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

It’s not something you see every day – not these days. Somehow it was put away and survived the past 50 years.

This is a textile that shouts ‘purple flowers’.

textile with large purple flowers

This fabric is a visual portal to the ways things once were. A time where colour and pattern and textiles were a big part of our everyday life. It represents a historical and social glimpse of what was an everyday visual experience.

If it shocks me to see it now, would it have shocked me then?

Back then, I was attuned to seeing textiles just like this, everywhere. But not now.

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

And, apart from duvet covers, no floral textiles. My textile patterns and textures tend to be small and discreet. Nothing bold, nothing big. 

Or, so hallucinogenic!

That I play safe with my choice of textiles, with the colours and patterns in my home. My ‘tastes’ are overly restrained.  Modernism has made me bland?

When you think about it, contemporary design values are less adventurous. Design plays safe.

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  and essential feature of 1970’s decor.

Walls, floors  and windows  were a blank canvas; an opportunity to introduce and play with big and bold prints. And 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 also remember we had plastic chairs in a deep turquoise and painted walls of icy blue.

It is staggering to think how  much colour, pattern and shape were such a feature of the 1970’s home – and of 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 and we used curtain textiles to show off our style. 

There was nothing neutral about it.

In every home on sofas, chairs and rugs we added layers of different textiles: knitted and crocheted cushions, antimacassars and throws.  Fabric covered lampshades  gave added warmth and richness; a softness that made us feel snug. 

We also liked decoration and motifs; on our cups and mugs, saucers, plates and tea towels

In our kitchens and bathrooms we wanted a big splash of colour and pattern.

Opting for wall-to-wall 6 inch tiles, this was an opportunity to use colour to make a statement and impact.

Far from the cold, clinical bathrooms of today we lived with richly decorated schemes that were cosy and colourful, and homely.

To soften the look further we added fluffy textiles to cover the toilet seat and surround.  Often the floor was carpeted. Using colour, pattern and textiles  we made this room ‘special’.

It’s hard to imagine back in the day that our parents’ or grandparents’ 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 we responded to all that with a need for colour and flamboyance – and glam rock. 

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 we could do with colour and pattern in our homes. 

Interesting times, indeed.

With different eyes, almost everything associated with 70s décor  now screams  bad taste. Hideous, garish, loud!

Today, our domestic tastes now are for 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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