Top-10 interior design trends for 2011? Let’s make a list

greigeI thought it would be fun to capture the top-10 design trends of 2011 — while the year is still fresh in our minds. We can also ask, “In 50 years, which will be keepers — and which… maybe not so much?”

vampire diaries

Much of the stuff they're trying to sell us in 2011 looks like props and set designs from The Vampire Diaries. I adore vampires. But I don't want to live in crypt.

The thing is, I spend so much time in retro-world that I don’t have the greatest sense of what has been “in” all year. My main connection to the “real world” is the New York Times Home & Garden every Thursday, and I go over to Apartment Therapy to see what they are up to, now and again. I also still get some catalogs, although they have mostly given up on me. So I need your help building a list, which we can then refine to the top-10:

I have a few suggestions to help get started — please add your own!:

greige laminate

  • Greige Nation. Dark grey and greige everywhere, including laminates named after clammy death. Restoration Hardware gets the prize for interiors that look like they were designed by and for vampires. Although I think their prices and products are aimed at the 1%, not the 99%, dark grey and washed-out coordinates do seem to be everywhere at all price points. Accent colors: Plum and yellow.
  • Edison bulbs
  • Pendant lights made out of any possible piece of junk, errr, I mean, vintage treasure. “Put a Bulb In It!
  • Huge chandeliers made out of any possible piece of junk, errr, I mean, vintage treasure. Even more so: Layered chandeliers. That is: A big something (usually with vintage reference) on the outside, a chandelier on the inside. E.g.: Birdcage outside, three-arm chandelier inside… and big drum shades over capiz shells.
  • Dark kitchen cabinets. Espresso. Kona.
  • zig zag pillows were popular - like these missoni for targetBig zig zag prints, on pillows in particular. There was that whole Missoni-mania at Target thing.
  • Perhaps, though, silhouetted leaf prints on pillows were even more common?
  • Mid century modern mania. Blogs go Craigslist crazy. Ebay prices officially go too high. Many Unhappy Hipsters are hatched. Saarinen tulip tables and chairs peaked. Like out of nowhere, 28 places to buy a mid century modern sofa. Note: Five years ago, there was NO PLACE to buy a mcm sofa.
  • edison bulbRelatedly: The wisdom of restoring mid century homes, even the modest ones — came solidly into the mainstream… Not only was there significant coverage about this blog in places like the New York Times… there were lots of other stories in mainstream media about such renovations… and, hey, even pink bathrooms got *some* respect on tv home decorating shows.
  • Relatedly: Vintage and DIY. 2011 was an economically disturbing and depressing year — we pinched pennies and instead, bought used, raided grandma’s attic, fixed things up ourselves, and made due. Gosh, that part of the Great Recession (GR) has been fun.
  • Glass tile backsplashes. I think we’d see more glass tile showers but for the GR.
  • Ridiculously expensive “green” houses are still being put out there as if there were such a thing.

What else? Also, were there any interior design ideas, including those driven by technology breakthroughs, that were really *new*? And, any other big trends in kitchens or bathrooms?  I’m thinking that most of 2011’s trends are “cosmetic” — surface treatments. Everyone is broke or sitting on their dough…

What do you think, readers?
What were the big design trends in 2011?

Let’s build a list, then we narrow it down to 10 with a vote. Fun!


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  1. Leslie says

    One trend I’ve noticed in all of the 2011 magazines are starburst mirrors. Most are gold and have an elegant and formal look, but I have seen them made out of everything from driftwood to DIY with wooden shish kabob skewers.

  2. mimi says

    This talk of greige and stainless steel had me chuckling, because my mid century home has the original stainless appliances and beige tiles from 1965!!!

    Who else is puzzled by the popularity of vessel sinks, especially hard-to-clean glass ones?

    • Olivia says

      I have never had one, but agree the vessel sinks look hard to keep clean. You not only have to clean the bowl, but also outside of it as well. And the glass ones must need to be wiped down everyday.

