Danish Pastel Decor: Appealing or Repellent? A Generational Debate
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Danish Pastel Decor: Appealing or Repellent? A Generational Debate

Lilac upholstery and pink mushroom lamps. Two editors, generations apart, debate a hot décor trend’s validity.

By DALE HRABI AND NINA MOLINA |
Fri, Aug 5, 2022 10:02amGrey Clock 3 min

AT A RECENT morning meeting, an editor at The Wall Street Journal’s Off Duty section brought up an interior design trend divisive enough to spur sleepy staffers into either visceral hostility or love at first sight. The style, known as Danish Pastel and currently populating TikTok and Instagram, riffs irreverently on Scandinavian and midcentury-design. The look maintains its antecedent’s simple shapes but replaces the restrained palette of neutrals and natural wood with pastels. Midcentury mushroom lamps pop up in lavender and sage. Accessories have googly eyes.

Off Duty section editor Dale Hrabi narrowed his gaze, resisting this “cute-ification” of a classic style. Meanwhile, assistant editor Nina Molina, a Gen-Zer, cooed over the cheerful colours and cartoonish kitchenware.

With battle lines drawn, the two asked designers for their thoughts on the trend, then returned to face off. Here’s how the debate, edited for clarity, unfolded.

Dale Hrabi: Within the Danish pastel spectrum, I can concede that some things have value, say Muuto’s Kink vase [below], but other stuff just seems ridiculous, like those vases with the faces on them. The Kink vase is a legitimately clever innovation and the color nicely underlines its playfulness.

Nina Molina: The Muuto vase is innovative and clever, but design doesn’t have to be that. It can just be stupid and fun. I think a lot of Danish pastel is about the emotional reaction you get out of seeing those objects in your room.

DH: But it’s like living in a world where the only things to eat are coloured mints or pink fudge and you’re missing out on all the more complex, dimensional flavours, like savoury brisket and kimchi. What do you like to eat? Are you a sugar addict?

NM: I do love sugar. I need to have a little bit of sugar every day. My whole family has sweet tooths…sweet teeth?

DH: But notice you said “a bit.” An interior designer in Denver, Julie Brayton, said she could see using one or two elements from the trend to add a little irreverence to a room. And Munich blogger and editor Karoline Herr [whose home office is shown above] says a pastel statement piece, like a couch, can give an otherwise neutral modern space just the right amount of edginess.

NM: Those Togo chairs remind me of roly polies, too bug-like.

DH: Do you know what I like about them, though? They’re kind of ungainly and look like rumpled Shar-Pei dogs. Do you know the French term “jolie laide?” It literally means “pretty, ugly.” Put Togo chairs in pastels and they become jolie laide. Not too cutesy.

NM: I love that. It’s like when someone is unconventionally attractive, it makes them more approachable. So maybe the ugliness is the edginess?

DH: You need some edge in life to make things interesting. Take the trend’s checked rugs. They are the only point of rigour in this otherwise blobby, gooey world. I think interior design needs rigour and, you know, aesthetic ambition even when it’s playful. Speaking of which, I feel really sorry for Matisse. The poor guy’s been dragged into this.

NM: That’s funny because Chay Costello, the associate merchandising director at MoMA Design Store, was glad young people have adopted Matisse, who’s been on the walls of MoMA practically since it opened in 1929.

DH: I’m also kind of offended that Danish and Scandinavian design has been co-opted so cartoonishly. It’s like taking opera—something culturally advanced and pure—and rerecording it with kazoos.

NM: That’s so horrible, Dale! Chay says there’s a boldness to Danish pastels, that it takes bravery to embrace colour. No one questions a grey or beige interior, but it’s also not very exciting.

DH: I’m wondering here: Am I too uptight about being sophisticated, as someone who came from provincial Canada to New York City? Maybe I hide behind very socially approved notions of sophistication—neutral colours, clean lines—and am inhibited in a way you and Chay are not.

