Friday, June 5, 2015

Five Home Decor Trends That Have Overstayed Their Welcome

This blog post could have a lot of alternative titles. Ones like "Unrealistic Things I'm Tired of Seeing in Magazines" or "What Laura Writes When Low Blood Sugar Crabby," for instance. Or for that matter, "No One Told Me Listicles are Overdone." No, not really that last one. I know they are overdone. And I hate the word "listicles" with a special passion. 

I'm not really talking about those fads that rapidly reach peak everyone-everywhere-yawn within months (like chevron pillows in 2013, for instance). I'm talking about those trends that keep hanging on and hanging on and hanging on, until people take it for granted that they are a good idea. And yet aren't. 

A couple of disclaimers before I start this list (hold the "-icle").  Though I could find better visual examples from elsewhere and still be under fair use rules, I'm not going to use photos from commercial sites and especially not other blogs for this post, because it seems rather shitty to me to call out specific individual people for their choices. We should all do ourselves and our style, regardless of other people's opinions. Including mine, which leads me to the second disclaimer. It's my opinion, for my own house, and the way I live. But I'd love to hear other people's nominations for and disagreements with this list. Here we go!

1. White slip-covered sofas. 

This one is the worst offender, and it dates back to the beginning of the whole shabby chic trend from the 1980s. You can love or hate shabby chic itself, and I have no strong feelings either way until you get to the anchor element of that style, which is the plumply upholstered sofa slipcovered in something like canvas dropcloths (utilitarian version) or vintage French linen bedsheets (people-with-more-money-than-I-will-ever-have version). Every magazine spread that has ever featured one of these sofas in the history of ever always has a giant (black) dog, or a couple of slightly sticky-looking (diapered) toddlers, or a glass of the noir-est pinot noir within what should be this thing's de-militarized zone. The photo is always paired with a blithe quote from the homeowner saying "White slip-covers are the easiest-care furniture. Spills don't matter, because you can just pop the covers in the wash, and put them back on. What a breeze." 

Besides the fact that these sofas already look like unmade beds (and should you want to look at an unmade bed, sheesh, go look in my bedroom, where one normally finds such things), if you want these slipcovers to look clean on a DAILY basis, one would be washing them daily. Because white+dog+young children+wine+overdyed jeans+illegal popsicles in the living room= never looks clean. And if the slipcovers are always in the wash, that means they're never on the sofa. Which means that you're constantly putting them back ON the sofa. Which is sort of like wresting an elephant into giant elephant-sized pillow case. Every. Day. 

I'm still trying to decide how in the world the white sofa trend caught on at all, and yet it will not go away. You know what color my sofa is? Brown. Because that's the color of coffee, chocolate, and dirt. It'd probably hide a good pinot noir indiscretion too, though so far I've been lucky. And while my sofa is a second-hand one and probably not what I'd have chosen new, it certainly hasn't thrown me into any illogical "white is the easiest color to clean" neuroses. Which is just as well. My washer and dryer time can therefore stay reserved for bigger priorities. Like socks and towels. 

2. Chalk Paint

I've said before that I'm not the biggest fan of painting wood furniture as an entire recent trend. (That's another opinion post I've long wanted to write). Not that it doesn't have its place, and I certainly have painted furniture pieces in my own house. 

But even more specifically, I don't understand the vast enthusiasm on DIY blogs for chalk paint. It's flat paint. My cynical gut reaction to that is "big whoop." We've had flat latex paint for a long time, and even more importantly, we've had flat latex paint for a long time and it didn't cost an arm and a leg and a first-born child, like chalk paint seems to. 

Even more puzzling to me is painting a piece of furniture with chalk paint and then waxing or poly-coating it. Um. Hmm. If you don't like the flat surface, either for ease of maintenance or aesthetics, then why in the world would you start with a product that doesn't give you the finish you want in the first place? Paints come in a range of gloss options. It seems like people are opting to go the costly and time-intensive route for no other reason than that it's trendy.

