Designs for Living: The Bold & The Beautiful
In the early 2020s, we’re starting to see warmer undertones for whites and other neutrals, with beige replacing grey, for example, and pops of saturated colour in browns, reds and greens. Photo: Stacey Brandford
Stark minimalism is giving way to over-the-top maximalism,
with vibrant colour and fabulous wallpaper.
Get ready to go big at home, because saturated colour and exuberant patterns in decor are back, baby! It’s been more than a decade since American interior designer and Fixer Upper star Joanna Gaines started spreading her spare, farmhouse-style gospel, with its white interiors and black accents (especially in kitchens), adorable graphic vintage signs and shiplap walls, but now the era of crisp and minimalist homes is on the wane.
The new look owes a debt to fashion, namely former Gucci designer Alessandro Michele’s too-too-much-much mashup of bold colours, imagery and textures. Translated to decor, it means bold wall colour is replacing the ubiquitous neutrals of the 2010s, with a return to wallpaper and over-the-top murals. The pinnacles of this new style are evident in the new restaurant Bacchanalia in London’s Mayfair district, with its Greco-Roman inspired cacophony of hand-painted, floor-to-ceiling murals, mixed with ancient antiquities and British artist Damien Hirst’s massive statues of Greek mythological figures. In Paris, the new maximalist standard is being set by Hotel Les Deux Gares, a small but influential project designed by British colour enthusiast Luke Edward Hall, with its chaos of bold colour bursts and madcap stripes. And in Toronto, the 135-year-old Darling Mansion is an event space described as “a Victorian mansion meets Dali, a little Fellini, some ’70s porn and a lot of rock ’n’ roll,” which translates into a decorative carnival of colour, taxidermy and trompe l’oeil.
Then there’s 101-year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel, known for her over-the-top style, who launched a collaboration with the washable-carpet company Ruggable, featuring her splashy signature prints. After Martha Stewart Living magazine – the spiritual home of tasteful pale paint and white picket fences for more than 30 years – ceased publishing last year, Stewart’s website jumped on the colour saturation bandwagon with a story advocating “colour drenching,” where a strong hue is used absolutely everywhere in a room to pack a monochromatic punch. Plus, don’t underestimate the Barbie movie’s potential for a vibrant knock-on effect, with its throwback to candy pink and a Palm Springs vibe circa the 1950s, which House Beautiful predicts will lead to a Barbiecore decor trend.
Like haute couture trickling down from the runway to the mall, these lofty interior design experiments influence what is going on in our homes. Every era has a design identity, from the mod ’60s, with its pop-art primary palette, through the duskier browns of the hippie ’70s, the cartoonish bold colours of the industrial ’80s, the earthy tones of grunge in the ’90s, to the millennium’s dusty pink phase, all before the white, open-space farmhouse style came into the picture.
In the early 2020s, we’re starting to see warmer undertones for whites and other neutrals, with beige replacing grey, for example, and pops of saturated colour in browns, reds and greens. There is renewed interest in natural finishes, after concrete and stainless-steel ruled interiors for years. Biophilic design – the concept of connecting interiors to nature by adding plants, increasing natural light and damping down the intrusive sounds of modern life – is another overarching trend.
Pantone, the company known for its colour matching library and trend forecasting, and the paint manufacturers pick colours of the year at least a year in advance, taking into account everything from the economy to social-media fixations, fashion and politics. This year Benjamin Moore selected Raspberry Blush, an orangey red, representing “electric optimism.” Pantone’s 2023 pick, Viva Magenta, was in the red family, too, which the company called “brave and fearless,” and a “pulsating colour whose exuberance promotes a joyous and optimistic celebration, writing a new narrative.” Certainly sounds post-pandemic to me!
