Theme decorating (especially when it’s a sports theme) can get a bad rap. And for some very good reason. The celebration of sport, interior design-wise, is not always pretty, and it’s often a point of division (and not just of the Yankees/Mets variety), when one resident is more a fan than the other. Rather than arrive at a design compromise, many times “the sports room” becomes the den or home office that gets closed off when company comes unless they’re coming for game day. It doesn't have to be.
There’re the rooms designed to be a mini-museum of photos, memorabilia. Then there’s the little league: kids bedrooms built around a favorite sport or team... done right, a great inspiring space that’s positioned to grow as team loyalties change. Done not-so-great, these rooms can look like a little like a birthday party exploded.
Is it possible to create a tasteful room built on team spirit? I got ideas, how ‘bout YOU?! Warning: mixed sports metaphors ahead. And I will say "balls" a lot. Balls.
|Relief Pitchers, Elizabethon TN, 1999, David Deal, from "Prospects: A Portrait of Minor League Baseball"|
Inspired By the Game
I love the idea of peeling away the layers of a theme, and applying some design principles to make rooms that fanatic and non-fan can share without having to call in the ump. Any sport, its equipment and the places it's played present a whole toolbox of texture, color and shape from which to build, whether basement rec room or nursery. I love the idea of building a room from that toolbox, with shapes evocative of a sport, and not necessarily actual items or theme-y, literal and team-branded pieces by novelty makers. The sport of baseball is great source for these kinds of material inspiration: leather gloves and balls, exposed metal, simple shapes. And there are great pieces where the context makes the piece sport-driven.
|Above: Random Light Suspension Lamp, Moooi|
Below: No. 46, by Don Hamerman
The Random pendant is seen without any obvious sports connection in many a contemporary interior, but against a blue backdrop of seamed wall covering from Maya Romanoff, and suddenly you’ve got yourself the start of a sports story. Add a Bertoia chair, and you’ve made a subtle reference to a catcher’s mask. Okay, maybe not sooooo subtle, but you get the idea. The bonus is that since these rooms are often the repository of lots of branded and busy memorabilia, these bigger, simplified shapes create a great backdrop and keep the shell of the room quieter, letting the treasured ball or bat or jersey stay the star.
|Bertoia Side Chair with Cushion|
Interior designer Joe Cangelosi agrees that it’s all about inspiration, not piracy: “Take elements of the client's favorite team. For example, Yankee pinstripes on the walls. Or use team colors as accents in your accessories.”
Like I advise in any design plan to keep a room cohesive, sports-themed or not, make sure anything you bring in has something in common with what’s already there. If you know the room will house signed red and white baseballs and autographed wood bats from your favorite Yankees, then you’ve already got your room’s palette: White, red and blue, with wood and leather (and the plexi of the display cubes) your potential materials.
|Clockwise from upper left: Artifort 585 Chair, Geoffrey Harcourt; Baseball Chair, YoonJung Heo; Nut Pendant, LZF; Ball in Hand, David Deal; Maya Romanoff “Stitched II, Vinyl Wallcovering; “Rawlings,” Don Hamerman; Center, Bertoia Chair with Cushion.|
I like the idea of tackling a sports-inspired room as the design for a sports front office instead of a sports bar. Instead of a throw-away directors chair emblazoned with a team logo, make more grown up choices (like that classic Bertoia chair). Suddenly, you go from farm league to the majors, and even the non-sporting group will start to feel comfortable in the room, too.
I love framed jerseys... IF they are framed well. Forego the multiple mats, color-matched frames and logo embellishments. A great jersey (or ticket or baseball card) looks best in a clean presentation... floated in a plexi box, or shadow-boxed in a warm walnut or black-stained frame. Modern, clean and simple is the best way to slide into home.
|Ball in Hands, David Deal, from "Prospects: A Portrait of Minor League Baseball"|
If you want to deck the wall of a room to honor Sport, but you’re not a collector of signed photos, look outside the sports memorabilia shops and turn to galleries and fine artists for images to anchor the space. There are some gorgeous images of players and places by some talented, exhibited photographers... Andrea Modica and David Deal show off their amazing eye and love of the game in pictures of farm league players. David’s images work at any size, but absolutely soar when blown up to three or more feet wide. The bonus of some of David’s outdoor images, especially when used large, is the illusion of adding a window to rooms typically devoid of them (basements and home offices). Home run. (I warned you.)
|Bob Coffee Table, Poltrona Frau|
Team colors are always big players in sports-themed rooms. Here in New York, we’re lucky to have two blue-and-white teams, easy to work with in large or small doses. But when your team colors are something a little more loud than you want the room to be, use them in smaller doses, tempered with lots of white, silver, wood and black. A purple and yellow jersey in a largely white room looks like a grown-up lives there. A purple and yellow room, notsomuch. So, like the Bud you down in the bleachers, know when to say when, or you end up with a sloppy mess.
|Stratus Mini Pendant by Fredrick Ramond|
But if you are adding team color, remember that color doesn’t just come from paint. I love the idea of a colored lighting fixture, like the Stratus Mini-pendant. But again, steer clear of the lamp made of a stack of baseballs. Save up for the collectors signed ball instead. In this executive office or mogul's media room, it’s about class, not kitsch.
|Baseball-inspired Table and Chair, YoongJung Heo|
The Thing’s the Thing
If the room’s destined for a serious collector and not just a fan, remember that the accessories will be the collectibles themselves, so go light on anything else you bring in, however tempting. Jim Fairfax, of Fairfax Designs, gives an example: “I worked with an attorney several years ago obsessed with baseball. The design for her home study became about the display of her collection rather than any sports references like team colors or patterns.” How did he make that happen? “Custom cabinets, spot lights on important pieces.” That included some pieces bigger than Jim had planned on. “During the design of this room the old Yankee Stadium began offering the physical stadium seats for sale. Guess where her season seats ended up? Front and center in the room. Those two seats were as important to her as someone else's 15th century collection of jade carvings.”
|Bats, Amarillo TX, David Deal, from "Prospects: A Portrait of Minor League Baseball"|
Go Old Team
If your room is just meant to celebrate the love of sport, and not necessarily a favorite team, interior designer and blogger Brion R. Judge, of B.R. Judge Design and Bastion & Lark, thinks old is new: “I've only had one client that wanted a sports-theme room of any kind (thank god for little favors!) My solution was to find vintage sports pieces, old boxing gloves, a vintage basketball outfit ... a great vintage leather football helmet and things of that nature.” Plus, he notes, “these type of pieces help bring a bit of heritage into a space.” Aside from adding great texture and warmth, Brion likes them for what they don’t bring: “Most of these things generally don't have vivid, bright or gaudy colors (much unlike current sports gear) so they become neutrals in the space while still being focal points.”
While all these ideas are meant to make rooms where taste levels rival team spirit, ultimately they're meant to be rooms built on fun, spirit and personal style, and Jim doesn’t disagree that it's okay if spirit trumps style. “Design for me is always about creating spaces that celebrate a client's passions. If sports touches someone's heart, the theme isn't important. It's all about the celebration. Why not put it on display?”
Whether it's sports-, travel- or, well, anything related, there are plenty of ways to keep themed décor stylish, grown-up, and in a room you'll be happy to keep open all year long. So maybe "theme décor" isn't an oxymoron after all. Balls.