Laughable interiors: humourous designs that might (or might not) make you chuckle

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The Independent Online

Since the recession struck a year and a half ago, designs with a "humourous" edge are on the rise with irony, wit and lashings of absurdity cropping up all over the interiors sector.

But, while not many people would argue with a reason to smile, sometimes, one has to question whether humour in the home décor should ever stray further than a novelty cushion, a silly apron or, better yet, be eternally relegated to the downstairs loo.

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"The use of humour in design can be difficult to master, the key factor being that design should always look practical," says Ryan Kohn, director of Interior Architectural, Design and Build company, Living in Space, who warns that “pointless ‘funny’ items around the home can often look ridiculous."

To most of us, that might sound obvious, but it's amazing how many "joke", or should I say "junk", items end up in our homes. This is especially true at Christmas, something I know too well having once received a tacky plastic book stand - funny for all the wrong reasons, not least because it said "Happy Birthday!" proudly across the top.

But there are ways of injecting humour into an interior without making it too "silly", says Kohn.

One of the biggest interior trends of the last two years with a big dash of humour, he points out, has been along the Alice in Wonderland theme. This trend has been typified by oversized items such as Diamantini & Domeniconi Gomitolo’s enormous knitted wall clock at Rockett St George, Holly Palmer’s Tea Cup Stool at Mocha or Anthroplogie's piled up tea set lamp. Meanwhile, at this year’s design week in Milan, Dutch designer Marcel Wanders and French furniture manufacturing company xO exhibited their Alice-inspired "eden" collection of monumental ceramic vases, tables and stools, which had been shaped into the pawn pieces of a chess game. Adding an element of humour with one or two high quality, design-focused items, and combining them with your current décor, helps you to be stylish without being silly, the main point being, says Kohn, that "you carefully tread the line between kitsch, humourous and downright ridiculous."

So, while the bone china cup and saucer featuring a "bite-mark" design from Evthokia is both playful and stylish, referencing notions of etiquette and gently poking fun at traditional values; the Terrorist Tea Pot from SUCK UK, complete with balaclava-style tea cosy, is of the humour your home could probably live without.

Likewise, while it's a "tick" to Julian Appelius' highly modern "pulpo" coat hooks, which look like brightly coloured paint dripping down a wall; the more obviously "funny" Regnah Hange hook from Meninos, is taking the joke a step too far.

Homeowners aren't the only ones who should take to humour with care. Indeed, those designers who attempt to add an amusing or ironic edge to their creations face extra challenges if they wish their design to be successful. At this year's New Designers exhibition, Jack Wilesmith told the joke well with his Sit Stool, which was inspired by his old teachers telling him not to lean back on his chair, or risk hurting himself. The design lets the sitter "lean in safety" on his chair, thus turning his childish tendency and the familiar worry of grown-ups on its head.

"I try to find humour in anything I do, especially design" says Jack, "I believe subtlety is the key. I go about designing in the same way that a stand-up comedian would go about their shows: I stand back and look at life, spot the silly things people do and poke fun at them."

It's important that you can justify why you have designed something the way you have, he says, and, sometimes, it's just good to "feel like you're 12 again."

Humourous design should surprise and amuse. It should be subtle and clever. Use it with care, or the joke might be on you

Emily Jenkinson is interiors writer for furniture and interior design website mydeco.com.

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