Home Of The Month: Kitsch Perfect
One couple, three birds, five dogs, 10 lava lamps, and a whole lot of retro fun.
After a shopping cart mysteriously appeared in Nikki Davis’s Kokomo backyard a couple years ago, she painted it teal, framed it with a flock of flamingo yard ornaments, and called it art. No one else could get away with it. But in her candyland, decorated with a psychedelic Pandora Productions poster, thrifted furniture, dog figurines, a leopard-print split stool, and a 1956 Sylvania television, it fits right in.
Nikki and her husband, Mark, purchased the 1942 home in 2014, before Nikki had even seen it. She was in Texas at the time, holding down the fort while Mark was settling into a new job in Indiana. Although she wasn’t able to see the house in person, Nikki had a not-so-secret soft spot for its galley kitchen. The black-and-white floor tile and original cabinets wooed her further. So Nikki and Mark bought this “traditional, yet simple” home situated only a few blocks from downtown Kokomo. The 1,600-square-foot two-story house (not including the basement) comprises a master bedroom and two guest bedrooms. It doesn’t have an open floor plan, but the previous owners were top-notch caretakers, so the only changes Nikki and Mark had to do were cosmetic. And when it comes to paint, Nikki isn’t afraid to go bold.
Yellow, blue, and purple stripes line the inside of the front door, stretching like taffy from top to bottom. The dark-walled bedroom is cozy and comfy, and the cool gray of the living room masks the navy of a few paint jobs ago. But for Nikki, a homemaker, photographer, and high-profile moderator for the Facebook group Indiana Mid-Century Modern, color doesn’t always come easy. Like the time she painted the living room Kelly green. “It gave the room a weird glow,” she says. “It was all wrong.” The navy was an experience, too. Nikki and Mark put down six coats of paint before realizing the store hadn’t used the right base.
Nikki uses Instagram (@collectedhome) to document her ever-changing palette, be it pastel paradise or eclectic rainbow. “I do get bored with how things look,” Nikki says. “It keeps me busy.” She constantly shuffles the furniture, especially when she brings home a new piece. A velvet swivel chair from West Elm inspired her living room’s current decor (blue, purple, black, and white), and following the purchase of a dark-colored couch, she painted the walls a lighter neutral. To tie a room together, Nikki shops around the house, pairing similar colors and patterns: leopard print, turquoise, rainbow stripes. The arranging and rearranging is both a time-killer and a stress-reliever. Plus, she’s able to think of new ways to display her favorite pieces, such as her black-and-white lamp. “In order to get it, I had to order a couch,” she says, laughing. “The antiques store in Muncie wouldn’t sell it to me unless I bought the couch, too.” A 1971 Alexander Girard silk-screen panel and lavender couch—which is currently in Nikki’s upstairs office—are also near and dear.
Nikki wasn’t always a midcentury devotee, though. She grew up in DeKalb, Illinois, in a 1955 ranch that boasted a pink bathroom and a pink kitchen. “When I was little, I hated it,” she says. “It wasn’t like other kids’ houses.” Now, however, Nikki embraces anything that’s “different.” She has a penchant for mod colors, and she’s a gifted thrifter, scoring deals at 3 Stray Cats Vintage in Kirklin and Indy’s Midland Arts & Antiques Market. The antiques stores between South Bend and Niles, Michigan, have also led to some good finds. A crocheted orange-and-yellow blanket? $1.50. A velvety chartreuse couch? $20. “My mom worked at a thrift store,” Nikki says. “So I learned at a very young age to look for quality and at the way things are made.”
One big difference between authentic midcentury items and remakes, she has learned, is that the originals were often made in the United States, and there is a sense of pride in collecting them. Take Nikki’s pottery lamp, for example. Richard Peeler—a former ceramics professor at DePauw University—made it, and its geometric etchings feel whimsical yet tribal. Nikki also knows her lavender couch was brand-new in the 1950s and has been recovered seven times. Even her front door has a story: It came from the home of family friends, who had looked at Nikki and Mark’s home, decided it couldn’t work for them, bought a different house, and then sold their door on Indiana Mid-Century Modern. “I can tell you the history of everything I own,” Nikki says. “When I get something, I learn about it. Everything in my house is there because it has meaning, not just because it looks cool.”