A Love Letter to the “Clarissa Explains It All” Bedroom In All Its ’90s Teen Glory

Did any kid who watched the hit Nickelodeon sitcom not want hubcaps on their wall and a window ladder for their BFF?
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This essay is part of a collection of love letters celebrating personal design obsessions.

As a girl growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, there were two fictional bedrooms I really admired. The first was Claudia Kishi’s candy-stuffed hideaway, where The Baby-Sitters Club held all their meetings in the children’s book series. Claudia had her own phone line and plenty of art supplies, and even though the books never gave an incredibly detailed description of what her room looked like, I had to imagine it was eclectic and fabulous, just like its inhabitant.

More than anything, though, I admired intentionally wacky bedroom occupied by Melissa Joan Hart’s character on Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All. To me and to so many others, it was the ideal teenage space. Sure, it was in her parents’ house, but, really, it was Clarissa’s own little world. She had room for her baby "security alligator," Elvis, in his sand-filled kiddie pool, and a bookshelf made out of what appeared to be a repurposed old dollhouse. (Places like Pottery Barn actually make these now, proving that I must not have been the only person coveting it back then.) She had her own computer—a big deal back in 1991, when the show premiered—and what appeared to be an old card catalog in lieu of a dresser. She had a walk-in closet stuffed with brightly colored and richly patterned clothes, and a bed that appeared to be at least a full size, something that, as the owner of a very uncomfortable twin at the time, I greatly envied.

She also had quite eclectic wall decor, from hubcaps to They Might Be Giants posters. It was clear that girl-coded floral wallpaper on some of the walls had been painted over in parts with a loose, black checkerboard pattern. As someone whose parents wouldn’t even let them hang posters on their own wallpaper, lest it somehow get ruined, I was deeply, deeply jealous. And that’s not even to mention the whole "ladder into an open window" situation that Clarissa’s male best friend, Sam, used to get into her room at any given time. A boy! In her room! Popping over without calling! Whenever! And no parents cared! It was beyond cool.

On the hit Nickelodeon ’90s sitcom Clarissa Explains It All, the titular character’s bedroom mixed a colorful blend of eccentric found objects and DIY decor.

On the hit Nickelodeon ’90s sitcom Clarissa Explains It All, the titular character’s bedroom mixed a colorful blend of eccentric found objects and DIY decor.

While I know now that Clarissa’s room was the result of multiple adults toiling over creating what a cool teenage room would look like, that doesn’t take away any of its magical impact. To me, both then and now, Clarissa’s room represented not only who the character was as an inherently cool, quirky (and entirely fictional) kid, but also the idea that it was possible to push the boundaries of our own space—particularly, as in Clarissa’s case, through found objects and affordable (and mostly reversible) tweaks. (You’ve got to think that Clarissa’s dad, Marshall Darling, got what she was going for given that he was a programmatic architect, working in salt shaker houses and beehive-shaped hair salons.)

It feels bizarre to say, but in some sense, I’ve been chasing the essence of Clarissa’s teenage bedroom in my own home ever since. Her perceived ingenuity and thriftiness have inspired estate sale purchases and left-field design choices, like the three-foot-tall black velvet motorcycle painting that sat over my fireplace for years or the brightly colored geometric quilt on my bed at this very moment. I may not have sprung for hubcaps, but I found an old papier-mache grocery store meat counter display at some flea market, and it’s moved with me from city to city for almost a decade.

I’m a mom now, too, and I think subconsciously, I was channeling Clarissa when I pulled together my own kids’ room a few years back. There’s a cartoonish faux-tiger rug on the floor, a jam-packed house-shaped bookshelf in the corner, and I found a vintage Sesame Street poster at a garage sale that I’ll get around to framing one of these days.

The thing is, though, that any design choices I make in my kids’ room now probably won’t last. They’re only five, but soon enough, they’ll be tweens and teens, just like Clarissa. While I probably won’t give the go-ahead for a gator pool, should they want to procure a library cabinet or nail up some old hubcaps, I’m all for it.

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Top photo courtesy Nickelodeon

Related Reading:

The Year Childhood Nostalgia Took Over Our Homes

What the Floor Plans for Famous Sitcom Homes Might’ve Looked Like IRL




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