Dorothy Draper once said of her decorating projects, “I always put in one controversial item. It makes people talk.”
The influential Manhattan interior decorator was known for her exuberant use of color and pattern, such as bold, black-and-white checkerboard, hot pink and crimson, lime green and blue. In her hands, stuffy chintz became flirty and vivacious.
That cheeky sense of fun is all over home decor these days, a counterpoint to the serenity of minimalism and neutral palettes.
New York designer, potter and author Jonathan Adler is known for playful accessories, like ceramic trinket trays in the shape of pouty lips or pill capsules, and storage jars printed with imagery that references mind-expanding substances. Brass and acrylic objets d'art and vessels include mustache, finger, hippo and talon shapes.
Yet Adler's serious about creating chic design.
“A lot of my stuff explores a hedonistic streak that I deny myself in real life. The wink in my work is just that – a wink,” he says. “My formula? Ninety-nine percent classicism, 1 percent witticism.”
Maureen Stevens, an interior designer in Austin, Texas, seeks a similar balance. For a project in the city's Seaholm District, “the client wanted a boutique-hotel vibe with all the frills.” Stevens clad some walls in cobalt and magenta, then dressed the home with bold pops of pattern, curvy furniture, statement art, and velvet bar stools perched on hairpin legs. There's sex appeal, but it's infused with tasteful, thoughtful curation.
“I love a room of storytellers,” she says. “Pieces that act as little mementos, curiosities and artifacts.”
At last spring's Shoppe Object show in New York, designer Helene Ige of Los Angeles displayed a fanciful pillow collection that transected pop culture and traditional pattern, with foil-printed unicorns and saucy phrases on tapestry and toile backgrounds.
Crown Objet has also played with textiles, creating silk pillows printed with alien heads and skulls.
Furniture with a soft, sumptuous feel – think velvet, chenille, buttery leather – is a good way to introduce sensual elements. Metals can be highly polished to dance the light around the room, or burnished to give the room warmth. Glass or mirrored pieces add glamour.
You'll find well-priced velvet seating at Article, as well as a cool, apple-shaped, wire floor lamp.
Jenn-Air has disrupted the traditional high-end kitchen-gear market with a new collection called “Bound by Nothing.” The appliances are tricked out with Italian leather covers and trims, etched and tooled hardware, and deep, rich hues.
“Our inspiration came from fashion, furniture and jewelry, and from art, music and travel,” says Jessica McConnell, senior design manager at parent company Whirlpool. “Having free rein to push boundaries was quite freeing for us as designers. We stopped thinking about the way it 'should' be done and instead about the possibilities.”
Jenn-Air's “Cuts” line features smooth or croc-embossed, leather-front, column refrigerators in colors like cognac and caviar. “Smoke & Brass” ranges have a lovely patina and anodized-brass and knurled-steel hardware. “Burlesque” fridges put color and embossing in the interior, then trim with sensual LED lighting. The effect is more luxe, walk-in closet than icebox.
Other utilitarian elements are getting a fashionable approach too. Kohler introduced the Ombre faucet collection, inspired by the technique's popularity in clothing and even hairstyles. The graduated shading, from a rosy gold to nickel, or dusky titanium to a pinky hue, gives the hardware a beguiling edge.
Artwork or wallpaper is a good way to play provocateur. Minted and CB2, among others, have interesting photography, abstracts and bold graphic prints.
For a stronger statement, check out Timorous Beasties' Graffiti wallpaper covered in wildly colorful and chaotic spray-paint and spatter patterns.
Or try Given Campbell's Divine Collection, which cheekily channels patron saints in contemporary graphic motifs.