The Catch with Kitsch

by March 5, 2012
filed under Style

The Catch with KitschSome of you may be wondering: What exactly is ‘kitsch‘? Others may be thinking: “Good lord, she is not seriously going to talk about kitsch, is she?” While it may be true that the whole notion of kitsch can delve up thoughts of awful Victorian Eclecticism, or horrible 50s wallpaper in de-saturated hues, kitsch can be tasteful in small doses.

I’ve been a vintage hunter for many years, prior to understanding design, decor and the vocabulary I used to adore digging through clothes and knick-knacks at the local Goodwill or Value Village. My favorite pieces were always the ones that people would scoff at. Specifically, I remember a mustard yellow and white striped sleeve poly-something pullover from the late 80s. That was a regular in my wardrobe for most of my senior year in High school. I guess you could say I’ve come a long way.

Since my days of aimless vintage scrounging and sharpie graffiti on the walls of my room, I have learned a lot about design and its history. However, something about kitschy pieces is still very catchy to me. I’ve taken art history and design history, and learned about the strict rules of modernism: Decoration is crime, form follows function, simplicity in design. For a time it seemed my taste had swung like a pendulum in the opposite direction – and certainly when I decorated my apartment over the summer, I attempted to follow these rules: Clean design and simple furniture in a restricted palette of neutrals allows you to add in those quirky little pieces you just can’t bear to part with.

Of course, being a student, my budget is pretty limited. Modern design is often an inexpensive way to decorate a space without making it look like you dragged in pieces from your grandmother’s basement before she went into assisted living (yes, I’m talking about Ikea). But it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to have everything in your living space be ‘matchy-matchy’. If I have learned anything from Stacy and Clinton on What Not to Wear, it’s that as long as you have your base of neutrals, you can add in a splash of colour. In this case, we’re adding a splash of kitsch.

How to do this in a non-tacky way would be to avoid things like the dogs-playing-poker posters (unless it’s in a nice frame), or lava-lamps with the paint chipping off (I mean, come on, are you seventeen and still smoking pot in a garage?). Also, maybe stay away from the kittens (if you so desperately need something cute just adopt one). With those ‘rules’ in mind, you can now have fun picking out some interesting pieces to add to your clean space. After all, if it’s like mine, it may need a little character (a rented apartment equals too many beige walls). For my space that’s modern and influenced by traditional Japanese design, I decided to get a kitschy tea-pot. However, since I couldn’t just put the tea-pot weirdly on the shelf, I turned it into a bamboo planter. Yes, tea-pots make great planters, depending on the plant. Since I have a black thumb (as opposed to a green thumb), I will not specify which plants work, but suggest bamboo because it’s pretty hardy.

That’s not to say that you have to stick with just a tea-pot planter. I encourage you all to be creative with this and try to break the rules of taste a little. After all, kitsch is supposed to be ‘cute.’ I think the best way to incorporate something kitschy into any space is to make it work with the theme you already have. Experiment. Turn something old into something new and have fun with it. Remember, if you think you can pull it off, kitsch is like the yellow sweater people told me not to buy – it’s all in your attitude.

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