Chalk paint is another thing that traces it's origins back the shabby chic style, which favors chippy, distressed surface pieces of furniture. I'll admit I'm very much on a case-by-case basis with this style. One piece I will like. The next will seem fake and I don't like the pretense. A whole house of this stuff seems twee and not very visually grounded.

I just don't get it.

3. Pallet wood anything

I'm all for a little upcycling. I'm all for finding building materials on the cheap. But here's the thing about shipping pallets. They're used for shipping all sorts of things. Which means they are exposed to all sorts of things. Rodent droppings and bird feces. Pesticides. Herbicides. Fertilizers. Petroleum by-products. Mold and Mildew. Spoiled food. Blood. Chemical toxins. Heavy metals. Wood is a porous material that can absorb a lot of not-so-nice things. You can't sand or wash it off. 

So when I see them paneling a baby's bedroom, or made into a coffee table, or anything remotely to do with humans sleeping, eating, or placing objects on them, or growing food in them, I don't find it "rustic" or "clever" or "thrifty." I want to quite literally gag. 

It's my mother all over when I was a  little kid and put some random something in my mouth: "you don't have any idea where that nasty thing has been." Same thing with pallets. I've been aghast about the building-everything-with-pallet wood trend since the beginning, and I can't quite understand why no one has considered the possible health risks. Because that's all I can think about. 

I'll be passing on the pallet wood projects, all of them, everywhere, ever, and can only hope everyone else will too, though I'm not holding my breath. I don't think it's worth the risk. And really? Yuck. Just yuck. 

4. Open Shelving in Kitchens. 

Open shelving in kitchens is the evil twin sister to white slipcovered couches, I'm sure. If white couches are the ultimate in impracticality in the living room, open shelving is that same ultimate, the kitchen version. 

In magazines, it appears that people who have open shelving in their kitchen bought their entire tableware ensemble from this spring's Crate and Barrel catalog plus a few pieces of tasteful art pottery they picked up in Tuscany that last time they vacationed. There's a single fresh poppy in a slender vase posed just so next to the salad plates. And if we've admitted to actually eating in this open-shelf kitchen, there's a bowl of artfully stacked clementines and three boxes of organic whole-grain quinoa hipster crackers. You know those hipsters. With their artisanal hipster crackers. Pfft. 

I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that most households have plenty in their kitchen cabinets that are not view-worthy. I am not going to style my mismatched dinner plates, or the plastic Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh cereal bowls my teenage boys still eat their Cheerios from. I don't want to look at them, and neither does anyone else. Even the items I do use in my kitchen that are beautiful, I don't want the added work of keeping them attractively arranged, dust and grease free, and color-coordinated with the decor of the room. For a woman who often barely manages the time to flip grilled cheese sandwiches in this space, I'm sure as hell not going to sacrifice ease of maintenance and practicality to stage my kitchen as some sort of glorified still life. That's what fireplace mantels are for. 

Here below are my refinished 1960s era kitchen cabinets. With all their glorious doors of glorious hidden storageness. Just like nature intended. 

What my kitchen might look like if it was open-shelf concept: 

Yup. Economy-size boxes of Cheez-its and bulk warehouse oatmeal. No bud vases or polished clementines anywhere. I rest my case. 

5. The entire concept of decorating for resale value

The idea of making all of your design choices in a house for the benefit of the next people to own the house drives me straight bonkers. Have you met them? Do you know anything about their tastes? Are you willing to bet the farm and $10,000 on granite counters that you do? The answer should be no, no, and hell no. 

This is less a decor trend than it is an ongoing and tiresome philosophy, but it needs to stop. I think the constant grating on the topic of resale value in home improvement shows is merely to sell you things your home may or may not need. Is resale value important? Absolutely. But what they don't tell you on these shows is that for the majority of homeowners over the long term and in stable markets, real estate value is only going to increase, regardless of what you do to your home short of outright neglect and abuse. So if that's the case, why in the world would you subject yourself living in a sea of beige carpet and white walls? Why would you invest in granite counterops if you don't even like them? 