A transition to colour and pattern and texture is easier to do all at once, and I speak from experience. Last year, as the world emerged from the pandemic with a sense of optimism, I decorated my century-old farmhouse. It was daunting – a big blank canvas will always give one pause – but working out an entire colour scheme at once was very satisfying. I knew I didn’t want to do farmhouse white with black trim. I wanted something cosy, yet modern, and paint – an affordable luxury – was the means to that end. But choosing colour intimidates me, for fear of an expensive mistake. So I am grateful to have a dear friend, Toronto writer Karen von Hahn, who has a design background and a flawless eye for colour. We went bananas choosing paint chips, and for the first time, I got really excited about the project. I knew I wanted a different vibrant pastel for each of the four sunny, upstairs bedrooms (which would make it easier for guests to differentiate the spaces), and Easter egg colours would reflect the light.
Downstairs, which is much darker because we kept the original windows – built in an era more about function than fashion – we built a palette around the green kitchen and the mustard gold living room. Once we picked out the accent colours for adjacent rooms (plum and a turquoise close enough to peacock blue), we realized we were building around Clue characters, which felt like the right theme to add an element of mystery and retro British country-house glamour. I will have to play the role of Miss Scarlet myself.
Funnily enough, the Azores turquoise von Hahn chose for the front hall was the exact same colour picked later by Benjamin Moore ambassador Mystic Michaela, who read my aura during a consultation. (It was very moving, because she literally saw past trauma around me, and it turns out I need turquoise as a colour antidote, for healing purposes.) “A cool turquoise that sits between green and blue, this old soul features the sensitive nature of turquoise, with the intellectualism of a green aura,” she says.
The emotionality of colour – how it makes you feel in a room – intrigued me, so I followed up on my bold choices with Sharon Grech, the colour and marketing manager for Benjamin Moore paints in Canada. She says nature is a big influencer, and the many greens in my kitchen – chosen to match the big AGA cooker I had shipped over from England – draw on this “naturally balanced and grounded hue that so many of us are drawn to right now, as it can be restful, nurturing, yet also invigorating.” All greens go together, and, as nature’s background tone, it also goes with most other colours.
You have to choose hues that flow from room to room with “harmony and colour flow.” In analyzing my choices, Grech says they work together because they all have the same depth of tone. For the living room and back hall, she says Citrine, a deep golden mustard, is “cheerful,” but “it can also be meditative – in so many cultures it is symbolic of the sun, life-giving and energizing, ultimate warmth.”
I chose Pale Moon for one bedroom, and Lavender Ice for the front bedroom that faces south, which is a counterpoint to the deep plum in the library. Grech says purple is a “love or hate” colour – one of the more divisive shades on the wheel – and a dichotomy of warm red and cool blue opposites. It is also a spiritual colour. I’m a love-it person.
The big splurge on the farmhouse project was the $8,000 I spent on wallpaper, which is making a comeback with the swing toward exuberance in interiors. I had been stalking a new Canadian wallpaper art company,Fine & Dandy Co., as its grand, contiguous murals started appearing in decor magazines.
Their wallpaper blew up as COVID-19 was spreading, when people were spending more time indoors reinventing their homes. Interest peaked in their “interactive, immersive, grand and lofty” wall coverings, says Carla Morano, Fine & Dandy Co. co-founder and chief of marketing. Colour and pattern “are a good snapshot of social temperature. People want to feel joy and happiness in their home.”
You can see the company’s work in Toronto’s Darling Mansion, the Chloe Hotel in New Orleans and Guild House Hotel in Philadelphia, but recently Fine & Dandy scooped the ultimate dream job. “We installed a complete mural wrap at the Falconer’s Cottage in Versailles,” says chief creative officer Shelley Weinreb, referring to the French palace built in the 17th century by Louis XIV.
For my large, square dining room, which is very dim, I doubled down on drama with a mural from the company’s Imaginarium collection: a dark, dream-like forest scene that brings the woods surrounding our farmhouse inside. I’ve never been so nervous placing an order, but the effect is otherworldly and transporting.
Trends notwithstanding, interior design is all about rejoicing in your personal expression and individual style, which will speak to boomers, a generation of nonconformists who questioned the status quo. What is cool now is being yourself, in your own home.
A version this article appeared in the Aug/Sept 2023 issue with the headline ‘The Bold & The Beautiful’, p. 74.