How highly styled teen furniture of the early aughts influenced my love for interiors
By Rebekah Hall Scott
It's 2005. I'm 11 years old, laying on the floor of my bedroom with a pen in hand, meticulously poring over every page of the new Pottery Barn (PB) Teen catalog that just came in the mail. Colors, textures, and storage solutions abound. I'm dizzied by stripes of ribbon, framed cork boards, hanging paper lanterns, and that highly coveted crinkle puff bedding in crisp jewel tone shades.
I'm circling item after item with a feverish focus. In the moment, I have transcended the idea of a "budget" or "having two siblings who also need things" — it is much the same headspace I enter when flipping through the American Girl Doll catalog. Suddenly I am a girl on a island, unmoored by typical restraints such as the size of my bedroom, and all I can see are possibilities: How much more fun would sleepovers be if I had a trundle bed? Or a lofted bed with a desk underneath? What sort of juicy conversations would I have while laying on those hybrid chair-cushion lounge things (which I now know are reminiscent of the incredibly expensive '70s Italian Togo/Ligne Roset sofa)?
Above: Said chair-cushion lounge thing. Just one of many iterations... I remember some with speakers you could connect your iPod to! And a lofted bed complete with desk and shelving underneath. You can see the hint of a window seat to the left, and a beaded curtain type thing... two major style influences for me.
I'm overwhelmed by plump pillows, bedspreads, makeup caddies, storage bins, and plush chairs. Every item has a fun color, texture or shape to it. They feel like they were made just for me. (As an impressionable tween girl with a mailing address, they were!) These are the days of Lizzie McGuire, the set of which I'm sure included several PB Teen pieces. Flipping through the catalog feels like getting to eat a delicious treat that I was really looking forward to. On the pages with blurbs for individual products — picture frames, rugs, magazine racks, bedside lamps, lap desks — looking at each one feels like popping a Skittle into my mouth. On the spreads with fully styled rooms, I salivate like a hot meal has been placed in front of me, ready to dig into every detail.
This was before the smart phone, before the dead-eyed endless scroll, before the real plunge into online shopping. I loved the physical-ness of the catalog: pages I could touch and write on or rip out, corners I could fold. I could, and did, save the issues we'd receive, stacking them along with my issues of GL (that's Girls' Life for those not in the know... this was before my parents deemed me teen enough for Seventeen.)
Above: Two sweet vanity situations that instantly make me feel like a tween again (though the vanity on the right features an iPod touch, which my best friend didn't get until 8th or 9th grade.) I craved crisp storage solutions built for my size and my needs... which were obviously to hold my lip gloss collection, diaries, sea shells, notes from friends passed in school, and other found treasures.
A theme across the PB Teen collection was storage. Beds with built-in storage in the headboard, footboard, storage along the side or drawers underneath. Many, many desk configurations. Endless side tables with round knobs and shaker-style cabinets, or cubes made of funky Lucite. Then there were the vanities — such a romantic piece of furniture in my eyes, then and now — with trifold mirrors and little stools, perfect for cool girls who needed a place to primp.
There was also the locker-style series of furniture, which featured desks, beds, side tables and night stands with locker drawers you could pick in different colors. I always felt that these leaned a bit utilitarian and masculine for my softer, more feminine style, but they are a defining element of this era of teen furniture. The company still makes them, though as with nearly everything else in current mainstream interiors, they've been gray-washed and aren't as fun and funky. (Amanda Mull writes about the epidemic of gray floors and the larger impact of the house flipper-aesthetic in her excellent piece for The Atlantic, "The HGTV-ification of America." If you enjoy reading about consumers, consumerism and shopping, Mull is a great follow.)
Cool rooms for cool girls
For me and many others, the PB Teen catalog was much more than expertly crafted advertising. When I looked through the pages and studied the bedrooms — each styled just casually enough to look like the lived-in room of a spunky girl on the go — I wasn't just admiring the furniture. I was captivated by the idea of the girl who lived in each of those rooms, mentally trying on all the different selves available to me. Maybe I could be a chill, California-cool surfer girl, like the one pictured in the spread at the top — all hibiscus florals, straw mats and sporty clothes. Maybe I was a bit preppier and my space would be encased in pinks and greens, with a cream-colored desk featuring a glass top that you could remove to collage photos underneath. Browsing the catalog felt like browsing potential identities. I wanted to be the kind of girl who would have a special bedroom like the ones I saw, all outfitted with furniture and accessories that seemed to reflect a fun girl who knew what she liked and wanted to surround herself with it.
