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yellow wallpaper copy

If you know anything about nineteenth century writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” you’re probably wondering why you would ever, EVER take tips on style from a short-story about a room that concluded in driving a woman mad. But, have you read it? Among Gilman’s subtle jabs at the patriarchal society that often misunderstood and misdiagnosed female physiological illnesses during the centuries preceding our own, there is actually a lot of design theory intermingled:

the emotional Impact of your environment

The protagonist of the story is a woman who is seemingly suffering from postpartum psychosis–assumed by the mention of a new-born, the family’s recent retirement to an obscure summer house, and her physician husband’s notions that she must remain quiet and “not think of her condition” of recurrent nervous bouts, uncontrolled crying, and frequent tiredness. While her husband apparently has locked her into a room in an attic to “recover” by sleeping off her mental distress with not much besides a hideous, yellow wallpaper-pattern to entertain her, and a large bed nailed to the floor, she longs to exchange her room for one “downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings.” Though she finds herself feeling best when she walks in the garden, away from a room she garners an eerie feeling from, her husband only “laughs at her” when she suggests that the room is making her nervousness worse. The impact her dismal environment was having on her was a severe one. As the story progresses, she also progresses further into madness. Though her husband didn’t understand it, and she lacked the agency to insist upon it, “The Yellow Wallpaper’s” protagonist responded extremely negatively to the decor that surrounded her.  And, it’s true, how you feel in a room may not be just “a false and foolish fancy” as the woman’s husband attempted to convince her. It may be that your room needs a bit of airing:

I fell in love with this summer house shoot over on 79 ideas. It immediately made me think of what the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” wanted to escape to: a space that was open, light, and the perfect mix of vintage pieces, modern, clean white, and what she described as “old-fashioned chintz hangings.” She sought, and I think would have found in this space, a warmth, expression, and softness that she couldn’t find in a world that left women who struggled to fulfill their roles as wife and mother with little other options or assistance. 

Don’t forget the walls

As the short-story continues, the woman’s descriptions of the wallpaper grow continually more bizarre. After reading Gilman’s short, you might be a little nervous about adding wallpaper to your world. But don’t be! Though nineteenth century papers were rather heavy, overwhelming patterns, the wallpaper of the 21st century is definitely something to check out. And though we spend most of our design dollar on the furniture and items that fill our spaces, the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” could definitely tell you, don’t forget the walls! they have quite the impact (good and bad!) on your room as well:

image via sfgirlbybay

Anthropologie home decor - yellow wallpaper

**Did you like that last picture of Anthropologie’s “Paeonia” wallpaper? If you don’t feel like spending $148 on your walls but still want this adorable print, check out how I did it myself via this post.**

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is famous for its commentary on the ignorance of the nineteenth century, male-dominated medical community who excused real women’s issues with the idea that women were simply fragile, weak, and incapable; The cure? Force women to languish, discourage any intellectual pursuit, and avoid at all costs the horrors of a woman who would give herself an identity outside the home with her own creative success. Don’t let your rooms fall into the same madness the protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” did. Mix vintage with modern to keep it fresh, don’t put up with patterns and textures that depress you, and if you’re feeling blue in your room, don’t dismiss it, accept it, and make a change!

– ❤ A. 

sources: “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman,  Anthology of AMerican Lit. vol. II, Prentice Hall | images via 79 ideas, sfgirlbythebay, anthropologie, adored vintage.

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