Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living

by Matt Maranian

Published by Chronicle Books

216 pages, 2000

Buy it online





Martha Stewart on Acid

Reviewed by David Middleton


Ever wonder what to do with those yards and yards of fake fur taking up space in your closet? Or pondered how to turn your spare room into the seductive jungle den of your dreams? Wonder no more because in Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living, author Matt Maranian shows you exactly how to do it all.

If you locked Martha Stewart in a room painted hot pink with a bushel of rattan, several dozen tikis, some bright orange and green Day-glo paint, a few thousand square yards of purple shag carpeting, some broken furniture from the local secondhand store, a hot-melt glue gun and a pitcher of LSD-laced iced tea (brewed using the finest Darjeeling she'd no doubt grow herself), she just might come up with some of the interiors showcased in Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living by writer, author, vintage clothing store owner and "feeble banjo player" Matt Maranian, whose work has appeared in Glue, bOING bOING, British Esquire and Wired, among others. A cross between a garage sale junkie's wet dream and an interior designer's nightmare, Pad covers a lot of ground between tasteless and tasteful. This is kitsch to the max; ultra-kitsch; hyper-kitsch; Kitsch-O-Rama.

Maranian approaches his subject from a couple of angles. The first is voyeuristic: We get to peer into other people's kinks, eccentricities and questionable taste. Illustrated by the fabulously-quirky photography of Jack Gould, we explore homes that are filled with everything from custom painted toilet seats to taxidermied foxes and from love beads to pornographic lamp shades. Profiles of the owners, designers and the pads themselves give us an idea of just what goes on inside the head of someone who has decided to throw caution and taste to the wind. As Maranian writes about one outlandish residence and its equally unconventional inhabitant:

Part cocktail lounge, part natural history museum, part erotic gallery, and part Roman Catholic church -- judging solely from the decor one might jump to the conclusion that Dan Nadeau is a tortured alcoholic homosexual priest with a passion for hunting. But he isn't. He just decorates like one.

Not one to mince words, Dan says the living room reminds him "of a queer grandfather on speed. It's comfortable to me, but I can still step back and realize how fucked up it all is. And that gives me a different type of pleasure."

The second approach is delightfully practical. Illustrated with snappy how-to illustrations by Susan Tudor, Maranian shows us some quick do-it-yourself projects ranging from turning that useless surfboard into the coffee table of some dude's fantasy to covering a television cabinet with fake fur (you knew it would come in handy someday). He also gives us a tip or two on recycling, inexpensive decorating solutions, plant care and placement, proper use of lighting, the acceptable cocktail and the appropriate hangover cure. There are even some in-the-margin comments on the most inspiring movies of our time (Barbarella, In Like Flint, A Clockwork Orange) and a section devoted to that "Problem Pad." Though judging by some of these places, problems -- with a capital "P" -- are sticking around big time. Unless you consider thousands of plastic flowers spray painted gold no problem.

You gotta know that in a bedroom with Santa Fe bed spreads and walls festooned with automobile hubcaps, a night of slumber may be fitful, and that a bathroom painted with fluorescent acrylic paint, decorated with images from a Robert Crumb hallucination and lit with black light tubes would likely dissuade regularity. But not all the pads are, ahem, hideous. Some are places I (or perhaps you) wouldn't mind occupying. One space that certainly intrigues is the superbly retro "atomic '50s and... space-age '60s" decorated pad of Johnny Foam. Filled with molded plastics and Star Trek set decoration castoffs, it's a "trip though yesterday's world of tomorrow."

But for all of its overdone spaces and dad-Brady-on-a-bad-trip interior architecture, Pad is screamingly entertaining. It has a kind of guilty pleasure feel about it and takes a completely fun and nonjudgmental look at those "with a discriminating sense of style." It demonstrates that all the things in your life that everyone always said were nothing but useless trinkets and Salvation Army fodder can be turned into something to be proud of. Well, maybe not exactly proud of, but useful. Gee, maybe useful is not the right word. Garish, tawdry, flamboyant, gaudy, ostentatious? Let's just say decorative.

Religious iconography, not surprisingly, shows up in a lot of the pads. Whether it be traditional or pagan, it seems nearly everyone has a little altar to the idol of their desire and an appetite for the non-secular. Lounge lizardry is, as always, a popular motif and tropical themes never seem to go out of style.

This is the kind of book that would have done wonders for all those 1970s students with nothing more than shelving boards, bricks, the hubcaps off the trusty AMC Pacer and a large bong with which to fill their abodes. Pad is filled to bursting with ideas aplenty and tips galore and Maranian's writing is wonderfully irreverent and refreshingly politically incorrect.

Though not overly large (8 1/2 x 9"), Pad would make a welcome addition to almost any coffee table and you'll find yourself poring over it, finding interesting details and good ideas in the most unlikely places. Share it with a friend and you'll laugh yourself sick and cringe until you're sore. Dramatically designed from its faux crushed velvet, die-cut and besparkled cover to its suavely laid out sections, Pad, while lovely to look at is not recommended for everyone's taste. It takes a very open minded and devil-may-care-whatever-turns-your-crank approach to decorating which might have some saying, "didn't I throw that junk out 30 years ago and burn it in a landfill?" It's every cliché you've ever imagined and epitomizes every stereotype you could ever think of. A wonderfully daring kick in the pants to the Better Homes and Gardens and Architectural Digest mob of interior design. Pad is a breath of weird and wonderful fresh air. | July 2000


David Middleton is the art and culture editor of January Magazine and rues the day he threw out his bright yellow plastic mushroom lamp.