, that was not how you were supposed to do it.

Also, it helped if your base and sponge colors were variations of the same color instead of… this:Sometimes sponge painting made it look like your house was overtaken by a mud-tornado or a sewage explosion:Sometimes it looked like you chewed up paint and then regurgitated it atop other paint, which doesn’t really make sense, but then again neither does painting your walls with a cleaning implement:But be careful not to press too much paint into your corners! Or actually who cares, it’s all terrible:But hey, if you sponge painted your counters, maybe they’d look like marble!

NO, oh my God just kidding, it would look like your cat walked through tar then trip-trapped across your sink.

You could even sponge up your dresser even though looking at it kind of triggers my vertigo.You could combine your sponging with solid paint and wallpaper, too. It was a way to “mark your territory” for all future homeowners, because this mixed-media masterpiece can’t be easy to remove.

Okay, but why? Look, I’m not an outsider. I was all about the “texture” and “interest” that sponge painting provided. I sponge painted a table and a guest bedroom at my parents’ house. So this is not the perspective of one of those “flat-painters” or “wallpaper people”: I was THERE. I remember. I just don’t totally understand.

Like most members of my generation, I cannot pass up an opportunity to shift the blame to Baby Boomers. Their kids were growing up and they had more time to sink into household projects. This was their answer to a childhood in post-war houses that were painted in solid colors, I guess. Always the rebels, those boomers. Obviously I sponge painted as a child, so sure, my generation was in on it. And after a lifetime of “everyone is special” and “you all get a trophy” we believed that maybe we were decorating savants. But with most decorating trends, “so simple a child could do it” isn’t really an endorsement.

Maybe there weren’t generational factors at play. Maybe it was just the final gasp of 90s DIY culture. Maybe El Nino led to an explosion in the sea sponge population. Or maybe we just all lost our damn minds for a while there.