Quantcast

Essay

In Defense of Trends (Keep Calm and Let Them Be)

by Grace Bonney

The world of design and design media loves to talk about trends. Some publications focus on touting them and staying one step ahead of the latest thing, while others love to decry them the moment they appear for being too ephemeral and not serious enough. I’ve seen this battle back and forth since the first day I started blogging here almost 14 years ago. I used to document trends until I found myself feeling tired of trying to follow their rapid rise and fall. But then a strange thing happened: I grew to love them again for the most unexpected reason. I fell back in love with trends because of negative comments on our blog.

Over the past few years we’ve seen negative comments about seemingly innocuous things (paint colors, chairs, textiles) grow at a steady pace. And while that development seems to be tied to the overall climate here in the United States related to politics and divisions overall, I’ve found myself defending trends (and the people that embrace them at home) in a big way.

Antlers (a trend we saw rise to fame in the early 2000s) in the Oslo home of Pia and Jeppe

It was in those moments of defense that I found myself having a major change of heart about embracing trends of all sorts. And the reason was simple: trends are so often a gateway for people to find their way into the world of design and, in turn, a tool for helping them express themselves and create a space that makes them happy. I’ve found that so much of the negative press trends have gotten seems to be rooted in what other people think of someone’s home or shopping trends, rather than what makes that homeowner/renter happy. I used to think the same way until I started really listening to the homeowners/renters who were talking about WHY they hung, for example, a “For Like Ever” or “Keep Calm” poster. Or a faux deer antler. Or a macrame wall hanging. Their reasons always boiled down to joy or excitement or inspiration that sprang from seeing that object on a daily basis.

Not that long ago, people’s homes and people’s opinions about those homes weren’t as commonly offered as they are now. And while a small percentage of people ended up having their homes photographed for print magazines, most people didn’t make their design decisions based on what people on social media or blogs would think. But now it seems like everyone and every space is up for judgement in some way (and yes, as a site that posts home tours, that’s something we’re aware we’re a part of — more on that next week) and just about anyone feels it’s okay to make pretty big assumptions about someone’s life, choices, beliefs or personality based on what they see in someone’s home — especially if what they see is part of a popular trend.

For Like Ever: Tracy Jenkins’  in the Queens home of Nora and David. 

I understand lobbing that criticism at someone like me, or a blog like mine. It’s our chosen job to do our best to provide a broad range of home tours that represent different styles and different homeowners/renters. But it’s not up to every homeowner/renter in the world to create a space that everyone else will find thoroughly unique and unexpected (which, to be honest, is hard to find in today’s world of infinite internet sharing and circular inspiration).

One of the central assumptions I’ve seen a lot of (and used to believe myself) was that trends were problematic because they equated low-quality, high-turnover consumption. But what I’ve learned from listening to the people we’ve had the honor or sharing home tours with here is that just because something might feel “of the moment” to someone else, doesn’t mean the owner/renter at hand plans on abandoning that piece any time soon. I fell into the trap of assuming that the trendiness or lower cost of something meant it would be tossed and replaced any day now. But for most people that’s not true. Something doesn’t have to be a) expensive b) utterly unique or c) classic for someone to hold onto it and love it for years to come.

Barn Doors: Bright red sliding doors in the Seattle home of Sarah and Daniel

Another issue that patient and kind homeowners/renters have mentioned to me is regional accessibility. So often we see anti-trend commentary combined with anti “box-store” complaints. And while I understand people’s concerns with supporting businesses that don’t support fair labor or wages, it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same access to art and design. Yes, a lot of people can order things online and afford to have pieces shipped anywhere, but that’s not everyone. Not every area has a huge community of local makers and shops to access and, even if they do, the best way for everyone to feel happy and comfortable in their homes is to choose whatever they feel makes them most happy and represented at home. So if that’s from a big box store? Great. If that’s from a small maker? Awesome. If that’s from a thrift store or built with their own two hands? Cool.

“Dated” is the other term I see a lot when trends are discussed. But why are we okay with certain items feeling dated in a recognizable way (i.e. mid-century modern furniture, 40s/50s era Scandinavian enamelware, Dorothy-Draper style baroque furniture) but not others?

Rainbow Shelves: Color-coordinated books stored in the Brooklyn home of Brin and Nathan

My thoughts and feelings about design, decoration and the general world of creatives has greatly evolved over the years and as I recognize and work to rectify mistakes of my own, it’s making me realize in so . This includes my own writing (I used to think it was my job to declare something “good” or “bad” and I could not have been more wrong) and it’s something that we are working, as a team, to improve upon and hopefully foster here in discussions on the blog and on social media.

