7 Dec 2011

My Somewhat-Sexist-1950s-Inspired-Home-Décor Theory

When we bought our home this summer, I was really excited to get to clean two bathrooms instead of just one decorate and buy some new furniture. I had the same IKEA couch for 11 years, and while it was fine and will continue to labour under our asses for years to come in the basement, I really, really wanted something new for our furniture-less front room. And so, like everyone in North America who has a vagina and way too much time on her hands, I got all obsessed with Pinterest and pawing the Internet for ideas.

But the things that really got me thinking were my 1950s materials. It wasn't the specific design suggestions that got my old noggin thumping, but the way everything in the magazines seemed to point out whether something was masculine or feminine. Boy things and girl things were clearly defined - even when it came to food (remember the post from the 50s Housewife Experiment that talked about making meals for husbands with "masculine tastes"?). As you can imagine, home décor choices were discussed in a similar way. In fact, one article I read in The Bride's Reference Book titled "The Masculine Bill of Rights" specifically lays out what men like in home furnishings and advises women not to get too carried away with "feminine" details. Like so:

A man needs furniture large enough to accommodate his binge drinking.

Clearly, this advice to respect the Masculine Bill of Rights fell onto deaf ears for some. Here's a 1955 ad from Armstrong that features pink linoleum floors, a pink rug, pink walls, pink curtains, pink canopy beds (two of 'em!), and pink furniture that might have you wonder if a giant Barbie was about to walk through the door:

The picture above is why articles like "The Masculine Bill of Rights" were written. And maybe those articles worked because we don't see ads or rooms that are that unabashedly girly anymore. That is, unless it belongs to a little girl with a princess-obsession. But an adult woman? Or a married couple? As if.

While we still identify some décor items as feminine or masculine, I think a lot of everyday people (or maybe just me?) try to appease everyone in their home by turning to items that feel gender neutral. We don't go for those "feminine" prints or pieces because we worry they'll look childish or silly - as if we haven't outgrown our little princess ways. Or we worry that by having something "girly", even something small, we will somehow upset our male partners - as if a simple floral bedspread could make a man uncomfortable.

But the problem with gender neutral décor is that it's often really, really boring. Unless it's a super fun and eccentric piece that defies gender, it can come across rather personality-less. This doesn't mean that it's not nice looking, it's just ... rather forgettable. You can see what I mean when you look at the pictures of our condo:
Yes, part of the blandness is the never-ending IKEA, but the neutrality of the place also lent to the whole 'meh' factor. In looking back at those pictures, I found that the ones I liked best were the ones that had rooms with flowers - a nice unmistakably feminine touch.

And so when we were creating the room in our new home, I specifically went for things that struck me as masculine or feminine. It needed a him or a her-ness to it. Eventually, we pulled the place together. Our couch reminded me of a nicely tailored men's suit. The curtains are bold yet undeniably feminine. The teak coffee table is simple, but definitely on the butch side. And our area rug is like a woman's colourful makeup palette. (I had a naughty 'rug' joke lined up there but decided to take that high road I keep hearing about. I just want you to know that.) I should probably change the lampshades to something with more colour and I realize I need to fill our bookcases in a more appealing way (it feels rather lacking) - but I love the direction it's going! It all looks way nicer when the sun is shining in, but here are some pics:

And you know who pointed out the rug to me in the store? Patrick. Because it turns out that if you have a nice balance of things (respecting that whole Masculine and Feminine Bill of Rights), dudes balls don't actually shrivel up around pretty stuff. In fact, they really quite admire it.

If I get my act in gear, next post will have some pics with our Christmas stuff up. You just know that aluminium tree is making a return appearance.

In the meantime, tell me about your home décor theories and practices!


Susan Vollenweider 9:39 pm, December 07, 2011  

LOOOVE that rug, Patrick! Nice find! This is a very interesting theory you are working with- makes perfect sense! And I love what you are doing with your house! Looks great!

It may just be me, but if I visited I would mess up your pillows- just for fun. AAaaaand that's why I'm not getting any invites...lol!

mother of the monkey,  10:23 pm, December 07, 2011  

It sure is coming together! The coffee table and arm chairs look good.

Anonymous,  10:59 pm, December 07, 2011  

You're right that you can see something femme or masculine in those pieces. Interesting way to look at it. Kind of like a marriage of furniture!

Anonymous,  11:18 am, December 08, 2011  

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Pinterest. I just found you and started following your boards. :-) Love the rug and the couch.

Hello Jodi 1:17 pm, December 08, 2011  

Oh I could write a whole post myself about this! The house we just purchased is brown and white so I said that I needed to add pink accents to make it look like Neapolitan ice cream. So we did. It's a small (960 sq ft) 1954 home, so decorating is easier when you stick with one color theme. The thing is that I really love that greenish blue-ish pistachio type color, so the house is part Neapolitan and part spumoni. But you have NO IDEA how difficult it is to find pink in decor items. There are 15 different shades of blue but 2 shades of pink: electric hot Pottery Barn Kids pink and Leftover 80s Dusty Rose Pink. The paint color for our doors, accents, closet, probably some walls is called Demure Pink by Behr.

Oh, and I can't wait to find you on Pinterest! Your sofa is GORGEOUS.

husband of the monkey (Patrick),  1:25 pm, December 08, 2011  

Thank you, dear. I'm not entirely a lost cause when it comes to decorating. Just wait until the basement is finished. I have many brilliant (read: male) ideas.

Susie 4:17 pm, December 08, 2011  

That room looks amazing! Like it's ready to host a cocktail party.

I vote for either deep red or a shade of yellow (like what's in the rug) for the lampshades.

Inder-ific 5:52 pm, December 08, 2011  

"Because it turns out that if you have a nice balance of things ..., dudes balls don't actually shrivel up around pretty stuff. In fact, they really quite admire it."

HAHAHAHA! I love this. And it's so true, right?

Karen 8:55 pm, December 08, 2011  

Those curtains!!! Where did you get them?

Sarah 10:01 pm, December 08, 2011  

Love the decor of your new place. I've been having the same blah problem and trying to come up with ways to spice things up a it. Thanks for posting what worked for you!

Anonymous,  12:16 pm, December 09, 2011  

Jen followed me back on Pinterest - that is the most exciting thing that's happened all week!

Allison 10:13 pm, December 10, 2011  

Love your couch! I wanted something like that, but my hubs vetoed it in favor of something more comfortable. I don't really have any decor theories, but I do have this advice: if you (the hypothetical you, not Jen specifically) want one of those husbands that don't care about decor and let you do whatever you want, DON'T MARRY AN ARCHITECT. Since we both went to design school his opinion "is just as good as mine." Grumble.

Jen 3:48 pm, December 13, 2011  

Thanks a bundle for the compliments, guys!

The couch is called "Cedric" from Urban Barn.

The curtains were made in a fabric called Richloom Lucy Eden. I had them made for me by someone on Etsy who had a fabric deal. Here's her link: http://www.etsy.com/shop/GosiaFigura?ref=ss_profile

I'm happy to follow people back on Pinterest, no problem. Love seeing what other people have found! :)

Hello Jodi: Now I need to hunt YOU down because I'm intrigued by your colours! From what I've seen on Twitter, you have mah-velous taste!

Q: Good call on the lampshade colour. Investigating options (maybe I'll put coloured ribbon on them?)

Allison: The couch is surprisingly comfortable! Like, really, really comfortable!

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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