A large part of what appealed to me about the PB Teen catalog was the presence of life in all of the rooms. The girls whom these rooms belonged to seemed to have just left them. The bed is made, because they're responsible, but maybe a pair of slippers sits on the rug or a notebook lays open on a desk. Many of the offerings included furniture with built-in shadow boxes or cork boards to store and display the little treasures and ephemera of childhood and adolescence. Pictures with friends, cut-outs from magazines, ticket stubs, calendars and medals. Tween me wanted to be the kind of teenager who had things to do (places to be, people to see) that would result in this sentimental detritus. This was aspirational lifestyle content before I'd ever heard the term.
It wouldn't be aspirational content without an aspirational price tag. The furniture in the PB Teen catalog was, of course, outrageously expensive. The line debuted in 2003, and in 2003 prices, we're talking $150 fuzzy beanbags, $80 bookshelves, $300 duvets, $70 a pop for tufted floor cushions in a rainbow of colors. And for those heavy beds with built-in storage? You're looking at at least $1k. When I would bring the dog-eared catalog back to my parents and show them the many items I'd circled, I sounded similar to myself today when I show my husband something I've found on Facebook marketplace: "I just think it would look really cool if..."
Because they are reasonable people and had two other children to consider, my parents never bought me anything from PB Teen (or an American Girl Doll — both wounds I am still healing from.) I was left to pine over these spaces and do my best to create this "vibe" in my own room using, like, normal things from Target. When my family prepared to move from the house of my elementary school years to the home where I'd spend middle and high school, I remember picking out my room during the open house based solely on the polka-dot duvet on the bed of the current inhabitant. It looked like the the room of a teenage girl, which was the only thing I wanted to be as a fifth grade girl.
Above: Monogram-able cordless landline phones in dreamy pastels (for who else but Cassie, Chloe, and Alexis.) PB Teen's signature "cushy lounge sectional" featuring those incredibly sit-able tufted cushions in a sagey green for a tone-on-tone effect with the walls. Framed cork boards are never far away.
While the price tag on the PB Teen collection was hefty, and many of the tweens and teens who loved its offerings from 2003-2008 could not afford to bring any pieces home, I feel that the line provided inspiration that translates into the current era of design. (For better or worse — see this 2018 Millennial Apartment Bingo from Apartment Therapy, which I think should be updated for 2021-2023 to include checkered rugs, anything with squiggle lines, the Murano glass mushroom lamp or its many dupes, an excess of house plants, etc. No hate!! The Instagram account @northwest_mcm_wholesale has lots of snarky takes on this aesthetic if you do feel like hatin'.)
My generation now pays rent or mortgages for our own homes, and many of us have embraced what makes our space feel cozy, comfortable and personal. My desire for a room to feel full, lived-in, layered and familiar can in many ways be traced back to coveting the PB Teen bedroom vignettes. It helped lay the blueprint for the way I appreciate interiors today. I noticed then what I notice now: what's on the floor, where furniture is placed in relationship to each other and to the dimensions of the room, how objects are arranged on surfaces, how and where art is hung, how the room's colors speak to each other, and, most importantly, how the room makes me feel.
Above: A sampling of spreads from the first PB Teen catalog in 2003, courtesy of the company's TikTok. (Please ignore the fact that these are screenshots from TikTok.)
The PB Teen TikTok account recently posted a sort of "glow-up" video showing photos from the 2003 debut catalog before transitioning to photos from their... recent collection. It made me sad to see so many vibrant colors and textures slide into grays, creams, soft pinks and rose golds. I feel that this is part of a much larger conversation about how social media and perpetual internet access (and like, the events of the world) have seemed to adult-ify today's teens into wanting the same things that they see adults having. This reminds me of a great piece by Felicity Martin in Dazed, "Are we witnessing the demise of teen girl culture?" which I recommend reading.
When I have children someday, and they grow into their tween and teen years, I hope I can teach them to embrace the joy of making your space feel like you. I'll encourage them to use color, tape up proud works of art, paint the walls and then paint them again, arrange stuffed animals and action figures just so, let your life spill out around you. Tween and teen-hood is a unique time, when you can feel the boundaries of yourself rapidly expanding. It's confusing and exciting and painful. If your space at home can be a place that reminds you of what you love and what excites you — if it shows you yourself, back to yourself — I believe that's a welcome balm on the burn of growing up. It remains true for the rest of us, too. With care and intention, home can be a loving mirror. "Oh, there I am. Here I am."
For some context and as a reward for reading to the end: a picture of me at prime PB-Teen-loving age. You know I pulled those front strands of hair out just for the picture, à la Mary Kate and Ashley. (My family did its part to keep Old Navy in business.) I wish I could find a picture of my bedroom at this time, but those are lost in the Hall family archives... for now.