Bad Taste: the horror inside NZ houses

The culinary seems to be passé, with both the Arch Centre and the FishEye seeing fit to blog on food and design in recent days. Today though it’s bad taste, rather than taste, which appears to be de rigor.

Peter Jackson’s 1987 cult classic, Bad Taste, while being “purely vulgar trash,” “brain splattering,” and “repulsive gore,” can now be acknowledged, thanks to critical aclaim and marginal high culture, as a “great film.” It has reached the height of cult classic – but you still need a cast-iron stomach to watch it.

But Bad Taste, other splatter films, and cringe TV, might only be the tip of the proverbial ice-berg of bad taste invading the inner sanctums of New Zealand’s domestic spaces. Looking through NZ real estate websites provides opportunity aplenty to see the dubious nature of our nation’s decorating skills at play in many a local home. How does it happen? Can BigSave furniture and WWB’s gib board really be to blame? Do these people see the elegant lines architects provide and have some kind of violent reaction to them? Or are we a nation with interior bad taste?

A few examples, as they say, may prove instructive. Let’s stick to the work of a couple of Wellington architects …

Ernst Plischke was a renown Modernist, but he lived in a villa – is this why a resident of his houses can redecorate and furnish with a pseudo-jungle theme … ?

Edmund Anscombe was an uncompromising popularist, but he was pretty keen on the basics relating to scale and proportion. Would he be turning in his grave, over this mis-understanding of “spaciousness,” if he had a celestial internet connection … ?

Kitchens and Bathrooms seem particularly vunerable to bad taste, giving the both kitset and tiles bad reputations.

There is no question that how you decorate and furnish your own home is your own business, but looking through many real estate images it is patently clear that the taste of the nation conforms with gib board banality, rather than the strictures of high (or even medium) architecture. Is this lack of taste?, lack of good furniture stores? or how it should be?

While some find Jackson’s Bad Taste stomach-turning, for me it’s the listless mediocrity of lazy proportions and easy-chairs which rent the core of my inner being. While one observer of Jackson’s Bad Taste lists one lesson from the film as “Vomit is delicious.” For me, the architectural equivalent is no less easy to stomach.


16 responses to “Bad Taste: the horror inside NZ houses”

  1. One wonders if there is also a connection with houses becoming commodities whereby the value is not on how an interior performs spatially or aesthetically but commercially. Many TV shows now seem to promote interior design as a method for achieving maximum value from your asset rather than maximum living from your home. Personality, colour, style and indeed inhabitation are viewed as unfavourable when marketing your home and once sold the new owner is left with a bland house that they never really inhabit just occupy.

  2. The examples shown are truly shocking but how to overcome this apparent desecration of carefully considered and crafted spaces. Is there a lack of recognition of context within how we live? Is this just the outcome of moving furniture and possessions from one home to another without consideration of suitability or is their just a lack of understanding of the homes that they are fortunate enough to occupy?

    If we are to educate the wider population to live with style where do we begin? Is this a new role for the arch centre promoting living with appropriate style? The badly proportioned inappropriate furniture surely can be used to decorate the many badly proportioned and lazily resolved houses and apartments that have been built over the past decade.

    If we are to consider appropriate style maybe we should start by identifying good examples of living with style and personality and in context.

    To start the ball rolling may I suggest the Eames House.

  3. Aaah, Taste – it’s a funny old thing. There’s an overlap between taste and fashion and kitsch and exploring the edge, that no-one can really quite put their finger on.

    As Stephen Bayley says in his 1991 book: Taste – the Secret Meaning of Things, “Most contemporary commercial architecture is pure kitsch, inspired by the vulgar intention of impressing with flashy materials and costly effects. Meanwhile the architecture goes on behind.”

    But the debate on good or bad taste has been going on for far longer than that, and attempts to define taste and catalogue it as good or bad are always bound up with feelings of personal pretensions. No doubt the owners of those homes felt assured that their taste was good, and entirely appropriate, and no doubt that Jackson delighted in knowing that he hit the mark exactly on target in terms of exciting revulsion in his audiences with the brain eating exploits.

    But we evaluate our reaction against both the brains and the jungle print. For a fair while in the 1950’s, there was probably a feeling that jungle print patterns were possibly the height of fashion, if not for good taste. Nowadays we seem to have consigned any print of the jungle to the rubbish bin of kitschness, or to a role of cladding peroxide-blonde starlets in B-grade pornos, so its featuring in a “good taste” modernist house is surprising to say the least. Was the owner being tongue in cheek? I guess we’ll never know.

