What were the biggest design trends of the 1990s?

Late this past summer, while worker dudes were at my home adding more insulation to my attic, a momentous thunderstorm swept through town. It was so fearsome that everyone stopped whatever they were doing and gathered in the garage to watch. We were there for just three or four minutes when BOOOOOM, right across the street a super-powered thunderbolt pounded into my neighbor’s front yard right. At least, it seemed that close… it was so fast. You could feel the strike deep into your reptilian brain.

Initially, there seemed to be no consequences. But when I drove down the lane on an errand a bit later, I saw that a humongous, old tree had been hit and fallen three houses down, at the intersection leading toward town. The entire DPW and firetrucks and gosh, everyone, was buzzing, it was some excitement.

Moreover, that night, when we went to watch TV: Nothing. No signal on two of the three TV sets in the house. Darnit, another project. Fast forward a couple days and a couple of service guys, and it seems the lightning came right through the (unground) cable and electrocuted the TVs. Today, we are proud owners of a big honkin’ flat screen with surround sound and high def and some variety of better cable service with 600 channels and which will be dissatisfying us by next year, I’m sure.

Our old TV was very old, so my husband likes to say, we have now left the 1990s and entered the 21st century. But not so fast. The first thing I want to look up, once I learn to triangulate the three remotes, is: Portlandia — a brand-new TV show where, yes, they they still dream of the 90s. It looks pretty funny. I like my satire. Note: Comedy/satire can be offensive… no political statement intended, not the purpose of the blog… and actually, in its way, I think this video actually pokes fun at all/both sides… Also, there is one reference to anatomical parts. Be forewarned.

Hey! My first post on the 90s!

I was bigtime decorating obsessed that decade. As I recall, the top trends included, (in no particular order):

  • Pine furniture….
  • Shabby Chic…
  • Oversized slipcovered sofas…
  • Corian countertops…
  • Apron sinks…
  • Arts & Crafts furniture…
  • White kitchens with ivy trellis wallpaper…
  • Huge prints of a pears…
  • “Bringing the outside in” with architectural ornamentaion…..

What else, readers? I bet most of us were there! Note: BE NICE, everyone! This is not a post intended to diss the 90s.

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  1. says

    I distinctly remember at the beginning of the 90s that the buzzwords were “green” and “nesting”. It was all about natural materials and a big reaction to the materialism and plasticity of the 80s. It didn’t really catch on in a mainstream way until more recently, but that’s what I remember from articles on home design.

  2. Larry says

    My brand new TV is in my 80s Chippendale style cabinet because I think TVs are ugly. It was fine in the good old days when a TV was built into a cabinet, but not now. Is there anything worse than a TV installed on the wall above a fireplace?

    I remember the English Country House look in the 90s, but then again, that is really just a classic look.

  3. karen says

    Don’t forget stencilling. I went a little crazy with that trend, including ivy on painted white kitchen cupboards.

  4. midmod ms says

    Shabby Chic. And I agree with Larry about the tv above the fireplace. I don’t like that it’s so prominent, or the crick in my neck I get from looking up to watch it.

  5. says

    Omg! You all forgot neo-swing movement inspired furniture! Like fake oversized cork screw chairs but in Barney purple. Or a couch that looked like it was in a cartoon in mcdonald’s red with yellow trim!! See 1990’s Z Gallery.

  6. Margaret says

    The sponge painting, The wall borders,The shabby Chic in the 90’s (OUT) but Im still in the arts and craft though!heehee. Now Im retro 50’s look. I also still love a little cottage look Dont like primitive and too much country country decorating. I still like my roosters and sunflowers and cherries though.

  7. Rooney says

    The sitcom “Friends” style! That is what I remember… The curly-cue gold empty picture frame around their peephole. The purple and turquiose walls, mismatched painted kitchen chairs, and vintage fridge. I don’t think too many people painted their rooms as brightly as we do now in a post-Friends world. Also, every other TV show started using brighter colors for the apartments on TV, and now HGTV paints every other room for “real” people super-bright.

  8. says

    Seems like the early 90’s saw a lot of that whitewashed/pickled-ish finish kitchen cabinets and furniture, oh and poofy balloon valances. You know, the ones where they stuffed crumpled up paper inside the “poof” part to make if stick out more. I think that may have been a carry over from the late 80’s. For awhile there was that popular bathroom decorating motif of moons and stars carried out in dark royal blue and gold. You saw a lot of towels and shower curtains and such with that. Oh, and lest we forget the deep red dining room.

