a collage of blobby, curvy home decor including goober candle
Photos courtesy Bougie Woogie, Talbot & Yoon, Gustaf Westman | Collage by Dessie Jackson
Entertainment

We Need Blobs Now More Than Ever

Freeform shapes and colorful squiggles are infiltrating decor as we seek new ways to make being stuck at home more fun.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, United States
October 19, 2020, 11:00am

The pared-down, ascetic Kinfolk look had a long run, with its muted colors and Scandinavian minimalism.  But thankfully, after overstaying its welcome as the de facto "Millennial aesthetic" and peaking with the unappealing drabness of spaces like Kim and Kanye's confusing minimalist mansion, it's dying out.

The tides appear to be changing in favor of more lived-in, colorful places where you'd actually want to spend time and abandon the unrealistically neat, all-white spaces where you would live in constant fear of spilling your coffee. Now, homes on Instagram actually look fun again, as blank walls and concrete give way to maximalist combinations of colors and shapes on popular interior design accounts like @getclever, @2LGstudio, and @__sitio. We need levity anywhere we can get it right now, and as a result, we want homes that look playful, personal, and generally more visually interesting—and wiggly lines and colorful, freeform blobs are just about as different from bare white walls as you can get.

Medium purple.png

Purple mirror by Gustaf Westman | Photo courtesy Gustaf Westman

Instagram has become inundated with artists and sellers embracing this goofy, expressive play on form. From sellers with names like Lotta Blobs and Wiggle Room, there are curvy mirrors shaped like amoebae and others surrounded by squiggles, chunky or thin; wiggly tables whose edges undulate without a single corner; couches shaped like puzzle pieces or oversized organs; pillows bent into chubby knots; and plump, cloudlike candles. Now, it seems, we need blobs more than ever.

In 2018, New York Magazine declared that "the future of design is chubby," describing the look of "elephantine" chunky shapes,  and examining the shift from the angular, geometric shapes of the early 2010s to rise of the blob and its cartoonish compatriots. Vox highlighted the rise of the "blobject" as home decor that same year, with writer Eliza Brooke concluding that the soft, childlike nature of blobs conveyed a sense of comfort particularly useful in times of turmoil. As the world has gotten more tumultuous, the proliferation of blobs certainly has increased, judging by the looks of trendy home boutiques and interior design inspiration pages. By last year, blobs had taken over restaurant design, according to Eater. And amid the ups and downs of 2020, blobs continue to dominate: not just as a passing trend, but more and more, as a balm for our troubled times.

TOONXS002_Goobers_El_Purple_Solo.jpg

Purple Goober candle from Talbot & Yoon | Photo courtesy Talbot & Yoon

Looking at a blob like  the popular, pudgy, vaguely anthropomorphic Goober candle, designed by New York design firm Talbot & Yoon in 2015, calls to mind a different set of emotions than, say, reading one's Twitter feed, Brooke wrote. Indeed, there is a nonchalant—yet also personal and curated—nature to blobby, curvy design. A break from the previous image of Instagram-friendly home perfection, it suggests a lack of fuss and even a bit of childishness. Mark Talbot, the co-founder of co-founder of Talbot & Yoon, said the Goobers could be conceived as "toys for adults," though in the product's early days, he recalled, some people read into that concept quite literally, with shoppers at flea markets comparing the Goober to a sex toy and suggesting that it was  "perverse" to sell it publicly.  It's no surprise that given the state of the world today, with so many of us longing for a little bit of comfort and levity, the homes of young creative types continue to fill with notebook doodle-like decor in all manner of shapes wiggly, squiggly, curvy, and blobby.

The Goober candle's continued appeal—and that of blobby design in general—might have to do with what we as viewers can map onto blobs, Talbot suggested. We can read gaiety into a bright splash of color, relaxation into a mirror's melting form, and even laziness into the languid curve of a Goober, so instead of being another object in a home, blobs can feel like entities; in fact, each Goober was based on an expression: grumpy, happy, promiscuous. "There's already a lot going on in the world and it's a very chaotic place, but if you have these kinds of objects that you can attach some kind of emotional resonance [to], or you feel some kind of emotional resonance with, then you continue to enjoy them," he said.

As people spend more time at home, they're finding new ways of nesting, as writer Amanda Mull recently described in The Atlantic. If we have to be at home, we might as well make our surroundings more enjoyable. Industrial designers Jazmin Feige and Matias Gonzalez, based in Paris and Buenos Aires respectively, started the design goods brand Bougie Woogie in response to the shift in how we're using our homes. Their made-to-order objects, which include blobby, rounded mirrors and pedestals with curved edges like dripping slime, are meant to make people smile. Though Feige noticed a boom in curvy, blobby home decor over the past few years, she's seen even more interest this year. "As people weren't able to go out, they decided to start dressing their homes," she said. "Our project was born because of that, because we said, OK, we are at home, we want to be happy in this complicated context."

207F505B-7448-42A0-8CE6-AB44C28CFCED.jpeg

Wavy bookends from Bougie Woogie | Photo courtesy Bougie Woogie

Feige traced the curvy blob aesthetic to the Milan-based Memphis Group, whose work in the 1980s using squiggles, laminate, bright colors, and strong shapes not only subverted the status quo of sleek, minimalist design, but also came to define the look of the decade. At its inception, Memphis design was seen as a radical departure from tradition and a break from ideas of "good taste," according to Curbed.

Because trends are cyclical, the style's appeal has made a comeback these last few years. But today's curvy, blobby design looks simultaneously nostalgic and also of the moment; Feige, for example, brings a modern twist through slow design. "Every change of decade is super extreme. Things happen for some reason, and it's not an exception right now," she said. Memphis design was disruptive and necessary during a complex social moment, she added, like the one the world is experiencing now. Amid chaos, the arts are a way of reacting. Art historian Mara Holt Skov, who curated the San Jose Museum of Art's "Blobjects & Beyond: The New Fluidity in Design" exhibit with late husband Steven Skov Holt in 2005, told Vox that although the "golden age of blobjects" has ended, the "human need for comfort, especially at home, is never going to change." To her, blobby forms will always have interest because they shift to people's needs.

gustaf-westman-curvy-mirror.jpeg

Curvy mirror by Gustaf Westman | Photo courtesy Gustaf Westman

After years of decor dominated by starkness and palettes of white, beige, and light wood, people might feel even more of a pull to things big, bold, and colorful, with minimalism's mathematical lines giving way to the freeness of waves and squiggles. While minimalism is quiet, blobby designs are expressive. But perhaps unlike the 80s, when Memphis's loud look subsumed other aesthetics, the current moment's blobby, curvy designs can be combined with minimalist ones to give an interior a dose of character.

"The most untrendy thing is to have a too matched home, like some years ago when all people talked about having a 'hotel feeling' and all colors, pillows and details were very matched," said Stockholm-based furniture designer Gustaf Westman, whose curvy mirrors and tables add levity to simple rooms. Especially for generations who care about sustainability, that heavy-handed aesthetic can be associated with an overreliance on fast trends. "So the reverse to that type of interior needs to be weird colors that don't fit together, shapes that stand out, and things that feel more personal in some way." It's easy to peg curvy or blobby design as a fleeting obsession, but Feige thinks it's more than that: a jolt of joy when things feel bleak. "It's kind of a solution that people try to find to feel better," she said. Blobby design is up to your own interpretation, which is perhaps why it's soothing. There's no right answer as to why a blob calls to you, and a blob can be something—or it can just be a blob. The world is harsh and sharp; blobs, meanwhile, are loose and free.

Follow Bettina Makalintal on Twitter.