The Big Trend: Happy Design
May 26, 2018
February 5, 2019
The essential summary of Part One of my Trend Report 2019 was that people will now invest their time, money and energy only into brands and organisations that they implicitly trust. The principles of fast fashion, throwaway culture and greed-is-good are increasingly being rejected. Instead, I’m suggesting that, as people seek more comfort and control, something of a flight to the familiar is on. In short, the place of the home as a still point amid the noise, a place to restore and replenish, will become ever more vital. More so than ever will it be less an externally facing show-space than an acutely personal place for reflection, retreat and a degree of introspection.
The idea of wellbeing coming home was referred to at some length in Part One, and its active realisation on the home front will be multi-faceted. The private zones of the home — bedrooms and bathrooms — will become the focus of attention as the business surrounding sleep explodes. The use of everything from plants to paint, to combat pollution will soar. Check out niche brands like Airlite. And in a pragmatic response, every shade of green will grow in popularity on the paint charts of lust as urban dwellers try to recreate a sense of interior solace by any means possible. Green being the soothing salve of the spectrum.
These will be the accessible, affordable ways for everyone to make a daily difference to their lives. And it’s precisely what we need after a year in which even the Oxford Dictionary determined the word ‘toxic’ best captured the “ethos, mood and preoccupations” of 2018. Besides, we can only be the proactive author of a rewarding personal script if we take full responsibility for how we treat ourselves and our individual environments. Then we can go on to save the planet.
But it’s not only about greenery and air filters. People still want to shop. So here are my predictions for the six main ways, moods or directions that I think we’ll see in 2019…
The things that we touch everyday can add joy to our lives and emotional value to our environments. As such, despite the intensity of our digital age, we still instinctively acknowledge the power of touch and increasingly crave it at home. Why? Because we are physical, sensory beings with a primal need to surround ourselves with surfaces that thrill our fingertips or tempt our toes. In fact, tactile stimulation, whether being hugged or stroking a pet, triggers oxytocin, the love hormone; it also lowers cortisol levels, reducing anxiety and stress. It is the language of compassion, helping us bond and connect with others. After all, even when we talk of sending a text or email, we refer to it as ‘keeping in touch’!
As such, enhanced tactility at home is no superficial conceit, especially when our working days today are spent umbilically-connected to the super-smooth screens of our phones, tablets or laptops. The need to be re-connected IRL via touch to our sensory physicality has never been more important for our collective sanity. But while we may gaze upon images of nature and be calmed, when it comes to touch, we must experience it, not simply look from afar.
Cue then the demise of digitally-printed fabrics in favour of real embroidery, linens and all other weaves with seriously cocooning texture for upholstery; while cushions and throws will favour thick knits and wool bouclés, whatever the season. Think too of elaborately embossed wallcoverings (from Lincrusta to Anaglypta), a revival of wall-panelling and papers made from deliciously touchy-feely cork and bamboo. (See here for my edit of touch-tastic SS19 fabrics and wallpapers.)
Marble, stone, ceramic and porcelain — for handmade tiles to accessories — will continue to be popular too as they reference the natural world, as well as being intrinsically textural. Finishes like brass, admired for its ability to patinate, will replace glossy lacquers for everything from kitchen cupboard fronts to wall treatments and furniture. Also, natural finish, non-exotic woods will return to centre stage for just about everything, representative as they are of the ultimate in ‘honest’ materials.
Directly related to this will be an increase in what I’ve previously dubbed ‘povera’ materials. Hitherto perceived as humble, rattan, jute, cork, plywood, sisal and hemp will be employed by master designers as if they are haute materials. In other words, rather than being looked down on as being too lowly to be considered beautiful, their inherent texture, authenticity and tactility will be newly celebrated. (See here for my Top Ten pieces to get you reconsidering rattan et al).
On the one hand this is just smart. It taps into a hugely under-utilised material toolbox and gives designers an updated palette to play with. But perhaps more importantly, in this new era of accountability, it acknowledges important ecological concerns about sustainability, as well as overtly championing the hand of the maker. And this is crucial because the increasingly sophisticated UK consumer is ever more careful today in what they buy.
You demand to know provenance and you care about the stories of the people behind the products. And with this will come something of a rediscovery of, whisper it, morals in matters of production and consumption. As the design critic Stephen Bayley, more provocatively put it, “True value will be separated from mere cost. We will want better, not merely more, and with that will come more dignified consumer behaviour. Gross indulgence will soon acquire the stigma currently attached to drink-driving.”
