Chrysanthemum Wallpaper

In southwestern Nova Scotia in the eighties such wallpaper was a common relic of a bygone era. I like chrysanthemums; they’re lovely, in their place. But massive chrysanthemums blazing from the walls of a small kitchen get old fast.

Unfortunately, my five-year-old adored them.

“Please, please don’t tear down this wallpaper!” he pleaded.

He had reason for concern. He’d watched me pull up, in a fit of pique, the hellish orange shag carpet in the kitchen and the infernal blue shag carpet in the bathroom. I’d explained that shag carpets had no place on kitchen or bathroom floors, which needed to be scrubbed a lot.

He asked me what they were doing there, then. I told him that during the sixties, when our little house was built, many people had thought of shag carpeting as the epitome of posh, and so they’d made new houses with plywood floors and covered them with fuzzy rugs so they’d sell faster.

It was part of a decorating style that my friend’s son referred to as “Early Hippy,” characterised by artificial fibres, various grades of hard plastic, simple sleek designs, bright primaries, no natural materials (except maybe wood which if you found it had to be grainless), and no appearance of the organic except maybe daisies on china?or chrysanthemums on wallpaper.

Okay, so my boy got it about the rugs, but he drew the line at removing the wallpaper.

I hadn’t thought I’d be living like this as an adult. During my teen years in Bear River, Nova Scotia I’d babysat in the rustic homes of American artists who’d bought old farmhouses before Early Hippy had taken hold and had simply spiffed up what was already there.

These homes had manifested an impeccable minimal taste which one might call “Middle Hippy:” rough stuccoed walls, exposed beams, hand-thrown pottery, original art on the walls, small woven rugs punctuating the spaces of old hardwood floors subtly stained and varnished, and the fragrance of fresh bread, coriander, and cinnamon sunken into everything.

Everything about it was a reaction to the mod shellacked interiors of Early Hippy, just as long, straight, part-in-the-middle hair had been a rebellion against the permed, dyed, and starched coiffures of the pre-Beatles days.

I’d loved this beautiful, natural simplicity and had always imagined myself living in these kinds of spaces when I left home.

But it was not to be. Those artists had come of age in a time of almost full employment, and housing had been cheap. I’d come of age in the Reagan era; this meant that my peers and I had to take what was handed to us, and this was kind of how the punk aesthetic? what I now call “Late Hippy”? came to evolve.

Many urban punks turned their Early Hippy lodgings into Late Hippy by papering walls with candy wrappers, using car seating for couches, and building beds from pallets and cement blocks. Cyndi Lauper’s insistence that linoleum was the best floor covering because it was easy to clean and you didn’t get splinters affirmed the reality of our lives.

It was a rebellion against what was perceived as the snobbery of Middle Hippy’s natural look, which was now more than any of us could afford. We were now the heirs of Early Hippy, doomed to either stay with our parents or to live in seedy urban areas and work at awful jobs or subsist on welfare. In any event we were obliged to accept ghastly decor.

Including shiny vinyl chrysanthemum wallpaper.

Years later when I found myself looking for a place in Montreal I was delighted to find that even the cheap apartments had hardwood or ceramic floors and neutral-coloured walls. You could decorate such spaces with flowers, fine art, antiques, the latest trends, or a mix. Late Hippy was now a thing of the past and even Nova Scotian houses and apartments copied the simplicity trend.

I’m now shocked to find whole antique furniture stores devoted to Early Hippy. The cone shapes, the chrome, the smooth grainless wood, the formica, and the rest?the things I couldn’t bear to look at in my parents home?were now de rigeur and selling for caviar prices.

And thanks to the popularity of the series Trailer Park Boys, orange chrysanthemum wallpaper is also making a comeback; it’s the wallpaper you see in Ricky’s father’s kitchen.

My adult son is glad to see it again, if only on television.

There really is no accounting for taste.

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.

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