Delving deeper than decor to explore the power of home as a path to wellbeing #happyinside

October 19, 2021

The Return to Joy

Some trends are a direct response to discontent — take the Vietnam war leading to the emergence of the hippy vibe for example. Some are merely a reflection of dominant public interest — the continued rise of environmental concerns perhaps. Others though are a reaction, a thrust against perceived constraint. Think punk, or the rise of dark decor after decades of white. Or more gently, the soar in make-up sales in times of strife. We saw this during both World Wars, as well as recently, as solace is sought in something easy, affordable and fun. It’s a case of literally putting on a brave face with lipstick as our metaphorical armour. But whether push, pull or mirror, trends always answer a need. Emerging from an alchemy of desire, materials and relevance, they make visible unspoken truths.

Leonardo Di Caprio in Baz Luhrmann’s shimmering evocation of ‘The Great Gatsby’, 2012

And now? Get set for a burst of unbridled frivolity! Today the dominant flavour is for overt fun. A new mood which represents a moment of release that we can’t help but be intuitively drawn to. After all, a period of sobriety is generally followed by heady abandonment — consider the Roaring 20s after WW1. Denial begets indulgence. A hunger that’s now being sated by the triumphant return of full fat colour and joyous prints all mixed together with enthusiastic abandon.

Interior by Courtney McLeod of Right Meets Left Interior Design. Design to spark joy!

But who’s responsible for initiating any such shift?

Where does it start? Is it the maverick shopper spontaneously seeking new modes for self-expression? And then, in a steady trickle effect from street to mainstream those whims become a ‘thing’? Or is it prompted by the outliers of design who routinely throw off the shackles of current commerciality, or perceived good taste, to do as they wish, thus invariably signalling what’s to come?

In truth, it’s a combination of these forces. Even early adopters can’t buy what doesn’t exist. And designers will quickly go out of business if they make what never sells. Yet crucially, for both, any drive towards the new is simply the external manifestation of internal desires.

The point is, the muted neutrals and tasteful greiges, or the little black dresses, don’t disappear when the trends pendulum swings towards something more exotic. Interiors queen of taupe, Kelly Hoppen, is as busy as she ever was, and jeans and a white t-shirt will always top the clothing best-seller lists. Instead, viewed with the benefit of hindsight, trends almost always follow a pattern as repeating universal themes — joy, fear, utility, optimism or thrift — shift in and out of popular consciousness. The only change is how these themes are realised.

The “hollyhocks’ wallpaper designed by American artist Kerry Simmons for House of Hackney. From £185 per roll.

the bright side is not just for the home

However, we know that something is a potential long stayer when it crosses disciplines. This move to the bright side then is not just happening in the home, but in fashion too. The resort collections, usually overlooked in favour of the bigger Spring/Summer or Autumn/Winter shows, were bursting with colour this year. Of note though was that these super saturated hues were strategically combined with comfort — picture relaxed slouchy trouser suits and long patterned dresses in every shade under the sun.

This new mood represents a wave of relaxed euphoria that’s nonetheless determined to push us past memories of what was. It’s why we’re so ready for the third movie reboot of Sex and the City, all frivolous fashion frolics and paper-thin story lines — lightweight, visually delicious and just the ticket. Likewise, the return of 90s favourite, Changing Rooms, high camp, full throttle entertainment albeit with very little to do with liveable design. Matrix 4 with Keanu Reeves reprising his iconic role as Neo, oh how we crave the blue pill escapism! And rumours of a female 007 in No Time To Die, the final James Bond movie to star Daniel Craig? Bring it on.


Nigerian-heritage artist Yinka Ilori collorates with Lick on vibrant wallpaper.

guaranteed to brighten your spirits

It’s also why the London-based British Nigerian artist Yinka Ilori, known for his energetic palettes and jubilant patterns, is now getting mainstream attention. Two years ago his style, inspired by his colour-infused West African heritage, might have been considered too much. Today, yes please! His own range of vibrant homewares and a new collaboration with paper and paint company Lick sees us presented with a playful mix of rich greens, bright blues, hot pinks, pastel purples and strong yellows, plus wallpapers that blend the lot in maximalism meets architectural motifs.

As Lick says, its “guaranteed to brighten up your home and your spirits.” And as Yinka puts it, “I want people to feel emboldened by this palette – to see that you can mix different, vibrant colours together in an interior space to create rooms that make you feel joy”. This is the pursuit of pleasure via interior design — easy, affordable (gold wallpaper aside) and fun, just like that lipstick.

joy wallpaper

Nigerian-heritage artist Yinka Ilori collorates with Lick on Maximalist wallpaper.

