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The Tattooed Home

While we drove, a cool February wind roared through the open window, shredding apart cigarette smoke, and finally sucking it up into the sky’s blue mouth. I remember the song on the radio, Tonight, Tonight by the Smashing Pumpkins. My best friend and I arrived at our destination: nondescript storefront; blank papery walls. Fluorescent lights. Scattered around: Oversized flipbooks filled with drawings of tattoos and photos of fresh tattoos, puffy red halos still visible around the inky designs.

A little Asian man sat me down on a folding chair, and from my coat’s breast pocket, I produced a slip of paper on which was a single Kanji character. The man giggled and said, "Mommy!"

I grinned and nodded.

For the next 30 minutes, my shoulder throbbed dully as the man drew on my skin with a buzzing needle. On my flesh appeared art, new meaning, an extension of who I was.


Tattoos present a bit of a paradox. Indeed, the fluid beauty which many tattoo artists can express when ink meets flesh is undeniably an art. And yet the tattoo has had an unsavory reputation, which clings to it steadfastly (the affiliation with criminal organizations, the comical tattoo on the face received one drunken night). People with tattoos are viewed as being more rebellious, less attractive and less intelligent than their non-inked counterparts; yet one in five Americans has a tattoo,[1] and the trend shows no signs of slowing.

So now, indulge, if you will, in the notion of the tattooed home.

Some people treat their bodies as a blank canvas; others consider their homes to be their outlet for self-expression. It seems only natural that the progression of expression would, after the body, extend to one's dress, then to one's shelter. The home—like a tattoo--can reflect one's personality, style and taste. Interior design can include the juxtaposition of opposites,[2]--just as the tattoo's popularity is plagued by contrary attitudes.[4]

Enter the tattoo into the home. Take a needle to the walls—perhaps not literally, but on the other hand, why not? After all, there is no limit to art. While consulting a friend with a very ethnically eclectic style, I proposed a multi-media mural inspired by the Indian henna hand-painting art form called mehndi. In my friend’s house, I planned to paint the wall asaffron color, hand-paint traditional Indian motifs, then accentuate certain areas with mirrored and glass mosaic tiles.

Besides wall treatments, the tattoo makes its presence known in the home by way of furniture. Polka, an Austrian design firm, in collaboration with international tattoo artist Gert Kowarzik, creates “tattoofurniture,” a collection of leather furniture pieces that are literally tattooed to client specifications. Reddish, a design studio based in Jaffa, Israel, offers digitally tattooed tables with intricate graphics based on the Japanese Yakuza tattoo known as irezumi.

Of course, there is no shortage of tattoo-inspired accessories for the home, including the kitschy and popular Sailor Jerry variety, which depicts, among other things, anchors and sparrows.

Nothing should dictate what should or shouldn’t be in a home, just as there are few limitations on what we can and cannot do to our bodies. We needn’t separate the two, as our homes are often extensions of ourselves, monuments to the limitlessness of artistic expression. While researching other tattoos (I have a board dedicated to tattoos on Pinterest) and wall coverings, as I often find myself doing), I came across a tattoo that mimicked a wall covering that mimicked a watercolor splash...or perhaps it was the other way around.


I could still feel the needle’s dull pinch on my shoulder, even though it had stopped several minutes before. A new song was playing on the car’s radio, but I was more interested in the sound the plastic wrap covering my tattoo made every time I steered the car into a right turn. I felt excited at the ache that awakened my shoulder, my eyes, my entire body. I felt excited that I was taking my tattoo home.

1. The Harris Poll, 2006

2. In interior design, symmetrical balance relates to the visual weight of objects--rather than repeating an item within a space, we use different elements with a similar perceived weight to achieve balance on the opposing axis. Complementary, tetradic and square color harmonies in which colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are used to create a harmonious color scheme.

3. Samoan society has long been defined by rank and title, with chiefs (ali'i) and their assistants, known as talking chiefs (tulafale), descending from notable families in the proper birth order. The tattooing ceremonies for young chiefs, typically conducted at the onset of puberty, were elaborate affairs and were a key part of their ascendance to a leadership role. The permanent marks left by the tattoo artists would forever celebrate their endurance and dedication to cultural traditions. (Skin Stories, PBS, Show Air Date: May 4, 2003)

4. Celtic tattoos were a likely sight among Celtic warriors. Much like the Picts of the Scottish Highlands, (Latin root word: Picti meaning "painted ones"), who tattooed their warriors as a form of intimidation against their enemies, Celts likely adopted the same war tactic of the time. Battle among the Celts was considered the very highest honor. The Celts engaged in battle bare-chested, or even naked--further reinforcing a stance of intimidation against their foes. (Celtic Tattoos)

5. The Yakuza is a traditional organized crime syndicates which originated in Japan and is the largest criminal organization in the world. Many Yakuza have full-body tattoos which are still often "hand-poked"-- the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-made and handheld tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel. The procedure is expensive, painful and can take years to complete. (Japanorama, BBC Three, Series 2, Episode 3, first aired 21 September 2006)

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