Updated: May 23
Why is it important to consider classic design styles of the past in order to create timeless interiors of today? Well, for starters, timeless interiors do not rely exclusively on current design trends. Design history has proven time and again that restricting your room design to what is ‘current’ or ‘trendy’ will date your space. Check out some examples:
The ‘70’s is commonly referred to as the “decade style forgot”! Think shag pile carpet, macrame wall hangings. lacquered and metallic finishes, graphic patterned art and bright pops of colour.
Although this style is clearly dated, I can appreciate the bold colours and clean, modern furniture pieces. Today, a brightly coloured 70’s style accent chair in a room with more restrained colours and patterns would be absolutely groovy!
80’s design style ranges from the ultra floral shabby chic look to the totally rad tropical futuristic Miami Vice aesthetic. Think vertical blinds, tropical prints, floral chintz, ruffles, swags, valences, tie backs and soft, comfortable sofas often with rolled, oversized arms. All time favourites were Laura Ashley floral bedding, foiled wallpaper with borders, lacquered furniture pieces with gold accent trim and glass brick walls. Soft colours such as mauves and pastels were popular for paint, fabric and accessories.
There is certainly no doubt that the look is dated! What parts of the 80’s aesthetic can be used in a modern space? Reflective finishes such as glass and mirror are timeless, and today, we can include lucite to the list of materials that add an airy ethereal feel. Floral patterns, used sparingly, can be a nice addition to a throw pillow ensemble or accent chair. Brass too is back but today, but this time around the preference is for an antiqued or brushed finish. Pastels have also regained popularity and are often seen in soft furnishings, artwork and home accents.
The key to making any space have timeless appeal is not going over-the-top with trends!
The 90‘s saw people decluttering and embracing a more minimalist design. No longer would you see frilly floral draperies or soft pastel colours. Picture orange-stained oak, blonde pine, wall-to-wall beige berber, large media units, and curtains that would puddle on the floor. Sponge painting was a popular DIY technique. Larger scale furnishings, such as sectionals, were often kept neutral while colour was introduced in throw pillows or wall art. Walls were often painted in neutral tones. When colour was used, hunter green, terra cotta and taupe were popular choices.
From the 90’s to the present, I think it’s safe to say that, for the most part, we‘ve been moving progressively away from sinking knee deep into design trends. Unfortunately, some of us (namely my in-laws) had to learn the hard way to steer clear of going overboard with the latest trends after having to replace yellow sinks, toilets, tubs and blue wall-to-wall shag broadloom! By taking a well thought out, curated approach to design, and referencing timeless classics, you will not look back at old photos and say “What was I thinking!!!?”
I think we can agree that the goal is to create a space that’s a reflection of our personal style while also having timeless appeal. So often, people jump in and make design choices, only to realize as they’re going along, that their house feels disconnected and piecemeal, and is not a reflection of their personal style - only they’re not entirely sure what that is.
Taking the time to study and evaluate your preferences as they relate to classic design, will lead you to discover the genres that inspire you. This will help you develop your own trademark style and guide the direction you take in furnishing and decorating your home. Understanding your core aesthetic will help you develop a cohesive, unified home where each room is a reflection of your own refined taste.
If you find it challenging to describe your design style, peruse the features classical design and take mental note of the features you gravitate to the most. This process will help you define your style and give you a jumping off point for future projects. So here they are - the most influential movements that have yielded incredibly innovative styles of design, art and furniture, many of which are still popular and in production today.
Neoclassicism (1750-1850) was a Revival period that valued simplicity and symmetry after the virtues of classic Rome and Greece. Having emerged in Age of Enlightenment, another major influence was the new development of archaeology in 1748, following the discovery of a largely intact Roman town, Pompeii in Italy, which had been buried after a volcanic eruption in 79 AD.
Neoclassicism was a sophisticated style that featured columns, swags, gilt, classical reliefs and opulent furnishings. Use of colour included whites, creams, greys, and pale shades of blue, green, and yellow with minimal contrast between the background and accent colours. The style opposed excessive vanity, whimsy, grace, ornamentation and asymmetry of Rococo and Baroque styles which came before. Curved furniture pieces, characteristic of these previous styles, were still used.
The Victorian Period, from 1830 to 1890 followed the expansion of global trade and mass production of goods. Queen Victorias’ love of the ornate, influenced design styles from furniture to clothing and decor. Victorian style is noted for its eclecticism, abundance and excessive ornament.