Home feels like a place where the only opinion that should matter is yours and your family’s. I know that when we share our lives and homes online, we open ourselves up to commentary and opinions from outside of that inner circle, but I’d like to work harder (and this starts with me here and how we word and present our posts, which is something we worked on BIG TIME at our team retreat last week) on making this online home here a place where people can share their homes as-is, without too much assumption made based on an item’s trendiness. If the color of the year makes you happy — start painting! If the hottest print from 5 years ago sets the mood for your dream room — hang it proudly! No matter what makes YOU feel at home, we want to celebrate that here and we’re working to ensure that our writing and choices (and the way we discuss home tours with homeowners/renters) reflects that.

Chevron: A bold print in this DIY by Kate Pruitt

I’d love to hear what YOUR thoughts are on trends. Do you feel worried about sharing them online if they’re in your own home? Do you love them and do they inspire you to get into design and decoration in your home? Do you feel they’re connected to “throwaway” culture or that they’re something you’ll hold onto for a long time? This readership has seen a lot of trends come and go (and come back again) over the past 14 years, so I’d love to hear what YOU have to say about trends and how you feel about embracing them at home and seeing them online. Is there an angle about this discussion that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear your viewpoints as we work on expanding our minds and listening more to the thoughts and feelings of our creative community as a whole. xo, Grace

Keep Calm: The that started it all, in the Australian home of Kelly Doust

Suggested For You

Comments

  • This is a such a thoughtful reflection. A lot of the “ugh! trends!” negativity seems to me to be about class anxiety. As always, I am so grateful for your words and your work, especially when you reflect on how your views have changed over the years.

    • That reminds me of how I heard that intricate etiquette rules were really meant to separate the classes. Only the truly upper class had the up to date knowledge of changing etiquette trends :/

      • You both are really tapping into that class issue that I really wanted to get more into (but am saving for a different post). Thanks for commenting on that- I’m so thankful to hear our community getting deeper into these issues behind all the “pretty” stuff we post here ;)

        • I’ve been following Design*Sponge since I was a teenager, my parents are retired and now own and operate a vintage and antique furniture store, and “making home” is one of the most valuable and important things in my life. I’m working class (not poor) and I’m in a constant place of reckoning with the class privilege I come from and the ways consumer culture–and the cycle of exploitation that necessitates this–dominates our everyday lives. I’m not sure how you can address design trends without centering (not merely including) a thorough analysis of class, consumerism, and the exploitation of global capitalism. Are the homes of poor and working class people featured on this site? Consider starting there.

          • Willow

            I think we are considering those issues, and touched on them here. We will continue to talk about them further as well.

            And yes, the homes of working class and lower-income community members are featured here. We focus on featuring the homes of people in the creative community and most working/full-time artists we know and support are living on very low (and unreliable) income, so I think they may not look or feel the way people expect lower-income households to look.

            We have a piece coming up on the ways in which classism effects the terminology and view of small spaces (and the inherent privilege in choosing to live in a “tiny home” style) so we are definitely thinking about all of these issues more deeply.

            Grace

  • Thank you! As we feel ever more pressure to have perfectly gorgeous and new and exciting homes, birthday parties, christmas cards, gifts and clothes, I think the importance of What Makes You Happy is often forgotten/ignored in favor of what is insta/blog/pinterest worthy depending on the year. Reading this this morning was a breath of fresh air.

  • Interesting, I can see your point of view. Perhaps the trends on design websites become boring to look at for the reader, and that’s why they are put down? I certainly have things in my home that would be deemed trendy, but I love them!

    Anyway, one disagreement: “Home feels like a place where the only opinion that should matter is yours and your family’s.” I do disagree to an extent. On another design website very recently, an MCM home reno was posted. Reno’d, to paint over all the beautiful colored brick, gorgeous wood ceiling and beams- all in bright, stark, trendy white; Reno’d to remove the intact MCM kitchen, hutch and bathroom vanities (I HOPE THEY WERE RE-HOMED), and replaced with trendy, if not already dated cabinets and useless, trendy, open vanities.

    It was a horror show. Over 100 posts from people who could not believe their eyes. In this case, perhaps all of the negative comments will give that trendy house flipper pause, the next time they consider destroying a beautiful old house.

