On Washington’s trendy H Street corridor, the just-built Lucille Condominium boasts a classic-meets-contemporary facade of old-school red bricks and sleek, squared-off balconies. Inside, the mixture of influences continues in the Art Deco-ish penny tile bathroom floors, the bungalow-style five-panel wood doors, and the kitchens with Shaker-inspired shiny black cabinets and gleaming brass hardware.
“We were aiming for something classic and didn’t want the place to date too quickly,” says Philip Simon of S2 Development, who tapped GoodWood co-owner and designer Anna Kahoe to create kitchens and baths that weren’t too trendy. “But it’s a challenge,” Kahoe says. “There’s so much interior information coming at us now, it’s hard to define what timeless or classic means anymore.”
Thanks to websites, blogs, Pinterest boards, Instagram feeds and television shows, everyday home-dwellers have access to countless decor ideas. A decade ago, only design-world savants and Moroccans were plopping Morocco’s graphic black-on-white Beni Ourain wool rugs on their floors. Now, with even big-box stores getting into design, you can buy knockoffs at Target, and the hashtag #beniourain has been used 31,000 times (and counting) on Instagram. But it’s anyone’s guess how long the fad will last.
“Remember how popular sponge painting was in the 1990s, and how chevron was on everything in the early 2000s?” says Needham, Mass., interior designer Dina Holland, whose popular Instagram account @pleasehatethesethings showcases regrettable interior trends and choices.
So, how do keep your pad from looking dated just a few years after you put in a new powder room, replace the great room sofa or hang up groovy-again wallpaper in your foyer? Here are seven tips from designers.
“I try to avoid anything that is too ornamental, too loud or that’s been all over social media,” says Bethesda interior designer Marika Meyer. “There’s a point at which, if everyone is doing one thing — strong geometric tile, ikat fabric — you might consider going with something completely different that’ll look unique and individual.” Meyer, for example, recently helped a client install a new kitchen with lacquered, turquoise blue cabinets. “They’re bold and fun, and it’s not something you see everywhere,” Meyer says. And, she says, it will last longer since it doesn’t hew to a particular trend.
Clean lines and neutral colors, while not the stuff of Instagram likes, will probably outlast current obsessions such as patterned cement tiles and benches upholstered with ratty sheepskins. Design pros preach that the backbones of your home — floors, walls and major furniture — should skew toward simplicity. In a decade, that swoop-armed Pottery Barn sofa might feel more tired than a low-slung, squared-off midcentury modern couch.
Holland says she sometimes gets pushback from clients when she presents a design proposal with neutral base elements. “They’ll sometimes say, ‘That’s boring,’ but I emphasize that the way to do these trends — macramé, a bold pattern — is in a pillow or a small area rug,” she says. It’s akin to shelling out for the little black designer dress you’ll wear forever, then dolling it up with this season’s necklace and shoes.
Genuine materials — real wood, solid brass, soapstone kitchen countertops — also have a lengthier shelf life (and mostly look better as they age) than ceramic tiles that mimic marble or an imitation Turkish rug. “It’s about living with things that are real,” says San Francisco-area interior designer Chelsea Sachs. “There are few trends I hated more than that fake wood tile.”
Some pared-down ideas — popular white subway tiles, white kitchen cabinets and Eames chairs — might seem trendy, especially to folks who don’t have deep design knowledge. “But if something keeps coming around again and again, like black-and-white bathrooms, I’d say it’s classic,” says S2’s Simon.
Interiors and exteriors can also feel more timeless when they stay somewhat true to the original era of the property, especially if it’s a historic one. “In an old house, I like to keep some of the details and honor them,” Sachs says. That could mean retaining and re-staining the oak moldings and paneling in a Craftsman bungalow, or remodeling the bathrooms of a 1920s rowhouse with simple, black-and-white subway tile — nodding to what might have been there during the Jazz Age. “And I wouldn’t put a bunch of dark wood, Queen Anne furniture in a 1950s ranch house,” Kahoe says. An ideal blend? A look that considers the house’s architecture and roots along with whatever HGTV’s “Property Brothers” are installing this season.
In a nesting world increasingly marked by eclectic, style-mixing interiors, going full-on “This Old House” with claw-foot tubs and velvet sofas in a Victorian cottage could feel dated in a different way. “Tastes change, times change and there are shifts in how we live,” says Arlington interior designer Nicole Lanteri. “Some change is progress, like replacing a cramped old tub with a walk-in shower, or a dining room you’re not using with a great room.”
In the 1938 Colonial house Lanteri and her husband just purchased, she’s leaving some things in place: glass doorknobs on the five-panel doors, plasterwork and interior arches. But she ripped out the kitchen’s old dark-wood cabinets and laminate flooring, replacing them with citrus yellow cabinets and a black-and-white terrazzo floor. “I wasn’t going to just change everything, but you do have to remodel sometimes. Cabinets get worn and sinks get gross,” she says. “But I think we’re respecting the life cycle of the house.”