"Real" vs. "Kitsch"

As you know, I'm constantly trying to define my style, hone my skills & figure out what works & what doesn't work in spaces. Well, a concept I often think about is real or authentic design, art & accessories. vs. what make something kitsch or scripted or forced or "decorated."

I used to be THE culprit of kitsch when I started out. I wanted my college apartment bedroom to feel like a conservatory, so up went a huge painting of a conservatory & palms & a whole dollar store's worth of fake flowers along with it. eesh (I've mentioned this room before & still haven't found a picture of it- my albums are in storage!)

Anyway, since kitsch is often one of the easiest & cheapest things to do and one of the most readily available, we see it a lot in real life. Picture the person who wants their house to feel like a farmhouse so they buy farmhouse dinnerware:

When instead they could do something more authentic, like this home from Country Living, below:

Using materials & details that would possibly be used in a true farmhouse make this space authentic. The cow print is a fun playful addition to the room & it's not trying to be anything more than it is. The white ironstone is appropriate & beautiful.

Or picture the person who wants a Tuscan-feeling kitchen & fills it with an unusable amount of bottles of oil in the kitchen,

or dishcloths with winebottles on them, wine bottle artwork and throw in a mass-produced Tuscan scene or two. Now I do not mean to judge here, merely to get us thinking. I have been the culprit of this many a time. I think it's a really easy way of designing to get into for the inexperienced & I've SO been there. (how do you think I can describe this room so perectly?! ;)

But the interesting thing is how to figure out how we can evolve out of it, to figure out ways to create the spaces we desire without being inauthentic. To really evolve & become better. I like this styled buffet from Pottery Barn, below. It gives the Tuscan feeling without being as obvious:

Why show a picture of a bottle of wine with no intrinsic artistic value when you can simply have a wine rack? (This isn't to say that I think art with wine in it can't be beautiful, because I've actually very recently seen some amazing art with wine bottles in it) And, why have a picture of a potted palm when you can just head to Home Depot & grab a real one? (yeah, I know, you have to keep it alive ;) And I'm not talking about botanical prints of palms (which I love & I do think of as authentic), I'm talking about the early 90s looking artwork:

If you have stuff like this home, don't feel bad. Just maybe take a minute to reevaluate it. Ask yourself if you actually love the piece or if you just picked it up because it was inexpensive & came in 4' by 3' & fit the "theme" and in the blank space above the sofa. If those are your reasons, I'd say ditch it. If you actually look at it & do love it, then work with it. Thomas Kinkade (below) is one of America's top-selling painters & his name is also one of the first that pops up when you google "kitsch art." A lot of people love his work & the happy feeling it gives them. I say that if you really love something even if it is considered inauthentic, then keep it. If you love it, it's authentic to you.

I also do think it's possible to be ok with certain aspects of kitsch. For example, check out this space in decorator Kirsten Hollister's kitchen (below image from turquoisechic.com) where she uses a bunch of kitschy little paintings of flowers & groups them together casually, irreverently & has fun with them. She's using them for the pops of color & fun they add to the room and it's not displayed as precious art:

And I totally have a thing for really cheap old paintings of landscapes, boats, people & the water. I get them for around $5- $30 & I absolutely love them. I know they're not great art and are considered kitsch, but something about them makes me happy. I think the key is to just display them casually or en masse. The way you display art says a lot about it. (Is it lit up & in a $400 frame? Then that baby better be art in your eyes!) Image below from interiordec.about.com:

Here's a $5 cheapie I love (below) that I have on my mom's mantle right now. It's just causually leaning there & it's not a permanent fixture. It doesn't speak to me in any profound way, it simply added the color & feeling I was on the mood for in the room. It's more to create atmosphere than to be gazed upon as a work of art.

On this road also comes the fabric question. There are those who say that flowers belong in vases & not on fabrics. I really do see the logic & realness to this idea, but I'm still not there yet. I still love a pretty floral on a pillow or blanket. (I'll write more on this later)

One thing I am learning through all of this is that I don't believe in absolutes when it comes to design. Make your rules, but if something comes along & doesn't jive with your rules & you're okay with that, break 'em! I just think it's important to be aware of why you're making certain decisions & to be aware of why you're breaking the rules.

("They're more like guidelines anyway." ;)


Unknown said...

Nail on the head...great post!

Danielle said...

haha u should see my guest bathroom..its like tommy bahama palm tree out. I went nuts when linens and thngs went out of business.

last week I looked at it and was like omg, i mustve been drunk when I bought all this!!!