    • Where was this? would love to see it. I live in a 1930’s house with a ton of beautiful dark wood trim and built-ins, but the kitchen/bathrooms were all destroyed by the previous homeowner. How I wish I had a great tiled bathroom to restore!

      • Not sure if I’m allowed to post this, but it was on Apartment Therapy. Under the DIY tab, go to Before and Afters. It’s the 7 room Mid-Century Makeover.

        Granted, the floors had to go, as did the popcorn ceilings. Tile in bathrooms was questionable, but perhaps could have been worked with. Bathroom vanities, with a new counter could have been cool. Kitchen was small, so I could see expanding it- but the style of cabinet chosen just did not go (at least with the original house). Real tragedy was in the painted ceilings and beams, and all the painted brick…and this wasn’t typical old red brick. This was awesome 50’s colored brick- in dark brown (fireplace), yellow/orange (on exterior).

        In this case, the house was a flip, so the idea of trend to the flippers was to attract the largest audience to buy the home. However, perhaps if they kept the reno smaller, and the home intact, they could have attracted the 1 or 2 buyers who would appreciate it, instead of trying to appeal to the masses.

        Most of the “trends” mentioned in this article are decorative- a poster, antlers, etc…in which case, go for what you love (but I’ll still call you crazy if you turn your books backwards on the bookshelf)! But when you apply “trends” to a home- especially one with original character that you destroy, that needs to be called out.

        But too, I wonder: do you really like those antlers on the wall? Really? Or do you like them because you see them everywhere online, and feel included now? You can now post a pic of your antlers on the wall and say “see, I am one of you too!”

        • MP

          You’re allowed to post anything that’s constructive, so yes, this is ok.

          That said, do I personally like decorative antlers? No. But do I want someone who does to feel bad for liking them? No. And do I want to assume that they own them just to fit in? Definitely not.

          I understand that taking out or altering historic details is controversial, to so the least, when we’re talking about home reno. And I’m of two minds about it. First, having just watched my parents really struggle to sell their home because of all those historic details (they had to drop the price 4 times well below market value) that people claim to love. Every buyer came in and told them that if they ripped out all the walls, built-in shelves and woodwork they’d consider it. So while I love those historic details and generally want to keep them, too, when it comes to today’s housing market, sometimes people have to make design decisions based on their urgent financial needs.

          Also, the “original” character a lot of people take issue with being removed in makeovers on DS actually refers to things that were, themselves, updates to a home at the time. For example, I looooove a pink tiled bathroom from the 50s. But a lot of times those pink bathrooms replaced earlier versions of things in the home, so those too were “trendy” at the time and only now do we appreciate them as cool or special or “original” and worth saving.

          I agree it’s definitely worth thinking about these issues with renovations and removing historic/”original” details, but as part of a more nuanced discussion about the very real financial circumstances those decisions are often connected to.

          Grace

          • I definitely agree on what you mentioned regarding resale, cost, historic details, etc. Having been through it twice myself, we’ve had to weigh all of that in or decision process. As an architect, I hope I’ve made the right decisions in both places!

            In the case I mentioned, I think that a beautiful end product could have been achieved without painting white the ceiling and brick. Most everything else they did could have been forgiven if they had kept those two elements intact…and this was a flip, so they could have actually saved money by not doing all that painting.

            Anyway, on this: “That said, do I personally like decorative antlers? No. But do I want someone who does to feel bad for liking them? No. And do I want to assume that they own them just to fit in? Definitely not.”…I do sometimes wonder how much thought people put in to the things they bring home- do really love something? Or perhaps that love is temporary (probably)? And wonder if it’s the influence of the trend and desire to fit in that might push someone to choose something? Are we attracted to it because we see it everywhere, or because we do truly love it? I don’t know, just something to think about. Especially in this world we live in- with social media and instagram and “influencers”…pushing things that perhaps they don’t even care for, but know that they will have influence over someone else to buy those things?

            • MP

              Good points again. I think most “influencers”, at least those that self-identify that way, know they have influence over people. I hope they think about recommending things they feel are quality products, but I also don’t want to second guess people’s decisions and wonder, “do you really love that?”. I don’t want to put those expectations on people in terms of having to hold on to something forever to not be judged. That said, do I want people to toss things? No way. We’ve discussed ways to avoid that here before and will keep talking about ways to recycle, reuse, donate, and gift objects that are pieces we don’t want in our homes anymore.

