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ROOMS: The Teenage Bedroom


Welcome to a new installment on the PDCblog, a semi-regular series about those beautiful gift boxes of space and function, ROOMS. I, along with our other contributors (and hopefully some of you!), will be giving brief introductions to the history and design of different spaces, along with all the links to helpful photo banks and references we can find. We hope you enjoy. To start the series, we have decided to chronicle that room which was likely the first space any of us designed:


First, a little history.

Though the teenage bedroom is a now-ubiquitous space in many films, television shows, and, tellingly, commercials, its creation is a still-recent socio-economic trend. In Jason Reid’s informative essay he reports that the first wave of bedrooms for teens occurred in the 1800s and was largely limited to upper-class white girls (1). While it granted some privacy, the function of the room had much to do with keeping a girl in peek condition before her societal debut. Not quite the lair of personal freedom we see today. In the years following World War I, youths between the ages of 13-19 of all races and genders began to be distinguished by a unique developmental phase under the new term 'teen-ager. As indicated in the documentary “Teenage,” the 1920s found teenagers seeking personal expression outside their parent’s control (2). This was only compounded by the loss of single-room country schools in favor of age divided schools, notably High Schools where teens mingled as they never had before (3). They created their own slang and began displaying traits characteristic to their age group – not quite children not yet adults (4). Not soon after, teens began demanding their own room in force, and gradually that wish was granted. In a study commissioned by the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, by 1930 it found 32.7% of teens had been granted their own room. By 1964, studies found that number at 65%, and in 1998 it was up to 82% (1). That boom was largely the result of post-war economic growth which led to an increased house footprint, coupled with a reduction in family size. But it wasn’t until the Cold War-era that the teenager was finally granted personal economic freedom, through allowances and after-school jobs, to decorate their room as they saw fit. And decorate they did. From Reid’s essay:

”… a strong do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos took hold among the younger generation during the postwar years. Though Children of all ages had been encouraged to contribute to the decoration of their own rooms…American teens assumed nearly total control of this process during the years following World War II. By the 1960s and 1970s, in particular, the teen bedroom was increasingly being regarded as an avant-garde art project, a space where formality and order were increasingly being jettisoned in favor of youthful spontaneity and eclecticism.

During the 1970s, for example, Co-Ed spoke about how their teen readers often constructed night tables and chairs out of old barrels, crafted curtains out of soda can tabs, and peppered their floors and walls with brightly colored zigzag and polka dot patterns, while a 1977 New York Times article suggested that teen boys and girls had taken to decorating their rooms with empty beer cans, despite parental warnings about their bedrooms smelling “like a barroom.” Five years later, the New York Times claimed that American teens loved covering their walls with lipstick, displaying Barbie dolls in bird cages hung from the ceiling, and hanging stuffed barracudas, guitars, and a host of other assorted knick-knacks over their beds.”

Child psychologists and interior decorators piled on to this trend, calling it both a refuge for the teen to develop their own personality and experiment with sexuality, and a respite for the family who no longer has to see that messy expression if they simply close the door. Almost instantly, the teenage bedroom became a fixture in visual media. Buzzfeed’s surprisingly good run-down on representations of teenage rooms in film by period shows the maturation of the teen room as a unique and personal space for all teens (5).

What is striking about these visuals is that it seems universally accepted that the teen room is a layered decorating experience. The rooms show evidence of their start during the occupant's childhood, when the room is often obtained, and is first decorated with a heavy hand from the parents (often the mother). That guided childish expression is then built on as the teen grows and develops their unique tastes and habits, often evidenced by media on the walls and clothes on the floor.

What is contained in the room has much to do with that teen's interests, their unique likes and dislikes, their desire to relate to or impress their friends, and their further plans and aspirations, set against a backdrop of their family's socio-economic station. Today, many teens have their own phones, TVs, stereos and computers, making their rooms nearer to studio apartments than a simple private sleeping space. These spaces are maleable, continuing to grow and change as the teen matures, often these room reach their peak of expression in their final days of high school. Then they leave the room for what is often the next phase in their development – a proto-adulthood in a college dorm room… but that’s a different post altogether.


1 Reid, Jason, ‘“My Room! Private! Keep Out! This Means You!”: A Brief Overview Of The Emergence Of The Autonomous Teen Bedroom In Post–World War II America,’ Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, v5.3 (2012). Accessed Saturday, February 14, 2015.

2 ”Teenage.” Produced by Cinereach, directed by Matt Wolf, 77 min., 2013, Netflix.

3 Berkin, Carol, et al. “The Invention of the Teenager.” US History Online Textbook, Accessed Saturday, February 14, 2015.

4 Hamilton, Kayla. “Invention of the Teenager.” Accessed Saturday, February 14, 2015.

5, posted January 13, 2015. Accessed Monday, February 16, 2015.


Rania Matar’s international photo essay “A Girl and her Room”

Nina Leen’s Life Magazine compilation that preceded it, “Portraits of Teenage Girls of 1944”

Adrienne Salinger’s book “In My Room” has some photos available here, or you can buy here.

Jan Hofferman’s 10/31/12 article for the New York Times “Bedroom as Battleground” has some great images.

The peculiar and amazing “Bedrooms in Movies” blog has an international flair as well, with reference to quite a few obscure European films, and is complete with a per-period archive.

Luke Goodsell’s recently popular tumblr on teen bedrooms in film has appeared in The Huffington Post and Film Comment Magazine, and certainly deserves a scroll

Matt Wolf’s Youth Culture Blog, an extension of his film ”Teenage,” can be found here. The book that spawned the film, Jon Savage’s “Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture,” can be found here.

James Mollison’s powerful book “Where Children Sleep” can be viewed in part online below, illustrating that the “ubiquitous” teenage room is still a socio-economic construct.


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