Room With a Theme


She had this EXACT full set on her counter, it's vintage now!

When I was a wee lass back in the mid ’70s there seemed to be an obscene number of marginally employed parents milling around poking their noses into the business practices of myself and my friends.

If we were trying to climb the ivy on the side of the house up to the roof some buttinski would inevitably hear the crash of crumbling siding or the screams of a child and come investigate cutting our fun short.

Back then there were different kinds of houses.

There was the house where the parents had obviously been murdered by the children because it was always overrun with local kids and had no adult supervision.

There was the house with the super old parents that never knew what you were talking about if you spoke in code so you could discuss any number of subjects with out them catching on.

Then there was the super involved house where mom and dad were coiled like pit vipers ready to strike during the first behavioral infraction and you had to step carefully for fear of getting jettisoned before the ice cream treats after pool time.

The hardest for me to understand though was the house that was more important than any living thing.

It was the theme house.

Immaculate, with a manicured lawn, its interior filled with the most delightful treasures that you must never touch.

Looking back I’m not sure if it was the drinking or the massive amounts of drugs people were ingesting or the fact that your life was so bleak you needed something to cling  to in order to feed your OCD but this place was a testament to obsessive matching.

I remember the first time I laid eyes on theme ladies kitchen.

It was a vast wonderland of ceramic mushroom containers, mushroom wallpaper, a spice rack that held the small warm colored bottles back with protruding mushroom tops, mushroom placemats in the mushroom pattern upholstered breakfast nook and a mushroom clock.

 There were mushroom potholders and dish towels and even mushroom magnets on her brand new sparkly refrigerator.

I remember coming home from dinner at their house on a summer evening and wondering if I should mention it. Suddenly my dad broke the silence with ” wow, what’s with the mushrooms?”

Then they erupted in laughter and made inappropriate drug references and phallic jokes for the rest of the ride.

This didn’t faze me in the least as I was lost in my own thoughts. I was bewildered by a mindset that would allow that kind of methodic discipline in collecting and displaying knick knacks. Imagine the hunting and scouring you’d have to do at the local shops to amass such a collection?

There could be a room in your house with a theme?

This baffled me as well.

Maybe it was because our kitchen was in a different building altogether than the rest of our house with no heat or perhaps it was its resemblance to the kill room that Leather face emerged from with his roaring chainsaw in TCM but why would you bother?

Worse, what would you do if you tired of the theme?

Where would all the brik a brak and ceramic masterpieces go?

I found out the answer to that question four years later when Mushroom lady came to brunch and announced that she was changing gears. Now owls would be her focal point and if we came across anything owl related could we please let her know?

The next time she had us for dinner I was unable to shake the feeling that I was being watched everywhere I went due to the several thousand sets of  eyes peering at us from the kitchen. If you are going to have a theme I’d say “birds of prey” should be off the table.

The photo of the VINTAGE ’70s mushroom cannister above is FOR SALE! Get your theme room started TODAY!



Filed under I'd like to see a minotaur room, leatherface, mushrooms, texas chainsaw massacre, the 70s, theme rooms, we were bad kids, what to do if you have a LOT of spare time

42 responses to “Room With a Theme

  1. Tom G.

    OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG… *hyperventilating*

    (grab paper bag. Breathe…breathe…breathe…)

    I probably don’t need to mention that we lived almost the exact same childhood in our bizarre parallel universes anymore, do I?

    You left out the neighborhood house with no kids, and an ancient old lady who would stand behind the lace curtains all day long and keep you under surveillance so that the very instant that you finally convinced the girl 2 doors down, to go in back of the garage to compare plumbing, she’d be able to step out onto the back porch and bust your ass. Theoretically of course.

    I distinctly remember a couple of kids that lived on one of the “new streets” in town, with all the Brady Bunch style split level homes, instead of the 1870’s lean too’s we lived in, whose parents decorated in Antique Cars. For some reason in the mid 70’s, knock knacks of old Model T’s, and wallpaper with old jalopies on it, was the epitome of decoration for the “manly den” where hip 70’s Dad read his Playboy’s, and probably hid his weed. To this day, just seeing a Model T makes me think of shag carpet.

    But as awful as that was, there was one theme even more garish. That was the patriotic All-America family who’s family room was red, white & blue, with wall hangings of Eagles, and those Three revolutionary war dudes that were every where. You know, drummer boy, fife playing try corner hat, and Uncle Sam looking dude carrying the flag. JEEZUS CHRIST, it was enough to send me running into the arms of communism at age 8.

    • Tom G.

      and by knock knacks I mean knick knacks of course. That’s what we called them back then. That reminds me of the time I took the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em. “Give me five bees for a quarter,” you’d say…

    • dufmanno

      You speak of the 1976 bicentennial decorative phase that all Americans suffered through.
      It was a difficult time that most weathered without residual effects but some got swept up in the patriotic firestorm and kept the eagles and color scheme.
      I lived in Stony Point New York where the historic battlefield was littered with the dead bodies of grown men dressed in period garb who continuously reenacted the same fight over and over and over for a whole year.

  2. The house I grew up in had themes: The basement was “Waterbug.” The living room was “Brochures About the End of the World Compliments of Fringe Religious Groups Who Came Regularly to the Door.” The kitchen was “Militant Kosher.” A bedroom upstairs was “The Person Who Rents That Room When Uncle George Isn’t There.”

  3. There was an owl lady in our town too. It was especially weird to me because most of the other people lived on farms, often in a trailer house parked in the yard of the previous generation’s old farmhouse. And these salt of the earth farm wives had no time for collecting or decorating when there were cows to be milked and shit to be shoveled.
    The owl lady was the first “house wife” I think I ever met.

