1979, bedroom
1979, bedroom

Swirling carpets and bright, bold, patterned curtains, a candlewick bedspread and sky blue-painted walls.

 I  came across this painting of my bedroom, from my ‘A’ Level artwork. It is dated 1979.

 I painted what I had access to  and where I wouldn’t be bothered by anyone else. Too cold to paint outside, I became more sensitive to the interior:  and this is what I saw.

The folds in the curtains, the shadows, the patterns and colours  must have caught my eye.

I worked in oils – which took ages to dry. They were  definitely not the right medium for detail –  brushes too thick, paint too cloying  – and this is the result.

I guess I did it for my A level portfolio, but really, I did it for me. It was all about capturing it: looking, understanding, interpreting.

It was never about the decor.

It was about  losing myself in the process  of painting –  and for that I see its integrity and honesty. It may be somewhat clumsy in execution, but it is authentic and real.

This was a very small bedroom that  I shared with my sister.

40 years later the painting  speaks volumes: about where I lived, about my mother’s taste, about the ‘70’s.

The lighting was bright and stark. Patterns clashed and there were many different shades of blue.  Aesthetic decisions were  based on what  was available locally, what was in the shops, and what we could afford.  Design influences were  more limited than today and interior design and home decorating were much more low-key.

People were proud of their homes and kept them nice,  but they did not show them off to the same extent. This was a time when many people still had big families.  

There were eight of us, squeezed into four bedroom house. But these were very different times and people had no expectations for an en-suite, dressing room or even single occupancy rooms.  A bedroom was somewhere to sleep, perhaps to do homework, store books and clothes. We did not entertain our friends here  and absolutely no-one had a TV in their room.

Decorating was important, it was about refreshing a room. It involved spring cleaning: re-organisation, re-evaluation and a whole lot of clearing out.  It was prompted by the need to lift a tired, old space  – to give it some care and attention and   a new ‘look’.

On a small scale it might just be a  new bedspread, or curtains, or carpet because once the colour of the walls  – or carpet  – was set everything else was chosen to match.  Every bedroom in the house was considered separately, at  different times when expenditure allowed.  That meant where each individual bedroom carpet met on the landing the colours and patterns sometimes clashed. But, that was how it was.

It’s hard to say how long the bedroom would have looked like this. It is a snapshot in time. I know from a later photograph that the curtains ended up in the kitchen. I assume not long after this we also replaced the blankets and bedspreads with  a duvet. That was one big step to modernisation.

As we  left home, my parents would have had more space, more money and more opportunity to keep each room looking nice, or for ‘good’, or for visitors.

Although we all moved on but left much of our stuff behind. Our parents eventually got rid of most of it. There comes a point when you don’t need it, and there’s no point in keeping it.

I suspect I painted this painting all  in one evening. It looks a bit rushed.  I might have got a bit bored – or lost – somewhere within all those swirls. For some reason, this painting has survived as a record of a place and a time.

It is  something that I created.

It is not a ‘treasure’ or a work of art, but for me  it triggers deep memories of space, place, family and home.  Until I saw this painting again I had not thought about this time, or this bedroom where I slept for so many years. I had forgotten about the decorative elements and colours of this space, but it all came flooding back.

And it felt nice.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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