No, it's not Halloween yet. But if you see houses decorated with skulls, don't flip out at the ghoulish decor. Your neighbors aren't crazy. The skull is one of man's oldest and most powerful symbols. It seems the latest trend in interior design is the skull as a motif and decorating theme. Interior design has always been influenced by fashion and art, and the skull emblem is the perfect example.
The skull and crossbones dates back to the 1700s as a sign for burial grounds. It also has been used as an international symbol representing something noxious. Think back before labels to certain medicine bottles or poisonous substances marked with the skull and crossbones. After the discovery of the Americas, a Jolly Roger flag, the skull and crossbones, was the symbol preferred by pirates about to attack. The skull and crossbones was used to intimidate the opponent.
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Skeletons and skulls also have a light side. In Mexico, they are used as both street and tabletop decorations and revered in a yearly celebration of the Day of the Dead to remember those dearly departed. In Bolivia, skulls are considered a source of good luck and are collected by families. The skulls are offered lit cigarettes, placed in their mouths, and are decorated with knit caps and floral crowns. It's a humorous way of connecting life and death.
More recently, in the world of fashion, the late Alexander McQueen used the skull as the centerpiece of several scarves in the Irere collection, which became must-have items in 2003. Since then, designer haute couture handbags, backpacks and even Converse All Star sneakers have been emblazoned with the iconic skull. McQueen took a traditionally blue-collar trademark associated with bikers, bad boys and bars and glamorized it so that everyone from fashionistas to goth-loving teenage girls wants to wear it.
In 2007, well-known artist Damien Hirst sculpted a human-scaled skull made of platinum and covered in 8,601 diamonds with a set of real teeth; it was known as For the Love of God. This striking image was intended to remind the viewer of one's own mortality. The image was so powerful that it has been portrayed in painted, print and sculpture forms. For the Love of God was photographed and released as limited-edition serigraphs, and even mundane items such as silk-screen T-shirts and coffee cups adopted the skull.
It is fascinating what captures the consumer's eye and imagination. In years past, the interior design world has been party to obsessions with images such as monkeys, palm trees, corals and even dog motifs. Part of the skull's appeal is that the image is universal and so easily recognizable.
Luxury linens manufacturer Ankasa issued a line of skull pillows embroidered on linen with gold threads and iridescent beads. Affordable yet stylish, Zara Home also has designed a line of small acrylic knobs in the shape of skulls for cabinetry, lightly etched cocktail glasses and even a skull candle.
Regardless of your beliefs, the skull has made an indelible mark in interior design. The trick, as with all thematic accessories, is not to go overboard. A few touches are all that is needed to make an interior interesting and thought provoking. Remember the skull's universal message of looking at one's own mortality, and make sure to "seize the day."
• Joseph Pubillones is the owner of Joseph Pubillones Interiors, an award-winning interior design firm based in Palm Beach, Fla.
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