I have always believed that decoration is at its most brilliant when an element of surprise is included in the design.
As subtle as an ancient artifact tucked quietly into a contemporary layout or as eye-catching as a wild colour flash in an otherwise monotone scheme, it is something you don’t look for or expect.
The surprise works within the context of the room, and most important, it makes you smile . . . not once, but every time you see it.
A personal favourite for me, are the clever designs brought to us by Alessi.
One of the world’s foremost designers, he has raised the simple kitchen tool to a true art form.
A series of corkscrews designed by Alessandro Mendini for Alessi, work simply by twisting the head of an Angel to raise her wings and extract the cork. Alessi’s most famous Juicy Salif lemon squeezer, designed by Philippe Starck, looks like a proud alien standing on three spidery chrome legs.
These common products that we use daily rise above their usefulness and have been brought to life.
In their fresh, new design and decorating book Downtown Chic, Robert and Cortney Novogratz say that playful decor lightens the mood in any house.
The sitting area in their summer house shown here illustrates the point. Casual funky furnishings and vivid splashes of colour pop against the all white interior. The pure white flower pot sculpture is the surprise.
It’s kind of silly, and it fits in beautifully with the lighthearted mood of the house.
Other rooms highlight the pairing of familiar with modern, yard sale finds with antique carpets, plastic and laminate furniture sitting on wood floor boards.
For this design duo, details make the design, and there are surprises everywhere, which to my mind gives the house a thoughtful and lived in appeal. Nothing too precious, all very accessible.
Trompe l’oeil is a painting style that I have employed to great effect on my Painted House and Facelift television shows.
Trompe l’oeil literally translates as trick the eye and has been used throughout the ages by artists and decorators to adjust or distort the appearance of a space, to give it a dimension that brings it alive.
In one of the houses I painted, there was a long, narrow hall on the second floor with a door at the end, usually closed.
To bring some life and interest to the area, I painted an oval window frame on the door and behind the frame the picture of a sailboat bobbing along in a Caribbean sea.
By shading the painted frame with lighter strokes on the top and darker strokes on the inside, I achieved the three-dimensional effect required to make the frame look real.
From a distance this picture gives the impression of a window with the sea just outside. It opens up the hallway, and the trick or surprise works even when you know what it is.
I have painted a faux wrought iron headboard, used this technique to add panels to flat faced doors, created carpets so real you might trip on the edges and applied faux fabric to walls.
You don’t have to be an artist to create a trompe l’oeil effect. There are stencils available that make the shading and details easy to apply. And it is another clever way to instill humour into your decorating repertoire.
Debbie Travis’s House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org