Today I am beyond thrilled to introduce a brand new column, run by one of my favorite (and funniest) people around: Janet Varney. I first discovered Janet when she co-hosted TBS’s Dinner and a Movie and have followed her comedy ever since, from SF SketchFest to her incredibly funny — and heartfelt — podcast, The J.V. Club.
I got to meet Janet when she kindly invited me on The J.V. Club, a podcast where Janet invites women (and now men, too) to discuss what their teenage lives were like. We bonded over a shared love of dissecting teenage life and how it affects us now, and earlier this year we decided it would be fun to bring that idea to Design*Sponge with a column that asks some of our favorite people to share their teenage bedrooms with us! I’m so excited to peek inside the early design days of these incredible people, so without further ado, read on as Janet speaks with actress/crafter Jasika Nicole Pruitt about her teenage bedroom (I love her old journal and stuffed animal net — I always wanted one of those!). xo, grace
Image above: “This is [my] infamous ‘graffiti’ bureau,” Jasika says. “I’m clearly not a very gifted graffiti artist; I basically just painted doodles and personal info onto the drawer fronts. But I still felt really proud of it!”
“Even though I was fairly ambivalent about stuffed animals, I had a substantial collection of them,” Jasika says. “I put them in one of those hanging nets to keep them out of my way. All the artwork on the walls are pieces that I worked on in art class.”
JV: How much sovereignty did you have over what your room looked like — were your parents hands-on or hands-off?
Jasika Pruitt: I had a lot of sovereignty with the way my room(s) looked when I was growing up —my mom encouraged every creative bone I had in my body, and when I was in middle school and we moved to an apartment where I was finally able to have my own room, she suggested I paint a mural on my wall. Even though I was artistic as a youngster, my tastes were pretty provincial; I decided on painting a princess in a forest surrounded by animals. When I think back on it I am overwhelmed by how saccharine it was, but at the time it was my proudest achievement.
Did you ever have to share a room before or during your teenage years?
Before my brother was born when I was eight, I had my own room. Then we shared a room for several years in our next two apartments (although, truth be told, I always considered it to be my room; he was just a guest in it). When I was around 13 or 14, we moved again, this time to a bigger apartment where we each had our own rooms. During my freshman year in college I wasn’t assigned a roommate, so I had a double room all to myself. I worked as an RA for the next three years of college, predominantly so that I wouldn’t ever have to share a room with anyone — I prefer being by myself.
How tidy were you? How often did you have to clean it?
I was fairly tidy when was I younger, and definitely into cleanliness (I did a self-imposed bimonthly dusting of my bookshelves), but I was not as tidy as I am now. I had a pretty busy schedule as a teenager with extra-curricular activities like cheerleading, drama, show choir, dance team and Beta Club on top of my regular school work, so there were times where I simply didn’t have enough time to keep my room tidy. But I preferred it to be clean as much as possible.
“This is one of my brothers posing in front of a bookcase in my room. This was my ‘horror’ section.”
What did your room reflect about your personality at the time?
I was an avid reader when I was a kid and I displayed my books very proudly on my bookshelves. I started out with the Babysitters Club as a pre-adolescent, but when R.L. Stein’s Fear Street and Christopher Pike’s horror books started showing up in the YA book section when I was a teenager, I was immediately hooked and would purchase each new publication as it came out. Eventually my tastes became “sophisticated” enough to add Stephen King novels to my collection, and I started arranging all my books in order of importance — the top shelves were filled with my horror novels and the bottom ones were filled with all my required reading for school (I was in AP English and did a lot of summer reading for extra credit).
What was hanging on your walls, and why?
I didn’t take an art class til my senior year in high school; before then the only things on my walls were posters, calendars, and cheerleading/dance paraphernalia. Once I started drawing and painting in school, though, every single piece of art I made immediately went up on my wall. My art class opened up a whole new world to me. I had been drawing for years, but this was the first time I was introduced to different methods and technical aspects of drawing, and every new assignment we were given was a chance to learn something new and challenge my skill set.
“This is a pretty awful picture of the huge mural I painted on my bedroom wall when I was in middle school,” Jasika says. “It was an ambitious project: drawing/painting in large scale has never been my forte. Unfortunately, you can’t see the bunny rabbit or the squirrel hiding out in the grass at the Princess’ feet.”
