Good taste is easy to come by in 2017. Instagram, among many other platforms, lets us know that markers such as a certain shade of salmon pink, succulents, and clean typefaces signal agreed-upon good taste. But the pendulum in some circles has swung in the opposite direction. We are, increasingly, looking back to times in pop culture when too much was just enough, when lush maximalism was favored over IKEA minimalism. To velvet-clad 80s bedrooms and early-2000s pink Motorola cell phones. Today, it almost shows more chutzpah to create whatever the opposite of conventional good taste is. Decor Hardcore, an Instagram account with over 47,000 followers and (more recently) a full-fledged brand, is lifestyle inspiration for those of us whose hearts beat faster at the delicious delirium of bad taste.
In more technical terms — or maybe if you had to explain it to your mother — Decor Hardcore is a platform that highlights late-century design, particularly the beautifully deranged, unapologetically campy aspects of it. Examples of what Decor Hardcore might feature include images of a bedroom with red carpet and a swimming pool at the foot of the bed, a bathroom decked out with glass bricks and marble statues, or a living room set covered entirely in aluminum foil.
Berlin-based Ksenia Shestakovskaia created Decor Hardcore in 2015 as a private collection of things she found on eBay. Now, she runs the account and the site with "one of her best friends and business partner" Michael Garrett, and they've developed Decor Hardcore into a full-service creative agency with projects like a coffee table book and a collaboration with Gucci in the works. "EBay is still my El Dorado for decor treasures, but I also use Google search and take submissions," Shestakovskaia tells me over email. "I look for a range of criteria from unexpected and surprising choices to lucky accidents that create the perfect picture. I like to find a story or mystery behind an image; the presentation, the atmosphere, and people's choices in general."
Shestakovskaia is a graphic print designer by day, creating prints and color concepts for several fashion brands, which explains her well-trained eye. The designs on her personal site are clearly connected to what Decor Hardcore is about: knitwear in leopard print and geometric patterns, digital simulations of marble statues. "Decor is not only my work, it's my entire approach to life, my attitude, dreams, and sometimes nightmares," she says. "When I'm not working on it, I'm fantasizing about situations or things, and then I try to discover if they exist."
Certain nostalgic spaces occupy mythical real estate on the internet. Dead malls, neon signs, and kitschy motel rooms present a sort of lost reality when captured in the analog color palette of the time before camera phones. It's easy to fetishize the pre-internet past, but also pertinent to question why we love these things so much. A surface-level analysis might be that these places and objects are an enticing combination of comforting and mysterious; they remind us of what was. There's something about being in an empty mall, decades after its 1995 heyday, that evokes the feeling of being in a video game or movie, somewhere both familiar and foreign.
One of the best things about Decor Hardcore is that it reminds us there's still some mystery left in the age of Google. Some of the rooms and furniture Shestakovskaia features seem almost too surreal to exist, but they do (or did) somehow, somewhere. Shestakovskaia shares her finds with warmth and humor, but she also understands the importance of not revealing too much. When she captions a photo, it's often with oblique winks like "It will take a while" for an image of a pink-and-mint tiled bathroom or "For your consideration" for a room with glass block walls washed in red light.
A secondary joy of Decor Hardcore is reading the hypothetical situations people imagine for these spaces in the comments. Beneath an image of a high-80s office lobby, one Instagram user wrote, "I'm imagining a Miami Vice plastic surgery clinic where a murder took place." "This is what I pictured when I was 12 and dreamed of losing my virginity," shared another commenter below an image of a tent interior made luscious with fairy lights, a fountain, and several sofas. "Dream" is probably the most-used word in Decor Hardcore's comment section.
"Decor Hardcore is about variety of choices, not about certain aesthetics," Shestakovskaia says. "So much design is confined to 'must have' or 'must be,' looking proper, and trying to make sense. Our brand fulfills the lack of a certain offer for fun, and something unpolished or unexpected. To me, it's natural that a girl would have a bath that looks like a seashell because it's beautiful and magical. I just look around myself, or I search for things that entertain and make me happy. Apparently they make many other people happy, too!"
Right now, Shestakovskaia and Garrett are "dreaming up a whole decor universe together." They now have decorhardcore.com, featuring merchandise and more in-depth editorial content like "DecorTube," video playlists that assemble collections of anything ranging from hotel furniture commercials to the gauziest and pinkest of window curtains. In January, they launched a new media agency that offers art direction, location scouting, and digital content for brands, and they have a book due for release by the end of this year.
"Incredibly, Gucci was the first client to approach us for a collaboration," Shestakovskaia says. "We've had an amazing experience working with their digital team and can't wait for the project we've helped them develop to launch later in March. One of our other most exciting projects at the moment is the Decor Hardcore book. It will be published by Paris-based Jean Boîte Éditions, who are known for titles like Kim Jong Il Looking at Things and The Nine Eyes of Google Street View. After the 'best first date ever,' we couldn't be happier to have found these incredible guys."
Shestakovskaia and Garrett are doing with Decor Hardcore what so many online spaces and publications seem to be missing: they're creating a world. On the site, you can find links to eBay listings for furniture featured in their Instagram images, write-ups about internet artists like Jess Audrey Lynn alongside paeans to Derek Pearce, the "king of glass tables." Even the music playing in their DecorTube videos creates a mood; trippy, neo-lounge musician Jimi Tenor soundtracks the curtains video. "Our vision," Shestakovskaia says, "is all about not taking design or anything too seriously, and proving that heaven is indeed a place on earth." If heaven looks like champagne flute-shaped jacuzzi tubs and vanities where everything's covered in a film of pink glitter (and there's no reason to think heaven wouldn't look exactly like this), then it seems they've found it.
Text Kelsey Lawrence