The German word “kitsch” describes objects perceived as tacky or tasteless. Such designs tend to be cartoonishly cute. Think kewpie dolls, garden gnomes and pink plastic flamingos. New items of whimsical kitsch make an appearance every decade: The 1940s saw chalkware carnival prizes, the 1950s introduced hula girl nodders and the 1960s ushered in lava lamps. Engrained in pop culture, such designs tug irrationally at the heartstrings.
Despite their excessive sentimentality, kitschy items can infuse one’s décor with lightheartedness. In the right setting, kitschy items can even become objects of envy rather than scorn. A little bad taste can be like a splash of bright color in lightening up a room’s mood. When seeking kitschy items possessed of such fun, look no further than GasLamp.
Who’s doing the hunting here? The fox is usually the prey, but in this about-face, he is smartly attired as the huntsman, complete with a horn to communicate with the hounds ($65; Booth S-944). This fox doorstop, made of iron, wears white breeches with a scarlet coat completed by black boots and a matching hat. Nearly a foot tall, this kitschy fellow can bring a smile to a door near you. Tally-ho!
Suppose a plastic flamingo doesn’t fit your home’s brand identity; up your game with this metal beauty designed for the most discriminating of lawns ($89; Booth T-317). This pink flamingo’s feathers are created with layers of metal to give it a handcrafted look. This eye-catching avian has a metal body painted gradated shades of glossy pink. At four feet tall, it will create some quirky curb appeal.
In the 17th century, tobacconists advertised their wares with “cigar store Indians” inspired by Native Americans. This pair of kitschy bookends features Native American busts that remind one of cigar store carvings (but without the objectional use of promoting tobacco use as recreational instead of ceremonial). Each bookend is hand-carved with sharp features and a colorful headdress, making for a dramatic look ($125; Booth T-379). These vintage bookends would charm various settings, from those decorated in a Western or Americana theme to non-themed rooms that kitsch would liven up.
Muskie Muskrat (of the Deputy Dawg cartoon), Mighty Mouse and Pluto are beloved characters from the 1930s to 1960s. In 1963, Colgate-Palmolive co-opted their likenesses for a plastic figural bubble-bath container called a Soaky ($12 each; Booth T-911). The Soaky was an early “toy when empty” product, and the bottles were made into many characters, including Bugs Bunny, Tweety, Frankenstein, Wolfman and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It doesn’t get much kitschier than a Soaky. A collection of colorful Soakies would make for a colorful décor ensemble on a shelf in a bathroom (especially a child’s bathroom).
The official mascot of the Michelin tire company is a chubby man composed of white tires formally known as “Bibendum.” He was initially painted in 1898 by the French poster artist O’Galop, and now Bibendum is one of the world’s most recognized trademarks.
This bobblehead design is a promotional item featuring the iconic and highly kitschy Michelin Man with his dog (Booth T-911). It would fit in perfectly into a car lover’s office.
While the rise of kitsch might bring on the vapors for some discriminating aesthetes, it is here to stay. There are many ways to make kitsch work in one’s home or place of business. When folding kitsch into one’s décor, collections can be a key to unification. A friend of mine covered the walls of her café, gallery style, in paint-by-number paintings from the 1950s and 1960s. Against olive green walls, this cohesive collection created statement-making décor from flea-market finds that, on their own, held no actual aesthetic value. Another friend of mine collects ceramic hand-shaped figurines. By arranging this collection neatly on shelves, she curated an eye-catching display.
If you treasure hunt at GasLamp, you will be sure to find a kitschy theme for a collection or a one-off item of kitsch to be displayed in a primo spot. Simply loosen up, think lightheartedly and get to shopping.
Product photos by David Wariner; header photo by Martin Lostak for Unsplash.