Do You Remember Your Teenage Bedroom?

When kids were elevated from farm hands to family members, they got their own bedrooms

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By Kathleen Thometz

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It is wonderful when you read and enjoy a book but even more remarkable when that book inspires you to look at your own life and perhaps notice current articles about the book's topic. That is what happened when I read Get Out of My Room by Jason Reid. Mr. Reid has meticulously researched the history of teen bedrooms in America. The fun part of the book is that regardless of your age, you'll see your bedroom and your life in his book when you get to your teen years. Get Out of My Room is filled with facts and figures and some diary entries from teens across the ages.

My brothers and I hit our teen years in the 70s and thanks to my fearless, decorating mom we spent them ensconced in pretty cool rooms. My abode went through several iterations during those years, the most memorable having neon pink walls with pink shag carpet, and faux black leather covered daybeds that looked like couches. You could see my room glowing from the end of the street. In two of my brothers' rooms my mom installed a couple of wall murals and painted my third brother's room in the orange and blue of the New York Mets. She had miles of various colored shag carpets installed throughout our house and even purchased a shag rake to maintain them. When my sister came of age a decade later, my parents knocked down walls to give her a suite as was de rigueur in the 1990s.

It was with great pleasure and a bit of horror that I read Get Out of My Room. According to Mr. Reid, the teen bedroom came about after families grew smaller because they didn't need their kids to work the farm. Essentially children were elevated from free labor to family members, which warranted better living conditions, the mainstay was having their own bedroom. Mental heath professionals weighed in saying that kids need their own space to do homework, to dream, to entertain friends, to raise pets, to have privacy, and hopefully, to learn about housekeeping.

Like my mother before me, I kept control over the design of my four kids' rooms. Neither my mother nor I meddled in what went on in those rooms, except to require weekly cleanings. I followed my mother's blueprint and influenced the aesthetic choices including paint color, bedding, and decorations. According to the book, in addition to privacy, giving teens their own room helps them to experiment and develop their own style. I wish this book had been published twenty years ago because I would have hopefully given my kids creative license when decorating their rooms!

I love to decorate and view my home as one art installation, which requires a nice flow from room to room. During my four pregnancies, I created a unique nursery in various themes from fish to hot air balloons for each child. Of course they had no input. Because of several moves, my brood got more new bedrooms then most kids. As they got older, I'd ask them for color input and guided them in their choice of a theme but then took over. My son Brian told me he hated his preteen room. "But you picked the theme," I countered. "I only chose a space theme because I wanted black walls and you allowed me only one!"

The latest redecoration of my house had me turning it into a "mini hotel." I figured each kid had had enough rooms and they were now getting a "hotel" style bedroom, simply decorated, with a bed, bookshelf and a desk. All of the bedrooms were painted in different color blue and each bed has the same bedspread in a slightly different, earthy hue.

Thankfully, life is often generous with do-overs, or makeovers in this case. When my oldest son went off to college, he decorated his room in a jungle theme complete with tiger skin rug. My only contribution was helping to fund it. When I brought my daughter to college for the first time, she put her foot down and picked out everything herself and pinned a thousand photos of friends on the wall, something she felt she couldn't do at home.

Since reading Get Out of My Room, I have found myself strangely curious about famous people's bedrooms. There was a recent piece in the New York Time's magazine, Quiet Places by Mitch Epstein and Nitsuh Abebe. I was intrigued with the staidness of what was Janet Reno's bedroom since the age of fourteen. It was fascinating to read about Emily Dickinson's room in Amherst, Mass where you can pay $100 to spend an hour in there. If any of my kids become famous, no one will be paying money to find inspiration in their rooms!

If there were one thing I wish Mr. Reid's book had more of it would be photos of the bedrooms he writes about; there were some but not nearly enough but there are plenty of places to find images of teen rooms. Check out the series of photographs, Garbage Girls by Maya Fuhr, My Room by Adrienne Salinger's, or Teen Bedrooms on Doodle Art & Design's Pinterest page.

Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and founder of Doodle Art & Design, a teaching studio in Western Springs. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs: Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. You may contact her at kathleen.thometz@doodleartanddesign.net.

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