Home decor lessons I learned from Burning Man

By on Aug 24th

Sacred Couch

Sacred Couch, by Nico Aguilera

It's been almost a decade since I made my final pilgrimage to Burning Man, the week-long arts festival in the Nevada desert that kicks off next week… but when I look around my house, I feel like I can still see influences of the Playa on my home.

See, part of the Burning Man experience is creating a little home for yourself out in the desert. You are given a blank slate (a flat, dusty, dry lake bed) and it's up to you to create a semblance of Somethingness out of the Nothingness. People go ALL OUT, of course — constructing entire buildings furnished with carpets, couches, beds, curtains — the whole shebang. Then at the end of the week, they tear or burn it all down, and cart the mess away. Whatever you may think of Burning Man, the way it creates a There out of Nowhere is truly remarkable… and there are lessons to be gleaned.

A side note: I tried to get someone still active in the Burning Man community to write this post, but of course all my Burner friends are too busy welding and gluing and sewing and EL-wiring in preparation for next week's event… so you'll have to make do with my perspective as a retired-Burner.

Create chill/cuddle/downtempo zones

BRCU chill out dome

Photo by Nico Aguilera

It's HOT in the desert, and people need both day and nighttime places to relax. Burners take their chill-out spaces very seriously, and there's a lot to be learned about creating truly comfortable, social, relaxation spaces in your home.

In too many contemporary homes, the only place to relax is a couch facing a television; we could all use more shmoozy spaces dedicated to socializing in comfort. Maybe you don't need an inflatable kiddie pool in your living room, but how about a pile of pillows on a nice rug in an unused corner? A couple loveseats facing each other in a den? An outdoor room in your backyard that celebrates relaxing together? The goal is to create a mellow space to share time with other people — not just a space for zoning out and staring at a screen.

Fun fur is your friend

1 of 4 pink fur couches for Burning Man 2011

Photo by Halcyon

This is one of those Burning Man cultural things that's become so entrenched that it's slipped into cliche… but OH MAN, do Burners ever love their fun fur and OH MAN, is there a good reason.

Fun fur (the long, fake, brightly colored kind) is ridiculous and irresistible — the bright pink couch above? How could you sit on that and NOT start petting it? Fun fur comes with its challenges (like a small pet, it sheds and can be difficult to wash), but a dash of well placed fur can add a quick blast of irreverence to any room.

Leave no trace


Photo by Espressobuzz, used by permission

Since Burning Man is held on BLM land, the event organizers are deeply committed to "leaving no trace." 50,000 people bring thousands of tons of art, clothes, food, housing, equipment, and other human detritus into the desert, and when the party is over — EVERYTHING GOES HOME WITH THEM. Burners are so committed to leaving no trace that there's an entire blog dedicated to dealing with MOOP (Matter Out Of Place). Many Burners carry around Altoid tins so that they can pick up little bits of MOOP they see over the course of the day.

Leave no trace is one of those home values that can be small or as enormous. For me on a very small practical level, it means making sure the house is always tidy before I go to bed — I want each day to leave no trace on the next. I try to pick shit up as I go.

On a larger level, leave no trace can be about a dedication to lower-impact green living — composting, reusing things, recycling. How can your home leave as little trace on the world as possible?

Hanging fabric beats painting walls

Burning Man 2010.071

Photo by skanske, used by permission

The winds in the Nevada desert can be super intense, so must Burners don't have walls to work with — instead, it's all about using wind-permeable fabric to create spaces. Fabric is colorful (solids! prints!), fabric is temporary (unlike paint!), fabric is washable. Fabric can be used to divide spaces, create cozy corners, or bring color to a drab room. Fabric is your friend! I mean, are you not inspired?

Colored lights are awesome

Burning Man at night looks like a DIY Las Vegas, a psychdelic cacophony of colored light installations. Granted, you may not want your home to feel quite so much like a neon sign got down doggie-style with a bulk-pack of Christmas tree lights in your living room, but colored lights in your home can create sweet nighttime spaces that feel cozy, warm, and visually stunning.

Start thinking of lighting less as a way to read/see and more as an installation. Your "low light" options in your living room or bedroom don't have to just be a 25 watt bulb — play with colored bulbs, LED lights, EL wire. Even Christmas tree lights can be awesome if you get creative with how you use them. What corners of your house need a warm glow? I mean, imagine having one of these in your living room.

Think what you want of Burning Man — the whole event may strike you as ludicrous, which is just fine (in fact, I think most Burners would agree!). But there is no denying that the Burner community has some insanely amazing inspiration to offer when it comes to creating spaces.

Burners: If you're not heading to the Playa this year, tell me: what did I miss in this list? What key home-creation lessons did you learn from Burning Man?