Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny
– Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist, had one goal: to completely understand the universe. I wish the good Professor could have been here this week to explain to us mere mortals how our world sometimes goes so terribly wrong. But humans have one thing in our favor, and that’s our ability to balance tragedy with perspective and humor. We are being sustained by cute and often hilarious videos alongside stories of extraordinary kindness, generosity and creativity. Life can still be magical, sometimes when you least expect it.
For my daily dose of fantasy, which I find essential these days, I reached back to a blog I did a few years ago about the joyfulness of injecting whimsy into home design. This seems like a good time to share it again, and if it brings a smile or lifts a spirit, we can toast Mr. Hawking.
Whimsy is lots of different things, and one fundamental characteristic is unexpected. For example, my old, funky Mexican dining table has been layered with gobs of different colors of paint through the years. It’s surrounded by a mix of vintage chairs – some with cracked blue leather seats and others with pink, gold and green leopard print slipcover dresses with ball fringe dangling from their skirts. A fat fluted red column sits in the corner and an old rusted iron cross pulls the eye to the garden beyond.
In the middle of this capricious mash-up of texture, pattern, shape and color is The Puppeteer – a colorful glazed ceramic sculpture of this crazy guy with a whiskered blue fox peaking from his hat. His right arm wraps around a fanciful replica of the earth shaped like a fishbowl, while an orange and yellow striped puppet perches on his left hand. He’s whimsical and mysterious at the same time. To my eye he looks French, although he was created by California artist Gary Dinnen.
The out-of-the-box sculpture has moved with me through the years, and now sits on a 1932 once elegant black piano that desperately needs refinishing. This unlikely duo sparks joy whenever I pass by, and never ceases to incite conversation when friends walk through the door.
The above photo taken in my previous home and garden demonstrates several of the avenues that lead to creating a whimsical feeling in any room in your home. Here are a few of my favorites:
Pairing unlikely artwork, fabric, shape and scale can create a whimsical feeling. The contrast of this delicate antique mural with softly curving hills paired with the straight vertical and horizontal lines of the drapery fabric is unanticipated. Throw in the small contemporary geometric table and lamp, juxtaposed to the mural and over-scaled chaise longue, and just looking at this corner vignette makes you feel good.
I have always found checkerboard patterns that are ancient and contemporary at the same time to be intriguing. Whether I spot them layered on stone in a majestic European cathedral, or dancing on a wall beside an old bathtub in Santa Fe, checkerboard never fails to make me happy. Perfectly shaped squares in highly contrasting colors repeating on a wall, in a fabric or in a painting invoke an element of playfulness. This once tired bathroom in a hundred-year-old adobe was brought back to life with the crisp contrast of blue and white handmade checkerboard tiles installed behind a vintage clawfoot tub.
Using color in unpredictable ways can create eye-opening appeal in any area of a room. This offbeat half-red, half-gold chair and ottoman would be right at home in Alice’s Wonderland. The enormous curved arms and bold hoofed feet might entice you to sit down and wait for the Mad Hatter to come around the corner.
Curious shapes in abrupt places can often trigger a good laugh. This rotund, jocular pig greets all those who enter through a family room next to the kitchen island. His commanding presence never ceases to entice giggles from the kids. Mr. Pig’s disproportional body, head and hooves give him a mischievous demeanor, as if he is the ordained keeper of the gate and lord of the manor.
An engaging entry table combines unusual textures, including beloved artists Carl and Marie Dern’s eccentric bronze lamp emulating a knotted tree branch. Raggedy torn pieces of handmade paper create the amber-colored ball with swaths of cotton on top. Tiny buttons hang by heavy thread from the bottom of the shade which lights a rustic pressed tin mirror and frame attached to the wall. A tiny papier mâché sculpture peeks from behind a glossy emerald green flower pot displaying large and small green leaves and orange, yellow and gold flowers of all shapes, sizes and textures.
Standalone fanciful objects can stop guests in their tracks as they pause to take in the magic of the moment at first glance. This outdoor sitting area with four big, boxy chairs and round table appears fairly typical in today’s backyard – with one exception. The fairy holding a wand in her right hand and kicking up her flower-bedecked left foot looks joyful and carefree playing in the lawn. Who could resist a closer look?
I continue to enjoy whimsy throughout the seasons as I dress up The Puppeteer and piano with strands of dried marigolds in fall, red holly berries in winter, and bouquets of daffodils and orange tulips in the spring and summer. This precocious display of nature’s crazy rustic textures reflected in the graceful albeit beat-up black piano somehow makes me smile gratefully just to be alive, regardless of the state of this imperfect world. Thank you for the reminder, Mr. Hawking.