  3. mimi says

    I think my comment was “eaten” by the web gods so here goes again. The talk of greige and stainless made me chuckle, because I have original 1965 greige backsplash tiles and original 1965 stainless appliances in my kitchen, which was originally 1960’s colonial,. At some point in the 60’s or 70’s it got an unintentionally hilarious Mediteranean floor and light fixture thing going on so now I have a colonial Mediterranean look going on.

    But back to 2011. VESSEL SINKS, yes, in glass even! How do people keep those clean?

    • pam kueber says

      mimi, your original comment is here — i need to approve first-time comments — welcome! And yes, there WERE stainless steel appliances in the 50s and 60s. Not common, but there.

  4. Nancy says

    Wall decals seem to be the in thing–not just the motto ones, but the picture ones as well.

    My guess is that their popularity is partly due to all the greige–one needs some color, and a ginormous gerbera will do that.

  5. Jordanna says

    I LIKE steampunk. I said it. I like it. I’ve liked it for years and years though, and what Restoration Hardware is doing to it (i.e. making it much less DIY and much more expensive) is kind of sad.

    Also, steampunk is supposed to be fun and magical and have whimsical elements. I see that really missing. I love edison bulbs, you guys, even in Mid-C lamps because I am a sap like that, but where is the crazy jetpack FUN of steampunk?

    I call one trend Faux Austerity. This is when you have a rebar or casters and pallets turned into a coffee table your granddad would call a failed garage project – except it cost two thousand dollars. Looking at YOU, Anthropologie! I see you there in the corner, thinking everyone will pick on Restoration Hardware.

    I don’t even mind DIY.

    Two others I am more unsure about: 1) Silhouettes of nature-y things (Which I like, in small doses, but are so ubiquitous I feel dopey) 2) Taxidermy, either ironic and plastic/ceramic/glass/paper or real.

    I kind of want both, but I’m not sure how to do it so it doesn’t feel/look by-the-numbers.

    • Just another Pam says

      Jordanna, I like a lot of steam punk too….some of it can be amazing art! And I scored some of the original bulbs, new in package, earlier this year. They’re in my back hall closet as I’ve no talent equal to real steam punk but I have faith I’ll find a place for them.

    • STL Mom says

      White ceramic animals. Especially deer heads with antlers on the wall. I actually think they are cute, but in 50 years real deer heads will still be around (at least in hunting states) and I doubt the ceramic ones will be.

    • pam kueber says

      yes: Faux Austerity!!!

      yes: Nothing is inherently “bad” about any of these trends! I like fun, magical steampunk — neo victorian industrial, too! and, have my eye on doing a layered birdcage chandelier – with all vintage elements.

  6. says

    I’m going to agree with vessel sinks – they look like huge salad bowls on a cabinet to me. I cleaned house for a couple with two bowl sinks made of admittedly gorgeous marbley stone, but man, they were hard to clean! You have to reach around under and behind!

    I absolutely can’t stand brown stone in bathrooms! I don’t think I’d feel like it was ever clean (I mean, how could you tell?) and, well, I just don’t want to look at brown when I’m in a bathroom.

    My vote for the biggest trend, and the one that depresses me to no end, is the “updated” kitchens and baths in all the repos, short sales, and very few standard sales. I see them all the time here in SoCal in our real estate listings. Granite, granite, travertine, more granite, some laminate faux-wood floors, huge tiles in bathrooms all the way up the walls. Ugh. It just sickens me to think of all the waste of tearing out the old kitchens and baths and dumping them.

    Oh, and front doors with ginormous lead-glass/cut-crystal-look windows and lots of moulding – they are usually stuck on modest little houses and just look ridiculous. Like a modestly-dressed woman walking down the street in a honking big tiara.

