Ceramic, cactus-shaped chairs. Butterfly-shaped chairs rendered in ombre pink silk. Shell-shaped couches. Phones shaped like open mouths. Louis Vuitton monogrammed toilets. These items might be ugly, but they’re also the newest trend in home decor.
I’ve always had an interest in unconventional decor, but over the past year, I’ve started buying more “ugly” things for my apartment. I recently bought a 1950s needlepoint piece that depicts two women reading a book with the phrase “Drink Dr. Pepper” emblazoned above them, and a neon blue glass hand that stands upright, on which I plan to stack my rings. I’ve also made not one but two big — and arguably ugly– lamp purchases from antique markets. One has a gold base with three huge lotus flowers spiraling up to the top. The other has a three-feet tall pleated lampshade hanging over a fake gold rococo design and two flowers, which the bulbs go inside of. My boyfriend hates them and practically begged me not to bring the lotus lamp into my apartment, but when I saw them, I had to have them.
I loved that the lamps stood out from the sea of conventional and tiresome vintage furniture around them. Both were pink, both were massive (probably too big for a New York City apartment, to be honest) and both looked like things I’d never seen anywhere else. I knew that both lamps would be conversation-starters; none of my house guests would have the exact same lamps as me! (This happens all too often with my IKEA and Urban Outfitters purchases.)
This movement of ugly design in home decor kicked into full gear just a few years ago, with niche Instagram accounts like DecorHardcore leading the way. DecorHardcore built up its cult following by posting so-bad-they’re-good photos of home interiors and décor found on eBay (or more recently, ironic décor sourced by DecorHardcore’s over 160k followers). Another popular Instagram account, UglyDesign, also founded in 2015, posts things that are so ugly, it’s comical—such as a Teletubbies-themed bench, a bicycle covered in baguettes and a glass table with a strange, sculpted child as the base. Like DecorHardcore, the account has gained such a large following that fans often DM or tag the account with their own finds. “I can’t speak for others, but I personally got bored to death with IKEA’s all lookalike pieces,” DecorHardcore founder Ksenia Shestakovskai‘s told me when I asked her why she started her account.
Ironically, earlier this year, Fast Company declared that IKEA had released its ugliest collection yet, with leopard print rugs and glasses stained with fake lipstick marks. Whether intentional or not, the brand that all the cool people are trying to get away from has now dipped its toe into ugly aesthetics. It’s officially a trend. There has always been a certain group of niche designers who weave irony into their décor and furnishing, such as Nanda Vigo or Studio Job, both favorites of the aforementioned Instagram accounts. But why is this trend becoming a big deal right now? Why are people like me suddenly willing to buy ugly lamps when they might not have done so just last year? Could it be the ever-shifting landscape in fashion, which has a profound impact on our tastes, politics, culture, and perception of what’s cool? Brands like Balenciaga, Fendi and Louis Vuitton have convinced most of us that the coolest sneakers to wear right now are giant, chunky and rendered in various shades of chewed gum. Then there’s the ugly sunglasses trend, with designers like Adam Selman and Alessandro Michele leading the charge in shrinking lenses smaller and smaller. Not to mention brands like Vetements and Off-White, which practically specialize in irony these days. Maybe our taste for ugly was was bound to move from our closets and into our living rooms.
Or perhaps, just as maximalist fashion trends often follow minimalist ones, ugly home decor is simply a reaction to the stark, minimal homes that proliferated design blogs for years. “There is a saturation of minimalist décor available,” Jonas Nyffenegger and Sebastien Mathys, founders of the UglyDesign account told me. “Everything starts to look alike and people want and need more eccentricity and fun. Ugliness or maximalist is a cool theme because it is fascinating and much deeper than minimalist. Possibilities seem endless.” Fashion designer Dries Van Noten once said, “Nothing is so boring as something beautiful.” A pretty dress or a modern chair with clean lines is something we’ve all seen before. A weird lotus lamp is not. Ugly design can still be well-made, high quality and even luxurious; what’s key, though, is that it’s unique.
Where does this leave us? According to the owners of UglyDesign and DecorHardcore, ugly home decor isn’t going away any time soon. Both say that people contact them often to try to purchase the items in their posts. As for me, my goal is to have as many ugly lamps in my life as possible. My biggest recent regret is not buying a 1950s-era clear inflatable stool that had a fake rose inside. My friend told me it was ugly. But I should have told her: Ugly is in.
Feature image by Horst P.Horst/Conde Nast via Getty Images.