I fell in love with the Camp aesthetic before I even knew what the cultural phenomenon was. As a kid, I devoured Camp in the form of movies like Pee Wee Herman’s Playhouse, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Cry Baby. The 80s was full of campy film and music, so as a Gen X’er, I was surrounded by it.
In the world of design, Camp — a style trend defined as “something that provides sophisticated, knowing amusement, as by virtue of its being artlessly mannered or stylized, self-consciously artificial and extravagant” — is having a moment. This is largely thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s 2019 spring exhibition, which helped reintroduce the aesthetic to the cultural conversation.
Today, Camp is rampant in the worlds of fashion, music, film, and performance. In this post, I want to focus on Camp’s lesser-known legacy in one particular area: Interior design.
What is Camp? A brief overview
Before I dive in, let me start out by defining Camp and talking a little bit about its role in American culture.
Although the origins of Camp can be traced back to French King Louis XIV, the modern concept was solidified in Susan Sontag’s famous 1964 Partisan Review essay, “Notes on Camp”.
“The essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration,” she wrote. “Camp is esoteric: something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques.”
Notably, Camp has played a crucial, constitutive role in queer culture. Drag, in particular, might be the quintessential expression of Camp, upending gender and culture norms in its extravagant appearance and attitude.
An elusive, often subjective concept, Camp is easier to spot than to define. But once you know how to recognize it, you’ll start seeing Camp everywhere. Tiffany lamps are camp. Lady Gaga’s meat dress is camp. The Village People are camp. Oscar Wilde was camp. RuPaul’s Drag Race — total camp.
Camp in the Interior Design World
Currently, there isn’t a whole lot written about Camp and interior design. But Camp has long existed in the decorative arts and architecture, from the Art Nouveau to Italian Radical Design movements.
To give you a glimpse of Camp’s influence on modern interior designers, I’ve shared just a few of my favorite Camp furniture pieces, artwork, and spaces:
The furniture, artwork, and striking colors in this space come from the whimsical imagination of Géraldine Prieur of Rouge Absolu. The interior and furniture designer has an explosive Camp style that has been astutely described as “unashamed luxury”.
This playful piece was inspired by Salvador Dali’s “Mae West” lip sofas. Its excess, extravagance, and nostalgia make this couch quintessentially Camp. The pillows on the bed look like eyes which make this space by Rosie Case even more playful.
Designed by Gwen Driscoll, this living room reflects the unabashedly dramatic style of the artist, Ashley Longshore. The essence of interior design Camp, the jumble of styles, colors, and mediums transport you into a fantastical place you might distantly remember from your dreams. The interior is also reminiscent of the Longshore’s own Campy pop art style, which includes everything from beaded lipstick sculptures to birth control-shaped crystal handbags.