You must never stop being whimsical.
– Mary Oliver
I love homes that are soulful, and I also adore rooms that make you smile. With the world as crazy as it is these days, who couldn’t use a little sense of humor or playfulness to greet you when you come home at the end of a long day? Whimsy demonstrates that life can be magical, even when you least expect it.
Let me give you an example. I have an old, funky, Mexican dining table that’s 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 unexpected assemblage of texture, pattern, shape and color is The Puppeteer – a multi-colored glazed ceramic sculpture of this crazy guy with a whiskered blue fox peeking 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. And to my eye he looks French, although he was created by a Californian, artist Gary Dinnen.
The out-of-the-box sculpture has moved around with me, and now sits on a 1932 once-elegant black piano that desperately needs refinishing. This unlikely duo lifts my spirits whenever I pass by, and never ceases to incite conversation when friends walk through the door.
The above photo of 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 between the delicate antique mural of softly curving hills with the straight vertical and horizontal lines of the drapery fabric is unanticipated. The added juxtaposition of the small, contemporary geometric table and lamp and overscaled chaise longue creates a feel-good corner vignette.
I have always found checkerboard patterns, which are at once ancient and contemporary, to be intriguing. Whether 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. Perfect squares in highly contrasting colors repeating on a wall, in a fabric or in a painting evoke an element of playfulness. This once tired-looking bathroom in a hundred-year-old adobe was brought back to life via 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 out of the blue half-red, half-gold chair and ottoman look like they came straight out of a fairytale. The enormous curved arms and bold hoofed feet might entice you to sit down and pretend to be Alice in Wonderland.
Curious shapes in abrupt places can trigger a good laugh. This comically rotund pig greets all those who enter through a family room next to the kitchen island. His commanding presence never ceases to generate giggles from the kids. Mr. Pig’s out of proportion body, head and hooves give him a mischievous look, as if he’s the ordained keeper of the gate and lord of the manner.
This engaging entry table combines all sorts of unusual textures, including beloved artists Carl and Marie Dern’s eccentric bronze lamp, whose base emulates 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.
Stand-alone whimsical 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 around a circular table appears typical in today’s backyard – with one exception. The sprightly scrap iron fairy waving a wand in her right hand and kicking up her left foot to land a singing bird looks joyful and carefree playing in the lawn. Who could resist a closer look?
As for me, I enjoy whimsy throughout the seasons, as I decorate 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 configuration of crazy rustic-colored texture reflected in a gracefully beat-up black piano adorned with gifts of nature somehow makes me smile and be grateful that I’m alive, regardless of the state of the world. And it reminds me that nothing in life is perfect, including me.