At Home with Marni Jameson: Ironic design — unexpected moves that work

By Marni Jameson Published: June 7, 2014
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The other day the word “irony” floated across my frontal lobe while I paged through a stack of home decor books.

Whenever I think of this word, I flash on my ninth-grade English teacher, who had the best definition of irony I have ever heard. “Irony,” Miss Crisco said, “is the opposite of what you expect to happen.”

So there I was, with several review copies of design books that a publicist had sent me, and, frankly, one bad attitude. I’ve seen hundreds of these books over the years, so when faced with a new crop I feel as jaded as a bookie.

And then the unexpected happened.

See, I had particularly low hopes for “Think Home: Everything you need to plan and create your perfect home,” by Judith Wilson, a London-based interiors journalist, partly because of the book’s lofty, over-promising title. (Even though I know from experience that authors do not have the last word on book titles.)

I expected the predictable — a book featuring pages of beautiful, if unattainable, stylized home interiors surrounded by a confection of instantly forgettable words.

But as I leafed through with my so-tell-me-something new mindset, a double thunderbolt of irony struck me.

Not only was the book the opposite of what I expected, but also it was unexpected because the design advice was unexpected. (Miss Crisco: Is there such a thing as ironic irony?)

Pages were filled with counterintuitive moves that shouldn’t work but did.

While I had heard the bulk of Wilson’s guiding lights before, I liked best the many occasions when she turned conventional decorating advice on its finial and offered ironic design.

Here’s are some examples:

Just add acid.

One page features a vintage sofa upholstered in muted celery-green silk against a wall papered in the last color I would have expected – the dominant color is acid lime. Two acid lime pillows rest on the muted celery seat. Pairing a subdued classic color with its electric companion – think faded rose against hot pink -- gives a room a modern jolt. “It shouldn’t work but it does,” Wilson writes.

Keep large rooms spare.

And furnish small rooms heavily, Wilson said. “Often generously proportioned rooms look best when they are quite sparsely furnished,” she said. “However, in a compact space, you’ll be rewarded by scaling up not down.” In small spaces, choose large motifs over tiny patterns, put in two chairs not one, and unapologetically paint walls in rich, dark shades

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