  9. TappanTrailerTami says

    Wow, 95 comments so far!

    90’s decor….hmmm…..overstuffed shapeless furniture and the invention of HOA’s on every street corner that had “covenant restrictions” resulting in:

    Light Beige, Medium Beige, Light Gray, Medium Gray, Light Beige-ish Gray, Medium Beige-ish Gray, Light Grayish-Beige, Medium Grayish-Beige for exterior paint colors, which in turn extended also to carpet, interior paint, furniture upholstery, etc. BLECK!

    And maybe my biggest pet peeve of the 90’s: ever more elaborate choppy cut up housing, many square feet in size but individual rooms were no bigger than our MCM and pre-war houses even though they are much smaller in square footage. The advent of having a room for every purpose! The media room, the sun room, the formal living room, the family room, the breakfast nook, the formal dining room, the breakfast bar, the master suite, the master suite sitting room, the office, the library, the den, the children’s playroom, the sewing room, the mudroom, the storage room, the three or four car garage, the outdoor gear storage room, etc, and back to covenants: everyone in an HOA had to do away with their clotheslines – ugh!!!!

  10. katkins says

    Upscale Country like Pottery Barn and Martha Stewart . Leather furniture. Framed black & white photos. Metal accessories with colored spirals and triangles. Wicker and island colony style a la Pier 1.

  11. krystal says

    Mauve…carpet, curtains, countertops, etc. Clunky, chunky, country, wooden decorations made with blocks of wood, twine, & wire with cutsie sayings, quilt racks hanging on the walls, pastels, dark green, the STILL IN USE Apple kitchen decor,
    PLAID anything!

  12. Dave says

    Hunter green was a color you saw on everything, from garbage cans and tupperware to leather sofas. I remember seeing a lot of gold, black and glass on occasional tables, entertainment centers, and dinettes. Farmhouse tables with inlaid tile tops and Windsor back chairs seemed to be a dime a dozen. Apple or sunflower kitchen accessories seemed to be a must.

    • gsciencechick says

      HA! I had the tile top farmhouse table with windsor chairs IN hunter green! It is at MIL’s house. Really need to donate it to Habitat.

  13. Kathleen says

    Hold it. Hold IT! What is wrong with Corian countertops? I gotta be honest, we installed them in our bathroom in 2007 and I still love them…neutral easy cleaning, low maintenance, lasts forever.

    How about 4″ white ceramic tile countertops with oak cabinets and brass knobs?
    And Nambe, though I think it was late ’90s.

    • pam kueber says

      Nambe! I agree: We must all be careful about making it sound like we’re dissing on any particular feature. When I think I said Corian – it was because that’s when it was introduced and became a big phenomenon. ! I actually agree that Corian can be a great solution for bathroom or kitchen countertops in a mid-century home. I also like Caesarstone – they have a “Blizzard” that is terrific. For me the key to keeping it “timeless” is to keep it simple.

      • Kathleen says

        Pam, I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t made some massively huge decorating mistake in my bathroom that was just a few years ago still “in” and now “out”. In the event that real estate ever picks up and we can actually sell our house for what we put into it, that bathroom is our biggest selling point. You made my heart skip a beat.

  14. says

    Seafoam green and peach.
    Brass everything – coffee tables, curios, knick-knacks.
    Ducks and Geese on your toaster and water pitcher.
    Home Shopping club was all the rage!
    Mom #1 gold pendants.
    Ruffled tablecloths on round decor tables.
    Baby blue and pink.
    Lots of cross-stitch – pillows, wall art, clothing, ornaments.
    Lace dressed stuffed bunnies and tuxedo dressed stuffed cats.

    • says

      Hey! I happen to LIKE seafoam (mint) green and peach. That’s what my downstairs bedroom is, with dark green carpet. It’s very relaxing.

  15. says

    Hunter green, yes, with navy blue and burgundy/maroon
    Cows as a kitchen motif
    Matchy-matchy bedding and pillows to curtains, tablecloths (the round decor table ruffled tablecloths, of course), chairs, wallpaper borders, shower curtains, towels, etc.
    Grey-toned berber carpet
    The home office for the family desk-top computer (so you could have email and play solitaire)
    Lots of oak furniture and cabinets

  16. Cloud says

    There was a small trend in teen furniture in mid-to-late 90s with inflatable furniture – I had a magenta inflatable chair!

    I still can’t stomach animal prints because of that trend from around 1996 – everything from bedspreads to earmuffs was zebra or cheetah.

    Seriously, am I the only one who feels literally ill, thinking about these trends?

