The way we live now: Baroque'n'roll

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The Independent Online

When a trad cartoon character goes into a scary Grand House, it's always decorated in cartoon Baroco. The furniture's always drawn as over-scaled with overstated shapes and very curly-whirly detailing – ie. Baroque plus Rococo. And you always get very high colour contrasts because old cartoons couldn't do gold or mellow wood. It's a universal language for comedy grandeur that's been imprinted on tiny minds the world over because it's flamboyant and childish.

Ten years ago I painted a couple of z-quality repro French armchairs white and had them upholstered in livid fabric as a bit of fun. The white "decontaminated" the original tacky fake dark-wood finish, the bright fabric made it modern ... Post-Modern actually. Latterly people have asked me whether they come from Sir Paul Smith's tremendously smart Albemarle Street furnishing shop, or Mr Whoever in Milan. What seemed an obvious idea has become a mini-trend – a look you buy in shops. Directional shops, fashionable ones, shops that until recently have been serving up the New Modern (young Euro designers) and the Mid-Century Modern Classic revival sort of thing (Scandi greats, Eames and so forth).

But now, in the windows – because it's got kerbside impact – you're seeing Cartoon Baroco. It's usually lacquered in eyeball-searing colours – orange, scarlet, fuchsia – and set against a contrasting background, just like the castle Dangermouse creeps into. It's in reassuring, safe, modern, expensive places. And the shapes and colours are so exaggerated – so cartoony – you can't miss that this is what smart architects and designers call "playful" design. A commode (French for chest of drawers) must be exaggerated to the max. No chaise longue can survive without a throne-like high-back at one end.

There's an awful lot going on there. Yet it looks very new, a lot of fun and like a clever send-up of a mass of interior decoration conventions and clichés. If you're bored by "clean lines", Mid-Century Modern Masters, and anything pale and conceptual, and hanker after the impact of early Pop decoration, you'll find this look attractive. It uses elements you might find in DFS, or footballers' Alderley Edge McMansions. In other words, some elements are stupendously vulgar. But rendered by knowing Italians – the leading protagonist in this particular New Look is Creatzione – with the new colour palette and the references intact it's simply very smart.

You're beginning to see knock-offs all over the place; although properly trained designers feel uncomfortable with this vernacular. So they'll do a little twiddleyness in, say, some table legs, but do it in polished steel rather than lacquer to keep their distance and show that Design still rules OK.

If you're going for Baroque-plus- Rococo, employ some kitschy-clever detailing: nothing better than a butterfly display to fulfil that brief

The elaborate sofa frame and table are exaggerated like a computer rendering, outlined to make them cartoony

This room is thoroughly contrapuntal – ie. eclectic (observe the elaborate screens) with strong modern elements (note clean lines of the hanging pictures )

The cushion covers connote a new kind of vaguely Jeff Koonsy kitsch; novelty fabrics are essential for this "playful" look

The Cartoon Baroco look draws on the Thirties and Forties for furniture design – Vogue Regency, Hollywood Regency – as well as Pop (just look at the colour of that wall)

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