Go ahead. Paint your front door orange. Keep that knotty pine paneling in the den. Paint your bedroom wall royal purple. Put that gorgeously-patterned mexican tile on the floor in the bathroom. Bring home those vintage pieces and weird quirky things that make your heart sing, and stop consulting the opinions of people who don't even live there. The next owners of this house can worry about it when they own it. Right now, they don't get a vote.  

What are the decor trends that really toss your sofa cushions? What would you add to this list? Which one of them would you defend, and why? 


  1. Chevron makes me ragey,

    Fur or animal hide rugs/throws, barn doors on non barns or non farmhouses, fig plants (everyone has a frigging fig), and antlers in non lodges (who decided that antlers above a Victorian settee was appealing?).

    1. Everyone soon has a frigging dead fig. Those things are hard to keep alive. I know, because I tried one well before they were a thing. Never again!

  2. 1. I'm going to admit that I love the look of a well-fitted white(ish) slipcover with colorful accessories. Totally impractical for everyday use with dogs, kids, and husbands.
    2. I like chalk paint, if it's used to replicate the old paint finishes of centuries past. I like painted finishes mixed with wood, but it's gotta be done with style. Mostly, it's nasty and a total insult to decent used furniture.
    3. Pallets? Splinters and a haz-mat situation.
    4. I think the open shelf craze came from the idea that everything is better if it looks bigger.
    5. The only time to make decisions based on resale is if one is actually prepping the house for sale. Otherwise, live in it, decorate it to your taste, and enjoy it. Just don't paint chevrons on the wall ... or anything else, for that matter.
    6. (adding this one myself) Calling your tract house in a cookie cutter subdivision a 'cottage' or 'farmhouse'. It's not. A farmhouse is on a farm, and a cottage is in a village or in England.

    1. I have this ongoing internal rant about painted furniture despite the fact that I have painted furniture items in my house. It's complicated. Maybe someday I'll get it down in a blog post where I don't sound like a completely conficted insane woman. And I totally agree with your No. 6. I tend to call anything in a subdivision "garage-forward" design. Because that's really all you notice. It's a garage with a house attached as an afterthought.

    2. Ah, I'm not the only person who has a thing about those garage forward designs :-) Plus, why is the garage door on any type house so often painted a color that grabs your attention more than the house.

  3. You are preaching to the choir here, but sing it, sister! I'm a particular non-fan of faux-distressed anything. Don't get me started on the pallets. I don't much keep up with design blogs/sites any more because I got so tired of seeing the same things all the time, and so many of them annoy me. Some peeves: Hanging pictures in front of books on bookcases. Stacking books in huge towers that make it impossible to get ones from the bottom--which means the books are decor, not books. Closely related: Covering all the books on a shelf with brown paper, so that no titles are showing. (OK, so, yes: I am a librarian.) Big chandeliers (the crystal kind) in tiny little bathrooms. Things that look like keepsakes that have no personal meaning to the owner, especially if they're "industrial." Doors as headboards. Reclaimed wood used for the sake of reclaimed wood. (Oh yeah. I'm looking at our own stairs right now. Hate 'em.) Numbers painted on drawers for no real reason. Chairs that no one would ever want to sit in. Crown molding in suburban tract houses (like ours).

    Oh no. You let my inner snark out of the box. Shoving her back in before I go too far...

    1. I'm just as put off by authentic distressed, at times. I suppose you can tell I have some real farming lifestyle background in my past when I see ragged old poultry crates as coffee tables and wonder if they hosed the poop off it first or if they just dragged it into the house. And these are the perfect things at which to aim one's inner snark! It's okay to snark at industrial doo-dads and stacked books!

  4. Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Even worse when a historic kitchen. maybe even with a butler's pantry, in a historic house has been gutted and replaced by a "modern" kitchen with these installed.

    1. I hear you sister. I have yet to see a stainless steel appliance that wasn't a grubby mess with fingerprints. I like classic white appliances. Granite countertops seem out of place in most homes, and many are too overwhelmingly dark.