NM: Chay mentioned that the pandemic changed people’s relationships to their homes. If these are my four walls, how do I make them more pleasing? If you lighten a dark blue room a few shades to pastel, wouldn’t it be more comforting? Pastels remind me of the animated TV show from the early 2000s “Dragon Tales” and of Studio Ghibli movies like “My Neighbor Totoro.” I associate them with good times.

DH: Interesting. I associate them with Strawberry Shortcake, that super-shrill cartoon character. But I agree. The world is very grim now. Maybe if I were just starting out, with an uncertain future, I would reach for this kind of immersive “happiness.”

NM: Danish pastel has a fun and bubbly personality, and I like its silliness. It’s OK to embrace the sweetness.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 4, 2022.



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Retro Kitchens Are Everywhere—and the Ultimate Rejection of the Sterile Luxury Trend

Playful 1950s style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances

By TRACY KALER
Mon, Apr 22, 2024 6 min

The 1950s spawned society’s view of kitchens as the heart of the home, a hub for gathering, cooking, eating and socializing. Thus, it makes perfect sense that the same decade could inspire today’s luxury kitchens.

“The deliberate playfulness and genius of the era’s designers have enabled the mid-century style to remain a classic design and one that still sparks joy,” said James Yarosh, an interior designer and gallerist in New Jersey.

That playful style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances—all of which are a conspicuous rejection of the sterile, monochrome kitchens that have defined luxury home design for years. One of the hottest brands to incorporate into retro-style kitchens, SMEG is turning up more these days. But the question is: How do you infuse a colourful refrigerator and other elements from this nostalgic era without creating a kitschy room?

“The key to a modern, fresh look in your kitchen is to reference, not imitate, signature looks of the 1950s,” said New York-based designer Andrew Suvalsky, who often laces retro style throughout the rooms he designs. He said using the period as inspiration will steer you away from imagining a garish space.

“When it comes to incorporating that retro-esque look, it’s a fine dance between looking beautiful and looking kitschy,” added Lisa Gilmore, a designer in Tampa, Florida. Gilmore suggested balancing contemporary pieces with vintage touches. That balance forges a functional yet attractive design that’s easy to live with while evoking a homey atmosphere––and ultimately, a room everyone wants to be in.

Colour Reigns Supreme

Suvalsky said one way to avoid a kitschy appearance is to mingle woods and colours, such as lacquered base cabinets and walnut wall cabinets, as he did in his Montclair, New Jersey, kitchen.

“Mixing colours into your kitchen is most effective when it’s done by colour-blocking––using a single colour across large areas of a space––in this case, zones of cabinetry,” he explained. He tends to lean toward “Easter egg colours,” such as baby chick yellow and pale tangerine. These soft pastels can suggest a starting point for the design while lending that retro vibe. But other hues can spark a vintage feel as well.

A mid-century-inspired kitchen by Blythe Interiors.
Natalia Robert

“Shades of green and blue are a timeless base foundation that work for a 1950s vintage look,” said designer Jennifer Verruto of Blythe Interiors in San Diego. But wood isn’t off the table for her, either. “To embrace the character of a mid-century home, we like a Kodiak stain to enhance the gorgeous walnut grain,” she said. “This mid-tone wood is perfect for contrasting other lighter finishes in the kitchen for a Mid-Century Modern feel.”

Since colour is subjective, a kitchen lined with white cabinetry can assume a retro aesthetic through accoutrements and other materials, emanating that ’50s vibe.

“The fun of retro designs is that you can embrace colour and create something that feels individual to the house and its homeowner, reflecting their tastes and personality,” Yaosh said. He recommended wallpaper as an option to transform a kitchen but suggested marrying the pattern with the bones of the house. “Wallpaper can create a mid-century or retro look with colours and hand-blocked craftsmanship,” he said. “Mauny wallpapers at Zuber are a particular favourite of mine.”

Suvalsky suggested Scalamandre wallpapers, for their 1950s patterns, and grass cloth, a textile that was often used during that decade. He also likes House of Hackney, a brand that “does a great job reinventing vintage prints in luscious colours,” he noted. “Many of their colourways invert the typical relationship between light and dark, with botanical prints in dark jewel tones set over light, more playful colours.”