India Mahdavi

De Gournay x India Mahdavi. 2020 collaboration: Abbâssi in the Sky

The return to normality is a misnomer

Yet there’s also something acutely innocent about the appearance of these paintbox brights; something childlike in the decorative hacks popping up on Instagram, all wide stripes on walls and big blousy blooms strewn across upholstery and drapes. To me it speaks of a yearning for a sort of simplicity as well as the pursuit of joy. The much-touted return to normality is a misnomer. We don’t want to go back to the way things were, we want something better, more nurturing in terms of both planet and people, psychologically, for our wellbeing. And where better to start than at home.


Little Greene paints demonstrate the ‘colour drenching’ trend in vibrant Giallo 337.

And it’s not just the new kids on the block at the forefront of this pivot. Iconic paint and paper stalwarts Farrow & Ball are in agreement too. Joa Studholme, the brand’s colour curator describes its latest colour launches as “an eclectic mix of the pure and the humble that evokes the warmth and harmony of a more innocent age while celebrating life today.” Even Silentnight, one of the UK’s most trusted bed makers, is set to launch divans upholstered in bold juicy jewel colours. It’s a first for the brand designed to appeal to the increasingly adventurous customers it’s identified who are jettisoning neutrals in favour of more standout pieces.

Maison Pierre Frey, the French home textiles company founded in 1935 showcased its Joie de Vivre collection. As a house it’s always been renowned for its eclectic and irreverent approach twinned with fabrics and wallpapers of the very highest quality, and this collection does not disappoint. Drawing on 50s squiggles, rainbow stripes, the expressive works of Picasso and Matisse, even Mermaids and sunbursts inspired by the seductive indolence of the French Riviera, it’s described as a return to “the contours of a luminous landscape between sea and land, transporting us into a cheerful universe.”

‘Calanques’ designed by Atelier Buffile for the ‘Joie de Vivre’ Collection from Pierre Frey, 2021.

Underlying this innocent cheer is bravery

Underlying this innocent cheer though is an element of bravery. The last 18 months granted us a reprieve from trends as we knew it, which in turn enabled a focus on the bigger issues at stake — the environment, sustainability, community. It also got us off the hook from having to subscribe to external dictates about the latest, newest must-haves. We had a moment to consider what we liked for ourselves. And we may have been surprised at our gusto in selecting unapologetic yellows with which to drench our kitchens, pairing it with shouty wallpapers from ceiling to skirting and florid chintzes (back with a bang) for the sofa, while also painting coloured arches on our walls, just because. And why not. The new mantra is, if you can’t have a little fun in the privacy of your own home, frankly, what’s the point!

We truly recognise now that our domestic environments are as important to our health and happiness as good food and exercise. In truth, I believe they are more important as it’s pretty hard to create healthy meals in a hectic kitchen, and nigh on impossible to get motivated to work out in a space that’s dark or drab. Throw in some light and brightness, jolly stencilling or glorious prints and you can create a fast-track to happiness.


Interior by Courtney McLeod of Right Meets Left Interior Design. Design to spark joy!

Ultimately, joy is the opposite of stress, anxiety and loneliness. All states of being that were on the increase around the world even before we knew what the word pandemic meant. So, would we be heading in this direction regardless of the extraordinary hiatus caused by Covid? Yes. As we’ve seen before, discomfort heralds the new comfort. And this time it’s one that is the interiors equivalent of speaking your own truth. In other words, finding the courage to create your own interiors narrative.

The return to joy is to understand that the best homes have always been about the feeling they give you not the stuff they contain, the ‘right’ colours or ‘approved’ looks. A tidy home doesn’t necessarily make a happy home. And being surrounded by memories, our things, is not the same as living in the past — our roots keep us anchored in the present. Instead, if we intentionally create more supportive spaces in which to live, spaces which reflect our authentic likes and lives, we will be more able to weather the myriad messy curveballs of life itself. This alone is the true purpose of home. And the very definition of finding joy therein.

First published in FT How To Spend It magazine 9 October 2021 edition.

How to Spend It magazine: Opner spread of Ode to Joy feature Published in the 9 October 2021 edition.

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Writer, Author, Brand Consultant & TV Presenter

Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends, wellbeing and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.