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Paint-dipped decor is another aesthetic effect of the Great Recession

The DIY design trend spans Etsy and West Elm.

Paint dipping has been applied to kitchen tools, furniture, vases, and even guns.
Earnest Home Co.

Welcome to Noticed, The Goods’ design trend column. You know that thing you’ve been seeing all over the place? Allow us to explain it.

What it is: Objects for the home that have been partially dipped in paint — or made to look like they were — as a crisp decorative accent. The applications of this technique are infinite. You can find wooden stools with navy and gray feet; color-blocked doors; rustic, non-weight-bearing ladders painted white at the bottom; tree stumps that have been repurposed as side tables and dressed up with black paint; and millennial-baiting gold-dipped quartz crystal air plant holders.

Where it is: On DIY blogs as a project to do at home, on the Etsy stores and online shops of small-scale sellers, and at mammoth retailers like West Elm, Anthropologie, and Wayfair.

A DIY paint-dipped chair project.
A Pair & a Spare

Why you’re seeing it everywhere: Though paint-dipped home goods are a common sight in stores today, this style got its start as a do-it-yourself project that went viral. Erin Phraner, a supervising video producer and creator at BuzzFeed’s home vertical, Nifty, says that it emerged out of the Great Recession.

“The Recession hits, and all of a sudden people are being a lot more creative and clever in their homes,” says Phraner, who dates the beginning of the trend to 2011 or 2012.

Instead of spending money on store-bought furniture and decor, people were looking for ways to refresh things they already had, or that they’d acquired from a secondhand store or a family member. Dipping everyday household objects in colorful paint, like a set of old chairs or a simple mirror, was an easy, inexpensive way to make something expected or scuffed-up look a little more special.

This DIY project was uniquely positioned to blow up, because its potential audience is everybody. It’s remarkably accessible, even to people who don’t see themselves as “crafters” — to get started, all you need is a bucket of paint and the thing you wish to dunk — and it’s not hard to achieve a near-professional result. It fits a wide range of personal styles, Phraner says, since it can be done with any paint color on practically any object. And it spans age groups, as applicable to colorful children’s rooms as it is to sophisticated grown-up spaces.

It should be noted that creating a paint-dipped look does not always involve dipping something into a vat of paint. Some tutorials recommend using tape and a garbage bag to cover up part of the object, then spray-painting the exposed section and peeling off the tape to reveal a precise line. Others suggest using tape and a paintbrush. One even proposes cutting balloons in half and strapping them around Halloween pumpkins for a “dip-dyed” look.

Hydro-dipping, which creates a marbled effect, has become a trend within a trend.
The Sweetest Occasion

As paint-dipping DIYs blew up on crafting blogs and Pinterest, sub-trends emerged, like dip-dyed textiles and “hydro-dipping,” which involves suspending nail polish or spray paint on the surface of a tub of water and dipping an object into it, creating a marbled effect. Hydro-dipping is further evidence of the wide audience for paint dipping: While the aesthetics of nail polish marbling tutorials are often cute and ultra-feminine, a quick Google search for spray paint hydro-dipping reveals a lot of marbled deer skulls, guns, video game controllers, and guitars.

No doubt paint-dipped home goods got an extra boost from the ceramics sector, too. The trend was fully underway when handmade ceramics and ceramics classes got enormously popular among those with a taste for the artisanal or a case of digital exhaustion. Dipping is a simple way to glaze ceramics, and it happened to dovetail perfectly with the overall paint-dipped trend.

While dipping things in paint often has an earnest, upcycling bent — born of frugality or environmentalism — certain versions of it are decidedly irreverent: dunking a piece of art, for instance. A DIY blog post from August 2014 recommends modernizing thrift store paintings that are “a wee bit tacky” by partially submerging them in paint, frame and all. That November, the artist Oliver Jeffers started staging performances in which he would dip portraits that he’d painted into colorful enamel paint, covering up the subject to their eyeballs. As with Banksy’s self-shredding painting, there’s something hilarious and horrifying about obliterating someone else’s art or your own — though it’s arguably an evolution of the work’s life as much as it is an act of destruction.

Anthropologie sells paint-dipped ceramics.
Anthropologie’s paint-dipped ladder costs $98.

With so much activity in this corner of the crafting world, it didn’t take long for brands to pick up on the trend. Phraner recalls seeing it taken up by small-scale makers first, followed by big retailers.

“I think one reason why it translates so well to retail is the same reason why it does so well when people do it at home: It’s easy and forgiving. It’s an easy way to make a commercial product seem handmade,” Phraner says. “If you dip a pretty standard basket in white paint or a mug in baby pink glaze, all of a sudden it doesn’t seem so basic. It seems like someone took the care to make it by hand.”

Donna Garlough, style director of the Wayfair-owned home goods brand Joss & Main, cited the artisan movement as one of three macro trends that have boosted the profile of paint-dipped products, along with “a breezier, more bohemian coastal look (think: Aegean chic)” and chalky pastels like mint and millennial pink, which are well suited to dipping. Today Joss & Main carries a wide range of paint-dipped products, like wicker table lamps, woven baskets, and bud vases, which have done well for the brand.

Joss & Main’s paint-dipped items often feature chalky pastels.
Joss & Main

Dipped baskets, wooden items, and ceramics are all popular, and they blend easily with many styles of décor, from cottage to bohemian to modern and rustic,” Garlough writes in an email.

A cheap home improvement project had become something on which you can spend hundreds at a store — the “artisanal” look, commercialized. But it’s inaccurate to say that paint-dipped decor has merely been sucked up the corporate tube, en route to its mass market death. This trend is too big for that. Instead, it continues to ricochet back and forth between big retailers, Etsy, and the DIY scene.

Stephanie Smith SooHoo, who has been selling home goods with a paint-dipped effect on Etsy since October, says that she first noticed the trend a few years ago, when Land of Nod, a children’s brand owned by Crate & Barrel that recently rebranded to Crate & Kids, was selling dipped Christmas ornaments. Today she makes growth charts, wood letters, and, indeed, ornaments with cheerful swaths of color cutting across them.

Another Etsy seller, Sheila Dresbach, started applying a paint-dipped look to the jewelry she makes about a year and a half ago. She says she was inspired by home decor trends, which she picked up on while scrolling through Instagram, checking out home goods shops, and reading magazines.

Etsy seller Mia Bates’s dipped coasters are her most popular product.

While some people have grown tired of the paint-dipped look — a friend who works in interior design says that overexposure has made her “sick of it” — it’s still selling. Mia Bates, an Etsy seller who makes marbled stationery and home goods, says that her half-dipped ceramic coasters are “by far” her best seller.

“Most of my orders in the past month have been for these coasters,” Bates says. “I think it’s the contrast between the busy marbled pattern against the clean white ceramic that make them so desirable.”

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