Design Trends, Ideas + Inspiration

On Our Radar: Avant-Garde Design

On the outer edge of popular culture is the avant garde. Defined as “new and unusual or experimental ideas, especially in the arts, or the people introducing them,” this vanguard has always pushed the envelope and re-imagined the world.

The avant garde are those that often shock as well. Dismissed by some, hailed by others, the avant garde generally concepts or designs work challenge the population and draw passionate responses. Some of these concepts are just experimental and exist as a mirror onto the times they were made in, and some hang on becoming cultural cornerstones that define generations or movements.

And while the avant garde might not directly translate to designing our homes, this is a dynamic, fun place to find inspiration for stepping up your own interior design. Here are a few out-there inspirations:

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Sometimes it is as simple as turning an idea on its head. Viktor and Rolf are avant-garde fashion denizens of their own right. The two took their signature sense of surrealism and whimsy to the walls when designing their first showroom in Milan.

In this bizarre masterpiece, the whole shop is upside down. The arched doors become gently curved benches. The calm and collected classic design amplifies an uncanny feeling. While having all your furniture mounted to the ceiling is not the most practical approach, take from this the idea of using something in a way it is not intended. Place things in spaces they don’t traditionally go. Mount a picture upside down. Let yourself be shocked by looking at the same old space in a fully new way.

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Another master of pushing the envelope, Marcel Wanders dials up the sense of whimsy to 11 in the spaces of his design house Moooi. These showroom shots feature two highly evocative spaces created in their showrooms.

Both these feature a signature of the Moooi brand: contrasting colors. The bright white pops off the shocking retina as if they were popping off the wall. It’s an excellent way to capture the eye and challenge the senses it using a high contrast color palette.

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Another fantastic tool you see used here is repetition, especially on a large scale. The Moooi Horse Lamp may be a little too large to run a row down your hallway, but think about how you can create visual repetition. These lamps also feature another great tool for adding an avant-garde fair to your space: scale. While many people have horse sculptures in their homes, how many of them are, quite literally, horse sized? Creating an animal form in the actual scale of the living animal is unexpected and can be a shock. Looks for items that channel the commonly expected scale for their form.

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Scale can apply to time as well. Sometimes what is cutting edge is a re-imagination of the past. This salon almost vibrates with 80’s era patterns and colors. The amped up interpretation of spaces from that time becomes a fully new experience.

Look towards the past and exaggerate the stereotypes. This clash of old in new eyes can be quite a visual treat, or jarring depending on your take.

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Not all avant-garde spaces are jarring. Some can overwhelm you using a more elegant touch. The stunning space of the Louvre Abu Dhabi provide a grand sweep of design. What is smart about this space is the juxtaposition of the richly detailed, pierced ceiling and the staggered stark cubes of the galleries all being lapped at by the clear blue water of the gulf.

The takeaway? Think of grand juxtapositions, detailed versus simple, bright versus dark or white versus blank. These all catch our eye and our attention.

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Avant-garde design does not just rely on commercial spaces to be able to work. This fabulous hotel room bath plays shows how you can use these design concepts on a more intimate scale. The trick being used here is the play of geometry and volume in a space. The built up walls heighten the feeling of living inside an origami crane with the added depth to the walls and the meticulous continuation of the crown moldings and chair rail along the broken lines.

The whole effect is reinforced through contrasted colors and simple, angular, asymmetrical plumbing fixtures popping against the sickly green walls.

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Some designers can be the face of a whole movement and still stay in the vanguard. Designer Karim Rashid has been noted for decades for championing the post-post-modern shift towards a rounder, organic and asymmetric design. These wild curves, and sumptuous blobs capture the computer-aided zeitgeist of the late 90s and early 00s.

Here he sticks to his principals using many of the tricks we have seen before. The sharp contrast of the shiny fuchsia and white alien reception desk that seems to have dropped though the massive industrial skylight above provides sharp juxtaposition that garners the title. The space becomes an exercise in human emotion and practical design, creating a functional focal point that vibrates with color in the larger, starker corporate feeling space. It effectively draws you in to the place you are intended to go.

While quite ephemeral, what makes the avant-garde just that is the challenge. These are not spaces that one feels incredibly comfortable in; rather, they challenge the mind, the spirt and of course convention. Tread carefully and you can use these lessons to create a space in your home that will engage and enthrall you, your family and guests.

Cody Torgersrud

Cody Torgersrud

Cody Torgersrud is part of the sales team for YDesign Group, which works directly with customers who call and email in. When not remodeling his 1950s bungalow, Cody enjoys refinishing vintage and antique furniture, as well as binging on British TV.

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