Materials Matter

Beyond wall covering, flooring, countertops and backsplashes can all contribute to the 1950s theme. Manufactured laminate countertops, specifically Formica, were all the rage during the decade. But today’s high-end kitchens call for more luxurious materials and finishes.

“That’s a situation where going the quartz route is appropriate,” Gilmore said. “There are quartzes that are a through-body colour and simple if someone is doing colorued cabinetry. A simplified white without veining will go a long way.” She also recommended Pompei quartz Sunny Pearl, which has a speckled appearance.

A kitchen designed by James Yarosh that incorporates pops of yellow.
Patricia Burke

But for those who welcome vibrant colour schemes, countertops can make a bold statement in a vintage kitchen. Gilmore said solid surface materials from the era were often a colour, and quartz can replicate the look.

“Some brands have coloured quartz, like red,” she said. But keeping countertops neutral allows you to get creative with the backsplash. “I‘d pull in a terrazzo backsplash or a bold colour like a subway tile in a beautiful shade of green or blush,” Gilmore said. “Make the backsplash a piece of art.”

Suvalsky also leans toward bright and daring––such as checkerboards––for the backsplash. But depending on the kitchen’s design, he’ll go quieter with a double white herringbone [tile] pattern. “Either version works, but it must complement other choices, bold or simple, in the design,” he explained.

Neutral countertops with a bold backsplash, designed by Lisa Gilmore.
Native House Photography

Likewise, his flooring choice almost always draws attention. “My tendency is more toward very bold, such as a heavily veined marble or a pattern with highly contrasting tones,” he noted. Yarosh suggested slate and terrazzo as flooring, as these materials can make an excellent backdrop for layering.

Forge a Statement With Vintage Appliances 

As consequential as a kitchen’s foundation is, so are the appliances and accoutrements. While stainless steel complements contemporary kitchens, homeowners can push the design envelope with companies like SMEG when making appliance selections for a retro-style kitchen. Although Suvalsky has yet to specify a SMEG fridge, he is looking forward to the project when he can.

“I think they work best when the selected colour is referenced in other parts of the kitchen, which helps to integrate these otherwise ‘look at me’ pieces into the broader design,” he noted. “They are like sculptures unto themselves.”

“For our mid-century-inspired projects, we’ve opted for Big Chill and the GE Cafe Series to bring a vintage look,” Verruto added. Similar to SMEG, Big Chill and GE offer a vintage vibe in a wide selection of colours and finishes, alongside 21st-century performance.

Can’t commit to a full-size appliance? Sometimes, a splash is enough. Gilmore tends to dust her retro kitchens with a coloured kettle or toaster since her clients are likelier to add a tinge with a countertop appliance or two. “Mint green accessories make it pop, and if in five years they are over it, it’s not a commitment,” she said. “It’s a great way to infuse fun and colour without taking a major risk.”

Deck out the Breakfast Nook

Kitchen dining areas present the opportunity to introduce retro lighting, furniture, and accessories to complete the look. Flea markets and antique markets are excellent places to hunt for accompaniments.

“Dome pendants and Sputnik chandeliers are iconic styles that will infuse vintage charm into your kitchen while also easily complementing a variety of other styles,” Verruto said.

A retro breakfast nook desinged by Andrew Suvalsky.
DLux Editions

Suspend a vintage light fixture over the classic Saarinen table, and you can’t go wrong.

“Saarinen Tulip Tables are almost always guaranteed to deliver a home run in nearly any interior, especially a 1950s-themed kitchen,” Suvalsky said. “The simplicity of its form, especially in white, makes it nearly impossible to clash with.”

To really channel the vibe of this era, Verruto suggested local vintage stores and brands such as Drexel Heritage and Lexington. Dressing the windows counts, too. “Cafe curtains in a chintz pattern will make for a fabulous finishing touch,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yarosh delights in selecting tabletop items, including novelty stemware and other trappings ubiquitous in the 1950s. “Mid-century kitchens also need to have pedestal cake plates and maybe a cloche to keep a cake,” he mused. “I love the opportunity to curate these details down to the correct fork and serving pieces.”

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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