Some good old humour!
Streamlined interiors with a couple of designer objects placed on a shelf are regularly featured in the media. A stylist comes in and perhaps moves the object a few centimetres to the right or left. While such a format may appeal to minimalists or those wanting to unclutter their homes, there are those who prefer the pleasure of living with what some would refer to as ‘kitsch’.
Suzie Stanford, a designer and ‘finder’, has surrounded herself with furniture and objects that not only bring a smile but also tell a story. Her collection of cake toppers is beautifully displayed in a glass designer cabinet from the 1980s. Some would say that this cabinet was designed for a few pieces of glass or high-end objects and artifacts. But the cake toppers probably mean more to Stanford than her own designer chairs she may have discovered in an antique market or second-hand store.
Stanford’s mother and father, both ballroom dancers (you may remember Stanford’s parents who featured in Baz Luhrman’s film Strictly Ballroom) initiated her fascination for cake toppers. Stanford’s first cake topper was from her parents’ wedding cake, beautifully wrapped in a small box on the couple’s dressing room table. “When I discovered it, I asked my mother if she would leave it to me when she dies.” This delightful cake topper was passed onto Stanford immediately after her question was asked.
Other cake toppers in Stanford’s collection are not as emotionally charged as the one given to her by her mother. But each one recalls a story or a sense, in one case, of accepting partners for the long-term. One pair features a radiant couple on one side. On the other, the husband is now bald and his wife shows the effects of having a good life, rather than an active life.
Then there’s the cake topper with the term ‘good lock’ rather than ‘luck’ emblazoned on the newlyweds. Purchased from a reception centre who produced these cake toppers in the 1970s to present to all couples to adorn their wedding cakes, the manufacturer has obviously mucked up production. “You have to laugh. Isn’t it magical?” says Stanford, who often releases the figurines from their display case and finds various spots for them in her house. “My partner would prefer that I display these in a bathroom at the back of the house. But each one has a different story,” says Stanford, who has multiples of the same cake topper, but hand-painted in different colours.
Kieron Ogden, retail manager of the Chapel Street Bazaar, in Prahan, Melbourne, has seen a move towards the loved and kitsch in more rent times. While many of the items sold in the market are unlikely to find their way into designer magazines, they are proving popular with those people who appreciate the time and effort made to produce these things. “A woman recently bought a crocheted covered glass bottle. It was made to look like a poodle,” says Ogden, pointing out how the ears flapped around. It is a distinct look, but so are macramé wall hangings. “They’re a salute to a bygone era as much as poking fun at the more serious design objects.” And as many of these items at the Chapel Street Bazaar were mass-produced at the time, the pleasure of buying them doesn’t hurt the hip pocket.
Architects Jane McDougal and David Beynon of Alsocan Architects, also enjoy surrounding themselves with what others may refer to as kitsch. Their three-level home, in Richmond, is filled with a number of collections. There’s the couple’s collection of vinyl records from the 1960s and ‘70s. They also have a collection of salt and peppershakers lined up on their kitchen sill. “We’re not the type of people who go for a singular object on a glass shelf,” says McDougall, who admits to having a ‘hoarding gene’.
The salt and peppershakers are mainly second-hand, found in markets or street stalls. There’s the set shaped in the form of pineapples, as well as a pair of identical sets in the form of a Dalek from the Doctor Who television series, thought to be from the 1990s. And of course, no shaker set would be complete without sweet corn for the table setting. In another corner of the kitchen are paprika tins from a Spanish company. The label, Los Novios, Spanish for newlyweds, features a series of happy 1950s couples. “You certainly wouldn’t call this tin collection ‘high design’. But you have to appreciate the time and effort people put into making these things,” says Beynon. “It’s also extremely pleasurable walking into a space where there’s some humour. These things also say something about who we are,” adds McDougall.
Text by Stephen Crafti