Accessorizing: Avoiding interior design clichés, kitsch, trends, and grotesques

Interior Design | St. Louis Interior DesignerAre you ready to start decorating your home but fear falling into one or more of the pitfalls mentioned above? Fear not, here we’ll cover some basics that should allow you to step around these common errors. Remember through every aspect of decorating your home that interior design is an art form, and all good art involves self-expression. If you keep this in mind in all your planning and purchasing, you will succeed in evolving a beautiful home full of self-expression without clichés, kitsch, trends, or grotesques.

Trends, fashion and “fitting in”

Technically speaking, there is nothing wrong with following trends in interior design, and it can be a great way to express your love of interior design fashion. If you do love following trends, then go for it! This is who you are. But people who love following trends know what trend is popular now and when it is passé. They are well aware that they will have to change up their interiors on a regular basis and they have fun doing that. In this case, following trends closely and changing them out regularly is a way for this person to stand out from the crowd, and therefore is a legitimate form of self-expression.

And following trends is a great way to keep your home looking current. If you use classic furniture and then either add new trends or change out accessories from time to time with a few new trendy items, your home always looks stylish. But you should know if you wish to follow this advice when to add a trend to your home and when it must be removed. When trendy accessories involve no self-expression and are placed in many areas of your home, or if they have nothing to do with whom you are and remain all over your home when no longer in style, that is a pitfall of trends.

Unless you truly follow interior design trends very closely the best way to handle trends is to sprinkle a few trendy items here and there around your home, but never go overboard with them. The basis of your interiors should always be you; your personality, and your interests, if you do not know much about interior design and wish to build a beautiful home, you may be scared of self-expression and therefore fall into the pitfalls of trends in interior design. This happens when someone who knows little about interior design buys whatever is popular without regard to whether it is legitimate to whom they themselves are.

Although there are people who fear standing out from the crowd and therefore try to dress like everyone else, and have their homes decorated like all the others in their neighborhood to hopefully achieve the stamp of approval of their peers, truly good interior design involves character, just like being a truly good human being involves standing up for what is right regardless of how “popular” other viewpoints may be.

However, the difficult thing is that most people do not realize that they are following a trend in interior design until years later when they look back at one of their rooms and realize that the pictures of chickens and roosters, the ceramic chickens, and the dishes painted with roosters were a trend and now are out of style. The homeowner no longer appreciates or likes this and wishes they had realized back then that this was a “trend”. Trends can be easily avoided by being true to you.

Interior Design Help from an Interior DesignerBeing true to you can be scary. It involves showing the world, but really only the people who come into our homes what we genuinely care about. In other words, it means being real, being genuine.

But how do you do that? Start by thinking about what you actually DO enjoy. For example, if you love to play tennis and you follow professional tennis as a sport, and this is a life-long hobby of yours, there are probably some things that you own that you should display in your interior design, they may be packed away in boxes in your attic, but why are they hidden? You may think that nobody but you cares about tennis. Think about these types of negative feedback you give yourself, they are almost never true. Tennis is a very popular sport. It is popular because many people care about tennis.

But here is the real reason you should be decorating your house in tennis memorabilia, because if you who loves tennis decorates your home in chicken and rooster prints, someone who cares about animal husbandry is eventually going to be visiting you as a friend of a friend and ask you about them. When you give an answer such as, “oh I just put those there to fill the space”, you will sound like a fool.

Why would you place things all over your home that you do NOT care about when you can just as easily (probably easier) decorate your home with items you genuinely love that reflect who you really are?

When you plan interior design around what you happen to find in stores or hear about on television shows or in magazines you are most likely following a trend. Trends almost always go out of style and to a trained eye they give away exactly when you decorated your home, even to an untrained eye, a trend when no longer in style makes your home look “dated”, they may not know why, but they won’t like it, and neither will you. So remember, be true to YOU.

Kitsch: designed to take advantage of you and make money

Kitsch is worse than a trend. A trend is something or some idea of value that has caught on accidentally and many people start purchasing and or using it when really it is genuine only to a few people that should. In other words, there are gorgeous chicken and rooster prints in the world, and they are a genuine form of expression and art and therefore have a place in interior design for people who love chickens and/or roosters or love and collect the artist’s who painted them.

However, kitsch is something purposely thought up and marketed which is meant to make money for those who thought it up. It is simply something that is as far from artful expression as is possible. Kitsch has no value in the art or the design worlds and therefore no one should be placing it in their homes. Unless of course you are using it to be “witty”, meaning you are making fun of people who value them by putting one or a few in your home and all your friends immediately understand the joke .

Paintings on black velvet of dogs playing poker, is a perfect example of kitsch. Kitsch is easy to find. You see it at gas stations, truck stops, carnivals, tourist traps of every type, dollar stores and many other places.

However, if you truly don’t know anything about art or design how can you ensure that you do not place kitsch in your home?

The problem with kitsch is that it is designed to take advantage of someone’s ignorance on a subject.

Let’s use the painting on black velvet as an example; these were usually purchased (originally) by uneducated lower-middle class working people who associated velvet with luxury. AND they associated art to hang on the walls with luxury and “class”. Putting the two together is where everything went wrong. Upholstery or clothes made from velvet is expensive and luxurious. Genuine and original artwork is classy and has interior design value. Together, they are a disaster. We won’t even go into the subject matter of dogs playing poker.

