Sweet Nostalgia: These 2021 Home Design Trends Are Stolen From Another Decade
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- 9 min read
Allaire Conte Contributing AuthorCloseAllaire Conte Contributing Author
Allaire Conte is a writer with a passion for real estate, technology, and nature. She holds her MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University and is based in Brooklyn.
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With the whirlwind that was 2020, we look to 2021 in hopes of returning to the old normal — and this sentiment is manifesting in home design trends. 2021 is revamping home design trends from the good old days with the rebirth of styles from the glamorous 1920s to the flashy 1980s. Bringing back decor of decades’ past, we aim to satisfy our nostalgia and create a brighter living space for our future.
We spoke to leading design experts from across the country to share the latest scoop on 2021’s reimagination of these throwback home design trends. Pop a bottle of bubbly and tuck in as we celebrate the revival of six home design trends, refreshed for the new year.
Movements making a comeback: 2021’s standout interior design styles
Art Deco rose to prominence in the 1920s and dazzled the world with its revolutionary geometric shapes and clean lines. These features were in stark contrast to the ornate, heraldic motifs of the Victorian era, which preceded it and created a bold, fresh look fit for the Industrial Revolution. Art Deco’s novelty is rooted in the intersection of these time periods — consumers were still interested in the artisan-made luxury goods of the Victorian era but also sought out new, affordable mass-produced wares.
As we step into the second year of this millennium’s roaring 20s, it seems appropriate that Art Deco’s comeback style continues with the handcrafted and industrialized goods of our age. Companies like CB2 and West Elm mass-produce affordable Art Deco-inspired furnishings embellished with geometric shapes and metallic details.
Pair new retro-inspired items with antique accessories. A patinated platter, worn ceramic, or vintage crystal vase adds character and charm to an otherwise linear design.
“Find something you cherish. Go to the flea market and find a treasure — something rich in history. It just adds this wild character and depth and interest to any space,” advises Ginger Curtis, founder of Urbanology Designs in Ft. Worth, Texas, and author of Beauty by Design: Refreshing Spaces Inspired by What Matters Most.
It’s this intersection of the unique and commonplace, the familiar and unknown, that makes Art Deco such an unforgettable style.
What we’re loving, leaving, and adding to Art Deco in 2021:
- Metallic fixtures, like this Fluted Gold Wall Sconce from CB2
- Old-timey treasures sourced from second-hand stores and websites
- Geometric designs like this Deco Mirror
- Kitschy or excessively garish color palettes (think back to the red walls of Tom and Myrtle’s secret stop away in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby)
- Highly ornamental but not functional furniture
- Inspiration from other periods, like these Modern Parisian Crushed Velvet Pillows.
Modern design was born in the early 1950s with the aim to balance beauty and function. For reference, picture the world of Mad Men’s Don Draper: the sleek lines of his clutterless desk, the simplicity of his office’s color palette, the organized style of every room he walked into — such is the essence of Modern Design.
Today, home design enthusiasts recognize the return of Modern Design dubbed “Mid-century Modern.” Mid-century Modern has been on the rise for over a decade, with today’s iteration embracing organic fabrics and neutral tones.
“All trends die, and then they come back. It’s just a way of reinventing them and seeing them from another perspective,” comments Stine Schoening, a top-selling agent and Luxury Specialist with The Oldham Group in San Jose, CA.
Mid-century Modern is highly accessible with retailers like Target and Wayfair selling furniture with hairpin legs and walnut finishes. Thanks to the style’s clean lines, Mid-century Modern furnishing is highly versatile and easily integrated with other contemporary pieces.
What we’re loving, leaving, and adding to Nostalgic Modern in 2021:
- Clean lines
- Natural materials like wood, glass, and metal
- Sleek furniture, like this couch from All Modern
- Compartmentalized floor plans
- Itchy, synthetic fabrics
- Plastic covered furniture
“People want to live 100% in their homes. They don’t want these precious places that aren’t functional or livable for their family. That’s something that’s very much part of the past,” Curtis comments.
- Opportunities for connection with an open concept floor plan
- Bold wall colors like Cheerful from Sherwin Williams — a dead ringer for Illuminating, one of Pantone’s Color of the Year 2021
Both Curtis and Bay Area architect, Scott Kuehne of Suarez-Kuehne Architecture, predict the return of Eclecticism in 2021. Eclecticism juxtaposes seemingly conflicting textures and patterns to achieve a balanced, harmonious design. Compared to the Eclecticism popular in the early 2000s known as “Shabby Chic,” today’s iteration is notably more subtle and relaxed. Neutral colors and light woods keep the collage of patterns in check.
For example, Kuehne and his fiancee and artist, Carrie O’Malley, collaborate to create deeply nostalgic and highly personal mosaic walls that harmonize divergent elements. “Mosaic goes back hundreds of years,” says Kuehne, adding that O’Malley draws inspiration from churches in Europe. “It’s clearly a modern interpretation of that.”
O’Malley began creating the original piece photographed above in her studio and completed it on-site. Her recursive process is an embodiment of the Eclectic style itself, embracing influence from a variety of sources.
If you’re looking to embrace this expressive style but aren’t quite ready to have your Gaudí moment, consider designing an accent wall for an eclectic motif. If you’re feeling intrepid, adorn your walls with patterned wallpaper, like this Inner Beauty wallpaper from Anthropologie.
What we’re loving, leaving, and adding to Relaxed Eclecticism in 2021:
- A bold patterned accent wall
- The intentional juxtaposition of patterns
- Spotlighting personal expression
- Whatever doesn’t fit with your style — that’s the beauty of Eclecticism!
