Retro Polynesian Kitsch

When i first met these guys they told me they were ‘Tiki meets vintage Japanese cowboy meets atomic kitsch’ which was partly awesome (at least they didn’t show me pictures from a catalog, i don’t want to name names, but sooo many people want rustic traditional these days that i was starting to get really, i mean, really over it) but it was also a little frightening.  Kitsch isn’t really my thing, and while there is something about vintage Hawaii that I totally love (which is ironic because i actually don’t totally like going to Hawaii very much) i kinda feel like Tiki needs a specific context, and it can be done very badly.  I was super afraid that David wanted me to build a Tiki hut/bar in their dining room.  He kept saying over and over that he wanted me to go over the top, and I’m not particularly good at going over the top.  But what came out of it, i kinda love.  The only part of their style that i nixed was the ‘cowboy’ thing and that is because for the sake of TV i can’t mix 6 different styles, it gets really confusing, so i paired it back a bit. 

I wish i had before pictures (computer still being fixed) but here are the afters:

They needed a dining room where they could eat but that could also function as a ‘jam session’ space.  David is super into this old timey music – god he’s going to kill me, i forget what type of music its called – but its that awesome style that sounds like it Mississippi and you can square dance to it (the Appalachians come to mind). 

The sectional/booth was custom made by Room Service, and man did they kill it.  I gave them an inspirational pic and dimensions and they turned it around in 2 weeks.  I think it ended up being over $5000, but it was the main piece in the space, so it was worth the splurge.   It was inspired by old diner booths from the 50’s and 60’s, and i chose to do it in hot red vinyl so it would wipe up really easily, be kid friendly and i love the red with the gold and white wallpaper. They both loved the oil cloth in the diagnostic and there is something so playful about the red vinyl that seemed appropriate and a good contrast with the more sophisticated wallpaper.

Speaking of wallpaper.  Man, i love this stuff. It is Florence Broadhurst from Australia, and i would honestly use every single one of her papers if i could afford them. They are always feminine, but the color palettes are simple enough that they don’t feel too ornate and overworked.  They are incredibly expensive, but so freaking good that if you feel like splurging, i would recommend it.  You can buy them through Walnut Wallpaper.  It reminds me of an old Hollywood bar from the 60’s, like Tiki tee’s.  And i think that gold and white is kinda my thing.  The gold almost becomes a neutral and while it is a statement, its a lot quieter than most wallpapers.

The table was purchased on Craigslist for $100 then lacquered for $200.  The drapery was custom-made from blue canvas. 

The carpet tiles are of course Flor.  These guys are insanely practical and while i chose a solid for this room, they have a ton of amazing patterns.  And yes, the huge benefit is that if they spill on one and can’t get the stain out, they only have to replace that one, which is $15. 

The chairs are cb2, and are $89.99 each.  I love how graphic and fresh they feel in this space. 

The stools are from the Rose Bowl and we had the tops reupholstered. The hanging chair is from Amazon if you can believe that, $400.

The barcart is from the Rose Bowl, $300, which was a splurge but i love the lines of it.  The owners had all the Tiki cups and atomic lamp, and i just brought in the wooden cups and the painting. 

This credenza was a boring gross wood that i got at a thrift store for $80, then had my guy lacquer it red (its actually a darker red then this – this looks more coral) for $200.  The gold paint on the walls is Martha Stewart’s metallic line (the true gold) and its kinda amazing – perfect for a bathroom, hallway or dining room (if it was just on the top half).  I love me some gold walls, yes i do.  The masks were the homeowners, and i grew to love them in this space, they just needed to be paired down a bit.

Placemats from CB2, glassware from Long Beach flea market, flatware and red plastic canisters from Wertz Brothers antique mall. 

I’m kinda obsessed with that painting of the girl.  It was controversial on set, some thought it was super tacky, but I loved it and so did David. 

The stools are from the Rose Bowl as well, $50 each, i believe. 

So while ‘Retro Polynesian Kitsch isn’t exactly how i would describe my style, i tried to do exactly what i would do if i had to do it for me, and i’m not gonna lie, i love this space.  It’s a total throw-back, but in a good way and still feels pretty current. 

What did you guys think?

And all pretty pics by the talented and handsome Mark Champion. Also his name is Mark Champion, and that’s pretty awesome already. 

  1. Sarah

    Love those gold placemats! Unfortunately can't find them on CB2's website. Are they a new product or should I stalk the clearance section?

  2. Laura

    Loved everything about this! I'm kinda not into Hawaii that much either but I loved how you did it without making it tacky. The red vinyl booth was amazing–so much room and multi purpose–it would have been wrong in any other color! The best use of primary colors I've ever seen. The gold wall and wallpaper was the perfect background for it.

  3. We definitely call it "old-time music!" You nailed it!! We've had some awesome jam sessions in here!! Thanks Emily!

  4. you really nailed their style/wants and at the same time you totally elevated the chic-ness of that space! I was totally worried for you when they were doing their style diagnostic…but OF COURSE you worked your magic and it turned out really awesome! LOVE the wallpaper, booth, navy/gold/red combo. GORG.

  5. Leah

    so i cringed a little when i read that the show was going to be retro polynesian kitsch but you totally pulled it off! this is when it becomes apparent you are a lady with mad skillz! so, so easy to have made this a theme-y room but you made it sophisticated and lovely!

  6. Debra

    I loved this couple, they were so real and cute!!! Great job on this one.

  7. ZOMG!! I LOVE this…reminds me of the vintage Florida space I have in my head…even more awesome, I LOVE the FLOR tiles..:full disclosure, I write for their design blog, Musings.

