Bright colours and witty shapes – surrealist designs are back in our homes

Creativity, imagination, a dash of escapism, pushing boundaries. These are things we now admire in homes, whether they’re our own or someone else’s.

And that’s where surrealism comes in, but it’s popularity hasn’t always been so strong. Indeed, the surrealist movement, founded in 1924 by Andre Breton, but (for many) famously championed by Salvador Dali, is often thought of as an enterprise of art when its origins were rooted in design as well as anarchism and communism.

A recent exhibition at the Design Museum, Surrealism & Design Now, looked to show us the impact of this movement from the 1920s to the present day.

Whimsical: The Small Biggie sofa, in pine green £1,429, from, adds a sense of fun to a living room

Surrealism, like many things, was a reaction to the horrors, dislocation and shock of World War I. 

Works of this movement feature elements of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequiturs.

And perhaps this might put our minds at rest — surrealism seems difficult to understand because it is supposed to be.

But we don’t need to look far to realise it’s all around us.

Stranger things

We might not think the lobster and the telephone have much in common.

One’s a crustacean which can live for more than half a century and the other is an inanimate object invented in 1875. 

Salvador Dali though, would beg to differ. He found both erotic and arousing. This might be a stretch for most of us, but the idea prompted him to create Aphrodisiac, a functioning telephone which combined the two.

And it is this kind of leap which seems to characterise surrealist design. This is an example of ‘object-based polyamory’ to give it the official name. In other words, the unexpected combination of two objects to create something new.

Statement pieces

But how exactly does this translate into our own homes?

Well, bright colours and bold shapes are as popular as ever, we take inspiration from the natural world and dipping into classic design tropes still excites us.

Certainly, there are iconic pieces: Rene Magritte’s Treachery Of Images depicts a painting of a pipe with the words ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’. Reproductions of the piece adorn many walls, particularly those of students (£10.29,

We might not also realise that items such as popular pineapple lamps are a nod to surrealism — Laura Ashley does one in gold (£82.65,

The Mae West lips sofa — shaped like the actress's lips - doesn't come cheap. The lowest seems to be £1,514 at Litfad, while 1stdibs  is selling one for the surreal price of £239,225

The Mae West lips sofa — shaped like the actress’s lips – doesn’t come cheap. The lowest seems to be £1,514 at Litfad, while 1stdibs  is selling one for the surreal price of £239,225

Other varieties, more inspired by animals, such as Joe Browns Crane table lamp also fit the bill (£64). 

This idea might not seem that revolutionary but posit the idea of fruit/animal meets lamp to someone 50 years ago and they might beg to differ.

And back to Dali, with a product that will be recognisable to many: the Mae West lips sofa — shaped like the actress’s, well, lips. 

The artist was said to be fascinated by West (which might have been more concerning than flattering). 

There are versions out there but they don’t come cheap, the lowest seems to be £1,514 (Litfad). While 1stdibs is selling one for the surreal price of £239,225.

Branching out

On a more reasonable note though, there are plenty of brands bringing bright and bold products into the home. While not exactly surrealist pieces, these items do evoke the movement’s playful ideas.

There’s a plumpness to Snug’s The Small Biggie three-seater sofa that’s reminiscent of the Mae West sofa (similar at The Design Museum, pictured). 

Midnight blue and pine green are the boldest shades, prices from £1,401.

And paint brand YesColours has eco-friendly products in vibrant shades which would have gone down well with the likes of Andre Breton. 

Passion was a key part of surrealism and the brand’s teal and lilac tones in this range are a good fit (from £21).

As Emma Bestley, co-founder of YesColours, says: ‘Embracing a surrealism scheme is about introducing the whimsical and wonderful in your home, and the colours you introduce are an integral part of the entire look. It’s about combining dreams with reality which provides a huge sense of optimism.’

Do it yourself

And now that we no longer shy away from undertaking home improvements ourselves, perhaps some DIY surrealism is the way to go.

Sally Coulden, founder of Red Dog Glass Design, says: ‘Large, framed posters look fabulous and you could even create your own surrealist collage with cuttings from magazines and then place images that don’t necessarily go together to create the unexpected.’

The Design Museum itself has some great prints as part of the exhibition. 

The surreal cover of Harper’s Bazaar from October 1938 (£28) and Lee Miller’s Bathing Feature print (£60) would make an interesting combination. 

Especially alongside some bright colours, as seen in the work of artists such as Ronan Bouroullec (print £45), for a more modern touch.

Largely though, it is up to you and experimenting is all part of the fun.

As Salvador Dali said: ‘I do not understand why, when I ask for grilled lobster in a restaurant, I’m never served a cooked telephone.’

It seems, there are no rules. Go your own way, embrace the unexpected and nonsensical and you’ll be sure to bring the surreal into your home.

Savings of the week… Clocks 

Classic: Newgate’s double-bell Covent Garden alarm clock is £15, down from £29

Classic: Newgate’s double-bell Covent Garden alarm clock is £15, down from £29

The clocks go forward on March 26 and some will celebrate lighter mornings with the acquisition of a new clock.

There are people who can ignore a mobile phone alarm, but leap up out of bed when an old-fashioned alarm clock goes off.

Newgate’s double-bell Covent Garden alarm clock is £15, down from £29. 

A Victorian-style Westhampton wall clock, with Roman numerals, is also reduced from £95 to £55. 

Thomas Kent’s elegant white-and-black Arabic clock was £95 and is now £75 at Ginger Interiors.

If you want something colourful and subtly retro, the Roger Lascelles red face and Roman numeral wood wall clock has been reduced from £52 to £29.99 (Wayfair). 

But whichever clock you chose, your home’s style and your punctuality should both improve.

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