The Bleak & The Blue: Home Decorating for Artists and Writers


This is Frida Kahlo’s backyard. On the left, you can just barely see inside through the back door, and standing just above head level is a paper mache monster, arms outstretched. Frida’s house was full of such figures, the kinds of strange folk art that inspired her the most. Biographies of the artist show pictures of her inside a home that would never make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens–it’s cluttered, sometimes tacky, and visually staggering. But it is not a space decorated for hosting chic dinner parties or relaxing after a long day in the board room. It is a space decorated and designed to stimulate an artist to create work.

For the last two years, I have had to work very hard to siphon up anything out of my well of stories. The part of me that dreams has felt … empty, as if what I had left inside it was choked with mud. I’ve gotten some good things out of there, but at the result of much harder work than I used to use, and with much more polishing and scrubbing to get it shipshape.

For the last two years, I’ve lived in a house that my husband and I haven’t actually decorated. We used to live in a larger apartment, and over the years of living there, we had filled the place with artwork. Even the ceiling was decorated–we hung dried leaves and tiny Lego sculptures on fishing line. But since we’ve been here in our house, we’ve been struggling to make decisions about decor. We wanted to get to know the house. And we wanted things to look, well,  pretty.

Last week, I finally, finally got a copy of Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which I’ve had on hold at the library since December. And turning the pages, I suddenly understood why my well had gone dry. It was my house. It was the blank cream-colored walls and the bookshelves that are still filled willy-nilly from our move–the comic books mixed up with the hiking books, the treasured volumes about Picasso and Frida jammed into a bottom shelf that had been hidden by the laundry basket? Everything in this house is bland, bland, and quiet.

It’s time to redecorate. My husband and I are artists (he paints, I write), and we work at home. If we want our house to work for us, it needs to be more than a place to hang out and eat dinner–it needs to be a laboratory of ideas, an inspiration incubator.

Here is Guillermo Del Toro to share his studio, a place called “Bleak House” (or when he’s feeling silly, “The Man Cave”).

I think he’s got the right idea about how to decorate for artists. I can’t wait to get to work on my office!

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  1. Paul Weimer
    03/04/2014 at 8:51 am Permalink

    Thanks, Wendy. You’d think a “Busy” workspace would be distracting–but perhaps its inspirational instead?

  2. lunalindsey
    03/04/2014 at 11:08 am Permalink

    Have you seen the video which depicts Ray Bradbury’s writing space? He’s got lots of trinkets, like tribal masks and such. Sometimes he used objects to directly inspire stories.

  3. Steven M. Long
    03/04/2014 at 1:28 pm Permalink

    I often talk with my wife about the way what I want from my work space has changed and evolved over time. A few years ago I wanted a sort of library – a big desk. Now I want a laptop and a little table, and I want to move around the house and not stay in one place. I’m also very conscious of how much clutter there is, and what I want hanging on the wall.

    Of course, it also drives her a little crazy when I’m like “the desk is done! It’s done!”

  4. Wendy N. Wagner
    03/04/2014 at 7:22 pm Permalink

    It’s good to pay attention to how you change!

  5. Samantha Velez
    30/04/2014 at 9:01 am Permalink

    Cabinet of Curiosities is one of my favorite books! Home decor definitely needs to inspire you on a daily basis. It should be personal and feel right.