    • Just another Pam says

      Tikimama, That’s just perfect! You have perfectly described my front door that most people can’t understand why I hate. The former owner is always reminding me how expensive it was for her to put in but it’s quasi Victorian brothel and drives me mad. Hope to replace the light next year so it will be plain and simple reeded glass just like the tall original window 6 feet from it.

  7. Katie says

    I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that the dark wood furniture is going to be popular in 50 years, because its something that can be used as a back drop for a variety of colors and textures. Or maybe I just hope that, since I have a very dark brown glass fronted china cabinet in my dining room.

    I think that VOC paint will continue to be popular, I used it on my dining room (we picked it for the color, rather than being VOC, but now I don’t want to use anything else.

    • AmyEbbertHill says

      Furniture colors change, like everything else, and it’s typically a 20 year turn-around. We’re about due for things to swing back to honey maple, I would think. But hang on to your dark wood things. I thinks it’s best to stick with the classics for your big case goods. I just bought a mahogany secretary desk from the 40’s or 50’s. It’s a nice piece and will always be in style. I am displaying a few pieces of my great-grandmother’s ironstone in the top part.

  8. EngineerChic says

    I am also tired of the PerGranTeel kitchens (pergo + granite + stainless steel). Sadly, when we went to buy a replacement stove the only options that didn’t have an electronic dashboard were the Big Chill stoves (available in white, my preferred color) or stainless. Our choice was a Bertazzoni in stainless b/c it was half the price of the Big Chill (and it’s made in Italy). Sort of bummed me out that I couldn’t get a decent quality WHITE stove without those darn touch pads (they never last for me & the boards are expensive or discontinued IME).

    Meanwhile, you can get lots of color in your laundry room. Why is that? Seems so unfair …

    I think that pot lights will fall out of favor, but I’m not sure what will replace them. It just seems that every room now has a virtual runway of lights embedded in the ceiling – even living rooms and bedrooms!

    • Kathryn S says

      I think pot lights must be going out of style already, given the number of catalogs I get that have pendant lights that you just screw into the old fixtures. Although, I frankly can’t imagine pendants where my pot lights are!

  9. says

    I don’t know when this trend started, exactly, but I really hate “boob” lights. We bought a 1956 modern looking ranch last year that was an estate sale. The daughter had all the original lighting ripped-out and replaced with these brushed nickel fixtures that don’t go with the house at all. I lay in bed at night staring up at the giant “boob” on the ceiling and I hate it. I’d love to replace all these lights, but they’re brand new and in great shape. If I wait for them to naturally die before I replace them, I’ll be stuck with them for years. However, I feel wasteful and bad for wanting to get rid of perfectly good light fixtures. We’ve considered pulling them down and selling them on Craigslist to help fund their replacements. Still in the talking stages though. But that’s a trend that can go away for ever as far as I’m concerned.

    • Jon Hunt says

      BAHHH HA HA HA HA!! Our house was FULL of “boob lights” when we moved in, and WE CALL THEM THAT TOO! I hate them. They still exist in our bedroom and office because I’ve been too lazy to put up our vintage fixtures. But I despise those things!

      • pam kueber says

        yes — I call them that, too! Because THAT IS what they look like. Wanna guess what I call many of the bathroom faucets being thrust on us today?

        • sue says

          love the words you chose…hah.

          I picked the dreaded tan tiles for my bathroom remodel (after a water leak) and glad I did. It’s a soft earthy color and goes well with the honey maple cabs. Used Lvoc eggshell onthe alls and ceilng.

          One “trend” I went with is open (exposed) area under sink to facilitate wheelchair or vanity bench. I like the clean lines (you can’t see the pipes unless you bend over) and the area is easy to clean. I also went with a walk in shower (no curb) as I was tired of banging my bare toes on the old one. So far so good. I installed one stationary shower head and on the opp. wall, one of the sliding bar hand-held ones. Great for rinsing the shower when cleaning, or for using when sitting on a teak stool–great for when you hurt your back. I also love the taller toilets that are out now. Using an older style toilet now is like doing the ‘camping squat’! Can you tell I’m past 60? The reality is we all start to wear out, and comfort becomes King.

