Making magic with Alice in Wonderland

New Spring/Summer home collections unveil oversized furniture and a very Burton-esque play with scale
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The Independent Online

Designers, in both fashion and interior worlds, have gone completely potty for Alice in Wonderland in the run-up to Tim Burton's much-anticipated fantasy film out early March.

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There's no need to tumble down the rabbit hole to enter Lewis Caroll's fantastical world and discover how playing with scale brings a whole new dimension. Instead, look to the Spring/Summer 2010 collections hitting the high street over the next few weeks. On the home front, Habitat, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer are releasing oversized furniture while fashion designers Alice Temperley, Stella McCartney and Christopher Kane are creating Alice-inspired whimsical frocks.

" Alice in Wonderland is a big inspiration for me both at home and in the store," says interior designer Abigail Ahern who launched a collection based on the classic book at The Shop at Bluebird last summer. "I love creating a magical world whereby a cacophony of furnishings and accessories (think different shapes, colours and textures) are set against dark walls. Magic happens when you start playing with scale – big oversized objects in small rooms, tiny teeny furnishings in large rooms look incredibly theatrical and way more impressive than they really are."

Designer illustrator Johanna Basford is equally intrigued by the book's play on scale and its reverberations in the real world; "'Alice in Wonderland Syndrome' is a disorientating neurological condition which affects perception," discovered the Scottish artist best known for her whimsical black and white illustrations. "Sufferers experience Micropsia (things appearing smaller than they actually are) or Macropsia (can you guess?). There's not much science behind the whole thing, but it seems it is a childhood disease, which sufferers tend to grow out of in their teens. It got me to thinking about scale, our perceptions of it, how altering the scale of an object changes our emotive reactions and perceived value of it."

As Basford argues, changing scale plays with our pre-determined judgments. A sofa four times the expected size will spark a reaction – something the new Spring collections are currently doing. At Marks and Spencer, there is a fantastic – and gigantic – pair of wooden scissors (£65) being sold as wall art and an Oversized Task Floor Lamp (£125) that changes our perceived value of lighting. The mischievous proportions of this supersized lamp – and of the now-iconic Giant Anglepoise lamp (£1,900 and three times bigger than the original) – lend an Alice in Wonderland magic.

In Habitat's new Spring/ Summer 2010 collection, the outsized Button Pots, available in red, pink and purple, play on scale – rather like their popular oversized baubles back at Christmas. Over at John Lewis, proportions were likewise skewed in their new Spring/ Summer 2010 collection which features a wooden pen pot shaped like a colossal pencil sharpener (£15).

Oversized teacups in the home – either used as stools or quirky plant pots – is becoming a relatively widespread trend with obvious links to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. London designer Gitta Gschwendtner created the enormously successful giant plant teacup pots (which stand tall at 27cm high) have originally as part of an installation at the Geffrye Museum. Another iconic oversized object is La Boheme Fat Stool for Kartell by Philippe Starck; he turned what looks like a very large vase into a stool.

So is the world going mad? Here's hoping that Burton’s film will inspire people to play with oversized furniture.

"Scale in my humble opinion is so under rated,” insists Ahern. "Too many people are scared of it and yet I beg you to try – you will, I promise, become a convert."

Annie Deakin is Editor of furniture and interior design website