Everything Is Squiggly and Wiggly

The rise of organic shapes and freeform squiggles feels fresh and new—so why does it look so familiar?

I think it started with a mirror. More precisely, the Curvy Mirror. It is a product from Gustaf Westman Objects, a design studio founded in 2019 by Swedish architect-turned-furniture-designer Gustaf Westman. Last year, the stylish Swede snagged headlines in Trendland and Domino, being labeled “Instagram’s latest design crush” and calling his handiwork “the latest Scandi decor trend.” It has found a certain type of audience, for sure. Scrolling through Westman’s tagged photos is revisiting like the relaunch of the Dior saddle bag. (Everyone is thin and hot and seems to know their angles.) Eventually, the Curvy Mirror ended up on Shit Bloggers Post, an Instagram account that tracks the aesthetic cliches of those who are professionally creative or creative-adjacent—and almost always attractive. 

Across the pond, the Brooklyn-based company Wiggle Room offers tables with a similar look. There are dining tables, coffee tables, and side tables in fun, pastel-hued shades like mint, pistachio, and lavender—everything is made to order. The aesthetic common ground between Westman and Wiggle Room is plain to see: the colors, the shapes, the general lightheartedness of it all.

Last year, the Wiggle Room landed a feature in Clevver via a tour of the founders' apartment in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood in Brooklyn. Zoe Cohen, who heads brand marketing for the cool-girl underwear label Parade, started the Wiggle Room with boyfriend Levi Shaw-Faber, a master's candidate at the Yale School of Architecture. It sounds like a winning combo: an expert at running red-hot Instagram and a student of sharp design. A scroll through the Wiggle Room reveals a company that was polished from the start. Plus, the couple's well-decorated apartment shows signs that they know their stuff: a Caprani floor lamp and a vintage Le Corbusier LC3 sofa can be seen in the living room.

Even what’s old is getting refreshed with squiggles. The Somerset House, the highly curated shop started by sharp-eyed designer and collector Alan Eckstein, has reupholstered some of his stock with a wave-printed velvet fabric by American interior designer Miles Redd. A Norman Cherner-designed chair (designed in 1965) and a 1950s-era ottoman have been reinvented with a bold pattern. Bougie Woogie, founded by two industrial designers who split time between Paris and Buenos Aires, offers a circular mirror with a flower-esque shape, a “wiggly” plant pedestal, and bookends with amoeba-like features. Companies like Ferm Living and Zara Home offer popular mirrors in unconventional curvy shapes, and designer Cristina Celestino’s latest collection for Italian manufacturer Billiani featured two chairs with distinct wave-like curves.

I'm not the first to notice this boom of squiggles and wiggles. Late last year, Vice staff writer Bettina Makalintal wrote about how "freeform shapes and colorful squiggles" had infiltrated present-day decor. The look is reminiscent of the psychedelic decoration style that was popular during the 1960s and 1970s. The work of the late Danish designer Vernon Panton comes to mind. His innovative use of color and systems theory was slow to find an audience initially but eventually led to critical acclaim and recognition as an influential figure in mid-century design. Although, his work would fall out of favor by the end of the 1970s—he still has a cult-ish following to this day. In the decade that followed, an Italian-based collective known as the Memphis Group would fill that gap left by Panton. Their abstract, angular furniture and graphic patterns pushed against the streamlined, mid-century style.

I also see some parallels to modern Swiss design and typography, particularly designer Wolfgang Weingart's rejection of the movement's core organizing principles. Swiss type followed the concept of pairing a neat grid system with san-serif typefaces for clear, functional communication. Weingart found straying from these rules to be more rewarding. He created highly abstract letterpress prints where letters morphed into each other, creating elegant rolling curves that meandered like a backcountry road. In his exploration, Weingart ended up being credited for starting a new movement known as Swiss Punk; it certainly was not at neat as its predecessor but was far more interesting to look at it.

For the past decade, the young and aesthetically inclined have been swept up on a roar of minimalism. Scandinavian design and a pared-down sensibility became a generation's guiding principles when it came time to fill their post-college apartments with furniture and home goods. We've only just started to see a backslide towards the bold and maximalist in the past few years. Even Vernon Panton came back in the form of a collection of clothes in 2019, thanks to a collaboration between beloved fashion designer Dries Van Noten and his estate on. As a result of the high-profile project, his wavy, schematic patterns were introduced to a new generation of style-minded folks.

The work of Westman and Wiggle Room has taken signatures of the mid-century modernist movement—organic curves, warm silhouettes—and has coated them in Millennial-friendly colors. A reinvention of sorts for an Instagram-driven generation. The Curvy Mirror recalls the Ultrafragola mirror by the Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass. Today, the mirror is covetable and collectible and can sell for anywhere between $10,000 and $12,000, depending on the material and finish. A sign that everything new was once actually just old. (Frank Ocean has one.)

This embrace of irregular shapes and off-kilter lines feels to be of the “bored of minimalism” mindset—the idea that a squiggly line is inherently more interesting to look at than a straight one. This bucking of a system is a pattern we have seen before: a trend cycle or visual style is introduced, it becomes widespread, and then a few left-of-center thinkers push back on it. This time around, it has meant wonky coffee tables, artful mirrors, and chairs with quirky details. And if you ask me, that is better than more humdrum minimalism. ■