The foyer spanned two floors, with a staircase curving down and walls covered in a yellow-on-orange-yellow floral wallpaper that looped and melted into a swaying oval design that sort of evoked peacock feathers. I wanted to stay and contemplate it forever, but the flow of real estate sales propelled me. The good news was the pattern rolled up in an adjacent corner, where a generation or two of extraordinarily sunny breakfasts had been served. The bad news was that the people behind me were talking loudly about how much they hated the wallpaper, the kitchen, the walls themselves. And they had just bought this perfectly preserved time capsule of a house.
The colors and patterns of the hippie era made a short-lived foray into interior design, which for the most part quickly faded away, with the exception of the much mocked and sometimes re-mocked avocado stoves and mustard refrigerators. -celebrates. For a brightly colored interval, ordinary people across the country could capture part of Haight-Ashbury and Soul Train style sensibilities and bring those aesthetics home.
Imagine an editor of a design magazine in his thirties in 1967, perhaps a new parent, perhaps starting to wonder how trends have drifted so far from what they know. What happened to Richard Neutra’s accessible modernism and Kennedy-inspired Camelot classics, so chic? They look at the cover of the riotous motif record of “Incense and Peppermints” from the Strawberry Awakening and think, We have to get on this groovy psychedelic train! But we can’t do this.
So they select and dilute it – instead of a dozen different impressions together, just a handful; remaking a girl’s bedroom not just in pink but in electric pink – and come up with something bright, colorful, and palatable to your average decorator. Let’s call it Psychedelic Suburban. It is the excessive and imperfect opposite of mid-century modernism.
I have a book from 1970, Better Homes and Gardens: Creative Decoration on a Budget. Better houses and gardens has always been a place for the cost-conscious middle class consumer – I mean, it’s not called Best houses and gardens. This book is black with yellow flyleaves and yellow highlights on the cover, which features a living room with a black and white sofa in a lively tree and a print of birds (cranes? Eating grapes?) Topped, between others, from a basket – weave a pillow. Why are these two together? Contrasting patterns, all kids do!
It’s a treat for the eyes. And that’s just the start, as the cover is only printed in black, white and yellow. Inside there are colors, everything from bright yellow to electrocution pink. There is a color wheel that tells you to match yellow, red-orange, blue-green, and purple. There is a spooky red and black kitchen and living rooms in all shades of green.
It’s speaking my language. I might have seen a few too many reruns of Sid & Marty Krofft growing up in colonial New England gray, but I’ve always preferred lime green over off-white.
Suburban Psychedelic embraces vivid colors on walls, furniture, rugs, window treatments, kitchen cabinets, floors and ceilings. He spreads patterned wallpaper on the walls and shelves, headboards and blinds. It features boldly patterned curtains, chairs, sofas, linoleum and linens. And rugs. And paintings. And trinkets.
He piles all these things together, incongruously, with forced moderation. My book explains, “With practice, knowledge, and mastery of the design elements – shape, line, space, color and texture – you can easily learn how to decorate your home without professional help, even on a budget. the tightest. “Can you? Trying to combine this sensible approach with some crazy psychedelia isn’t easy. But I love his attempt to pack the excess on the ranches. So much more fun than another white-walled apartment with three perfectly succulents. placed.
A photo of a living room with bright green walls, green carpet, a green brocade corner sofa and matching curtains is captioned: “A room should reflect the personality and lifestyle of its occupants.” (“Guess they were envious,” someone joked Twitter). Another photo of the living room is so acidic green that the color corrector was actually supposed to be acidic.
Yeah, that’s the catch. Drawing inspiration from LSD-based visions for people many degrees removed from the worlds of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, the design has lost its organic flair. This is the bad news. The good news is, these salons don’t stink of patchouli.
In a room that I would be happy to have in my house with a few small adjustments, there is a sofa covered in a Marimekko pattern of blues and greens between two towering shelves, a citrus chair, a shag rug. blue-green, a matching shaggy blue chair and a very Lack-ish coffee table in enamel green against bright yellow walls. Just turn the yellow down a skosh and push that shag covered chair away from the carpet so it doesn’t look like it’s being eaten like this episode of Star Trek: Next Generation.
Better houses and gardens wasn’t the only straight design publication to take a psychedelic boost. I have a 1968 flyer from McCall’s with instructions for turning the top of your daughter’s bedroom to the bedroom in electric pink or, in your otherwise unchanged living room, dyeing the curtains from floor to ceiling. The disconnect between hugely creative backgrounds and dead-end ready realities was probably as obvious then as it is now. And yet people have tried.
This is one of the things I love about Suburban Psychedelic. It’s much easier to live with a living room that is a little off cream than the wrong shade of mustard yellow. It’s a lot of work to get the wallpaper on your dresser to match the wall. It takes a brave creative leap to add color and pattern to your home, then add more and more.
It’s endearing and risky, but definitely accessible.
There was brilliant excess in the ’60s, and how do you reduce the excess? You could keep your glass coffee table and bronze lamp, thank you very much, while opting for tie-dye drapes. You could paint the hallway walls and ceiling tangerine orange for a while. Or you could find the happiest almost psychedelic wallpaper ever and fill the front of your house with it. Perhaps you will have the audacity to keep it until the day you die.
Welcome to the Psychedelic Suburban. I’m glad you’re here.