  17. JPB says

    If you can’t remember please refer to Friends and Seinfeld for inspiration. Ensconsed (is that even a word) in velvet. Grunge coffee shops. Late 90s were beginning of high end mid century mod crazy. Dot-com bubble resurrected Eames/Nelson/saaranin

  18. Connie says

    “MINIMALISM. that’s all.”

    JPB, your comment made me think of the AbFab sketch about “things on surfaces”. Having been in art school and then a recent grad in the 90s, that sketch really stuck with me.
    To be honest, I don’t remember much about interior decorating from the 90s. I was dating/married to a guy in a rock band and was lucky to be able to afford an apartment! But the artsy-fartsy, minimalist loft thing, THAT I remember. Ah, good times. :-)

  19. Josie says

    The navy blue with gold sun/moon/stars everything was the height of appeal to me. (I was 14)

    Close behind, hunter green and sunflowers. That warm honey oak wood and hunter green.

    Forget Friends, I was in love with Living Single (Does anyone but me remember that show) and their decor was ridiculously ’90s.

    Secret confession time: I still like dark, dark green. I just don’t call it hunter green.

  20. Deaun says

    I remember when Corian first came out–my mother worked at (no names mentioned), manufacturerers of these HUGE RVs that were super lux. They came with Corian as part of the $100,000 basic package. Mom was able to buy a remanent and gifted it to me as a chopping board in the 90s. Love that thing! Sure, it’s heavy…but VERY durable and easy to decontaminate after chopping up chicken. =)

  21. says

    Why is it that I only remember things like mustard yellow and purple together. Pleated pants and silk jackets?

    Of course I remember the grunge era, but as for home style, I remember everything was light colored furniture, and rounded edges, and oversized. I’m not a round edge person. I totally identify with mid-century, clean lines. I hate to lump myself into the transitional. I guess I’m still finding my style.

  22. Lexi's Mama says

    I live in a home built in 1993, and really prefer the features of the mid century modest homes much more. The 90’s……lots of oak woodwork EVERYWHERE, ceiling vaults, wallpaper borders, stencils, lots of wreaths/plaid furniture/white walls/shiny gold.

  23. pam kueber says

    Toile de jouy (sp?) — matched with checks. I wrote a story about this for the Ann Arbor News Sunday Home section!

  24. says

    In the kitsch and chachkies department, I would have to say Beanie Babies seemed to rule the universe for a bit. I think it was about this time that nets attached to the wall at the corner of bedrooms became the place to store all those plushy dust magnets.

  25. lexi's mama says

    In the last few years I have actually become more tolerant of all of the 90’s golden oak in my house…don’t know if I am just getting used to it, if the “love the house you’re in” idea has rubbed off on me, or if heavier grain woods like alder making a reappearance in design trends has done it?

  26. Amy Dietz says

    Let’s talk jeans. I wore boot-cut jeans, always in a ‘relaxed fit.’ They were 100% cotton, so by the end of the day, they sagged in the rear. Also, the pant legs were the same width from thigh to ankle. I’m 5’1″, so I sort of looked like I had short, thick, denim fence posts for legs.

    For me, this was a vast improvement over the high-rise jean of the 80’s. When I wore those, a wrinkle of denim would form across my hips along my zipper, making me look, er, masculine. Even if I wore a belt.

    As I recall, 90’s boot-leg pants were a reaction to the tapered leg jean of the 80’s. We were told that a tapered-leg pant made our butts look wider in contrast to a narrow ankle. A high waist would also make our rears look larger, a lower rise was the answer.

    Modern skinny jeans are now mid-rise and narrow at the ankle and knee. I guess this is the industry’s latest take on the perfect jean.

    I read this blog because it reminds me that nothing’s perfect. We shouldn’t believe that the home design/remodel industry has the power to make our homes perfect.

  27. Kiwi says

    When I close my eyes and return myself to the 90’s, I am surrounded by; “country blue” with peach accents, hunter green plaids, honey stained oak, brass trim and light fixtures, all sorts of beige, vertical blinds with fabric valances, light beige or bone colored appliances, faux marble ceramic tiles, vaulted ceilings, and over sized sectional sofas with recliners, pull-down cup holders and hidden compartments for 30 remotes and/or the TV Guide. There were also entertainment centers with spaces for VHS tapes (usually in a honey oak laminate finish), whirlpool jet tubs and recessed can lights everywhere. My favorite visual reminders of the 90’s though, are the Star Trek TNG episodes. One of the best things to ever come out of the period.

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