What’s super interesting for me though is how I can see this happening across all sectors, from products and pots to food. A quote in the January edition of Waitrose’s Weekend newspaper from Anna Jones, cook, writer and stylist, predicted an increase in what she dubbed, conscious cooking and eating. “We are becoming more aware of how we cook and eat, not just where the ingredients come from but how they are packaged and how much of them we’re actually using. The idea of ‘doing things properly’ will also become more important, meaning increasing interest in meals that take time to prepare, traditional recipes and real books rather than ebooks.”
In terms of design, this move towards the ‘real’, heralds the revival of classic but utilitarian (aka humble) furniture pieces, from Victorian (yes, really, brown furniture!) to 50s G-plan. All alongside the more obvious revisiting of old-fashioned glassware for food and drink storage as plastic is further ostracised too.
It all speaks of what I referred to in my introduction as that ‘flight to the familiar’. It’s the idea of being intuitively drawn towards products, materials and finishes that project a sense of fond recognition. In many ways it’s simply another iteration of last season’s mainstream move towards an abundance of velvet on chairs and sofas, all rendered in faintly retro ‘New Neutral’ shades. Think peach, lavender and pistachio. A real signifier of the reassuringly familiar. (Read my original Trendbulletin on New Neutrals here.)
And if we pull all of the textures and materials, plus a sense of heritage and the nascent adoption of colour together, it adds up to a look I’d describe as ‘Soft Scandi’. However, where Scandinavian cool typically connotes pristine perfect black, white and pale wood backdrops with a smudge of oh-so-stylish grey and perhaps a few sheepskins, this is a warmed-up version. Now imagine this seductive simplicity loaded with extra-added tactility, imperfection and a warm flush of colour. Like the light that bathes a room at sunset. And suddenly it gets a lot more interesting, not to mention attainable and friendly.
By employing hemp for our rugs and curtains, cork on our walls, and plywood, wicker and jute for our furniture and finishes, plus a flexibility on colour, it’s more liveable, and forgiving. It feels real, not just for the cameras. It’s also emblematic of a lifestyle that emphasises uncomplicated comfort. It is a physical iteration of the Danish hygge movement that so captured consumer attention when it first hit the headlines back in 2016. Something essentially summarised as, love your home and get cosy. Candles mandatory.
Nevertheless, I maintain that the actual aesthetic of Soft Scandi is more about a layering of influences rather than a singular look. For example, let’s look at the recently inaugurated Shishi-Iwa house, as seen below, designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. A 10-room ‘restorative retreat’ in Karuizawa, Japan, it was inspired by a desire to combine architecture with the essence of the natural world. The aim is to be “a place to reflect and restore energy, and in turn spark new ways of thinking for guests”. The press release continues, “Encouraging both private and social experiences, the property showcases a seamless flow of spaces designed with unique humanistic qualities, where each Guest Room is a meditative retreat in itself. Noted for the use of cardboard in his designs, Shigeru Ban has fitted out the bedrooms and public spaces with timber and paper tube elements for a unique interior ambiance.” And fittingly, alongside his own designs, the architect selected furniture by Alvar Aalto.
So, whether we see it as a sort of Crafted Modern, or simply new-with-integrity, it’s about the appreciation of a true creative process built upon a platform of heritage and expertise. Again, what’s striking to me is what I see as the cross-sector proliferation of this kind of approach. Even in music. I’d cite the popular return to narrative songs underscored by strong Country/Nashville influences. Consider the recent hits from Miley Cyrus with Mark Ronson (‘Nothing Breaks like a Heart’) and Kylie Minogue with Jack Savoretti (‘Music’s too sad without you’)?
One step on again and we have as the bigger picture a wholesale re-evaluation of Eco. This is a term that used to mean scratchy fabrics and wobbly pots that frankly should have been lobbed straight into the recycling bin. As for ecological homes, well that meant houses built of straw with compost toilets! But no more. Local authorities and smart early adopters around the UK, in a bid to create healthier homes for the future, are embracing eco building from PassivHaus models to fabric first approaches to building. Shorthand for lots of insulation. Read more here from Self-Build magazine.
Why? Because building this way is good for you. It’s good for the planet, and most importantly, the external architecture is getting a lot sexier too, as well as being increasingly cost effective for the long term. And there are immediate homeowner dividends. Comfortable internal temperatures whatever the weather. Improved air quality. Quieter homes so you sleep better. And bills that are on average 90% lower than average.
