Go To Your Room! Interior Design & the Youthful Imagination

drawing of a bedroom


The ubiquitous catalogs, home design television shows, and retail stores make it seem as though the child’s bedroom has always been its own unique design space in the American home. The evolution of this room however, didn’t actually begin until the early 20th century when nearly every home decorating manual sought to weigh in on the proper arrangement and adornment of a child’s bedroom.  Prior to that, nurseries and children’s bedrooms were spare spaces furnished with pieces banished from other rooms.

The decorating manuals sometimes had humorous advice, such as “consider soundproofing the ceiling,” but there was one universal piece of advice—consult with the children on what they want. This was a significant change in direction, partially as the result of philosophers who identified the stages of development, each with unique characteristics and needs, and encouraged play rather than viewing it as frivolous, as it had been in the past.  

Naturally, manufacturers of household furnishings responded to the trend. By 1870, child-specific wallpapers and friezes were increasingly available to the consumer. One could find textiles ornamented with babies riding seesaws, wallpaper friezes depicting flotillas of sailing ships, and other house furnishings designed to spark visions of adventuresome journeys into imaginary worlds.

The topic continues to evolve today as the New York Times recently described the teenage bedroom as “the most entrenched of domestic battlegrounds.”

Visitors learned about this evolution in the exhibit Go To Your Room!, which featured items from the rare book collection from the Winterthur Library and included interior design manuals, trade catalogs, plates from a 1920s’ series titled Repertoire du Gout Moderne, and a novel titled The Young Decorators as well as scrapbook houses and a folding dollhouse.

Image at top: Plate 19: Young Lady's Room Suggestions for Modern Interior Decoration, Henry Bosch Company. New York: The Company, 1906. RBR NK3399 B74 TC

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