The word pops up a lot these days. There’s the recent movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, La Bohème seems to be quite the enigmatic phrase, and having a bohemian style in your home and in your wardrobe is all the rage, attributed to everyone from Keith Richards to Kate Moss.

But what exactly does Bohemianism mean?  The answer is not so clean cut - which is fitting, considering what we’re talking about.

The origins.

Originally the term had a somewhat contemptuous insinuation which was given to Roman Gypsies, commonly believed to have originated in a place called Bohemia, in Central Europe. The English word was used to denote people from the Czech Republic, before the word “Czech” became prevalent.

Gypsies being gypsies – outsiders, misfits, strangers trying to get along and living their own innocuous or expressive lives – had an appeal to artists and poets and so the bohemian life took on a romantic connotation. In some cases, to some people, it felt almost like a calling. Like in Puccini’s opera La Boheme. The poet in the opera speaks earnestly that there could be no better way to live than that of the artist’s life. No money through employment could compare to his vagabond life, for “Richer is none on earth than I” he claimed!

Though its roots are French in nature, the term bohemianism and its lifestyle ideals spread across the globe. In America, beat poets such as Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs were considered the quintessential bohemians: living life On The Road and at odds with the mainstream society.

In Britain, the aesthetic movement of the 19th century gave bohemianism a dangerous connotation with the sense of being in an almost secret society. They usually had very liberal views, and people like Oscar Wilde took these to the extreme in both their art and the way they lived their lives 

Nowadays, the word bohemian will mean different things to any number of different people. Typically, it tends to mean someone who is socially unconventional, and particularly one who is involved in the arts. 

Bohemian style and decor.

Particular to the bohemian lifestyle was the clothes and the sense of fashion. This still lives on today and has extended beyond the wardrobe into home style and decor. 

Take this place for an extreme example: an artist’s multi-level studio packed with books, trinkets, sculptures and much more. While this may be a little too chaotic for most, the lessons to be learned here from ‘Boho’ decor, is all about having a home full of life, culture and interesting items for everyone to see.

The eclecticism that makes a room Boho means that no two rooms are the same. In taking from the tradition of artists, Boho decor is like a painter who takes pride in exactly where each colour goes on her painting, using a palette of complexity and taste. Part of the challenge and excitement of decorating in a Bohemian style is to mix a range of patterns and textures, combining styles that may not traditionally be expected to go together. This gives the space a sense of fun, adventure and exoticism - there are no rules (just like the gypsies who started this whole thing), just a whole lot of experimenting to find what works for your personal taste.

Lighting is almost as big a part of the Boho picture as all your decor combined. Think ambient, soft lighting with multiple sources of light rather than one or two overhead lights: lanterns, candles, lamps. Getting the right lighting will really pull together all the mix-matched objects you’ve brought together into one room 

The main thing that really makes the Bohemian style what it is, is that it has a sense of individual personality: your personality. So bringing in family heirlooms, handmade items or purchases from overseas will give it that touch that turns it from a generically styled room to a truly personal, modern take on Bohemianism. In the end, if Boho style could have one rule, it might well be, as Oscar Wilde said, to:

Be yourself, everyone else is taken.


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