Debate at the heart of Valentine’s Day

Missoni, Vivienne Westwood and the Eames brothers designed heart products for the home. But, are they cool? Asks Annie Deakin.

I’m having a Valentine dilemma. Home is where the heart is and all that, but can heart-adorned products ever be hip? Instead of facing the blizzards and overpriced Valentine restaurants tomorrow, doe-eyed couples are more likely to flirt at home and exchange heart-shaped gifts.

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The heart symbol has evolved from the ivy leaf shape of ancient Roman art into the over-used vulgarism it is today. Since the days of courtly love in the Middle Ages, the familiar red motif has cropped up on playing decks, tapestries and paintings. Usually a lurid red, the heart denotes blood, passion and strong emotion. Shop windows this week burst with paper hearts and gimmicky gifts.

Most Valentine creations - that mass of heart-shaped trinkets and pink fluff - sit on the unsightly end of the design spectrum. Some say the heart is a botched attempt at drawing a human heart, others swear it’s more akin to that of a cow. Over time, it changed shape from being 3-D in 17th century drawings to today’s 2-D silhouette. In the Forties, the Eames brothers showed their appreciation of folk art by punching out a heart shape (both for decoration and as a handle) in the backrest their Child’s Chair.

Heart paraphernalia has since proliferated beyond the kitsch to the downright nasty Valentine tat. Hideous, or heartening? If you ask me, impractical whimsical Valentine gifts are forgivable, only if edible or disposable. Last year, I sent a dozen heart-shaped Krispy Kreme doughnuts topped with pink and red sprinklings to my husband's office. "Be my sweetheart, sugar puff" read the message. He was mortified, his colleagues, sugar-high, and I thought it hilarious. The whole palaver was over in ten minutes. Similarly, indoor heart-shaped sparklers hit the right chord of cheesy, charming and finished in a flash (literally). The tacky Valentine thought counts for more when it doesn’t stick around. Being edible or disposable excuses a thousand sins.

This year’s recession won’t impede Cupid but it may slow him down. Hopefully, the pulling on purse strings will reign in the soppy heart-shaped junk purchased this week. Does anyone over the age of eight really crave a heart-imprinted toaster or mould for creating heart-shaped fried eggs? Once the joke is over, the tat will be stashed out of sight and reality of wasting money a sober reality.

Irrelevant of price tag, it can be tricky to define what’s "cheap" and what’s chic with heart adorned products. Like the sea-tide, the line shifts relentlessly. Its meaning differs according to context. If you see a heart on a door in Sweden, don’t expect romance - it is associated with loos for both sexes. And in Japan, it is the buoyant corporate symbol of a bank.

Le Creuset’s heart-shaped casserole dish perches precariously close to being deemed tacky. And yet, its popularity soars yearly among my design-savvy peers. Folk deem it irresistible. Other designs have not fared so well. What works in fashion often doesn’t transpire tastefully to the interior market. Dress-maker Diane von Furstenburg’s "Spiral Heart" rug and fashion legend Vivienne Westwood’s "Love heart" rug, both made with Tibetan wool, fall by the wayside. Instead of cutting edge, the rugs better suit a teenage girl’s bedroom.

Missoni, the fashion house which combines prints and colours with wild abandon, lends itself well to the tongue-in-cheek heart shape. Available in a multitude of patterns, certain Missoni Home heart-shaped poufs are fabulous, others farcical. While I covet the monochrome signature zig-zag print Berlin heart pouf, I reckon the Leopard print pouf is grounds for divorce. Verner Panton’s iconic Vitra heart chair caused much debate. Its large projecting wings, evocative of Mickey Mouse ears, give a heart-shaped outline. Is it cool or is it naf? It works if, and only if, it is recognised as a statement piece and positioned away from anything remotely pink or fluffy. Still, most men I know would run a mile from it.

Design-led creations flourish where others fall short. While Wedgewood went into receivership in January, production lines at the pottery workshops of Emma Bridgewater continue to thrive. Their charming heart-imprinted range is justifiably popular. One Valentine’s Day at University - when the opposite sex was out of favour - my flatmates swapped Emma Bridgewater heart-mugs as a gesture of friendship.

Buying into Valentine nonsense is illogical, even laughable but I’m a sucker for the odd heart-shaped product at home. Instead of a full blown love affair, I like to flirt with the heart trend.

Annie Deakin is Editor of mydeco.com

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