The tyranny of design trends
As I work day in and day out with clients, I often hear many of the same things about trends in interior design and decorating: “What styles are in these days?” Or: “My friends all say concrete counter tops are the rage.”
Mind you, these are folks who are attuned to style and taste, and it’s no fault of theirs that they want something that’s not “yesterday,” and that reflects modern sensibilities. Yet, I often want to ask them—in fact, I do ask them—what they really want in their redesigned and refurnished homes. Is it something that impresses today but could just as well be discarded in less than 10 years?
Have you—without realizing it—been drawn into the all-pervasive visual and marketing hype of a style trend?
I was reminded of this while reading a terrific article by William Newton titled, “Our Obsession With Midcentury Modern Design Is Out Of Control.” Of course Newton, having received a master’s degree from Sotheby’s in London, has a deep appreciation of historical furnishings and art, but his somewhat acerbic comments get you thinking about your own choices. Here’s a sample of Newton’s thesis, which focuses on an obsession with design styles of the 1950s, but could easily be a template for all that is “au courant” within the home design world:
“Turn on nearly any real estate reality show these days, and you will almost inevitably hear a couple ask for a new home in the 'Midcentury Modern' style…. No one seems to have noticed that the tyranny of 'Midcentury Modern' has virtually eliminated the history of Western civilization from the home. …
“There is nothing wrong with good, modern design. Many interesting, attractive pieces of furniture were created in the 20th century. To hold otherwise is to be closed-minded, to be unable to perceive the beauty of simplicity. [But] styles come and go. ...
“Who knows where the next ones will come from? 'Midcentury Modern' will go away, just as other fads disappeared before it. … Because 'Midcentury Modern' is the style deity before whom all must bow down and worship, most American consumers are now easily conned by designers and furniture manufacturers into buying junk.”
Today’s fashions are tomorrow’s castaways. In many ways this has always been true throughout history. But the tyranny of style-dictators has never been more insidiously powerful because of modern advertising, marketing and the Internet.
I often wonder, and am frequently frustrated as a creative person who chose to express her inventiveness through a profession in interior design, how the design market, in ways obvious and insidiously subtle, influences our ability to imagine. Where is the next unique idea?
Let’s think about trends in light of Newton’s comments. What is a good balance between personal taste, great design and abiding value?
First, taste is taste—chacun à son gout, as the French say. This is incredibly importantly because you—I’m talking to you—have to live in a place that suits you and your comfort level. There is not one client yet who has not had certain furnishings, for example, that had to become part of the new design or décor.
I’ve designed an entire living/dining space around a wall tastefully featuring my client’s prized mounted sailfish. All 4-plus feet of this fish recalled for my client one precious day with her beloved uncle when they caught the fish together. Or the bedroom design that had to incorporate the existing Stickley bed headboard, because that made things good between the husband and wife. The examples are endless.
Secondly, we can layer on top of taste the concept of great design. The trick is how to artfully take your truly personal tastes, after peeling away any fascination, conscious or subconscious, with current trends. Of course, there is always room to argue about what constitutes great design, but at the very basic level I feel it’s the artful interweaving of the very best functional solution required with your own unique persona.
Lastly, we want to consider abiding value. From one perspective, today’s well-designed and well-built items, be it furniture, buildings, cars or whatever, could be the prized antiques of tomorrow. But I’ve wondered if this will be as true as it has been in previous eras, with mass-fabrication flooding the world with almost unlimited multiples of every product. Or, because it’s all being made with an eye towards consumption and thus built-in-expendability, perhaps there will be little that will last long enough to have long-term value.
Think about choices that endure. One very basic guideline is to buy the best quality you can afford, so that the sofa doesn’t end up in the landfill two years hence. Another is to really dig deep into your style-soul to discover what you love and would live with happily for a long time. For example, I spent a good bit of money myself for the more expensive living room rug because I knew it would make me happy every time I saw it for years to come. Ten years and counting, it still delights me. That’s a true measure of worthwhile investment in oneself and one’s home!
Do your best to see beyond the style trends the design magazines, the “taste-makers” or the marketers say we should embrace, to discover something more unique and enduring. Think outside of what you are shown everyday. It may take you to the antiques market, or to a custom solution, or reinventing something you already have.
It’s all about what truly appeals to you and the imagination and creativity to incorporate that into a unique vision. Even something as apparently irredeemably dated as a 1980’s oak breakfast table can be transformed into something special and just right with a bit of inspired vision.
To be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting we should all become antiques-crazed. Nor is this an indictment of Midcentury Modern style. The two decades after World War II was inspired by tremendous creativity, quality and lasting value. We love the work of Gropius, Florence Knoll, Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and others, and even if many can’t afford the originals there exist quality reproductions, often under the auspices of organizations maintaining the design integrity of the original artists.
What I am not in favor of is a slavish adherence to something that current taste and style view as today’s trends. After considering your own personal taste, look for great design and lasting value, whatever the style, period, decade or century.
And, most of all, delight in the discovery of your style!
Jacqueline Hosford, principal of Jacqueline Hosford Interior Design, is a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID); is certified by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification; and is an adjunct professor of interior design, State University of New York (Purchase). Jacqueline is a graduate of Barnard College-Columbia University, and the New York School of Interior Design with highest honors. She can be reached at Jacqueline@jacquelinehosforddesign.com.