Easiest Way To Bring Nature Indoors: Floral Interior Design
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Easiest Way To Bring Nature Indoors: Floral Interior Design

After decades as pattern non grata, floral motifs are budding again in décor.

By Yelena Moroz Alpert
Mon, May 2, 2022 6:00amGrey Clock 7 min

WHILE HOUSE HUNTING to relocate for a new job, Kristine and Lars Niki toured a home in Durham, Conn. The owners had left behind carpets, drapes and wallpaper exuberant with colour and pattern, specifically florals. Ms. Niki loved the spacious house but her knee-jerk instinct was to “rip up the rugs and paint everything white.” By closing, however, the English-rose carpets and garden-party curtains had grown on the couple. “Every HGTV-show bathroom—here’s your subway tile and grey wood and white walls,” said the insurance-claims director, 38, who decided not to change the décor. “This was just so freaking different.”

Ms. Niki’s abrupt taste for botanicals surprised her, but she is part of a growing market. This month, J.Crew released home accessories in posy-packed Liberty fabric. Twelve-year-old stationery brand Rifle Paper Co. in March introduced a collection of furniture in its signature hand-painted florals. York Wallcoverings, in York, Pa., reported a 215% growth in floral wallcoverings sales over the last two years.

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Among the factors driving the resurgence of interest in petals: Covid-weary Americans’ desire to usher nature into their technology-clogged, WFH homes and the maturing of a generation for whom florals are a fresh, not fusty, idea. “I do think millennials are a big push. Wallpaper is new for them, and they are excited by pattern and colour,” said Gina Shaw, vice president of product development at York. Zak Profera, founder and creative director of textile firm Zak+Fox, in New York City, noted that novelty similarly drives the success of his Sycomorus design, inspired by historical tapestries most people don’t come across today. “When they do, it’s an exciting discovery,” he said.

Florals have been pattern non grata for decades—in the late 1990s they were buried by beige; in the aughts by minimalist white; in the teens by the color blocking of midcentury modern or by our love affair with gray—a room’s flora limited to a lone fiddle-leaf fig.

BALANCED BLOOMS Sydney designer Greg Natale tempered chinoiserie walls with geometric tiles and veined marble.PHOTO: ANSON SMART

Kathleen Walsh, a New York City designer, noticed that clients’ hesitation with florals runs deep. Some may recall fussy calicoes in a great aunt’s cluttered living room or may still be recovering from the late-’80s shabby-chic style. “The twee Laura Ashley was matchy-matchy,” said interior designer Greg Natale, in Sydney, Australia, recalling rooms in which the same chintz might appear on walls, windows and bed. “The way my mother would ate, it was too flouncy.”

That flurry of pastel tulips and cabbage roses had a distinctly feminine vibe, often too saccharine for male tastes. Men don’t spurn florals per se but rather a fabric’s overall “sweetness,” said Boston designer Gary McBournie, who has found that the hand-blocked designs of Manhattan textile designer John Robshaw pass muster with men. They don’t reject the geometric, colour-saturated abstractions as florals, he said.

A dark background also apparently makes a pattern of stems more attractive to males. Mr. Natale is currently installing Gucci’s Grotesque paper, in which lions and red tulips rear against a pitch ground. “It is strong and moody. It doesn’t feel coy,” he said, “and the black background is less feminine.” Mr. Profera doesn’t believe florals are gendered but does admit that Zak+Fox’s bestselling wallpaper, Les Baobabs Amoureux, features a tangle of blooming branches in a sea of black. “Florals on a dark backdrop almost signify a celebration of life, like something emerging from the shadows after the past few years.”

PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (FABRIC, TILE, PILLOW, WALLPAPER)

Mr. Profera touches on a greater pandemic-induced shift in interior design, a trend for bringing the outdoors in. Said Cean Irminger, creative director of mosaic manufacturer New Ravenna, in Exmore, Va., “You connect nature…to health. It’s comforting, a constant.” About 35% of New Ravenna’s newest 100 designs include floral details. London’s Morris & Co. just released a collaboration in which designer Ben Pentreath recoloured patterns from its archive, including a Marigold theme. “After periods of difficulty, people come to flowering patterns to bring back joy,” said company design director, Claire Vallis.