  5. A hearty amen to the white slipcovers! I kinda liked the look, but all I could ever think about was the cat and dog hair (to say nothing of the throw-up), and how often you would say "Oh, no!" over some mishap. Because I don't see any way that would be easy care. I mean, will an ordinary washer even handle as much canvas as is in a full-size sofa slipcover? And getting it back on would be a royal pain.
    My additions seem minor in comparison: the "creased" pillow and puddled drapes. Not liking and thus not keeping up with trends, I wondered for the longest time why my friend could not hire someone to hem her very expensive drapes that were dragging the floor. Not sure whether puddled drapes are still trending, but it doesn't seem very long ago that I saw a creased pillow.
    BTW, is that a vintage avocado Penn. Dutch design canister/turntable set that I spot on your kitchen counter?
    Miriam (Been enjoying your blog for awhile; still trying to catch up by going through the archives.)

  6. Hi Miriam! I agree with you on puddled drapes, too. Since I am the mother of four boys, I can't imagine what drapes would look like after they'd tromped on them a few times. No thanks! And yes, that's a vintage avocado canister set on my counter. It's just like the one my grandmother had, and I think about her every time I use it. Thanks for reading the blog!

    1. Laura, I have that same canister set, and it IS the one my mother used! Alas, it is currently stored in a closet, as my small kitchen doesn't have sufficient counter space. However, after seeing yours, I'm inspired to try to switch some things out, at least temporarily. Miriam

  7. This blog post is pure perfection girl!!! 100% percent on board with every last thing you said!

    White on a have to literally be insane to want that or have a team of cleaning peeps backing you up at all times!

    Chalk paint - ugh.......the day I saw a Brasilia Hutch painted in the sister finish to chalk paint.....the ever so lovely "Crackle paint"... I almost pooped myself...wait, I think I actually DID poop myself!

    Pallet wood is disgusting.....STOP with the pallet wood people!!!!

    Open shelving in kitchens.....I will never ever be able to understand that at all. I mean seriously, who wants to see how many cans of tuna I have stored in there?!

    Decorating for resale is probably the saddest one of all. It seems like every home buyer always wants to change things anyways...a kitchen can be remodeled to the hilt and the buyer will want gut it anyways saying the granite color isn't right or the cabinets aren't right or whatever. Or, take me for instance...the sellers actually installed granite and we would have MUCH preferred the original counters in the kitchen!

    One of my biggest peeves lately is people hating on brick. I have no idea where all the brick haters are coming from, but every fireplace on every home show always either has to be painted over or covered in tile. Seriously, what is wrong with brick?! It's just brick, it's been around for like zillions of years....I don't get it. But, I am sure in another 20 years the "new" trend will be brick! ha!!!! :)

    1. I saw a Brasilia console painted in black chalk paint. It was $50. Bargain, but I'm not sure I could have ever gotten it back to original finish. And the dope who painted it could have had more like $1500 for it if they'd had the good sense to respect the piece.

      I wonder what will happen in a few years when people's brick houses start spalling and shedding paint flakes......I wonder if they will have thought it such a good idea then. ;)

  8. Laura, as usual, I love both your post and the elegance you bring to your writing. Sometimes after grading a few student blogs, I come to yours for a breath of fresh air and subtle humor. We all know that no one gets it done better than a trained journalist :)

    1. Regina-- Thank you. This comment came on a day when I desperately needed a lift. :)

  9. I know I'm late to the party, but this was hilarious! I did a)similar post about impractical decorating ( seats and open kitchens, anyone?

    1. I am soooooo with you on open kitchens. I used to live in a suburban house with an
      open concept kitchen/family room. With four children, I haaaaaaaaaaaated it. It was always a mess, right out in front of everybody, and in my face every day. Exhausting. I have an old house now with walls I have no intention of knocking down.

  10. This is great! Can't stand the changing things in a house for resale value - how do you know if brass, chrome, or oil-rubbed bronze will be on-trend when it comes time to sell your home (currently have a friend changing out everything for when the time comes to move)?

    Also, adding crown moulding to every home - in some home's it is not needed, looks out of place, and is not appropriate.

    So tired of granite everywhere.

    And probably a million other things I see on HGTV.