    • Annie B. says

      Ah, the ubiquitous “boob” light. There’s got to be something Freudian in the proliferation of those things. I recall a RR reader’s comment a while back in which she called them the “nipple light”. I so agree.

      I hope the vessel sinks vanish; lovely to look at, but not so practical.

      One trend I’m noticing – even here in the hinterlands – is concrete flooring painted to resemble whatever you choose. I hope this one makes it.

    • Leslie says

      Oh this drove me nuts when I was house-hunting two years ago–it was so offensive to me to see places where the owner had clearly done a quick, relatively cheap renovation with the expectation that it was going to get them another $10-20K, when what they had put in was stuff I would have to pay to rip out and redo to get it to my own taste. The worst was a place that had just been covered with wall-to-wall brilliant white carpet, just what you want with two indoor cats, one given to regular puking. And then, after I made a full-price offer, they countered with a higher price! Argh! I was fortunate finally to find a place that had basically not been touched since it was built in 1961, and although I did have to do some ripping out (mirrors on every single wall of the bathroom–really? You really spent 50 years watching yourself on the can?), at least it wasn’t spanking new stuff.

  10. cristina says

    This has been a fascinating thread! Does anyone else agree that there maybe something here that only the wonderful Retrorenovation can possibly begin to address — what advice would you give to someone if you ALREADY live in a house that has an open plan, or granite/steel in the kitchen — sounds like folks hate these the most, and these, short of spending lots or even moving, are the hardest to change. How do you overcome that? I know Pam’s fans are not snobs, so I am sure there must be plenty of ideas out there to share. . . Can’t wait to see what we collectively come up with!

  11. Brian T says

    Someone mentioned relief at finding a real estate agent who understood that they wouldn’t consider a house with stainless steel in the kitchen. For me, the deal breaker was snout houses (houses where 1/3 or more of the front facade is the vast expanse of garage door). My partner and I refuse to live in a snout house — they look imbalanced and antisocial to me. Eliminating them cut out about 90% of the inventory on the real estate listings, including a couple of entire neighborhoods built in the last 10 years. (One such neighborhood has about 200 interchangeable snout houses for sale in a one-mile-square area — if you want a house that’ll be a pleasure to resell, buy something special to begin with.)

    Snout houses have been getting prevalent for too long to be a hot trend of 2011, but it saddens me to think that they’re now the norm. I’ve seen houses with as many as THREE garage bays on the front. And others where the garage is 75% of the facade and the “front” door is set in sideways where you can’t find it.

    Part of the allure of the snout for the developer is that, when you don’t run the driveway up the side for a side- or rear-entrance garage, you can make the lots narrower and jam more houses into a development — but that leaves less room for trees and results in what I call “Grey Poupon houses” because you can lean out your dining room window and ask the neighbor “Pardon me …”

    Other items: When I gutted the bathroom in my old circa-1900 house, the remodeler was pushing a vessel sink, and I said, “People will look at it and say ‘This bathroom must have been done within 5 years of 2007.'” He chuckled and agreed.

    “Live laugh love” is already stale.

    Stainless steel, however, is a timeless and versatile material, and I don’t see it ever going away. It’s the other perennial besides white enamel.

    • Jeanne says

      I soooooo agree about those houses with the garages taking up most of the front. They stick the house behind the garage so the whole thing fits on a smaller lot. Not for me, no thank you.

    • ClaudiaD says

      I agree with you 100% on the snout houses. I hate them – it’s like buying a garage with a house attached, instead of the other way around.