The father of Morris & Co., Arts and Crafts master William Morris, designed nature-inspired prints in response to the industrialization of 19th-century Great Britain, a disruption not dissimilar to our move to blue-screen dependence. “Through [European] art history, often a big change in technology leads to a new way of production, and a return to nature, to something more human,” said Marie-Eve Celio-Scheurer, art historian at Cotsen Textile Traces Study Center, George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Ironically, high-quality digital printing contributes to the spread of florals, making them financially accessible to many, observed McLean Barbieri, a partner at Nashville’s Annali Interiors. Said New York City designer Jennifer Hunter, who recently woke up a dining room with foliage-decked Roman shades, “Crisp, bright colors bring new energy that attracts people beyond the floral itself. This new energy is contagious, and I see this era of florals sticking around for quite some time.”

Daisy Don’ts and Posy Do’s

The floral flubs interior designers see most often, and suggestions for what to do instead

As beautiful as this rendering makes it look, IRL allover flowers can be oppressive.ILLUSTRATION: ADRIANA PICKER

Frumpy Furniture

Even new garden prints on a Victorian sofa look dusty. Loose cushions, too, complicate a flower-laden form. “They look bulky and broken, tire the eye and feel fussy,” said Manhattan interior designer Jennifer Hunter.

Instead: Simple modern or contemporary silhouettes bring florals into the 21st century. Mrs. Hunter relies on tight upholstery. “You have more canvas to display the full repeat of the pattern,” she said, calling out a mod barrel-back chair as perfect for a petaled pattern. A boxy sofa looks even less frothy if cushions are piped in structured cord, added Zak Profera, of textile company Zak+Fox.

Swoopy Drapery

Petal-printed curtains become antediluvian with swags and valences, much less passementerie. “People associate florals with formality, and multicolour trim and tassels echo past designs,” said interior designer Will Huff, of Atlanta’s Huff-Dewberry.

Instead: Mr. Huff recently installed a Hollyhock print from Lee Jofa in a sunroom. “We used simple panels to ensure that the room felt traditional yet current,” he said. A fresh alternative to a flamboyant valence, according to Nashville designer McLean Barbieri: a simple upholstered cornice in the same fabric as the curtain panels.

Darling Décor

Steer clear of too-sweet designs. Quarter-size posies, in particular, “look too dollhouse, too old-fashioned and too country,” said Mr. McBournie.

Instead: Mr. McBournie sticks with larger blooms in psychedelic colours. Mr. Higgins notes that a dark background ballasts a pattern, so it “doesn’t scream little girl.”

Scene Stealers

“Without another pattern, a single floral will command all the attention,” said New York City designer Kathleen Walsh.

Instead: New York City designer Bunny Williams tempers botanicals with stripes or even leopard print. She might ground a chair in a Jacobean-inspired floral with a tartan rug. In a flowery bathroom, Sydney designer Greg Natale offset chinoiserie with geometric floor tile and marble veining. Another floral can help the eye travel, but be sure to mix scales. Mrs. Hunter balanced a headboard clad in sizable rose clusters with grid-like bedding punctuated by tiny florets. Mr. Profera’s rough guideline for a good range: Mix motifs that vary from the size of a basketball to a baseball to a golf ball.

Florals for Bros

Design professionals select bloom-based prints that even flowers-are-for-gurls men can appreciate

PHOTO: MIGUEL FLORES-VIANA

Science-Project Floral

“Botanical prints tend to be universally liked by men. This may have to do with their scientific nature,” said Atlanta designer Will Huff, of Huff-Dewberry. “The depictions of flora aren’t necessarily designed to be pretty.” Antique botanicals, he said, look ordered and clean and not too feminine, as illustrated by the room shown here by Dorset, England, interiors consultant Edward Hurst. Botanical Studies Hand-painted Wallpaper Designed With Michael S. Smith, from, Degournay.com

PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Rep-Tie Floral

The repeating pattern in this recreation of a hand-blocked Indian textile “makes it like a traditional stripe, not too fussy,” said Roger Higgins, a designer in Nashville who recently paired drapery of this fabric with lacquered navy walls in a man’s study. “This makes it a bit more masculine,” he said. Kingsley Indienne Fabric by Hodsoll McKenzie, FabricsAndPapers.com

PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Puckish-Primate Floral

This Cole & Son wallpaper is not strictly floral or bucolic, said Sydney designer Greg Natale, calling it more playful than pretty—even slightly surrealist. “The 1940s print has a sense of humor, with its unexpected pairing of cheeky monkeys and pomegranates,” he said. Frutto Proibito Wallpaper,  atorsBest.com

PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

17th-Century Floral

“Patterns that are overly literal read too garden-y,” said Boston designer Gary McBournie, who noted that this pillow would handsomely accent a man’s dressing room. “Florals that read somewhat geometric, like this Jacobean print on textured linen, don’t signal sweetness.” Trotwood Pillow, HivePalmBeach.com




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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.”

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