Here’s How to Bring a Space to Life With Playful Design, According to Designers

published Jul 10, 2022
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I’m always captivated by spaces that feature some kind of unexpected element — or several surprises — as you progress through a home from room to room. There’s something so welcoming and cheery about bold pattern mixing, oversized artwork, and quirky accent pieces that tell a story.

That said, some people need a bit of a push to think outside the box in their homes. It can be daunting to stray from what’s simple and familiar for the risk-averse, and embracing loud design isn’t always easy if you’re someone who shies away from color or ornamentation. The thing is, you can have fun in your space without straying too far from your decorating style, and design pros say that leaning into playful touches can bring a lot of worthwhile joy and personality to your home. Here’s why designers are all for embracing the vibrant and whimsical in their projects plus why — and some ideas on how — you can consider getting a little weird in your interiors, too.

“A bit of whimsy in a home is always a great way to spark curiosity and enticement,” says Zuni Madera, the design director at foley&cox. “Add a touch of whimsical surprise with a quirky yet functional statement light fixture, an over-scaled yet comfy iconic lounge chair, or witty yet collectable artwork. Playful rooms transport the imagination to another place.”

Designer Megan Hopp, who created the funky, fun living room below, expresses similar sentiments. “Whimsical spaces are the name of the game over at my firm, and my goal is always to push a design as far as it can go in terms of color, pattern, and whimsy without ever making it a joke,” she says. “Interior design’s super power is transporting a person all while remaining in the same space as before, and for me, there’s no better place to be than a whimsical landing pad.” Hopp leans into leopard print, punchy pinks, and statement light fixtures on the regular, and she also looks for uniquely shaped furnishings, such as the squiggle base coffee table as seen here from Bend Goods.

Oftentimes, the most playful pieces in a home have memorable or even comical backstories. “I personally ordered (what I thought) were two green ceramic elephant side tables, but when they arrived, they were tiny little statues barely big enough for a single drink,” designer Alexandra Kaehler shares. “They now live flanking a bench in my foyer, and I love their quirkiness.” This example proves even the silliest purchases or mistakes (like that chair you bought on eBay for your living room that ended up being a piece of dollhouse furniture) can turn into charming additions within your home; use tiny pieces to style out a shelf instead.

Keep your eyes peeled for funky items when you thrift or travel, too. The best way to start getting a little weird with some interesting furnishings is to start with accessories or decorative accent pieces that aren’t major investments — a colorful shaped candle here, a thrifted picture frame there. Then you can step it up from these smaller things if you feel so inclined. Consider yourself a foodie? Buy the corn-shaped side table. It’ll make you smile every time you see it. Were you into cloud prints as a kid? Try sheets or a bathmat that sports that pattern now. These furnishings will be a little surprise when you roll your more serious, hotel-style bedding down at bedtime (or go to brush your teeth in the bathroom each in the morning and night).

Credit: Jessica Rapp

Along those lines, looking to incorporate playful touches but aren’t ready to coat your entire home in colorful prints and paint? Start your playful design journey by focusing on a petite space first, such as a playroom if you have children, or a powder room if you don’t. “I think it’s always nice to have a space in your home that lifts your spirits, inspires creativity, and provides a good photo opp, even if it’s just a small corner,” designer Hema Persad says. “Hallways are also a good opportunity — try painting a hallway in an unexpected color like black or pink and adding some fun light fixtures.” You just might find that giving a small space a shot of playful energy inspires you to do the same elsewhere in your home.