A typical Victorian home was cluttered, full of heavy furniture and surrounded by plants, heavy fabrics, lots of china and glassware.
When it came to colours, shades of ruby red, forest green, or deep blue were preferred. Use of wallpaper was an important feature, often elaborately designed in patterns and vivid colours. Fabrics included velvet, damask, cotton and chintz.
Furniture was ornate and large and made of rich materials such as mahogany wood and ivory. Button back chairs, pouffes and ottomans were common and often resembled earlier styles of Gothic and Rococo. Victorian style is known as an eclectic revival and historic period, with furniture and decor influences from the Middle East and Asia.
ARTS AND CRAFTS
The Arts and Crafts movement was an international trend in decor and the fine arts. It emerged in Britain and spread throughout Europe and North America between 1880 - 1920. This reform movement opposed the perceived decline in quality standards associated with machine and factory production. It promoted traditional craftsmanship and opposed Industrialization. Although it had a strong influence in Europe, it was displaced by the Modernist movement in the 1930‘s.
Commonly seen during this movement were hand-crafted items made of natural materials. Hand-hammered metal hardware, pottery, glazed tile and handmade textiles such as Navajo rugs were popular. Earthy organic colors such as mossy greens, mustard, terra cotta, warm brown and amber were used. Furniture was heavy, with clean, simple lines and almost exclusively made of dark stained oak. Leather was a preferred upholstery material. Metals such as copper and bronze were used to accent amber-stained glass in lighting fixtures.
William Morris was a leading member of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Famous for his floral wallpaper and fabric designs, Morris ultimately linked art and industry by connecting art to commercial production. This connection was a key stage in the evolution of design as we know it today. Below are some pieces you would have seen during the Arts and Crafts movement:
Art Nouveau had a relatively brief reign, reaching peak popularity between 1890 to 1914. It‘s came to an end with the outbreak of the first world war. As a movement, Art Nouveau represented a breaking away from the then traditional, historic art styles of 19th century painters. The design style was inspired by the natural lines and forms of plants and flowers, often displaying sinuous curves and asymmetric whiplash lines. It was also characterized by the use of modern materials such as iron, glass, ceramics and concrete. Some Art Nouveau decorative pieces are shown below:
Art Deco was a stylish international design movement from 1925 until the 1940s. Influenced by designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Art Deco was developed by Austrian designers Josef Hoffman and Adolf Loos and American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This style was an eclectic compilation of several artistic, sometimes contradictory styles. It was renowned for combining modern style with fine craftsmanship and rich materials, Art Deco represented luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in technology. Rare and often expensive materials included man-made materials (plastics, Bakelite; vita-glass; and ferroconcrete) as well as natural ones (jade, silver, ivory, ebony, obsidian, chrome, and rock crystal). Furniture used woods like ebony or macassar, and thin layers of wood or veneers as a surface covering using exotic woods like zebrawood and mahogany. Unique materials such as aluminum, inlaid wood, lacquer, shagreen, stainless steel and zebra skin were also used.
The design style was characterized by a repetition of elements, simple, clean shapes and ornament that was geometric or stylized from representational forms. Popular motifs included chevrons, Egyptian symbols, geometric shapes, sunbursts, sweeping curves, trapezoid shapes, zigzags and stepped patterns. Art Deco was often featured in cinemas, theatres and ocean liners. Art Deco objects were rarely mass-produced. The popularity of Art Deco ended with the beginning of WWII and rise of the functional, unadorned styles of modernist design. Below are pieces created during the Art Deco movement:
Bauhaus was a German design and architecture school which operated from 1919 to 1933 and was part of the German modernist movement. The school had significant influence on subsequent trends in design and architecture worldwide. Amongst its directors was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - father of Modernism. The Bauhaus school was forced to close down in 1933 due to pressure from the Nazis. Ironically, the collapse of Bauhaus led to its global expansion, as members of the institution’s faculty emigrated to the USA, Switzerland, Russia, Israel and many other countries. With the closure of Bauhaus, Modernism was born...
Modernism was an artistic movement that developed in the first decades of the 20th century. It opposed ornamentation which was a dominant characteristic of previous styles. Modernism was influenced by the development of industry and rapid growth of cities. The movement was a reaction to Europe‘s repressive political structures, social inequalities and the horrors endured during World War I. Modernist ideals opposed economic inequality.
