10 Radical Design Ideas That Never Went Mainstream

You never know what fun and fancy you may find in even the strangest ideas. Although designers wanted to revolutionize how we live – or at least offer some out-of-the-box alternatives. Read on for unusual design inspiration—and a few epic fails.

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The Glass House

flickr.com via mbschlemmer

In 1948, Philip Johnson built his “Glass House,” an experiment in minimalism, geometry, and reflection. All the walls, both interior and exterior, are constructed of transparent glass. The lack of privacy never appealing to the house-buying public, however. The Glass House is now a museum in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Related: America’s 50 Most Infamous Homes

Live-In Machines

flickr.com via marcbarrot

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, was a Swiss-French architect and urban planner. He saw houses as “machines for living in.” His stark, functional style called Brutalism initially met with resistance, but Le Corbusier won out, becoming one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. Still, today the everyman considers Brutalist architecture as an eyesore rather than a treasure.

The Cave Room

flickr.com via nadja_robot

Barbara D’Arcy was a Bloomindale’s buyer and decorator, who influenced America’s tastes in the 1950s through 1970s. Not all of the iconic tastemaker’s ideas caught fire with the public, however. One of her flops was the “cave room,” described by The New York Times as “a Flintstonesque room made from a frame of chicken wire and wood, sprayed with urethane foam and painted white. The furniture was built into the foam.”

The Avocado Bathroom

flickr.com via tiffany terry

Here’s a wacky design idea that did go mainstream—for a few years at least. One of the first purveyors of the avocado-colored bathroom was the British company Ideal Standard in 1970. That color palette is now code for “outmoded.” However, the company is now trying (with limited success) to revive avocado interiors, rebranding them as “iconic and quirky.”

Related: 14 Long-Forgotten House Trends We’re Glad Are Gone

The A.I.R. Sofa

flickr.com via dunkerskulturhus

Even a mega brand has some mega flops. The a.i.r. sofa is one idea that IKEA’s global design head Marcus Engman calls “an amazing fiasco.” This inflatable, coverable sofa had plenty of design flaws when it debuted, first in the 1980s and again the 2000s. Don’t expect a third rollout. The a.i.r. sofa has been retired.

Related: 11 Types of Furniture That Are Going Extinct

Glow-in-the-Dark Décor


The idea of glow-in-the-dark home accents may trigger thoughts of stick-on stars in the kids’ bedroom, but Jamie Beckwith has an adult version of glow-in-the-dark decor. The Nashville-based designer created an LED-illuminated wine cellar that glows an eerie blue. The cellar ceiling is clear, so the display can be viewed through the living room floor. While not yet a popular design choice, it is definitely eye-catching and futuristic.

A Flair for Hair


This is one eco-friendly design that hasn’t gained a wide following: furniture made from recycled human hair. Ronald Thompson owned a salon and parlayed his knowledge of hair into a new material called Pilius X, from which he fashioned his Stiletto Chair. He sold a total of 3 chairs made of repurposed human hair—for $5,000 a piece.

A Green Dining Table


If you like picnics, why not try the indoor picNYC table? Designed by Haiko Cornelissen architecture, this dining table has an aluminum frame with a tabletop of soil and living grass. The idea is to make urban farming intimate—and apartment-size—although a window box or herb garden may suffice for the average city-dweller.

The Aquarium Bed

flickr.com via Wicker Paradise

Remember waterbeds? Now imagine a bed that is surrounded by water and fish. Wayde King and Brett Raymer, the design team at Acrylic Tank Manufacturing, teamed up to create the Aquarium Bed, a 650 gallon fish tank that arcs over your head as your sleep. Not practical perhaps, but certainly… unique.

Wearable Furniture


Joo Youn Paek is an artist and interaction designer. One of her unusual combination decor and couture inventions is the “self-inflating chair dress,” a garment that inflates while you walk. Another wearable design is her “pillowig,” which sounds exactly like what it is. Definitely intended as a conversation starter.