- Neutral base tones to pull off this more relaxed iteration, like any colors from the Everyday Balance Palette by Sherwin Williams.
Retro touches to add to any room in 2021
Maybe you’re just looking to dip your toe into the proverbial home-remodeling pool, or perhaps embracing an entire movement just isn’t your style. Our experts offer insight to add trending nostalgic touches to any home.
‘80s inspired chunky furniture
Wonder Woman isn’t the only one reclaiming ‘80s style: 2021 is bringing back chunky, bold furniture. The latest take on this throwback from the not-so-distant past is to employ a sculptural piece or a few sculptural elements as the focal point in the room — perfect for those seeking an easy interior update.
What we’re loving, leaving, and adding to 80’s furniture in 2021:
- Sculptural accent chairs, like this rounded chair from Nuevo Furniture
- Rounded sofas, such as this curved, white sectional from Homary
- The original 80’s upholstery color palette — goodbye and good riddance to opulent black and gold accents
- Neutral primary furnishings to balance your attention-grabbing pieces
The island became a keystone kitchen feature in the 1980s and remains one of the most in-demand additions for kitchen remodels today. Expect to see kitchen islands bolder and better in 2021 as designers offset them from the primary cabinetry with contrasting colors and multi-tier countertops. These offset islands are striking, they’re also highly functional; they add more counter space, and they can also be tailor-made to accommodate partners of different heights.
Kuehne features offset islands in many of his large scale remodels like this Noe Valley Redo. His ethos is to create “compatible but differentiated spaces,” both on a macro level (the entire home) and in singular spaces like the kitchen. While his offset islands’ design seamlessly integrates into the floor plan, the pop of color or a raised countertop helps break the space up and create more depth.
And designers aren’t the only ones perpetuating the trend. In Houzz’s 2020 Kitchen Trends Survey, 39% of homeowners ranked gray and blue as top choices for contrasting island cabinets, while 29% shared white and wood are top picks for a contrasting island countertop. All signs point to the offset island trend rising in 2021.
What we’re loving, leaving, and adding to offset islands in 2021:
- Contrasting island and cabinet colors — for instance, the kitchen photographed above pairs white cabinetry with a modern eggplant island, similar to the shade Eggplant by Benjamin Moore
- Islands with staggered or multi-tier countertops
- Functionality! (Well, technically, this isn’t an addition, but an enthusiastic endorsement of this unique feature of offset islands.)
Retro Colored Walls
If you’re looking to spruce up your space but don’t want to break the bank, Laura Detmer Cody, also of Suarez Kuehne Architecture, recommends applying a fresh coat of paint to get the retro look for less:
“Of all the things you can do in your home — tile, flooring, and everything else — painting is the least permanent and least expensive thing you’re putting in. So just have fun with color. And if you don’t like it, paint over it with a second coat of something.”
To get started, Cody recommends exploring retro-inspired palettes like Sherwin-Williams’ Color Through the Decades collections to find a color scheme you love. Color is a highly personal thing, and while certain hues may be back in style, that doesn’t mean those will speak to you.
“I’m seeing colors from the past come back. Like these rich emeralds and greens . . . but it’s one of those things that resonates for some people and for some who were teenagers in the 80’s hate it,” she comments.
Earthy colors of the natural world — popularized by Mid-Century Modern design — are also trending for 2021. But if you’re thinking of painting, opt for the whole room. Accent walls, though popular in the past, are on their way out. As with all other things 2021, paint is all about personalization: Go big and bold in your living space.
What we’re loving, leaving, and adding to retro colors in 2021:
- Lo-fi hues, like Agean Teal from Benjamin Moore’s Color of the Year Palette
- A simple color scheme throughout the home — use no more than five colors throughout your interior
- Stark white walls
- A high-tech primer, like Rust-Oleum Bulls Eye 1-2-3 to ensure the perfect basecoat
Call it the comeback kid: brass is back. In conversation with our experts, each brought up the return of brass and other warm-toned metallic finishes on everything from light fixtures, to faucets, to cabinet hardware.
“I swore I’d never have anything that looked like brass in any house that I’ve done, but you’re seeing more and more of this finish comeback. It’s definitely a nostalgic look,” Kuehne says with a wry tone.
But don’t take that as a sign you should keep your brass fixtures from decades past. Schoening says, “what was previously popular in the eighties and nineties is that really ugly gold shiny hardware that you see on door handles and in light fixtures and things like that. But we’re seeing this new popular finish that’s more warm and sophisticated.”
If you’re looking to jump on this trend, consider switching out the knobs on your cabinets with metallic fixtures for a quick and easy upgrade. Schoening underlines that the new, warmer finish works well with cabinets of all hues.
What we’re loving, leaving, and adding to metallic fixtures in 2021:
- Brass cabinet hardware like these from CB2
- Brushed brass faucets similar to this KRAUS Oletto faucet in gold from Home Depot
- Brass with a polished or chromed finish
- Too much of a good thing — use this trend sparingly to prevent your home from looking gaudy
- Mixed metals to add an eclectic flair
Celebrate the new year and indulge in nostalgic home design
As we reflect on the past year, it’s only natural to want to bring back some reminders of the good old days. The embrace of throwback home design trends is a highly personal and creative way to exhibit our nostalgia.
Whatever era you decide to display, Curtis offers some final advice: “Be intentional. Don’t buy on a whim. Create a plan for your space . . . That’s what we do for our clients. We’re so intentional, we’re so careful, and we encourage other people to do the same.”
Header Image Source: (Watermark Designs / Unsplash)