              Grace

        • Thanks for that link. I’ve sent it to two people who are doing renovations as a cautionary tale of steamrolling a renovation and ending up with a tract house interior. Who paints over cedar ceilings and beams? The built-in wood sideboard and bathroom vanity were beautiful and, at least from the pictures, looked to be in pretty good shape. This illustrates the wisdom of living in a house before making irrevocable decisions. Depressingly, that house probably sold in the blink of an eye.

          • Renee

            I think it’s always good to think about things that can’t be undone, but I actually was hoping to convey with this that trends aren’t inherently a bad thing. If someone paints beams and loves them and lives with them and that brings them joy, is there anything really wrong with that? I think a lot of anti-trend commentary I see online (including my own) comes from a place of judgement and I just wanted us all to pick that apart a bit to think about how phrasing things that way could make someone who DOES say, like painted beams, feel about themselves. I personally also like keeping historical details mainly in tact, but I also know that isn’t practical or enjoyable for everyone. And if someone is able to save up and actually buy a home, I think it would be awesome if they felt like they were making decisions that made them feel happy and at home.

            Grace

            • Unfortunately in this instance though, the decision to paint the beams and ceiling wasn’t made by the homeowner who would live there and love them. It was made by the flipper who took that choice away from the eventual owner. Of course, someone will like that bright white ceiling, but unfortunately, it would be a very difficult endeavor to ever correct.

              And too, if that was a T&G ceiling, it will probably look like crap the minute the weather changes. Wood expands and contracts with changes in temp and humidity, and the joints will open up and expose the unpainted tongues. Yuck. Perhaps all of the bad comments that flipper received will influence them in the future to find a way to work better with the existing goodness in the homes they renovate, and in the process- save themselves money.

              Anyway, I would never put someone down because they like or liked a trend. We all fall for some trends! I just think it can get boring seeing the same thing over and over on design sites. I like design sites because they can be inspirational. And seeing trend after trendy trend on a design site is dull. Especially if it’s trend on trend on trend in one home. If that’s the case, then I seriously question whether they actually likes said trends, or were just going with the flow, and picking what was popular.

            • MP

              I agree about design sites. I think it’s our job as people who run sites like this to source and provide diverse homes for inspiration. From our perspective, it can be tough when the zeitgeist is sooo firmly planted in one direction (like right now with all-white homes and open floor plans), but we will always try to find and share a range here.

              Grace

  • I am so appreciative of your continuing effort to bring a refreshed approach to authenticity, respectfulness, and encouragement in your “design” blog, which is so much more. Thank you for your commitment to empowering this blog community in our design choices, and in our self expression.

  • The only time I get eye-rolling-ly annoyed about trends is when every single coffee shop switches to subway tile/industrial chic, that kind of stuff. But it is really just because I think, why not do something different? Trends are trends because people like them. I might not want antlers in my home, or all my books arranged by color, but I love my bright red Keep Calm poster and I was just defending barn doors to someone the other day.
    Thanks for the thoughtful essay!

    • Rachel

      I get that. I feel that way about public spaces sometimes. I’m of two minds sometimes because I know how expensive it is to get a restaurant off the ground (soooo expensive!) and I understand why anyone would want to “play it safe” so to speak, in focusing on currently popular trends, to make sure they’re investing wisely. But I also understand that sometimes it feels like deja vu when you walk into spaces that all look exactly alike.

      Grace

      • One thing I love about Industrial Chic/Subway tiled coffee houses and bars is that each and everyone is done differently. I enjoy seeing how they take similar design elements and style yet make it their own for their own brand. And I love the feel of an airy, cozy, yet industrial public space so I’m not bothered by it.

        But on the other hand, I’m glad I stopped seeing public spaces desgined with mason jar lamps etc. Country chic is sooo not for me.

    • I totally agree. I also love my Keep Calm poster that I found for pennies at a thrift store after they went out of style. It is very special to me.

  • I really enjoyed your take on this. I am almost adverse to trends on principle after social media, but the most important thing is that someone is happy and loves their home.

    • Thanks Amanda! Overexposure to trends because of technology can lead to fatigue for those looking into peoples’ homes so it’s often not easy to remember that the “pretty pictures” are, indeed, someone’s home and, hopefully, their happy place.

      Caitlin

  • love this post! such a great reminder that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. and Rebecca, i agree—i think so much of this is based on