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26.4.18

Home Decor In The 1980s And Who painted Puss?

Back in the 1980s a change began to sweep over working class homes. Before that decade, we poor types had been happy to mix-and-match our furnishings and décor. There would be that old couch passed down by Aunt Lil - probably dating back to the 1950s (the springs were going but it still served), Great Nana's flying swallows from the 1940s, that nice bit of carpet Mr Sims had chucked out (quite new as well!), some out-of-date but still serviceable bright yellow 1960s curtains, Great Aunt Gemma's religious text - dating back to a 1920s seed catalogue, some garish modern wallpaper - dreamt up in a nightmare by some late 1960s hippie, and so on. It clashed. But we didn't see our rooms as a whole.

We loved Great Nana's swallows and they may not have gone with the modern smoked glass-topped coffee table (a Christmas present from Auntie Lizzie, who'd only had it three years) but then neither went with cousin Sue's cushion covers. In fact, nothing went with cousin Sue's cushion covers. Still, we didn't care. Our rooms often contained a 1950s or 1960s print on the wall too - sad eyed kiddies and clowns and so on by the likes of Barry Leighton Jones or Audrey Dallas Simpson. These were usually board prints with cheap plastic frames.

Stylistically, the rooms were often very discordant - but we didn't think like that.

Things were displayed or used because they were of sentimental value or because we thought they were 'real nice' or  because we couldn't afford new and somebody we knew was chucking something out that wasn't totally knackered. If only just.

But then came the 1980s.

The mid-1980s presented the working classes with a credit boom and LIFESTYLE choices. What sort of clothes best portrayed who YOU were? Were YOU trendy? Futuristic? Power dressing? Casual? Classic? What did your home say about YOU? Should your home be futuristic? Rustic? Trendy? Townie? Minimalist? Industrial?

And so out went out the strange assortment of furnishings we'd assembled over the previous decades and in came our very own distinctive 'look'. Yes, this was about YOU and who YOU were and about making a statement to the world about YOU.

The transition was slow and wasn't always in the best possible taste, particularly at first, but by the end of the 1980s my very working class family's homes were definitely becoming less of a hotchpotch and more black ash and vertical blinds (or country cottage or whatever) than they had been before.


1985, Argos catalogue... Graffiti your furniture... make it really YOU!


A study area? Darling, how could we do without one?


Index catalogue, only now it's 1989. OOOH!

I was an '80s trendy person and when, in 1987, I moved into a shared flat, I was eager to furnish the communal areas with my flatmate. I went to a nice posh shop and bought a nice posh (and very 1980s) clock for the kitchen and was stunned when my flatmate went out to a jumble sale at the local United Reformed Church and bought back the kitten picture pictured at the top of this post. She'd paid 10p.


My beautiful 1987 wall clock! Isn't it great? And still keeps perfect time!

Now, my flatmate seemed quite posh to me. Her parents had started buying their council house in the late 1960s (you could where I lived) when she was a tiny tot and she affected an air of languid middle classness. So, what the hell was she doing? Here was me, fresh off a council sink estate, living in the throes of the latter years of the Style Decade and very 'with it', and here she was, from a home owning family, doing a 'dead common' pick-n-mix job on our flat like it was 1983 or something.

My flatmate - I'll call her Sharon - hadn't bought the print because it was 1960s and she had enthusiasm for that era. Those sort of prints still adorned many a fogey relative's living room wall back in the 1980s and hadn't any appeal as retro pieces to trendy young people.

No, Sharon had bought it because she thought the kitten was 'sweet'.

The picture was one of those Audrey Dallas Simpson style things, delicately stained with nicotine, and the kitten portrayed looked as miserable as sin. And there was no way I wanted it rubbing shoulders with my dead posh modern clock in the kitchen/living room of the flat.

I thought quickly. I didn't want to offend Sharon by calling out her lousy taste, so I said: 'What a great picture! It will go great with the green wallpaper in the hall!' And so there it was hung.

And it stared. Miserably. Each day, its eyes clocking me out of the flat as I left for work and back in as I came home. Finally, when we left the flat, Sharon gave me the picture. I didn't want to offend, so cooed delightedly over it, and hung it in my new hall so that Sharon would see it when she visited.


The picture still has its original 1987 10p jumble sale price ticket on the back.

And so it continued to clock me out as I left my new house each day - and back in again. As at the flat, I found those solemn eyes meeting mine each time I left or entered.

In recent years, the picture has become increasingly shabby and faded. I took it down. And then began to feel a profound sense of unease each day as I left the house or entered.

Could it possibly be the lack of those solemn eyes, clocking me in and out?

After thirty years, had I become addicted to them?

The sense of something lacking continued and in the end I scanned and brightened the picture and put a copy up in the hall.

The eyes were back.

And so was my sense of wellbeing.

Kitty had entered the second of its nine lives.

The original board print with plastic frame originated from the 1960s, and lately I've wondered who painted it? It looks very Dallas Simpson to me, but does anybody know?

I call it the '51c Cat', because that was the number of our old flat.

Funnily enough, in my middle age, I've started mixing-n-matching again.

The 51c Cat happily resides in the same hallway as my 1980s wall clock...

And both go so well with my pink woodchip oh-so-1980s hall wallpaper...


Not to mention my Adam Ant mirror...

Back to 1987, and Sharon had really liked my ultra modern 1980s kitchen clock. So she went out and bought a chopping board with a 'country kitchen' design to display on the worktop - a past times greengrocer's shop complete with old money price tags and old style woman and boy. There was nothing wrong with the design. I quite liked it. But it clashed liked nobody's business with the clock. Despite Sharon's parents buying their council house and her refusal to drop her aitches, the woman was dead common. She had no sense of style and interior design coordination at all.

I despaired. 

And gave it all up as a hopeless job. Especially when another flatmate arrived and immediately made her contribution to the décor. She  blue-tacked a yucky brown and cream horse's head tea towel to the pantry door.


Sharon's chopping board. Of course, this was the 1980s, so it was being flogged as a 'very collectable chopping board' (sigh).



1 comment:

  1. Things did need to change. The 1970s were awful - either 1960s-inspired naff or Laura Ashley Mrs Tiggywinkle and as you said mix and match in working class homes. I did like the explosion of style ideas in the 1980s and was a great fan of Habitat 1980s designs. But sadly the excitement of new decors to fit your personality became an obsession from the 1990s onwards with CHANGING ROOMS and all that rubbish.

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