Frida Kahlo And A Lesson In Décor

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Or, how to create your own bohemian barrio in 7 brazen steps.

Artistic genius, feminist revolutionary, and fashion icon, Frida Kahlo was one feisty lady. Renown for self-portraits showcasing her Mona Lisa smile, this Mexican-born artist remains a modern muse today.

Over a century since her birth, her voluptuous use of colour and floral motifs still inspire décor and catwalk collections. Marc Jacobs, Jean Paul Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana (see their 2015 Spring Collection below) have all succumbed to her feminine wiles.

Dolce & Gabbana Spring Collection 2015. Images sourced: swide.com

This is our ode to Frida in décor. Here are 7 lessons she can teach us about style. After all, there’s nothing like a brazen burst of colour to brighten up your winter!

The Blue House, where Frida was born and died. And Frida herself in all her eloquence. Images sourced L to R: artissima.wordpress.com and pinterest.com.

GO BOLDLY

Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) lived a life less ordinary. It was punctuated by extreme pain, courtesy of a bus/trolley car collision that left her crippled at the age of eighteen. Her list of injuries is nothing short of horrific. She suffered a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis and fractures in her right leg. Her right foot was crushed, and her shoulder, dislocated.

At the time, she’d been studying medicine, but during the months she had to remain immobilised, she began to paint. Her parents set up a special easel so that she could paint lying down. When she recovered, she took up painting full time. It was to become her saving grace.

“I’m not sick,” she said. “I’m broken. But I’m happy to be alive while I can paint.”

Frida Kahlo self-portrait + Frida European Pillow Case by Linen House, available online from Zanui. Images sourced L to R: artwallpapers.co and Zanui.

She would have over 40 operations to try to correct the damage done to her body. But this would not dampen her spirit. Frida was a tequila slamming, dirty joke-telling smoker with a dangerous mind – a grand diva of the art world.

Tip: take risks… with your colour palette and your décor accents. Be creative. 

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Salma Hayek as Frida in the 2002 biopic and an example of emerald green and ruby red contrasting hues used in a bedroom. Images sourced L to R: vogue.com and good.net.nz

EMBRACE CONTRAST (even conflict!)

Frida’s art married indigenous and western influences to intoxicating effect. She grew up amidst the sound of gunfire, the Mexican revolution lifting the dust off the streets around her house. Her paintings drew together native cultural symbols (like the monkey – representing lust) with European realism, proving the power of juxtaposition.

Tip: accent your décor with cross-cultural pieces.

Old and new. Bold and blue. Frida proves that floral flourishes and bright contrasting hues can work well. Images sourced L to R: spoken.ly and telegraph.co.uk.

LOVE OLD AS MUCH AS NEW

Vibrant contrast also characterised her audacious personal style. Frida dressed up her physical flaws (one leg was left withered from childhood polio) in traditional embroidered blouses and skirts. The wear and tear of these items proves they were well loved, not discarded in aid of new adornments.

Tip: add distressed patinas and well-worn textures for visual interest.

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Bohemia Quilt Cover and European Pillow Case by Bambury, available online at Zanui

CELEBRATE YOU

Much of Frida’s artworks were self-portraits. Her palette and personal style was uncompromising and passionate, like her politics and her approach to life. As she became more and more incapacitated (Kahlo’s leg had to be amputated in 1953), her outfits grew more and more colourful and attention-seeking.

“I paint myself because I am alone. I paint myself because I am the subject I know best.”

From L to R: Cashmere Enchante Side Plate by Maxwell & Williams, Vintage Floral Photo Frame, 5×7, Asian Floral Canvas Print by Urban Road, Blossom Outdoor Scatter Cushion, Yellow Floral by Bossima and Floral Bouquet Archive Mug by Wedgwood, available online at Zanui.

Tip: believe in your own sense of style above all else.

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Bold block colours and bright accents. Images sourced L to R: Mexican Vogue takes its inspiration from Frida (aristeguinoticias.com) and flickr.com

ADD DRAMA

Although Kahlo’s canvases have been described as dreamlike, she distanced herself from the Surrealists emerging around the same time. Her style reflects naïve art or folk art, and is highly symbolic. A drama of colour plays out in her work, from effusive bursts to brazen block colours.

“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.”

Floral Paisley Designer Rug by Brink & Campman, Floral Paisley Designer Rug by Brink & Campman and Fusion Joy Designer Rug by Brink & Campman, available online at Zanui.

Tip: pair bold block colours, showcase wild flourishes.

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Sugar Skull Print Art by Americanflat and Banquet Rectangular Table Cloth by Linen House, available online at Zanui.

GO FLORAL

Like the floral crowns that became her signature, effusive blossoms feature in Kahlo’s work. This repetition becomes a defining characteristic that gives her work a sense of cohesion. Her paintings are striking masterpieces. And her use of floral motifs reflects her masculine femininity.

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From L to R: Rosalie Cushion by KAS, Artificial Magnolia Wreath (Set of 2) by Rogue, Desert Rose Cushion Cover by Xavier & Me, Flower Motif Plate Candle Holder by Casa Uno, and Pansy Floral Cushion by j.elliot HOME, available online at Zanui.

Tip: floral does not have to mean without strength. Striking florals make bold décor accents.

Colour palettes inspired by Friday. Images sourced L to R: craftyweetzie.wordpress.com and patterncurator.org

GET SENSUAL

Frida was romantically involved with Leon Trotsky, Hungarian painter Nickolas Muray and Josephine Baker, whilst maintaining a volatile marriage to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Frida and Diego would marry, divorce, and remarry, weathering extra-marital affairs on both sides. The couple were equally irascible!

“Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic,” she said.

Tip: indulge yourself… After all, you only live once.

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Cove Teal 2 Seater Sofa by Iniko, available online at Zanui. Images sourced L to R: Zanui and quoteaddicts.com

In true Frida style, her farewell to the world was as unforgettable as her life. In 1954, her ill health finally triumphed and she was cremated in a ceremony attended by her admirers. It is said that a gust of hot air from the open crematorium doors forced her body upright as she was passing through. Her hair, on fire, created a halo of flames around her face, and her Mona Lisa smiled curved upwards.

What a majestic figure. In life and in her art. Thanks, Frida. You are beyond brilliant.

Hemingway Design for Royal Doulton do bold accent colours, available online at Zanui. Images sourced L to R: notesonbliss.com and Zanui.

Kay is a feature, blog and copywriter. She collects empty jam jars, academic degrees and tawdry dreams in the hopes of turning them into something useful someday. Her work has been published in ACP magazines, ABC fiction, Overland, Brittle Star, Seizure, trade publications and online forums. Her creative writing has won several awards.