    • dufmanno

      You knew Owls were at the height of their popularity when your Home-Ec teacher insisted that everyone craft a Macrame Owl with giant wooden bead eyes for mothers day.
      That and fourteen poorly done multicolored potholders.

      • OMJ, I had to do one of those!!! And now, I have found my new greatest form of punishment ever. How could I have forgotten the torture that was macrame??!! Next time the Drama Queen gets a little lippy, I’m totally forcing the macrame on her……..

  4. Keepingyouawake

    Room themes are so weird. Ugh. Bunch a weirdos. However, if you happen across neat owl stuff for the kitchen, let me know.

    • dufmanno

      The theme in my house right now is “mounds of filth” but if I come across anything after picking through the piles I’ll let you know.
      If I recall correctly it is your ability to seek out and collect unusual things that won you the love and devotion of one soft zombie?

  5. my ex sister in law, a kindergarten teacher, had the apple-themed kitchen. and she’d do the apple-themed christmas tree. because apparently she couldn’t get enough apple shit in her classroom. i never said a word at first because mama told me to shut my mouth if i didn’t have anything nice to say. but then i started celebrating and encouraging her new acquisitions because HELLO that shit is obscenely funny.

    also, my mom had one of those ginormous wooden spoon and forks hanging in her kitchen that she got at the williamsburg pottery factory in the 70s. yeah, she forgot to take them down. ever!

    • dufmanno

      I actually got my ass beat by one of those gargarntuan wooden spoons back in the day! Good times!
      Oh and I guess “apple themed” never goes out of style.

  6. Ohmygosh, I feel very inspired by the vintage mushroom decor. And owls? How does one choose between the two? Tell me they used the colors Harvest Orange and Avocado in there too, and I will be in heaven.

    • dufmanno

      You’ll be happy to know that the fridge in their house was the exact shade of muted Avocado you describe and the shag carpet in the “den” was a burnt Harvest Orange.
      You should get a side gig making up the colors in the J. Crew catalog!

  7. I would prefer the mushrooms over what people in my town generally did: crotcheted baby dolls with plastic heads.
    Like, so sort of house-bound Tim Burton nightmare.

    • dufmanno

      Crotcheted baby dolls with plastic heads can only be topped if you tell me they were the ones whose eyes closed when you laid them down for their “naps”.
      My god woman, what kind of sick town did you grow up in?

  8. I think it’s an age thing. Once she hit fifty five, my mother converted the lake house to be fish-themed.

    • dufmanno

      You have a lake house?
      First off that sounds positively whimsical!
      I’m imagining myself casting my line in slow motion with precision and ease. This is difficult to visualize since the last time I hooked someone right in the ass because of my short attention span.
      Anyway, fish are right up there with Owls, crocheted baby dolls and mushrooms.

  9. Don’t lie. You have an undead coconut monkey theme in your bedroom.

    • dufmanno

      That is not by choice.
      He used his one good arm to drag himself across the house and before I could do anything about it, he claimed that room for his own.’
      He sends his love by the way.

  10. and what was up with flowered wall paper? I mean really.

    • dufmanno

      It was a sign of the times. I knew someone who had red velvet wallpaper with gold backround. It was like scratch and sniff.

  11. I always wished my Mom would have a special theme. I wanted her to decorate our house. She went to Kmart and got new kitchen curtains every couple of years : )

    You are such a great writer!

    • dufmanno

      Don’t worry, we didn’t have a theme either. Well actually ours was “kill or be killed” mixed with the occasional “don’t run out of wood or we’ll freeze to death in the middle of the night!”
      K-Mart curtains sound nice actually. Our kitchen didn’t have any because it was built half underground.
      Now I realize I have to write a post explaining that.

  12. Mushrooms are not as bad as the nautical theme which screams TRYHARD and delusional since you are in a land-locked state aka Illinois! (I hope our friends don’t read your blog). Also the wife of another coworker of my husb has a thing for penguins. I love penguins, but Misery kind of ruined penguin figurines for me.

  13. My mother in law is still into those creepy Hummel ceramic kids. She has tons of them just jeering at us as we walk around the house.

  14. I have never seen anything worse (or greater) than the golf themed family room. Where does one go to buy golf wallpaper border?? I can ask if you are dying to know, because she found it. Not only did she find it, but she was thrilled about the acquisition. I just smiled while thinking to myself, “Get me out of here before I start making horrible jokes about swinging in the family room.”

  15. I love the way you write about the ’70s. I’m sure this isn’t your intention but it makes me want to go back in time and be a parent then. (I guess for one thing, no fiddling with annoying car seats. Just lay that brat right on the vinyl).

    • dufmanno

      I have very distinct memories of long slick seats in the back of a massive Cutlass Supreme. This was also during the time frame where the front seat was also one long unbroken slice of beauty. We all used to slide to one side if someone took a turn to fast.

  16. I once met a “pig lady” whose house was festooned with swine. Upon interrogation, she admitted she had picked up an early pig and then accumulated a couple more when friends assumed she was partial to them. That solved gift-giving for her entire extended family and acquaintances for decades. Her original theme was going to be “pink.”

  17. dufmanno

    I’m going to be forced to use the phrase “festooned with swine” at least fourteen times this week.
    You made the best potential band names list.

  18. I think my 70’s home was an amalgamation of all the houses you described. Over involved absent drunken themed home that looked like Noman Bates was going to answer the door. Just as soon a the pool party go underway.

  19. Go=got.

    Beause I will never proof read my comments ever.

  20. Mushrooms and Owls…wonder what her kitchen looks like now? I’ve never understood themes for room. She says looking around her flat, realising it appears to be a shrine to Bauhaus…hmmm

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