When you’re about to enter the home of the set decorator of Pee-wee’s Playhouse – a popular American children’s show – there are two images you expect to find once you open the door: either an orgiastic amalgam of color and bizarre objects or a stark, clean interior stripped down to the bare essentials — nothing in between. Yet James Higginson’s apartment is something completely different. Over the years, he’s amassed artefacts like wooden masks, Native American totems and tribal statues, and has mixed them with other indigenous art and work made by friends. His flat opens up like a chest of wonders that awakens a need for tactile observation — visitors want to run their fingers across every single object and hear the stories behind them.
Born in Pennsylvania, James followed his parents’ advice who “like all good parents, wanted me to have a comfortable life, close to the American ideal,” and went into sciences to train as a marine biologist. However, his creative urge, which had been slowly brewing until then, finally fomented a revolution against his career path, and sent him straight into night school at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. His penchant for color and ability to blend patterns in a very singular manner, landed him a position as the set decorator for the popular TV show Pee-wee’s Playhouse. He was awarded an Emmy for the show’s characteristic set design, that familiar world of wonders where distasteful mixture transforms into a tasteful whole as different stories unravel.We sat down with James for an intimate discussion during which he shared his personal stories, his approach to interior decoration and explained the underlying topics of his work.