By outlier I mean one trend that may come to nothing, but it’s a bubbling-up look that I’ve seen rendered with such conviction that I feel it demands closer inspection. And this year, it’s something I’m calling Modern Primitive. Imagine pieces with a sort of anti-slick reductive robustness. A rough hewing of stone and a chunky chopping of timber that sings of its hand-craftiness. It is the innocent savant of design. The ultimate jettisoning of the polished look that had come to symbolise ‘design’, if you will. But in a different way to that of Posh Povera. Where that’s about maintaining the polish but experimenting with a new set of materials, this is a more forceful rejection. And while a whole room furnished this way might be a touch too Flintstones, a few key pieces in a scheme would add some serious clout.
Notable proponents would be the Tbilisi-based Interior and Product Design studio, Rooms, founded by Georgia-natives Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia. Also select pieces from British creative Faye Toogood. Or the Italian brands Gervasoni and Baxter, the latter both art-directed by the ever-forward-thinking Paola Navone. From afar they may seem unduly rough and a bit unseemly (hence the Primitive) but close up, the details surprise (hence Modern). They are a bit like the sort of paintings that people mock saying, “What! My kid could have done that!” Which is to belie the thought processes behind the creation and the sophistication of the application.
They appear simple, which resonates with our craving for truth and authenticity, but there’s another level to them which satisfies our need for a story. First seen in Milan last year, definitely one to watch. Interesting to note too that the Italian brand Driade has been quick to pick up Faye, already producing her Roly Poly chair, which she debuted a few years back, in an upholstered version. Take a peek here.
And finally, in times of such complexity I believe it’s nigh on impossible to present a single hue as emblematic for the year ahead. I was quite damning of Pantone’s Living Coral as its 2019 proposal, and neither did I much like Dulux’s somewhat passive and anodyne Spiced Honey. Many are suggesting that beige will be the shade for 2019. This I resoundly reject. In such times as now, to revert to a flat nondescript hue like beige is like taking the oblivion option. The head in the sand it’s-nothing-to-do-with-me path. It speaks only of conformity, ubiquity and non-choice. The only possible nod to this hue is that it’s linked tangentially to the natural shades of the materials previously lauded. But then these are super-loaded and loved for their intrinsic texture, not applauded for their colour alone. So that’s that.
Instead, I’d like to suggest an accent colour. A shade that confers a touch of heat to anything it touches. Namely, the piquant and tangy mustard. A colour too that I’ve been banging on about since last year’s Milan furniture fair! But now it’s coming out of the shadows and I believe it’s set to hit the mainstream at full force.
The thing is, perhaps surprisingly, this deep ochre yellow is akin to something of a tonal peacemaker. It treads a conciliatory line between full-on colour (representative of the current chaos of the world) and greige neutrality (the auto default for the quiet we crave at home). Thus, you’d be forgiven for thinking at first that you couldn’t ‘do’ mustard. But try it and discover that it belies its perceived punchiness to be the fast track to an instant interior uplift.
At first it might seem a touch too edgy to be broadly palatable, yet it is in fact tremendously adaptable. It warms without overwhelming and is capable of turning sedate into sexy. Not for nothing is it one of the world’s most widely employed condiments. And all the best interior schemes benefit from a little pinch of the unexpected. Caveat: use it consistently. A single cushion in an otherwise quiet room will just look odd. You need to be confident in its employ to add depth and deliciousness. As such, twin cumin-coloured accessories with a wall in a statement shaded paper or a star piece of furniture. The point is, use enough to add a deliberate flavour.
I also propose mustard as a sort of colour trope of hope. Think of it as the equivalent of the proverbial kick up the backside in what will inevitably be a profoundly pivotal year. For if combined within environments that not only reconnect us to our essential humanity but also enable us to be our best selves, we might just have a second chance.
I’ll sign off then with this wonderful definition of trust by James Garvey, of the Royal Institute of Philosophy in London. It seems to me to say so much about what is required for our times, whether individually, corporately, or governmentally. “Trust is optimism about the goodwill of another person towards us. When we lose that optimism, we can’t be simply talked back into it. There’s no shortcut. Time, transparency, and a change in behaviour — building within oneself the property of trustworthiness — is the only way to regain trust once its lost.”
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Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.