Playing with fake food as home decoration

NEW YORK • Although a minimalist interior may have represented an aspirational environment only a few years ago, it seems that intermittent lockdowns and supply chain-induced shortages have led people to re-evaluate the aesthetic of an empty house.

The result is a resurgence of maximalist home decor that embraces pattern, colour and ornamentation. Cabinetry that may once have been wood grain is now jewel-toned; streamlined furniture has given way to all things squishy and wiggly; trends such as "cottagecore" and "grandmillennial" aim to elevate items that are handmade, chintzy and second-hand.

Is it any wonder that fake food is back, too?

Charcuterie and cheese candles, resin-cast croissants and Jell-O salad lamps are hot items. Retro-style fake cakes are big on Instagram. The high-end jewellery brand Mociun sells faux glasses of spilled wine and melting ice-cream cones alongside US$10,000 (S$13,700) engagement rings.

Yukiko Morita's Pampshade lamps, which are made from real baked goods that have been preserved, can sell for around US$80 apiece.

For Mr John Derian, founder of the John Derian home decor and decoupage line, the resurgence of fake food is welcome. He has had a fake cake sitting in his kitchen for 14 years, he said, and he has been selling food-themed items in his store for 20 years.

"I do love funny things," he said.

These days, he also offers more elegant fake food items for customers who are less interested in kitsch, including stone bananas and cherries carved in Tuscany, Italy, using marble from the same quarry Michaelangelo favoured.

Fake food has been used for decoration for centuries. Trompe l'oeil porcelain, made in 18th-century Europe, often took the form of fruit and vegetables. There are examples of plates of fruit made from jade and alabaster from Qing Dynasty in China.

In recent centuries, fake food has remained popular in more utilitarian settings. In Japan, fake food, or sampuru, is displayed in the windows of restaurants and can cost hundreds of dollars for artisans to make. In the United States, fake wedding cakes can help preserve a visual tradition of a layered confectionary, while helping to cut down on the price of the real cake.

For some of the artisans and brands that sell fake food today, the question of taste - or of questionable taste - is what drew them to the trend in the first place.

Leanne Rodriguez, an artist in Oakland, California, who goes by Elrod, began making fake gelatin salad lamps during the pandemic. In a recent interview, she said she wanted the effect "to be a little on the disgusting side".

The joy of fake food is something Ms Jazmine Rogers, a content creator in San Diego, recalls from her childhood. Her grandmother had a collection of fake fruit, and when Ms Rogers was decorating her own home, she made sure to seek out fake food pieces to display.

"There's something about it that just feels really homey to me," said Ms Rogers, 25. "It's kind of like playing with your food, it's like your food's in places that it's not supposed to be. There's something fun about it." Her fake cake was made by Jasmine Archie, an artist in Austin, Texas, who has been surprised and delighted by the market for her eccentric, colour-saturated confectionery-inspired creations.

"People freaked out," Archie, 25, said of the first few fake cakes she made. "It's already on the market, but it was so untapped with my generation in my opinion. And I was like, 'OK, I could totally market this and see what could happen.'"

According to Etsy, there has been a 36 per cent increase in searches for faux cakes on the site in the past three months, compared with the same time the previous year.

Sarah Archer, a design and culture writer and the author of the 2019 book The Midcentury Kitchen, said consumers were craving interior design choices that were as comforting as they were whimsical.

Fake food is "a relatively inexpensive, easy and creative way to make your home joyfully wacky," she said. "I definitely think that there is a desire for a sense of play."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2021, with the headline Playing with fake food as home decoration. Subscribe