    In fact…here's a recent post of mine that I would be totally tickled for you stop over and see:

    As always, I'm in love with your work :)


  8. kristen

    Loved what you did here! Not many (read: no one) could pull off this look as well as you did. You managed to keep it fun and funky, but also tasteful – not an easy thing to do with polynesian kitsch in mind! Anyway, it turned out awesome.

    Also, was wondering if you're going to post a re-cap of the previous weeks episode? The Modern European Traditional one? I would LOVE to see the after photos & read your thoughts on that one!

  9. jo

    i love, love, love what you did with this room! i think you gave them what they wanted (funky and fun, they seemed so cool) but also made it really polished and sophisticated. well done!

  10. Sunnie

    BEST ROOM YET! So inspiring. When I daydream, I imagine winning loads of money and flying you to my home for a consult. <sigh> One day!

  11. Susan

    When I saw the title of this episode and the style diagnostic, I was thinking, "what are these people doing on Emily's show? They belong on Antonio's show." But then you rocked it, like always. I love that you could make them happy with tiki, but also give them a room that will still work if they move on from tiki, just by changing out the tiki accents for something else – cowboy, maybe, since they like that too.

    Red and gold are not my favorite colors or color combo, but I am in love with that banquette and wallpaper. Yummy.

    You, playing jug in a jug band – priceless.

  12. misa

    i loved it, especially the wallpaper. and i totally loved that painting. i'm always buying portraits from the '60s and then creating elaborate backstories about the people in them, and then i just refer to them by name when i'm telling a story and no one has any idea what i'm talking about.

  13. KatyB

    I love it for many reasons: 1- I can't believe you made those masks work, and made me want some. 2- I can't believe you made gold, red, and blue look so chic 3- I love that you didn't hang the light over the table 4- …and finally, cause it is freaking fantastic. It looks like the kind of place you would have to be kicked out of to leave.
    I am curious about one detail, was it hard to get good coverage with the gold paint? I want to try some so bad, but it always sounds tricky.

  14. Cheryl K.

    Living in Southern Appalachia with Old Time Music around us every day if we look for it, it was still a real treat to have a few moments of musical joy on your show. Thanks to you and your clients for a great TV moment during your superb design show!

  15. Lex

    Even though every comment here has summed up what I was thinking, I have to say… wow! I was cringing during the style diagnostic, I was trying to think of what I would do and drawing a big blank.

    So, I have to say, well done!!!

  16. Brianne

    I loved this episode, especially the banquette and the gold paint in the foyer. I've been so inspired by your show that I went to the Long Beach Flea Market for the first time last weekend. Go figure, it's about three miles from our new house. Can't wait to apply for the show when/if you get picked up for another season.

  17. Bridget

    loved this room because i have ktischy tendencies and can never quite blend my pieces into a more adult space'. I would love to know the specific color of the table – its gorgeous.

  18. robin

    this has been my favorite room so far! i LOVE it. and i loved the quirky owners…

  19. Lauren

    You are so brilliant. You can do anything. I'm really jealous that you always find amazing bar carts. I've been on the hunt and just can't find what I'm looking for.

  20. Seriously Emily… you killed this crazy style. The room looks fantastic.

    Something I really like about your show compared to the others on HGTV is the fact that you shop where I shop… I'll purchase a few higher-end accessories or splurge on one major item in a room, but then use CB2 for standard stuff and Etsy and thrift stores for unique, customizable finds. I mean, you found their dining room table on Craigslist. How awesome is that?! Love it, love it, loooooove it.

  21. LadyLara

    Is Emily the Rachel Zoe of interior design? You really know how to take those old references and make them so current and cool, loves. I too cringed when I saw the title of this episode, but it was awesome!

  22. This is definitely one of my favorite designs! I read this post after reading the more recent posting of the design star challenge rooms. I was actually pretty disapointed in many of the rooms. It just felt like it was mainly purchased items layed out in the room without a lot of thought or reason, with a few exceptions. Then I saw these pics (bummed I missed this episode) and what a breath of fresh air. I love the look! Love the reds, blues, and gold, and even the kick of polynesian influence! It feels fresh and beautiful but also very fun and totally liveable. (Plus I love that painting of the girl. It just works :)

  23. nina18a

    Love your show, Emily. General comment – ever since Season 2 started, I really really don't like the narrator's voice they have where they used to have your voice. Who the heck is she? No offense to her, I'm sure she's lovely, but it's YOUR show! We want YOU telling us this stuff! Who is with me on this???

  24. awesome episode. okay, I wouldn't have minded it pushed a bit more over the top, but it was great anyway. I sure wish I had that tiki mug collection, fabulous table, banquet etc. sigh. loving this season!

  25. Carolyn

    Just got caught up on this week's episode as well as the previous one. Emily, you are brilliant! How different are Polynesian Kitsch and Old World European?! And yet I love that they both came out of your brain!.. And I always notice your use of blue — that soft cornflower in the living room and the navy in the dining room. I am a sucker for blue, too. Dang Emily, keep it up!

  26. amy pete

    you are amazing – GREAT way to make such a wacky combo of styles look effortless, chic, and super glammy. You are by far the most talented person on HGTV – I always look forward to seeing what you come up with next!

  27. ashley

    Love this room! Fun design and the people seemed so nice to design for. This is something spectacular. I saw the episode on and quickly typed in a search engine 'retro Polynesian kitsch,' and this page came up and I'm so glad because I wanted to see more of this room.

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