  4. batgirl Avatar

    The queen of taste, Elsie de Wolf, recommended the ‘blanching’ of all Georgian furniture, ie. ‘paint it what darling it’ll do wonders.’ … she had he exotic moments I don’t think it ever ran to jungle print.
    Athfield this morning on national radio declared (perhaps a strong word) that there was no place for fashion in architecture – perhaps he has not seen Koolhaas’s Prada Store in New York.

  5. Perhaps this is a form of architectural remix? (see Best of 3

    ‘Plischke vs. jungle prints’ may be a remix experiment that one day will lead to something great (much like Bad Taste did)?

  6. I think the bedroom might be original – have you not heard of Mr Plishky’s tiger fetish…

  7. thomas Avatar

    There is, to be fair (which I guess the above rant is exempt from seeing this is your site) exigencies of everyday practicality to consider (budget and all), that effect what one can and cannot afford to dress their interiors with. While it might be timely that retro-modern is the rage at the moment, new (and 2nd-hand) pieces fetch ludicrous prices. So how to furnish a house with leftovers from previous houses, sentimental inheritances, and of course, affordable items, while still reaching the edifying heights of architectural fashion that would please you, who have not, and are not likely ever to have the pleasure of being invited into my home?

    Perhaps, in order that we are able to determine whether we even wish to take advice on taste from you, you should upload some shots of your own living environment for us to critique…

  8. richard Avatar

    I don’t think it’s simply a matter of $ or even Modernism, but a matter of matching and mis-matching. These appear to be images where the architecture mismatches the furniture – so it could be argued that rather than good or bad taste (perhaps a mis-titled blog post) it’s a matter of good or bad matching?

  9. thomas Avatar

    Can’t good matching be bad taste if the original (which is being matched to) is in bad tatse? And, anyway, the point I was making is that not all decisions are made on the grounds of taste alone, so why judge an interior as if that is the only factor of design for inhabitation…

  10. richard Avatar

    Maybe Thomas you’re reading the wrong blog – isn’t the Arch Centre meant to be about discussing issues pertaining to good design and architecture. Maybe the Chartered Accounts, or Chamber of Commerce or the Real Estate Institute is more your style? Do they blog?

  11. i think that i’m on the same wavelength as thomas – in that you can’t legislate what is and what is not, good or bad taste. I have an automatic tendency to dismiss someone as bad taste if they have a ring or barbell through their nose, and yet no doubt others find it the height of coolness. Then again, certain tribes in Papua New Guinea will pierce their nose with a pig tusk, and its the height of coolness and appropriateness in their culture. So everything is up for grabs – and may be judged appropriate or mistakenly dismissed according to their context. Remember that modern furniture was not always the height of coolness that you seem to think it is – i think it was the Kandinsky chair? that when it was on display in a (Vienna?) showroom, people broke into the shop and smashed the chair up as they were so outraged by the bare steel….

  12. This seems like a typical insight into the minds of the enlightened keepers of all things good taste, fashion, style, etc. The presumption of error on the part of the humble resident, serves to highlight the tendency for those in the design community to miss the point on issues regarding the very communities that make up the majority of the population in this country.

    While it is easy to see where references of bad taste and tacky lifestyle choices are derived from, I don’t feel the compulsion to educate anyone at all. While the decorating decisions that these people have made, might not be informed by any standards of ‘accepted’ design practice, I would say that the occupants of this home were more than comfortable entertaining in the, retro kitsch furnishings, and getting out the tiger print on those cold winter evenings.

    I don’t want to change these people, just maybe understand them a little better.

  13. thomas Avatar

    “I don’t want to change these people, just maybe understand them a little better.”

    Classic! Beware ‘they’ don’t change you…

    Vernacular used to be a cool term in architectural theory…
    Mismatched Eclecticism has been cool throughout multiple periods of architectural history…

    And, as good design is subjective (as it must be if you insist upon reducing it to matters of taste – and concepts of matching must surely be taste-related), then questioning your taste must be within the purview of an open discussion on “ood design and architecture”…

    And actually, the real estate blogs are damned good…

  14. thomas Avatar

    Uhh – “good design and architecture”…

  15. This conversation seems to be (crudely) focussed on objects and their containers. What about things such as scale and proportion? That bed in the third image seems swamped by the space it’s in. I feel sorry for it. It defnitely needs some furniture friends.

  16. richard Avatar

    Some websites for you Thomas:
    Wellington Chamber of Commerce:
    NZ Institute of Chartered Accountants:
    Real Estate Institute of NZ:

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