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Like so many kids growing up in the 1990s, I tuned into Pee-wee’s Playhouse to enter a waking, deep-fried dream. The zany, postmodern universe of the show’s main character, Pee-wee Herman—aka the late Paul Reubens—was a visual buffet of talking furniture, googly eyes, dinosaurs, and Reubens’ own brilliantly perverse, lighting speed comedic delivery. It was a sauced up version of the 1922 Bauhaus ballet; It was the proto-TikTok FYP live stream doomscroll experience, serving up ice cream soup one minute and unhinged jokes from a cow’s mouth the next. I couldn’t believe that my parents let me watch it.
In hindsight, I know that Pee-wee’s Playhouse was as much a show for adults as it was for kids, and a seamless way for parents to onboard the next generation onto a love of John Waters, the B-52s, and drag culture. The beloved show ran from 1986 to 1990, and as such was also an invitation for viewers into a personal universe that felt like a K-hole version of Memphis Design where high- and low-brow materials (pop art decor and literal piles of clay, respectively) mixed, an influence of the 1990s Global Village Coffeehouse aesthetic thrived, and one could find touches of oversized, late-80s oversized novelty decor. As set designer Gary Panter explains in this VICE video interview, “We put art history all over the show […] kind of like the Googie style. It’s like those LA types of coffee shops and stuff but kind of psychedelic, over-the-top.”
Today, we’re tapping into our inner Pee-weeite to honor the late Paul Reubens by turning our home into a 2023 version of Puppetland. You don’t have to anthropomorphize your West Elm armchair to recreate some of Reubens’ whimsy, but there are plenty of affordable, functional design cues we can take from his imagination to bring a little more color and life into our own.
Defined by its Space Age energy and cartoon-esque legs, Googie furniture has been one of mid-century modern design’s most enduring aesthetics. It’s also one of the most functional and versatile ways to bring some Puppetland energy into your own home, because the silhouettes of Googie pieces require little to no decoration to pull a vibe. This high-rated Googie-legged coffee table from Amazon can be styled up or down to fit a minimalist or maximalist style, and is 20% off. Pair it with a Noguchi lamp to go Japandi, or a Murano glass bowl of googly eyes to go Pee-wee Herman-core.
Anything by Gaetano Pesce
The surreal, sculptural home wares by Italian designer Gaetano Pesce are very deserving of a place in the Playhouse. I’m the proud owner of this Mini Nugget Vessel, which looks as if it was made of hand-blown glass but is actually a flexible, unbreakable resin vase/catch-all/goblet for all of your evolving needs.
Alessi’s anthropomorphized wine openers
Remember: Your home goods should look like they start dancing when you leave the room to fit in on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. We have been longtime stans of the postmodern Italian design house Alessi for that reason alone, and suggest bringing one of its signature anthropomorphic wine openers into your kitchen to elevate the art of opening a bottle.
This is your Playhouse, after all
This neon-inspired sign would have been a little too explicit for the OG Playhouse, but we can practically hear Herman saying “Ba da bing!” after getting a wish granted from Jambi. Bring this queen to the patio to hold court during your Labor Day BBQ.
Cop a clock that’s also a piece of art
The classic Kit Cat wall clock is also very Puppetland-coded with its endlessly swinging tail, and it’s available on Amazon in eleven colorways such as “Candy Cane Red” and “Boysenberry.”
A floor mat with gumption
Fun times with a slightly menacing undertone? Very Pee-wee Herman. Of course this bath mat is also by the British artist David Shrigley—again, very Pee-wee-coded—and would be perfect in our entryway and restroom alike.
… Ditto this orange check rug from the Holy Land (SSENSE), which will wake-up even the drabbest of Landlord Special bathrooms with its graphic design.
Dusen Dusen = Peak Puppetland bathroom jawn
You just know that Pee-wee was hanging some bright, striped Dusen Dusen bath towels in the bathroom to keep the serotonin flowing, and his guests’ hands pampered with the brand’s plush, OEKO-TEX-certified cotton.
The signature smiley mirror
Pee-wee’s Playhouse viewers might remember the sick smiley face mirror in many of the show’s shots. There’s a version for under $15 available on Amazon right now, and it sure would look perfect by a Stüssy candle and the new leopard-print Oxfords from Wacko Maria x Dr. Martens.
Find your Chairry (and Couchy)
The unofficial King of Puppetland and most GOATed piece of Pee-wee’s talking furniture, Chairry has a place in our hearts (and nightmares) forever. Wayfair is home to plenty of MCM-inspired furniture and decor worthy of the chatting chair’s legacy, including this navy Googie chair with high-ratings from reviewers.
If you’re able to splurge, this vintage, zebra-print Corona Chair from 1stDibs is the kind of show-stopping investment piece that your descendants will fight over.
… The Same goes for this MCM couch that looks like the mouth of a hot person. Can you imagine watching Death Becomes Her on it with a bottle of Lambrusco, under the glow of your neon-inspired lady sign? Pure rizz.
A side table with a pop of color
Italian design house Kartell’s versatile, Space Age-y Componibili side tables work in literally every room of the house, and have a sleek sliding function to conceal your bow ties, a small dinosaur family, and your other Playhouse necessities.
Pay homage to the Playhouse door
One of the most iconic parts of the Playhouse was the jagged, tufted red vinyl door; it looked like it could have been owned by a magician, or functioned as set dressing for a 90s Pedro Almodóvar film. Don’t sleep on the power of its cousin, this vinyl stool set, which is the stuff kitsch Playhouse dreams are made of.
Fake food = great sculptures
In my kitchen, we have a bowl of fruit that is filled with real, edible fruits and vegetables with minerals, as well as a few faux bananas and glass grapes sprinkled in to keep guests on their toes. There is so much cool, high quality fake food online that can make sure your countertop never looks boring or sparse, but we’re big fans of this lime green and baby blue cake sculpture.
RIP to the GOAT
Pour one out and light one up for the late, great Paul Reubens.
That’s all for now, folks. Unless you still want an ant farm, of course.
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.