While clearing out my parents’ home I discovered this incredible piece of fabric.

Not something you see every day – not these days.

This is a textile that shouts ‘purple flowers’.

textile with large purple flowers

Textiles are a visual portal to our past lives.

This fabric was from a time where colour and pattern was, fifty years ago, a big part of our everyday life. It was everywhere.

Probably not.

Simply because I would have been attuned to seeing textiles just like this everywhere.

Currently, there is nothing ‘purple’ in my home. 

Apart from duvet covers, there are no floral textiles. My textile patterns and textures tend to be small and discreet: nothing bold, nothing big. 

Or, so hallucinogenic!

That I play very safe with my choice of textiles and with the colours and patterns in my home. My ‘tastes’ are overly restrained.  

With contemporary textiles we are much less adventurous than before. Our textiles are discreet… unassuming…bland.

textile with large purple flowers

In the 1970’s we loved textures, we loved pattern, and we loved colour. 

Textiles and prints were a dominant  feature of all 1970’s decor.

Walls, floors  and windows  were a blank canvas. This was seen as an opportunity to introduce and play with big and bold prints.

In each room, we  liked to mix it up; two or three different patterns juxtaposed for added effect.

It was homely.

It was trendy. 

And we loved it. 

Colour-wise, there was a lot of brown around… and green, purple, mulberry, mustard and orange.

We lived with earthy and murky tones injected with bursts of sunshine yellow and blush or Barbie pink.  I remember we had plastic chairs in a deep turquoise and walls painted in an icy kingfisher blue.

It is pretty staggering to think just how  much colour, pattern and shape were such a feature of the 1970’s home. This was our everyday lived experience. 

We enjoyed swirling shapes, geometric forms, floral repeat patterns and large prints.

We were daring and brave in our choice of colour schemes in hues that were bright and powerful.

Our walls were papered with big patterns, our carpets were vibrant. We used our curtain textiles to show off our style. 

There was nothing neutral about it.

On sofas, chairs and rugs we added layers of different textiles: knitted and crocheted cushions, antimacassars and throws.  Brightly patterned covered lampshades  added warmth and softness that made us feel snug. 

Pattern was everywhere. On our cups and mugs, saucers, plates and tea towels we liked to see the detail of decoration and motifs.

By the 1970’s we’d come a long way from the dull, dreary drabness of the WW2. Design was for everyone.

We wanted to consciously move away from utility look and embrace a more lively look. And so, kitchens and bathrooms were not just functional spaces but a space where we could make a big splash of colour – and pattern.

To soften the look further we added fluffy textiles to the toilet seat and surround.  Often the floor was carpeted. Through colour, pattern and textiles  we decorated with the aim of making every space cosy and colourful – and homely.

It’s hard to imagine back in the day that people could be so wild and free with colour and pattern. 

In the UK, the 1970’s was a time of violence, strikes, power outages, unemployment and mass lay-offs. Somehow people responded to all that with ‘a need’ for colour and flamboyance – and glam rock. 

And so, decorating our homes  became a creative outlet; the one place where we could control something in our lives. We wanted homes that were warm, and looked warm. 

Post-war textile designers breathed new life into a new era with style  and  a new way of looking at print and colour. Working in interiors,  designers  like Max Clendinning pushed the boundaries  of design and what we could do with colour and pattern in our homes. They were thinking outside the internal box with a different eye, vision and sense of freedom.

Interesting times, indeed.

Fifty years later, almost everything associated with 70s décor  now screams  bad taste. Hideous, garish, loud!

Our domestic tastes tend towards a more minimalist, quieter environment, controlled and pared back.  We are more restrained. Tasteful. Sophisticated.

Or, perhaps we are just a bit boring.

But… the ‘70’s style hasn’t totally gone away. 

There is renewed interest in classic modern textiles from this era, as well as (toned-down) interpretations that  to us now look refreshingly ‘new’. 

How long will it be before this is what we see everywhere  – again. 

From children’s comic-book characters to a personal linen and fabric collection, to textiles as art and textile throws as  protectors from dog-hairs. This is a small sample that says something about the style, look and place of textiles in our lives today.

Nuala Rooney

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

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