How much time did you spend in your room, generally?
During the school year I didn’t spend much time in my room aside from sleeping and doing homework because I had a really busy schedule with extracurricular activities. But during the summers, with both parents working and no car til I was 17, I spent pretty much the entire three months in my room, which I was happy with. Even when I was a very young kid, I felt much more comfortable and productive in my room entertaining myself than hanging out with other people; I have always been an introvert.
“MORTIFYING! This entry is one of about 200 where I obsessed over my high school crush. In hindsight I realize that I preoccupied myself with guys who were not that into me so that I wouldn’t have to directly contend with my queer sexuality,” Jasika says. “I think that’s why it’s so hard to read my old entries — I was so unhappy and dissatisfied with my personal life, but I wasn’t in a place where I was capable of really figuring out why.”
What kind of furniture did you have?
My family didn’t have a lot of money, so most of the furniture in my room was a hand-me-down from the house, like the etagere that displayed our family photos in our dining room that became a bookshelf for my bedroom. It was ridiculously 80s, made of brass bars and glass shelves, but it served its purpose well until my book collection became so big that I needed more space. When we moved into a new apartment and my I got my own room for the first time in years, someone gave us an old bureau that I put in my room and spruced up with what I embarrassingly referred to as “graffiti.” Repurposing and reusing is something I grew up with out of necessity.
“I was really proud of my dorm room my freshman year in college. I filled the walls with my artwork and important memories from high school — you can see the purple batiq fabric print behind me next to a poster of my high school dance team, The Star Spangled Girls,” Jasika says.
“I am unsure how I got any work done on that desk when it was covered in picture frames, but aesthetic was way more important to me in college than functionality.”
How’d you feel about your furniture/walls/floor?
I didn’t particularly like my furniture because none of it matched and it wasn’t very “cool,” but it wasn’t something I complained about or paid much attention to — I was resigned to the fact that we didn’t have much money for frivolous spending. The thing I did actively hate was the fact that all our apartments had carpeting; I had really bad allergies that dust mites and pet dander in the carpets made much worse. I pretty much walked around with red eyes and an itchy nose til I went off to
college and lived in dorm rooms with hardwood floors.
I liked my bedrooms in college the most because all the rooms came with the exact same furniture in them: a bed and mattress, a bookcase, and a desk and chair. I didn’t feel like I had less than anyone else because all of our rooms looked the same.
Did you have a good means of listening to music in your room? What kind of music?
My parents instilled in me a love for music and they have great taste, so there wasn’t any conflict around me blasting Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” from the boombox in my room. I was a teenager in the 90s and girl groups and singer/songwriters were my preferred choice in music. En Vogue, TLC and Joan Osbourne were some of my favorites.
Did you keep a journal? Box of keepsakes? Where did those things live?
“I kept a diary off and on in high school that I kept stuffed under my mattress (although I don’t think anyone other than my little brother would have had the gall to actually hunt for it), and when I went to college, I alternated writing in a diary with drawing in a journal/sketchbook.”
What was your closet like?
I was very into fashion when I was a teenager, but, not having much money, most of my closet was comprised of hand-me-downs til I was old enough to have a job and buy my own clothing. I tried to keep up with the latest trends in fashion by buying cheap versions of all the stuff that was cool: babydoll dresses and Mary Jane shoes, sleeveless ribbed turtlenecks and stonewashed denim. There were lots of uniforms in my closet, too: cheerleading uniforms and pom-poms for a couple of years, and then shiny spandex uniforms and sequined leotards for dancing in the marching band.
If you could have one thing back from your teenage bedroom, what would it be and why?
The summer before I went off to college, I tried to save as much money as possible so that I could buy the little odds and ends that I needed for my dorm room and have a little extra money in the bank. I impulsively decided to sell all my books at a used bookstore in town — every single Babysitters Club book that had been published to that date, plus all my Fear Street and Christopher Pike books. I had over 65 books in my collection but I walked out of the bookstore with only $25, way less than I expected to get (I am not and have never been a haggler). I was disappointed at the time, but I also felt like I was making adult decisions, sacrificing pieces of my childhood to ensure stability in my future. Of course, if I could do it all over again I would convince my younger self that $25 cash wasn’t enough money to ensure much of anything beyond a week of McDonald’s, and that I should cherish those books for as long as they survived.