Shout-out to the parents who risked their lives to stick a constellation of glow-in-the-dark celestial shapes on the ceiling above their pre-teen’s twin bed. That is real dedication to the cause — the cause not just being your child, but your child’s terrifyingly established interior design aesthetic. I know I’ve had concrete opinions about how my room should look for as long as I can remember. Probably before I could divide numbers in half, I requested, like a young Liberace, beaded curtains, inflatable furniture, shag rugs and various exotic animal textiles. I can no longer pinpoint my exact age nor grade at this time with clarity, but if I had to, I’d call it the late 90s, which was, without a doubt, the golden age of pre-teen bedroom decor.
Influenced largely by a few prominent artistic movements of the time (Limited Too, SNICK; All That, specifically), we were truly advanced for our age. We pushed boundaries — so much so that there’s no doubt our predilection for Rococo-meets-American-kitsch provoked today’s mass preference for a white/beige/cream palette with the odd banana leaf here, fern there — very post-succulent. Alas, many former devotees of 90s Pre-Teen Decor are converts to the naked-room brand of Scandinavian minimalism. I myself went the way of an 1800s English gentleman’s club meets that one time I went to Morocco. Taste does change. But today, we honor the time when our vision was at its purest. Today we remember the eight greatest achievements to happen in interior design since using tape to lock our doors.
Perhaps passed down to us unknowingly through our parents who’d lived through the 1960s, Reagan Babies developed a taste for all things flower power and commercialized Hippie-dom. With zero context from our parents, not that they were about to give us any beyond “I used to have a poster just like this one,” we filled our rooms with the kind of things one might use to stock a free love den in preparation for a psychedelic trip. Before a parent even had the chance to enter, however, they had to walk through the calling card of any proper Late-90s Pre-Teen Decor aesthete: a bead curtain, which only counted as authentic if it fell down each and every time dad came in to see what the hell was going on in there.
One of the true joys of childhood innocence is that zero mind-altering substances are needed for a trance to take place. When you are young and overstimulated as-is, likely by your Hello Kitty bed-sheets and excess of hot colors, nothing is more calming than watching a lava lamp blob stretch, plop and separate. Of course, everyone’s lava lamp broke within the first two weeks of purchasing it, which meant the majority of us had a murky-watered conical sculpture on our bookshelf that collected dust for well into our early college years.
We were mature and totally grown-up, sure, but that didn’t mean we didn’t have a sense of humor nor attachment issues re: our baby blankets.
God bless the genius who invented inflatable furniture, who decided quality is for the weak and preferred ephemeral plastic blow-up chairs (ephemeral because they popped almost instantly, usually, again, because of a dad) to long-lasting wood or even fabric. There was nothing like peeling your sticky skin off one of those — your baby-soft leg hairs standing at attention like a porcupine from the static — after a quick rock-back-and-forth to actually stand up. It was always a dangerous game of roulette with these: will they deflate, will our hamster chew a hole in them, will they trip us in the middle of the night? Worth the risk, of course.
Personally, I miss the days my bedroom looked like the outdoor patio of a bar that once forgot to take its Christmas lights down and then decided to leave them up forever. I miss, even more, the simplicity with which they were hung (taped) and marvel at how once we tacked a set of string lights to our walls — always off-center, without thinking through its symmetrical alignment — it was on there forever. Unless it fell down in the middle of the night, that is, and sent us running into us parents’ room in a full, screaming terror.
Look, back in our day, we didn’t have an Instagram account to use as our bragging stage. We had to brag the old-fashioned way: by displaying our Taekwondo and soccer trophies for all to see, and hanging our various blue ribbons (these were either science fair participation awards or the tell-tale marker that you were your class’s “horse girl”).
Just as you can tell a tree’s age by its rings, you could tell a late-90’s pre-teen’s stage by her posters. Rarely removed, the posters layered on top of one another with increased levels of “maturity” — from cats and puppies to pop stars and sport legends. In special cases, at peak pre-teen, one could find remnants of our more baby years poking through a drooping poster corner, a lone kitten in a basket peering out from behind Michael Jordan’s shoulder as he hovers, forever, mid-Space Jam dunk.
I will never forget the day my dad said “okay” to my suggestion that we paint my ceiling hot pink and the trim black to match my hot pink zebra-striped duvet cover. It was a rebranding, an establishment of my place in the world as an almost-teen who’d had enough of all that baby stuff. It lasted well into my true teens, chunks of it slowly peeling off as my pre-teen aesthetic did, too, until later, it was painted over in a color that wouldn’t offend guests who stayed over.
Later, as a 29-year-old adult, I’d stare at the blank canvas of my undecorated studio and consider painting an accent wall. I’m considering green — something sophisticated that showed I was still totally cool and fun. But for just a fleeting moment, I thought it might look nice to hang a string of lights, kind of randomly and off to the right.
Illustrations by Pauline de Roussy de Sales.