House of illuuuusion
September 8, 2017 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever seen a household interior decorated in ways that created an optical illusions? Like the equivalent of the old train tunnel painted on a wall in a cartoon, but just in somebody's home. Things that would would cause a guest to do a double take, or possibly deceive them if they weren't paying attention.

A trick of the light in the top corner of the bathroom ceiling, which made the ceiling look arched, got me thinking: what are some ways you could intentionally deceive household visitors?

I'm less interested in cheap ways to imitate more expensive decor (like things painted to look like wood grain, or painted to look like they are actually embossed or carved, or fake plants) and more interested in bolder tricks that might genuinely surprise or disorient someone discovering them for the first time.

"Secret" things (secret rooms behind a bookcase) or subconscious psychological tricks (painting a room bright colors to make it feel more joyful) aren't quite what I'm looking for either. I'd like things that exist primarily for the purpose of the illusion itself, and where the illusion might actually give viewers a mistaken idea of their physical reality.
posted by ropeladder to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The search term you probably want is trompe l'oeil - for example, here's an Architectural Digest article with a bunch of buyable items.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:28 AM on September 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Forced-perspective images? Discussion on that old AskMe link, or what looks like pretty comprehensive (but I haven't tried it, can't vouch for it) instructions.
posted by five toed sloth at 8:34 AM on September 8, 2017

Best answer: Oh man google "anamorphosis" and "decor" or "art" or "architecture" - I LOVE anamorphosis.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:36 AM on September 8, 2017

Best answer: Our wedding venue was a B&B that was a 100+ year old house that was moved from the downtown area to save it from being demolished. The new owner was renovating it and had discussed a few times with the contractor how they would test the crown mounding in the great room for lead and asbestos. The ceilings were around 10' and the moulding looked to be around 9". The contractor came to her laughing one day to say he had checked the crown moulding and it didn't exist. It was just a cleverly painted illusion on the wall and ceiling. Because of the height and the darkness of the corners, no one questioned it.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 8:43 AM on September 8, 2017 [14 favorites]

Best answer: RE: anamorphosis:
I've always found the definitive word on the subject to be this excellent, weird film by The Brothers Quay. Might give you some ideas about how to answer or research your question.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:51 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've painted simple trompe l'oeils for people in their homes, such as a painted coat rack with a painted coat and hat on it. For extra fun, it's nice to attach one real hook in the right spot.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:57 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have friends with a gaming room mural that looks like a 5' hole blasted into the wall with burnt edges. A dungeon crawl party gapes in shock into the room and behind them a dragon is getting ready to flame again. Great for gaming in that room, a little weird if you spend the night on the futon and wake up to see it in dim light - it actually does like a hole at the right angle.
posted by buildmyworld at 10:04 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe try one of these rugs?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:08 AM on September 8, 2017

I have never seen this on an interior but in Italy it's not uncommon to see trompe doeuil statues on the exterior of buildings like this.
posted by bq at 11:33 AM on September 8, 2017

Growing up, my mother hired a teenage artist to paint a mural on our 2nd floor hall's walls. This was circa 1970. Most of it was cartoon exaggeration stuff, but there was one place on the wall between actual doors where she painted the most realistic looking closed door I have ever seen. Even though I lived there, there were a few times I was fooled. My friends and my brother's friends were fooled all the time. We would tell them the bathroom is the 3rd door on the left and they would go for the fake door every time.

I am speculating here because I do not know the real answer, but I imagine this was around the time the Doors were popular and she thought this was one of the doors of perception or something. There was no doubt looking at the entirety of the mural which ran on both sides of an L shaped hall that she was stoned as a begesus when she painted it.
posted by AugustWest at 11:45 AM on September 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

bolder tricks that might genuinely surprise or disorient someone
where the illusion might actually give viewers a mistaken idea of their physical reality

Google the phrase "bathroom floor trompe l'oeil" for particular examples.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:32 PM on September 8, 2017

Not a deliberate one, but due to a design quirk in my old house (ie renovations by morons) the dark hallway through the middle of my house leads directly into my bathroom, but people - disoriented by the vanity mirror - tend to walk into it because they think they're walking into the other end of the hall that isn't there. It gets people every time - even then I tell them "Hey, you need to go through the kitchen on the right...." Something about walking "into" the bright room gets them every time.
posted by ninazer0 at 12:33 AM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of great examples (and helpful search terms), some of these are really clever. Thanks, everyone!
posted by ropeladder at 10:44 AM on September 9, 2017

I went to this place in Milan, which is a perfect example. It was super disorienting!
posted by TheCoug at 10:28 PM on September 9, 2017

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