Late last year, I was sitting down to lunch with the Morris & Co. team and noticed that the pattern on the napkin in my lap looked vaguely familiar. I knew it wasn’t an iconic Morris print (those are instantly recognizable!), but something about it felt historic. It turned out that the Morris & Co. design team had taken several models from the archives and ‘cleaned them up’ a bit for a more modern riff – this was one of many in the new collection – Ancient. “Fresh maximalism” is what they call it. And since that lunch, at Paris Design Week and the High Point Market, in the new collections of wallpapers and fabrics, and even in the pages (printed and digital!) of Beautiful house— I saw the concept everywhere.
It’s ’80s splendor without the ruffles, the chintz that doesn’t feel grandma, the Victorian-era patterns in decidedly modern colorways. You might see it described as a “fresh take”, a “clean” take, or even a “modern” take on classic maximalism. We call it the Archival renewal.
“Interior design is definitely moving away from the mid-century obsession we’ve had for so long,” proclaims famed designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard. “People are going back to this House of Hackney, a Victorian thing.” Just look at the rise of the Grandmillennial design trend and Victorian fashion references in Hill House Home’s iconic nap dresses, both fueled, in large part, by the pandemic-induced need to stay home. (maybe even in your childhood bedroom). The preference for a lighter, more modern take on these old designs is growing.
Bullard has its own line of fabrics and wallpapers that play into the archival revival. “These are traditional prints in cooler colors,” he explains. “Coming out of COVID, everyone wants that ’80s revival, but done in a more modern way: avocado, deep pinks, moving away from that rosy ‘millennial pink’ for a dusty look.”
Like Morris & Co., textile supplier Bassett McNab has turned to its own archives for some of its latest launches, extracting fabrics from the early 20th century and presenting them in new, cleaner palettes. Artists George Venson and Diane Hill have recently launched models based on landscapes, murals and traditional motifs, with their own twists. Their success follows a recent surge in the popularity of custom murals, many of which follow the same process of refining historic designs.
The effect is less literal than true nostalgia, a return to familiar motifs in a way that doesn’t actually repeat the past.
Nashville artist Charlotte Terrell creates custom murals for her clients that reference traditional landscapes, but lean more towards abstraction. “I draw on my time as a landscape architect and decorative painter,” says Terrell. “I bring these elements of beauty, peace and groundedness into my own idealized dreamscapes to capture the 19th and 20th century murals that we love and are inspired to recreate.”
What drives designers to reinvent traditional maximalist patterns? “The world is an uncertain place right now, and people have been nesting for two years,” says New York designer Barry Goralnick. “Many maximalist interiors contain things that are familiar to us, either from our own past or from a simpler time. Layers of fabrics, rugs, woods and objects are warm and inviting and provide a comfortable and pleasant. It’s the decorative equivalent of comfort food.”
The archival revival is comfort with a twist: a pattern from a bygone era in an unmistakable of the day color palette or a bold reimagining of an old school concept. Take, for example, the resurgence of the allover patterned bedroom. Once a dated peer of matching furniture sets, the trend of covering a room’s walls, upholstery and window treatments in the same pattern has returned with a vengeance. These new interpretations manage to make even the busiest patterns appear in an alluring, graphic and fresh way.
The past few years, in which we’ve all been spending more time at home than usual, have seemed to bolster our collective confidence in decorating, whether it’s just showing up in being daring to please ourselves (see: dopamine dressing) or adapting a familiar style to make it no longer uniquely ours. “Covid deprived us and now we want all of a sudden!” that’s how Betsy Wentz puts it.
“Today, more than ever, people are drawn to layered design and don’t identify with one style,” says Zandy Gammons of Miretta Interiors in Raleigh. “They want a ‘collected’ look with their own unique textures, colors and objects, while looking fresh.”
Philip Thomas Vanderford and Jason James Jones of Studio Thomas James agree: “We’ve noticed that clients love the sentimentality of their parents’ and grandparents’ homes, which in many cases had layers of ‘life’ added to each space.” But of course they want their own twist on this look. “Modern maximalism takes a more refined, organized and personal approach,” says Philip Mitchell.
Benjamin Reyneart, creative director of Interior Define, says one of the easiest ways to experiment with this trend is to mix and match your art. At Interior Define’s brand new studio in Brooklyn, Reyneart showcases the approach: “You see it here, where we put graphic, modern pieces alongside more traditional landscapes.” Framing offers yet another way to juxtapose eras on your walls: place a modern mixed-media work in a repainted baroque frame to give it a totally fresh feel. The recent push to refresh a classic pattern “goes hand in hand with the resurgence of the collection,” says Valentin Goux de Rinck.
Like all good collections and interiors, the archive revival is all about mixing. “I think what makes maximalism different now is that it’s less about shock value and more about cohesion,” says Baton Rouge-based Rachel Cannon. “’Eclectic’ was the word we used for maximalism, but to me it always meant ‘odd and tacky’. Maximalism is very tasteful, and it gives us plenty to admire!” Today’s new interpretations of the classics ensure these designs will stay in place for years to come.
“People want to see things that they admire and that make them happy,” says Next Wave designer Travis London. “More is more!”
Credits for main image: Living Room by Right Meets Left Interior Design: Frank Frances Studio. Blue sofa by Bassett McNab. Entry by Betsey Wentz: Carmel Brantley. Fabrics from Morris & Co.
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