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Dark Décor and DIY

Dark Décor and DIY

DIY and home renovations are on the rise, with two thirds of people reportedly either planning or in the middle of home improvements. In fact recently moving to a beautiful old house in the countryside (a Georgian cottage with Victorian extension with oodles historical charm and promise underneath the garish 1970s decorating…), I am firmly in those two thirds. In fact I would say this is closer to 100% when looking solely at the Goth and alternative subcultures. After all, who really wants to come home to plain magnolia walls every day? This trend is echoed in the myriad of TV programmes about the topic, however there’s not much in these shows that are really aimed at those of us in the “darker” market. But now we have our very own Laurence Llewelyn Bowen in the form of the multi-talented maestro Voltaire, who has graced YouTube with his Gothic Homemaking series full of great tips and tricks to make your abode all that much spookier by Darkening It Yourself.


Back in 2005 Voltaire released Paint it Black: a Guide to Gothic Homemaking, a book where he documented the first makeover of his Manhattan apartment. Drawing on his background as a filmmaker and stop-motion animator he showed how you can overhaul your living space into a, as Voltaire describes it, “Gothic lair befitting a true lover of the macabre” both on a budget and with a healthy dose of humour as is Voltaire’s modus operandi. Now back in that apartment after leaving it to turn into “a flea market hit by a hurricane during an episode of Hoarders” he’s back with a vengeance and this time and on the coattails of the zeitgeist with a web series, detailing the process of reviving The Lair of Voltaire.

I managed to grab a few moments of Voltaire’s busy schedule to quiz him about his DIY endeavours:

V: I must first tell you that I had absolutely no idea what was I was doing on each and every project I’ve featured! I just got an idea and went about making it the way that seemed the most logical. There were certainly disasters along the way! But I think my favourite DIY project in the series so far is the Haunted Library End Table from episode four. I screwed that one up so badly on the first try that I had to start from scratch! Hahaha! The end result though, is really great!

V: Ones that didn’t go as planned? That’s pretty much all of them. There is a river of tears in every project that never made it onto the screen. But ultimately, failure was never an option. If something didn’t go well, I simply took a step back, stared at the disaster for a moment and found a way to make it work. There is some truly disturbing footage that never made it into the episodes. While making the Kurai Kirin taxidermy gaff from episode eight, I squeezed a huge dollop of hot glue from an industrial hot glue gun into the palm of my hand. Naturally, I had more important things on my mind than turning off the camera so there is likely twenty minutes of me screaming, yelping and cursing the day I was born.


Another creative soul who I have been following online for some time, is that of the well-known headdress and accoutrements designer Cara of Hysteria Machine whose work is exquisitely detailed and beautifully macabre. When I saw her start to transform her abode into one truly befitting her artistic genius – I knew it’d be a sight to behold. Describing her style as “Addams Family decadence – Elegance and opulence in decay with a touch of graveyard humour”, she is now available on commission to help you deck out your home too! She had this to say about her home renovation projects:

HM: Our bedroom was really fun to put together. We built a custom panel for the chimney breast using a large wooden moulding and textured wallpaper that we painted. The ceiling is covered with incredibly lightweight pressed ceiling tiles that we stuck up with velcro strips. On the wall behind our headboard we cast our hands in resin to hold up draping velvet for a little extra drama.

HM: Another favourite project was definitely reclaiming the beautiful cast iron fireplaces that were hidden behind a century of poor paint choices. They are now free of paint and look incredible as you can see all the delicate details that had been previously hidden.

HM: In terms of what didn’t go quite as planned – A few cases of getting the wrong shade of paint for a room, but we are pretty easy going so just went with it. I had managed to find an antique taxidermy alligator that was intended for the bedroom wall but after it arrived and I covered it in glorious layers of silverleaf, I ended up placing it crawling up the wall next to the TV in the sitting room instead. So now I have drawn a blank for the bedroom! We’ve spent months trying to find an alternative and it haunts me still!


What I love about both Hysteria Machine and Voltaire’s renovations is that they are within reach of most people – granted they are both horrifically talented and our reproductions may not quite turn out as well – but they both started out with pretty bog standard homes – no clifftop mansions here. In fact Voltaire’s apartment, being a typical New York City studio apartment, is only about 11 feet by 13 feet (not counting a hallway and bathroom) and yet he manages to make the space work for him. His advice on dealing with smaller spaces is that “it really forces your hand to pick and choose your items wisely! I always say that I can’t buy something new without first throwing something else out.”

“Another important aspect of bringing things into your tiny dwelling is that whenever possible, they should be multi-functional! In episode 6, I demonstrate how to make a Mystical Vanishing Chest and Summoning Table. It’s called that because it’s both a table and a storage unit. Things like blankets and pillows vanish into it and when you need a dinner table you can summon one up from it.” Definitely Ikea style living for the ghouls and goblins.

Another issue many people face (especially in the current climate) is that of having to abide by the limitations of tenancy agreements. But this doesn’t have to be the death of your décor. Our creative gurus have some excellent advice when faced with ramifications of renting:

V: Vinyl wall decals are great because they can be removed with a hair dryer. You can see those in episode three. My walls are covered in a forest of black branches and flying crows and I imagine I will be able to remove them should I ever move out. You can also cover a lot of wall space with great macabre art. There’s a tutorial for finding great gothic art and making frames from bones in episode ten. For floors, I would suggest area rugs. You can really cover a lot of ugly linoleum flooring with the right carpets. Lighting goes a long way too. If you can’t paint your walls, consider getting some red bulbs for your table lamps or some purple string lights. You can always “paint” white walls with coloured light.

