Bright, whimsical furnishings and accessories are adding a sense of humor to home décor. Here's how to add a bit of visual eccentricity to your life.

In countless furniture showrooms, upholstery, wood furniture and accessories comprise a sea of consistent forms in safe, staid colors. It's mostly earth tones, and the styles are surprisingly similar.

But here and there, a few manufacturers are attempting to break the mold. Slowly but surely, color is creeping back into home interiors, and so are shapes that are whimsical, unusual, even bizarre.

Offerings include sofas shaped like big, red lips; chairs shaped like a cupped hand; and acrylic hexagon end tables in lime green, fuchsia and orange.

“Regardless of how odd you think your interests are, you can probably find a fabric or little accent piece that just makes you smile and fits with whatever eccentric thing you're into,” says Pat Bowling, spokeswoman for the American Furniture Manufacturers Association.

TamSan Designs, based in Cornelious, N.C., makes lots of traditional furniture and household goods, but some of its best sellers include plates and table and chair sets emblazoned with whimsical quips intended to draw a chuckle.

There are bistro table and stool sets for coffee lovers, hand-painted with lines such as “espress yourself” and “whole latte love.” A card table has a joker on top, and coordinating chairs painted with a king and queen. A wine case has a picture of a chef riding a bicycle, an umbrella-covered basket of bread in one hand, precariously stacked wine bottles in another.

“Our customer base is often owners of second homes,” says TamSan co-owner Tamara David. “When you've finished your primary home, then you can get fun with the second home. I think older, more established customers feel a little more secure going out on a limb.”

Haziza is a Sun Valley, Calif., manufacturer of mod furnishings and accessories that push the limits of shocking colors and modern shapes and materials, including tables and chairs made of acrylic.

Haziza creative director Ellen McAlister says there's growing demand for furniture that's a little less predictable.

“I think people who don't know much about interior design get into an apartment and stick to beige and brown because they're afraid of doing something wrong and don't want to make a mistake,” she says.

“But in terms of current fashion, people are really drawn to stuff that recalls the 60s and 70s, the bright colors and strong geometric patterns. I think the home makeover shows on television have gone a long way to educate people, and as they're learning more about design they're learning how to use color and pieces that are a little more unique.”

The trend isn't new, necessarily, but it's gained steam recently as grim war headlines and images of hurricane survivors wear on the nation's mood.

“I think people really need to laugh these days,” says Laura Kellner, marketing and logistics director for Kikkerland Design in Harlem, N.Y. “I know I like to laugh. And it's even more fun to buy them as gifts and share a humorous moment with another person.”

Kikkerland is known for generally conservative household items and gifts, but it has recently begun broadening its horizons. Among the company's more whimsical products is a line of colored, oval-shaped bottle openers that wobble on their round base. The bottle openers have little faces, and the bottle goes in the open mouth.

The company also makes ThermoPEEPS, a thermometer mounted by suction cup. Whimsical figurines in garb appropriate for various weather extremes jet out from the edges of the round thermometer's face. At 20F, the little man wears a snowsuit. At 85 F, he's down to bikini swim trunks.

“We've for years been doing only silver or brushed steel or aluminum you know, shiny things but just because of customer demand we've added a lot more color, and whenever we throw something in with color, it just flies off the shelves,” says Kellner. 

Countless scientific studies have documented the effect of color's ability to elevate mood, which is why colorful interiors are far preferable to the endless white and beige that tend to dominate homes, says Susan Sargent, a West Tinmouth, Vt., interior designer and author of “The Comfort of Color,” (Bulfinch, 2004).

The book showcases homes that use color fearlessly.

“I've been saying for years that people need to be cheered up by having color around them,” she says. “For a lot of reasons, people are wanting to stay home where they feel safe and comfortable. Everything is so unsettling outside, so you have the whole cocooning trend.

“To me, if you're going to be home a lot, why would you want to continue with these boring, bland beige interiors?”

Sargent isn't prepared to beat up anybody who isn't quite bold enough to buy, say, the lip-shaped sofa. She's not a huge proponent of unconventional forms, either. But you can still use colorful fabrics and prints to set a room apart.

“If you're new at this, or a little scared, start at the accessory level,” she says. “A brown couch is a great background for a bright pillow or throw, or use bright paints or rugs to liven up the room.”

Bowling, of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, says anyone could experiment with whimsy without appearing tacky.

“There's such a huge variety of things out there that folks who have the inclination to add a splash of whimsy can do it easily without it having to be the overall theme of the room,” she says.