If two or more disparate themes are being placed together in one item, as if to appeal to twice as many consumers, you can be pretty sure you are looking at kitsch. Plastic flowers are another perfect example. Plastic has NOTHING to do with nature. Flowers (if real) are beautiful. Combine these two themes and design disaster rears its ugly head.

This is a good rule of thumb but certainly isn’t the only way to spot kitsch.

Kitsch is also almost always inexpensive. That’s how they trap you, you like it, you can afford it, why not? Because it is HORRIBLE! That’s why not.

But the best way to avoid kitsch is to remember what I told you to always keep in mind when this subject began, remember that interior design is an art form, and all good art involves self-expression. Do you LOVE plastic flowers? Have they been important to you all your life? If the answer is yes, then I don’t know how I can talk you out of using them in your interior design. But I hope the answer is no and you will stick in your interior design to things that are truly important to you.

But what if you love Scotty dogs and you also love Jesus? Should you purchase the ceramic figure of Jesus with the Scotty dog at his side? In my professional opinion as an interior designer, no.

There is nothing wrong with loving Scotty dogs and certainly nothing wrong with loving Jesus. And I would even say that placing some objects in your home celebrating your love of Scotty dogs and your love of Jesus is fine and can be exemplified in a beautiful interior as a great example of self-expression. However, do not COMBINE these two important aspects of your life in any ONE item. Not unless you wish to be laughed at to your face or worse yet, behind your back.

Design clichés: Horticultural prints, and letters of the alphabet hung on walls

A cliché is something that is overused and therefore tiring. Design subjects that are overused and tiring are not good design. But still, the most important rule in interior design is to be true to you.

Let me give you an example from the home of a friend of mine. He is a recognized expert of Daffodils in the field of Horticulture and is a horticulturist at Missouri Botanical Garden. I was helping him decorate his home and noticed many, many, beautiful pieces of art depicting daffodils all over his floor framed, but piled against the wall on the floor while nothing hung on his walls.

St. Louis Interior Design FirmI asked him why he hadn’t hung all those beautiful pieces. To which he replied that daffodil artwork was a cliché and that he didn’t want his home to look like that of various upper middle-class housewives. I then explained how I agreed that it is a cliché for certain middle-class housewives but if you happen to be an expert on daffodils and have loved and studied daffodils all your life, to not place prints of daffodils in your home was not being true to your own needs and therefore just as bad as the middle-class housewife who knows nothing about daffodils but has an entire wall in the dining room covered in daffodil prints. What are you going to place on your walls then I asked; pictures of WWII airplanes?

He doesn’t care about airplanes and my point was made. The prints are now proudly displayed in his home and it is beautiful! It is beautiful because it is HONEST. It is who he is. Just like his friends would have been confused if he had placed gorgeous and artful prints of World War II airplanes all over his walls, so also should your friends question the wall of horticulture prints if you neither know anything about the subject matter nor value them as art.

But even more important, the trained eye knows that you are not using your interior design as a form of self-expression. If it isn’t self-expression, then it isn’t art, and that is why it is wrong.

It is a cliché if everyone else is doing it, or if many, many people are doing it. If it is truly important to you, then keep doing it, when it goes out of style, everyone else will remove it from their homes, but then you will keep it. It will not ring as false to your friends that it still exists in your home because they know you and they know it really matters to you. AND if an expert in the subject ever happens to be at your home, and engage you in conversation on the subject, you will be able to converse with them on that subject with some degree of expertise or at least passion, and passion is what all good design stems from.

Good interior design has character, just like good people have character. If you are faking something, stop it. Show us who you really are, and your home interior design will start to take shape and be beautiful simply because you are beautiful. When you start to acknowledge who you really are, everything will fall into place.

Design grotesques: going over the edge with self-expression

Now here is where it can get confusing. Good interior design is about expressing who you are but too much self-expression and things can go very badly very quickly.

A good analogy for a design grotesque is to compare it to a conversation. Your friends want to know how your dog is because they know the dog is important to you and they care about YOU. But talking for three hours about your dog to your friends when they ask how he is, is ridiculous and shows a personality that is either oblivious to other people’s needs (in other words, selfish) or actually unbalanced and in need of counseling.

So it is with self-expression in interior design.

If you love African violets and do know a lot about them and grow them in your home, it is typical to expect that you would have some beautiful works of art depicting African violets. And you may even want to paint a room or two the shades in two of your favorite varieties of your beloved plants.

However, if every single surface in your home including ceilings have been painted shades of violet, all the fabric upholstery in the house, all the bedclothes in every bedroom, the towels in every bathroom and all table linens are either shades of violet or depict pictures of violets, if the lamps are in the shape of violets, the wood furniture has been painted shades of violet, the carpets are violet, and there are African violets on every and all windowsills and no other variety of plant is anywhere in your interior design, your home although a great form of self-expression is a grotesque.

A grotesque is an outward expression of an idea that is taken to such lengths as to no longer be considered normal. And it isn’t good design.

So where is the line between self-expression and grotesque?

That is a difficult question. It is a very fine line indeed.

However, almost all home interior design errs on the side of caution. I would say that you should push yourself very hard to go past what you believe to be the “line” between self-expression and the grotesque and you probably will never get anywhere near grotesque but instead hear your friends saying things like, “I wish I was as creative as you are” and “I’m so glad you finally did something with your house, it is gorgeous, and really expresses who you are”.

If you need additional help using trends to their best advantage, and avoiding clichés and want your home to look like YOU, and you are in St. Louis, contact me at [email protected]