HM: Its worth checking if decorating will be allowed before entering into a rental agreement or even offering to put down an additional deposit. If you are already settled in a place with a strict ‘no painting’ rule, ask if there is some leeway, offer an additional deposit if possible but definitely make it clear that you will return the place to its original condition once you move and put that in writing. However, there is a lot you can do by constructing decor bits that are temporary and will not damage the property such as MDF panels covered with wallpaper that you can place on the walls, or draped material to hide the paintwork. If nails are forbidden, command velcro strips are a lifesaver, so use those and just cover all the walls in artwork and other decorative pieces.

And you can never have too many ornaments, tenant or owner, ornaments are the jewellery of the abode! Everyone knows one of my favourite companies is Alchemy Gothic, and while their jewellery is well known, lesser known is their home décor lines. From clocks and trinket boxes to door knobs and wall sconces. They even have tableware items such as goblets and candlesticks, and my favourite (although currently discontinued) is a beautiful skeleton cutlery set – everything you may need to darkly dine in style. I got in touch with Alchemy to find out how these product lines came about (and discovered some fascinating insight into their trademark Alchemist skull design which keeps it among their most popular products to date):


AG: The first non-jewellery item was our Alchemist’s Skull, in resin. This was a heavyweight piece produced in small quantities by hand, locally, and it came about unintentionally. Our first Alchemy Gothic pewter jewellery was sold from our little old shop, in Braunstone Gate, Leicester, but we had difficulty in getting passers-by to notice the small pieces displayed in the shop window, so we came-up with the idea for a suitable eye-catcher. Our Alchemist character was already well established as a black and white logo, so we got hold of the resin casting of a real human skull and used this as a base to remodel into our Alchemist. This meant some serious anatomical changes, including a lobotomy to re-proportion the cranium and a rebuild of the frontal and zygomatic bones – the upper facial area, to give him his astutely intense glare.

AG: It worked and people stopped to look, then they came into the shop to enquire about the jewellery, but also about the skull itself! So, we began making copies to sell, and the giftware began.

AG: Once our facilities and techniques were honed, we began making pewter, gothic-style chalices based on those of Mediaeval times, and then more hand-cast resin items such as candle holders and sand timers, etc. Now, based upon the most popularly selling items over time, we have a large and growing range of resin giftware to offer.

goth-diy-ag2And any self-respecting goth will have at least one ornamental skull somewhere in the house. I of course have a number of them. Alchemy Gothic have served up a few but I’ve also found the recent surge in the popularity of Halloween has given me a yearly window for home décor shopping. While we don’t yet have the abundance of the States, shops like Homesense and TK Maxx are a treasure trove around this time and even the cheaper shops and supermarkets are upping their game with better quality decorations befitting year-round use. It is, however, a fine line to tread between tacky and tasteful and can even be a matter of opinion as to exactly where that line sits. In fact in our main living room I’ve shied away from what one may immediately think of when hearing the words “goth drcorating” and opted for a more antiquated Victorian Steampunk feel with antiques fairs and second hand shops being our main source of décor hauls. In my boudoir however I’ve let a few more of the clichéd goth elements creep in, but wrapped them up in a forest green “witchy goth” scheme. This balancing act is something Voltaire talks about a lot in his videos, describing it thus: “I try to walk a line between what I call ‘high design’ and Halloween. I don’t want my place to look like it’s a kitcshy haunted house in a b-rate amusement park so I try to steer clear of things that look like Halloween decorations or props. However, I’m also not exactly going for old-world authenticity. While I’d love for my place to look like an 18th century Transylvanian castle, a lot of what would make that possible is out of my price range. So I try to find a happy medium between the two.” And what is his advice to try stay in the right side of the line and his opinion on people dictating where that line should be?

V: Some of the things I try to avoid are things that are clearly made of plastic, anything with blood splatter on it, items with the word “Halloween” on them, or bad facsimiles like anatomically incorrect skulls and skeletons, rubber bats, crows and rats. I might consider it if I can imagine it being in the Haunted Mansion ride at Walt Disney World, but I’ll absolutely pass if it looks like it might be in the rickety haunted house ride at the pop-up county fair. Also, as much as I love them, I won’t display Nightmare Before Christmas figurines or memorabilia from other shows. It’s a personal choice and it’s fine if that’s your thing. But, I’d prefer my place to look like a home for phantasms rather than a place for “fangasms.”


V: The bottom line is that everyone has their own bottom line. I recently saw some comments on my videos saying that the vinyl wall decals in my Lair were “tacky” and that the purple lighting was “garish.” I simply suggested the person who does not care for these things not incorporate those elements into their own homes. It’s very simple. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong. It’s YOUR home and the only person who needs to love how it looks is YOU! Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably one of those über-Gother-than-thou-Goths who frankly… no one likes. I don’t think they even like themselves. Ha!

And that’s the crux of it – just as we choose how to adorn our bodies, our living space is a highly personal representation of ourselves and our lifestyles, and how we choose to embellish that is highly individual as well. But now, on a far more serious note, the most important question of them all! Skulls, Bats or Spiders?

V: No! Why? Why you do this to me? I have reasons for loving all three, but if one is essential to “Gothic Homemaking” its skulls. It’s the one symbol that most clearly screams “death,” and that is paramount in the existential subculture we’ve created and embraced. Looking into the eyes of death and realizing it is a natural (if largely ignored or feared) part of human existence, is at the very core of what it means to be “Goth.”
AG: Spiders is the one I’d choose to leave out, (‘cause I particularly like bats and skulls, especially bat skulls!).
HM: Skulls for life!!!

Seems pretty unanimous (although I’d probably rate them in the order of: spiders – or rather spider webs – bats and then skulls…). Hope you’ve now been inspired to decorate!



Plublished in Devolution Magazine