Design & Shopping: Kitsch - Art or artefacts perceived as being of poor quality, esp. when garish or sentimental; these enjoyed in a perverse or self-conscious way

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The Independent Culture
There is a fine line, say Craig Masson and Andrew McMinn, between kitsch and tat, a line which their year-old South London shop Kitschen Sync treads carefully: "We won't have any knobs," says Andrew, resolutely, "or big willies that turn into things. That's tacky." What they do have in abundance is quirky, amusing and downright fabulous merchandise that is quickly acquiring cult status for their Clapham Common store.

The seeds of this multicoloured revolution were planted in the fertile imaginations of Craig, an art college graduate working in shop display and prop design, and Andrew, a "lingerie man" in "the world of knickers and knockers," during a trip to Amsterdam, and a visit to a "preposterous" shop which they have since persuaded to wholesale to them. Inspired, they thought up the name on the Eurostar back to London.

Securing a bank loan was initially daunting; the unenlightened advisor tried to correct the spelling of both "Kitschen" and "Sync" ("Well, I don't go up the West End," he complained), before bowing to the obvious business sense behind their almost evangelical crusade for kitsch.

The past year has been spent visiting trade fairs, sourcing suppliers and getting the feel for what sells. "The Virgin Mary (pounds 6) trickled off the shelves at first," they admit, "until we had the bright idea of filling her with bubble bath. Now there's a frenzy. The phone rings and rings." They seem a little bewildered by the extent of their success. A woman came from Sydney just to ask them to wholesale to her. They're becoming a destination shop. "People come even from Islington!" Now they are looking to open a second store and plans have been laid for creating a Kitschen Sync website. The phone rings off the hook with customers requesting mail order catalogues, as the cult of kitsch spreads like a dayglo rash across the country.

There are still a few, however, who don't get the humour which is the raison d'etre of much of the stock; they look at a pair of black rubber washing-up gloves with a lace and strawberry trim (pounds 14) and say, "but this is horrible!". "They're minimalists, I suppose," sighs Andrew. He is pondering getting in matching mules for Christmas. Others don't see the irony, but love it anyway. "They like the fibre-optic flowers (pounds 25). They buy one for each side of the bed."

There may be a lot of snobbery behind the label of "kitsch". In the Fifties, there was no knowing post-modern irony in buying a taffeta picnic umbrella (pounds 46) or the "wings of love", sold in Woolworth's; it was desirable, aspirational. When people couldn't afford to buy the curtains and the valance, says Craig, they would save up to buy the valance, or receive it as a wedding present. They would ask for a porcelain dog, too. Now that mass appeal has devalued this pop chic, our cynical, modern minds view such objects with sarcasm. They are only cool if we see the joke.

Kitschen Sync's philosophy is refreshingly uncool about the appeal of the ridiculous: "We are maximalists," they explain happily, tucking into a stick of rock (pink, naturally) from a cupboard in their office above the dayglo kettle and the heart-shaped chair (pounds 29). They don't expect customers to immerse themselves totally in neon and lace (although once they have seen the light, there is no stopping some born-again aficionados).

But, they argue, a little discriminating shopping could bring no end of aesthetic joy to the home of the average Habitat devotee, the terminally tasteful and the devoutly beige. It's like a mission. They don't have anything white.

Faced with a choice between a range of standard kitchen equipment and something that little bit quirkier, they reason, a shopper has too many chances at chickening out. At Kitschen Sync the choice between, say, green, pink and orange leaves less room for cowardice.

They do occasionally allow themselves the odd, wistful moment to ponder the fates of products gone by. Andrew says he gets funny looks from customers buying gnomes (pounds 4.50) when he says: "I do hope he's going to a good home with a nice, big garden; they like to run around at night, you know." There are some products to which Andrew and Craig have become rather attached. A beautifully restored, genuine Fifties fridge has presided over the store since it opened, and at pounds 1,500 is the most expensive item in stock. (The cheapest, and that word is used advisedly, costs about pounds 1.) Craig admits he would be sad to see it go. Andrew is struck by the beauty of the Corona tray from Mexico, "a classic piece of 50s kitsch". They have been spotted in shops in London for up to pounds 35, but at Kitschen Sync can be snapped up for a tenner because shopping's so much more exciting when you can buy lots of fabulous things instead of just one. Alessi's lovely, they say, but there's nothing fun about paying 35 quid for a garlic-crusher.

Kitschen Sync is, above all, accessible. Stock is well sourced and the prices are genuinely good. And you don't have to be cool to love it. One customer reported that he liked to turn on his pink and orange Indian chandeliers (pounds 19-pounds 45) in the hall and sit in his living-room with the lights off, watching the expressions of passers-by. You can never be lonely in puce.

Kitschen Sync can be found at 9, The Pavement, Clapham Common, London SW4. Opening hours are 10:30am- 7pm Mon-Fri, 10.30am-6pm Sat and 11am-5pm Sun. To request a catalogue or to order, call 0171-720 1609. Watch this space for news of a website