In Praise of “Bad Taste”
This story is part of Pretty Ugly, a package celebrating design that’s so bad, it’s good.
There’s an object in the window of a dusty electronics store near my apartment that haunts my dreams—a statue of a white horse standing on its hind legs, golden hooves beating the air for all eternity. Its saddle is gold, as is its mane; its head is permanently cocked to the front, as if considering the person looking at it. It sits amongst the faux Tiffany lamps and air conditioners in musty boxes, hardly the ugliest thing in the store itself, but certainly one of the most ostentatious. I love it for its gaudiness, its opulence, and how it evokes the foyer of a particularly grand McMansion at the end of a cul-de-sac on Long Island, decked out in smoked glass and brass as far as the eye can see. The horse itself is objectively ugly, but to me, it’s perfect. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but so, too, is ugliness. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, but to me, bad taste is actually good.
My approach towards decor leans towards gaudiness with a touch of dusty antique store and relies heavily on books as functional objects and decoration, simply because there are a lot of them in my apartment. Had I my way, the horse statue that I haven’t purchased would be my aesthetic lodestar, transforming my regular apartment into something that’s a little Golden Girls, with a healthy dollop of Miami drug kingpin chic. This is not for everyone. Beauty is inherently subjective, though there are things that, I suppose, are considered traditionally beautiful. Good design—functional design, clean design, design that exists to make life easier, not harder, the kind we talk about all the time at my place of work—is beautiful because it’s utilitarian. But the simplicity inherent in good design can feel stifling.
A gorgeous home, replete with clean lines and the kind of kitchen where it is sort of difficult to figure out how to open a drawer, can be a breath of fresh air; on the other hand, no one wants to live in a museum. It is not my place to yuck anyone’s yum, but understanding what works in a home is a purely personal matter. A tech bazillionaire’s glass box of a home, perched high on a cliff above the hoi polloi, kitted out with bells, whistles, and a $13,000 range in the pristine kitchen screams wealth when it really intends to whisper. Sure, it’s tasteful, but is there any soul? In comparison, the Mob Wives-adjacent aesthetic that comes to mind when you think of bad taste is far more wide-ranging and therefore more interesting than its counterpart.
Consider the home of Ivana Trump, an 8,735 square foot townhouse on the Upper East Side that’s currently on the market for $26.5 million. There is nothing redeeming about the home, besides its location and bones, but that’s what makes it fun. It’s fitting that Donald Trump’s ex-wife lived in what is essentially a gilded cage, but even if leopard print Louis XVI chairs and Rococo embellishments as far as the eye can see aren’t quite your cup of tea, the spirit of opulence and of kitsch deserves consideration. Sure, living in these rooms as is would be just as stifling as the minimalist box, but the exuberance and joie de vivre that some might call "hideous" is actually some semblance of taste. (Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Bel Air mansion is a dialed down version of Trump’s palatial dump, but spiritually, they are similar in their dedication to an over-the-top, hyper-feminine aesthetic that screams "money!")
Trump’s Lexington Avenue townhouse is an exercise in kitsch—a beautiful tribute to the gluttonous excess of the ’80s—and also serves as a model for the aforementioned Mob Wives glamour that I crave. And what’s a little reassuring is that this sort of maximalist approach to decor seems to be coming back—a mass revolt fomenting in opposition to Scandi blonde woods and hygge, one that is cropping up in little corners everywhere. Chef and author Rick Martinez, formerly of Bon Appétit, has been undergoing a recent Guadalajara renovation project that features bold choices with pattern, tile, and marble which are, if anything, representative of his strong point of view, something at least one of the design experts Dwell recently spoke to about their 2023 trend forecasts predicted would continue. Ligne Roset’s Togo couch is a minimalist sofa with maximalist tendencies—though it’s a classic design that is essentially timeless, in some lights, it resembles Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar. And, just last week, Michael Imperioli’s AD tour of his New York apartment, clearly designed with love by his wife, dropped in all its very specific glory.
Having bad taste leaves room for personality and for strong opinions. It is a corrective against the overall homogenization of design—couches and coffee tables and credenzas from furniture companies that are essentially churning out products that are derivative of each other. There’s certainly something for everybody, as that’s the beauty of living in a world simply brimming with choice, but there’s something to be said for choosing the thing that scares you the most.
Top Illustration by Aart-Jan Venema.
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