August 16, 2013 7:55 pm

The home decor choices of artists, writers and filmmakers

Artistic people are more conscious of their imagination, so tend to make their homes an extension of their artistic minds

David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

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How do people with artistic inclinations decorate their homes? Are they usually a reflection of their tastes and passions? Do they have some extra sense of architecture and interior designs?

If Liberace is anyone “artistic” to go by, then he would be an example of perfect reflection as his house was decked out in a rainforest of sequins, almost identical to the clothes he wore on stage. He was a walking candelabra, but I never understood how his candles never seemed to drip on all his ornate pianos, nor did I ever understand the one occasion I visited his house why he needed to install air-conditioning among the hedges in his garden.

I suspect that, ex hypothesi, artistic people are more conscious of their imagination than most, and therefore they tend to make their homes an extension of their artistic minds. Tracey Emin, whose house in the south of France appeared in a spread in a recent edition of Hello!, clearly identified with her love of clutter and what one might call slightly-organised chaos, spiced with touches of slovenliness reminiscent of her notorious Turner Prize bed. Her home in the East End of London is very similar and if I did not know her but woke up blind in her house, it wouldn’t take me two seconds to guess correctly that it was a Tracey Emin abode. (As loyal readers of this column will recall, I did in fact wake up with Miss Emin in the same bed once, but through a freakish mistake. It took me no more than two seconds to recognise her!)

Julian Schnabel has a dramatic faux palazzo in the middle of Manhattan that is a mirror image of his expansive, idiosyncratic character (which includes going around in his pyjamas). The entire building is vast and filled with his own large paintings, with incredible marble baths and fireplaces and pieces of furniture that have come straight from classical Venice, Rome and Tuscany. If ever there should be a paradigm of “shabby chic”, this home of Schnabel would be at its pinnacle.

Then there is someone like Norman Foster whose homes also much reflect his own character: cool, considered, calm, intellectual and supremely artistic. When he was living in his penthouse by Battersea Bridge, his sitting room was an empty space the size of Stamford Bridge stadium, but along the long, long window was a table that might have stretched the length of the Great Wall of China; and at the other end was a collection of hundreds of books immaculately placed around a giant but simple wooden corner shelf. The books were so well ordered that his system was the envy of anyone in possession of thousands of books, like myself, who only relies on sheer guesswork whenever in need of retrieving a book, and seldom finding it.

But there are artists’ homes which do not seem to match their character. Roald Dahl wrote all his fantastically imaginative works in a shed at the bottom of his garden. And he really wasn’t remotely interested in interior designs.

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Am I right to observe a common approach to “five star” decorations in developing countries? They all seem to possess bad taste: from the VIP rooms at airports to government offices and so-called top hotels in which supposedly important dinners given for rich businessmen or important officials invariably take place in soulless and brightly lit rooms with inedible food served.

How right you are to detect this frightful and frightening interior design outrage. I was in west Africa recently, and in Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso I could have interchanged their VIP airport lounges decked out with lime green faux-leather sofas and matching armchairs. At their hotels, the lobbies were filled with unspeakably ugly sculptures and tinny chandeliers reminiscent of all the other new hotels across most of Africa.

And such insipidity is not confined to that continent. I notice the same bad taste in countries like Cuba and Mexico, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Mongolia and North Korea (really bad), and in the growing towns across China. I regularly encounter vast portraits of dictators in cheap fake-gilt frames looking down on cheap black-leather sofas and badly-stained wooden “coffee tables”, occasionally with pots of plastic flowers, and depressing dim lighting. I simply do not understand how this identical kind of excruciatingly poor style could have infested so many places notwithstanding their vast differences in culture and race. Maybe utter kitsch and appalling taste travel much more easily than elegance and beauty; maybe those who are responsible for “decorating” these spaces have only ever seen other ghastly decor and so consider it to be the epitome of good taste, and therefore worth copying.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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