I am quickly limiting it all

Michelle said...

I agree...great post! I love to hear others anylize design.

I think the most successfull interiors use one design principle to an extreme...colour for Anouska Hempel, or scale for Phillipe Stark...etc.

Have a great weekend!


Fargerike Dagny said...

I agree with the others, very interesting and well written post :) It's also interesting seeing you going through this process, defining your style and helping others along the way. Love your examples here, I was chuckeling as I read through it :)

The Steel Magnolia House said...

Great post for those who just can't help themselves at Bed Bath and Beyond! lol

Windlost said...

Lauren, great post! I think we all have one of those ridiculous glass oil bottles with grapes on them. I actually have a glass bottle sitting on the back of my stove with herbs painted on it. I despise it, but it came with David and I don't have the heart to get rid of it.

I hate cheap mass-market art but will admit that I have owned my share and currently even have a big "painting" of trees in my TV room. Luckily, it is the only one of its kind left in my house. Still, i sometimes buy postcards with little beack scenes and now that I think about it, I have a little print of a chair next to the sea in my spare room. Boy - I suck. : )

But I think one gradually develops an eye and seeks more authenticity. And every day I thank heaven for Etsy, so I can actually buy cottage art from actual people!

P.S. Your Mom's room is gorgeous. Did you style it? You have a very distinctive eye!

paula said...

thanks for visiting my blog. the lamps are from home goods believe it or not.

Toni said...

Great post. I just found your blog, and I'm impressed with your maturity at such a young age. When I see pictures of my home at your age, I cringe!

I've thought about the very thing you addressed. I call it being too "literal". I quit shopping at Kirklands, LNT, etc years ago for that very reason.

Glad I found your site. I'll be a regular reader!

Maria Killam said...

Very interesting points you make! As I tell my students, you need to know the rules (or guidelines) before you can break them! love this post!

Lauren said...

Thanks Paloma!

Sweet Nothings- you're cracking me up. hahaha don't worry I've SO been there!!

Michelle- Thanks & sounds like another piece of the design puzzle!!

Beautiful Living- haha yup, just sort of taking those who want to come along for the ride!

Steel Mags- too funny! (haha do you know I do shop there sometimes? I do try to control yself & limit to basics though- hardware & such! And I have SO gone nuts in the art section unfortunately!!! ahhhh 2 huge wine prints that just made my day!!! haha)

Terri- yes, those little oil bottles are so easy to come by! haha And I have to get more into etsy- I never even thought about it for prints! (I bet I can find lotf of my guilty little pleasure paintings!!) and, yes, I just did a mini-revamp of mom's living room... I'll post pics of it next week.

Lauren said...

paula- love that lamp shade! tanks for the info!

Toni- thanks so much! Yes, I SO know how you feel about those stores although I do have to say I was loving Nate Berkus's line at LNT & was so sad to see it go!! (Off the rack linen drapes = so easy to get the look I love on a budget!!!) I'm so glad you'll be back!! :)

Colour me Happy- that's great advice! thanks!


sandra/tx said...

I think the difference is if you wanna go kitsch, go over the top like you'd see in beachy-themed rooms or 50's cottages -- a lot like what would be featured in Home Companion. Otherwise, you're right. It comes off an inexperienced decorating and one-stop shopping.

Anonymous said...

Well said!

Stars Fault said...

I love that my decorating style has evolved over the years. Ye,s those first efforst were a bit rough abound the edges, but I think that's a bit of fun too, experimenting... right?

Guidelines... yep, that's right!

Devon said...

I loved this post Lauren! I especially loved the consideration that everyone should listen to their own authentic voice when it comes to decorating. I think you are spot on...as usual.

Brooke @ Blueprint Bliss said...

Love this post. You always make me laugh out loud...

Julia said...

Great post!

Unknown said...

Such an interesting, thought provoking post. You have managed to sum up all that can be horrible and tacky in decorating, and gently steer people in the right direction, without offending anyone. Great work.

Haven and Home said...

Great post! Some of those things make me cringe and I have been guilty of them at one point too! Hope you had a great weekend.

3 Peanuts said...

I think people who make the mistakes you mention when they "rush" to decorate instead of take the time to slowly acquire things that reflect their style.


Raina Cox said...

That was a fabulous way to describe the difference between a style and a theme.

Themes only belong in Disneyland.

mrsben said...

Excellent post Lauren. I think it can be safely said in a nutshell, 'Kitsch...ing in Interior Design is what separates the novice from the pro'.