This was the year of colour, texture and hygge — but, above all, of cheap and disposable ‘fast fashion’ for interiors
You can talk about fashion in interior design with a reasonably straight face now. You can even borrow the old language of clothing Fashionland — the seasonal fashion cycle. And that’s because there’s a regiment — no, a positive army — of people raised in that Fashion Culture who’ve migrated to housey-housey land. They’re employed by fashion brands who’ve decided there’s money to be made from cushions and occasional tables. They’re in housey retailers who’ve recruited a new kind of person to get some new action, and they’re in new hybrid retailers like the American-owned Anthropologie or our own Oliver Bonas (started in Fulham in 1993, and now grown to 58 stores), which do a bit of everything — clothes, jewellery, small furnishings.
You know where you are with people called creative directors. Creative directors introduce new categories with much faster stock turnover than, say, mahogany tallboys or extendable hardwood dining tables. They bring in a sort of paperback chick-lit range of interior goods: easy, affordable and up-cheering ways to get with the style programme without too big a financial — or space — commitment. Creative directors introduce fast-moving ranges of lighting, cushions (Americans call them pillows), throws, rugs, towels, bed linen, small furniture — teeny tables and bedside cabinets — pictures (ie, framed prints), novelty mirrors, scented candles and quirky vases.
All this stuff is made cheaply, Somewhere Else Faraway. It’s rather like the range of things bought in industrial quantities for grim mass hotel bedrooms to cheer them up and stop you thinking you’ve woken up in 1979. By definition they’re not that expensive, don’t usually involve installation costs and aren’t meant to last. Who’s going to agonise about throwing out today’s new cushion in December 2017? All these developments allow for a fashion cycle, and they’re material for excitable commentary by people who couldn’t tell a fad from a trend if it slapped them round the chops.
Sometimes, you have to admit, the stuff picked up in the excitable reporting is a straw in a big wind, an indication of something longer term to come. A change of mood. But often enough it just shows the cleverness of stylists who can pick on something that’s the furnishing equivalent of hilarious dogs on YouTube, absolutely compelling for long enough to get someone’s credit card out. A bit of fun that costs as much as a couple of drinks. Meanwhile the tallboy and table are at the back of the shop, losing all hope and self-esteem.
In 2016, you could see it all. The affordable straws in the wind of strong colour and luxury, of trad and serious retro (and, equally, the absolutely evanescent faddy stuff that’s in and out of your brain-pan as fast as a cheerful drink at All Bar One).
The positives — indicators of that mood change — included altogether more shapely and sumptuous seat furniture, because those cute little sofas with splayed legs don’t do the job. And increasingly you saw those sofas covered in the material of the moment, velvet.
And the greater use of solid colour of all kinds, not just as a “pop”, but as a real option, meant something too, in all kinds of houses — not just Farrow & Ball trad ones. Pink, for instance, meant more than fogey Germolene or art-school kitsch, and became a real option (it is, after all, “the navy blue of India”, according to the late colour junkie Diana Vreeland). And at the edges, antiques are creeping back — though there’s a new taste in them, a new way of looking at them and using them. (There’s a generation who don’t like the old stiff way, but antiques are incredible value and people are beginning to notice.)
It’s the furnishing equivalent of hilarious dogs on YouTube: absolutely compelling for long enough to get someone’s credit card out
There’s a whole range of new textures and surfaces, spurred by the recent fashionability of copper: new kinds of metal — some of them look OTT at first — and iridescents, antidotes to the ubiquitous stainless steel. Cheap chandeliers have been part ironic for years, but now there’s a reviving market for real ones, old or new or 20th century. Also Murano glass in singular shapes.
And, of course, hygge, subject of several books and masses of magazine spreads. Hygge isn’t so much an aesthetic as all about popular psychology — the idea of huddling together, Danish-style, of feeling safe and comfortable at home, of feeling warm when it’s cold. We envy the Scandinavians their cold, dark nights, their snow, their sheepskin and their simplicity, when we’re unnaturally hot and hideously divided. Hygge so isn’t about design.
The downside of 2016 has been the incredible range of cheap novelties it produced, particularly fakes of every kind of craft, with faults manufactured in — like pre-distressed painted furniture with the corners rubbed off. Craft is bad enough when it’s real. And a rash of manufactured eccentricities, including flock cockatoo lamps that look as if they’d reproduced the 1992 Art School Loft, along with some dubious upcycling where real factory fittings and transport storage, like fruit crates, end up as small tables. That road will be — thankfully — less travelled next year.