Modernism used new materials and technologies and envisaged a world re-created by the machine. Designs prioritized function and furniture came to be known for its simple, undecorated elegance. Modernism promoted sleek, clean lines and comfort, and rejected purely decorative features that were included solely for the purpose of embellishment. The frills and florals of pre-war styles were out. Furniture pieces were created to be affordable and easily mass-produced.
Though Modernist furniture dates from decades ago, many of those designs still have that up-to-date look. Even today, many pieces of modernist furniture continue to be produced and sold.
MID CENTURY MODERN
Mid-century modern (MCM) is a design movement that became popular following WWII from 1945 until the late 1970s. Although it was heavily influenced by the international Bauhaus movement, prioritizing function over form, this American movevent was a more casual version. Influenced by Scandinavian design, this mininimalist style integrated natural shapes, abstract designs, and organic materials (such as wood, hemp and wool) within a human-crafted environment. Glassware, ceramics, lighting, and furniture styles were characterized by simplicity and natural shapes.
Hollywood Regency style drew inspiration from the luxury of Art and the practicality of Mid-Century Modern design. Hollywood Regency was defined by everyday opulence and glamour. Think uncluttered interiors with bold use of colour, contrast and pattern, classic silhouettes, glass, metallic and lacquered finishes, and attention to the finer details such brass hardware, luxurious upholstery and sculptural décor. Interiors often included vivid contrasting colours such as pink, turquoise, yellow, and black-and-white checkerboard. Mirrors spanned entire surfaces of furniture walls. Motifs included zig zag patterns, animal prints (zebra, cheetah, snakeskin, etc.) and floral designs. Imitation bamboo stalks were used as trim. Period pieces included oversized black-and-white wall prints of famous actresses and sunburst mirrors.
The style was a combination of decadence and comfort. Its name was derived from the movie-making industry of southern California due to the styles appeal to Hollywood‘s glamorous actors and actresses of the 1920s - 1950s.
As I touched on earlier, classical design has yielded furnishings which are still popular and, in many cases, still in production today. Here are some of the most iconic furnishings which are just as gorgeous now as they were when they were first created.
I can appreciate all design styles but in the end, I trust my own taste and what makes me happy and gives me comfort. Revisiting design classics has been incredibly beneficial in helping me identify my own style preferences. For instance, I love the symmetry and subtle colours of Neoclassical design, the clean, sophisticated minimalism of Modernism, the bold patterns and exotic materials of Art Deco and the modern glamorous finishes of Hollywood Regency. Like me, you may discover that you have an appreciation of elements of disparate styles and this is ok. Identifying your core aesthetic and being faithful to it is part and parcel of establishing your own signature style.
Personally, I find a lot of visual noise to be jarring, so the more heavily decorated and furnished Victorian style is not for me. My eyes have no place to rest with explosions of pattern and I’ve learned over time, that I feel most at ease when patterns are used sparingly. I tend to gravitate toward modern geometrics such as Herringbone or Greek Key patterns over more traditional styles such as Damask or Chintz. I love bamboo accents, gilt and metallic finishes and the added sparkle of glass and lucite. I’m drawn to modern abstract and subtle landscape art and enjoy incorporating a sculptural piece into every room.
For me, spaces must feel inviting, while looking polished and sophisticated. Spaces I design exude casual elegance. Although the foundation of every space I design is rooted in the classics, I layer in fresh and modern pieces to create a look that is all my own. Analyzing the elements of classic design that I’m drawn to has helped me establish a trademark style, which is self proclaimed clean, classically modern and minimal with a touch of glam!
Take some time and think about the design styles that you’re most attracted to and what you would choose to be surrounded by in your home. Which of these features draw you in and which would be unsettling for you to live with? Pay attention to the design features you are repeatedly drawn to. Do you prefer traditional and ornate, minimalist and modern, casual and rustic or a combination of styles? If you're tackling your own space, identifying your style preferences will be key in creating a unified home where each room is a reflection of your well defined core aesthetic. Classic design is not synonymous with boring, and timeless and current are not mutually exclusive. A beautifully designed room can be both current and classic and through the thoughtful use of materials, one can create a look with lasting beauty. Referencing the classics while building your own trademark style will ensure that your design choices are true to your own unique style while having timeless appeal!