The Joy of Ugly Interior Design

Home is, so they say, where the heart is. With ownership comes the prize of being able to shape your home exactly how you want but many of us who live in rented accommodation must accept magnolia-coloured walls or the landlord’s questionable choice of sofa.

The only way we can reflect ourselves in our spaces is in the small things — prints, plants and ceramics. On inspo boards on Pinterest, home is velvet upholstery, rubber plants and a few pictures decorating the wall. Often, however, these interiors are too well staged to look lived in. There’s no pile of books to be read, no gaudy holiday souvenirs sitting on the shelf, and everything is perfectly chosen to reflect the best version of you. For some, this perfection in your space can feel just right, but personally — it can put me a bit on edge.

What these spaces lack are personal touches. Thankfully, we’re moving away from minimalism’s coldness but when interior decorations are mass-manufactured at breakneck speeds, it can be challenging to cultivate your own sense of style. The nervous desperation to be on-trend can be broken by filling your space with something so unfashionable that you’re no longer concerned with keeping up with the Joneses… or Kardashians. I’m captivated by odd pottery and I like to collect things that obviously tried to be cute but failed in the attempt. Things that look strange, constipated, or plain old-fashioned. There are plenty of shops on the high street that stock these kitsch items —pugs and llamas seem to be all the rage right now, but the overproduction of these items seems so determined to grab your hard-earned cash that they’re a bit of a turn-off. There’s nothing better than venturing into a charity shop like a suburban Indiana Jones and coming out with a plate printed with cartoon vegetables or a 1980s kids’ lunchbox. Whenever my sister and I go on holiday, we challenge each other to find the ugliest souvenir in one of the tourist shops and gift it to the other when we come back. She found me a doll with a bird’s nest perched on her head in Portugal, and I found her a breasty rubber duck in Germany. We’ve turned searching for souvenirs into a friendly competition. It’s fun to surround yourself with items that made you laugh when you first received them.

I asked my friends whether they fill their homes with odd trinkets and there were a few who, like me, collected unusual pottery. But collecting the ugly isn’t limited to beige 70s pottery either. Halloween-lover Camille fills her space with spooky decorations. Halloween is one of her favourite times of the year. Unlike other people who find the holiday scary, she finds it exciting. Her collection of decorations — which include a life-size Fester from The Addams Family — have a deeply personal and nostalgic meaning for her too. Although I’ve never been the biggest fan of Halloween, my collecting also stems from nostalgia. I spent my childhood visiting car boot sales and popping into the local charity shop. Camille adds that “where people see something ugly, I see familiarity and comfort” and looking at my small collection of kitschy collectables, I see comfort there too.

So, how would you go about bringing a bit of ugly into your space? There’s no need to book a skip and throw away all of your beautiful interior pieces —I’m never going to get rid of my houseplants or my pretty prints — but popping a few ugly pieces into your home can certainly make you smile, without any redecorating required. A brown pot with round eyes and a toothy grin might look a bit too much on a shelf with all of its friends, but sat next to a fern and a cool print from Etsy; it would create a different effect. The kitschy pot could just be winking at you, a little in-joke for everyone who notices it. Maybe a wall full of flying pottery ducks would seem bonkers but one in the bathroom could let anyone who pops to the loo have a little giggle.

For me, moving out into my own house is a long way off. 2021 might not be the year of the ugly collectable but the small trinkets I have collected over the years make my rented spaces feel like home. I still yearn for beautiful rooms of my own filled with houseplants and Victorian velvet chairs but I’ll always add my kitsch ceramics into my spaces, allowing wherever I live to feel a little more me.

Words by Lucy Clarke


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