  12. Trina says

    Up until about the 80’s, owning a home was the American Dream. (Now we act as if it is our right.) We bought homes then for shelter, a place to live and raise our families. We allowed ourselves to personalize our homes to express who we were. The goal was to someday have a mortgage burning party. That was something to look forward too!
    In the 80’s, homes became an investment. Families no longer looked at a home as a place to see our children grow up, but a place to live “for now” until we could sell it for a profit, take the equity, and buy a bigger, better house. Most children today live in several homes before they move out on their own. Not our parents. It was the family home place.
    When our houses turned from being a “home place” to being an “investment”, design and decorating demands changed. Now it is all about the re-sell value. Gone were the days of letting our freak flag fly and decorating our homes to our taste, needs and lifestyle. Everything became planned to meet the taste palettes of the masses.
    So basically, we now build our homes for someone else!

    As for the trends of today…
    Pot fillers built in at the stove.
    That, almost, shag looking carpet.
    Outdoor kitchens.
    Heated floors.
    And Showers with enough sprayers to wash your car.

      • Ally Cat says

        It’s so funny how design works in cycles, because many things harken back to houses from the 70’s. Cork, radiant-heat floors, ….shag carpets. And not only 1970’s ideas, but the idea that one’s home is one’s vacation home, thus the outdoor kitchen obsession! It’s almost like saying, “our home is a retreat, so no vacation is needed”, but after all that money is spent, one still wants a vacation.

        As much as I distain fad for fad’s sake, we shouldn’t give the design-hacks of today too much credit! They didn’t invent home bars with smoked mirror tiles, they just assume that all of us are too young to remember the first go-round of these ideas. Just as hem-lines rise and fall, house fashion changes too. One thing I would love to see that I knew as a kid in the A-frame mountain houses of NC, are conversation pits around a free standing metal fireplaces! Talk about cosy…the 70’s interpretation of old Swiss Chalets was priceless. Now, they’ve torn many down to build Georgian revivals on every lake and mountainside…sad.

        Hey, although this is off topic–I propose we have a “Save the Mid-Mod-Motor Court”, you won’t find those family run places easily, but they are still out there!

    • Victoria says

      Wow — I’ve been saying that for years! That people buy homes as a commodity, not as a place you LIVE. My kitchen has the original pink appliances, new VCT flooring that I have to (gasp) polish, flying saucer light fixture and the living room has no built in lighting, and original everything. I LIVE here, and I want it that way. If I ever decide to sell it, I’ll sell it to someone else who likes it too, or slap hideous off white paint on everything for $500. Cheap at the price to be in a place I really want to be in. Life is too short to live in an investment.

  13. lynda davis says

    How about arabesque tiles and carrara marble counters? A countertop company in San Francisco announced that last month, for the first time, they installed more carrara marble counters than granite. Full spectrum paints are becoming more main stream–Benjamin Moore is rolling their Color Stories full spectrum paints out this month. The arabesque shaped tiles have a very retro feel. I have seen them used in both kitchens and baths.

  14. cara says

    definitely echo commenters that mentioned the birds/ botanical themes and the feed sacks and burlap for upholstery. i dont know if it’s been mentioned, but i keep wondering with “distressed” furniture will be out of style. i also see a lot of upholstered headboards – easy for the diy-er, mismatched dining room chairs, fabric/rugs with writing, chairs with numbers on them (?) mercury glass, ombre, ikat and suzani fabrics. trends that i am personally ok with sticking around are the peacock inspired designs especially the colors and the bright juicy colors like coral and turquoise.
    i also love reupholstering an old piece of furniture in a modern fabric. that is the intended purpose of reupholstery. i think we forget that with the disposable furniture we have today. as an upholsterer, that is a trend that can stay!

    • Kerry says

      And what is with the owls? Every design blog seems to be featuring fabrics with owls on them, wrapping paper with owls, owl-shaped vases and bookends… This trend has me totally confused.

  15. says

    I really enjoyed reading about the “snout” houses…I have felt that way for a long time! I always think big, pretentious, cookie cutter when I see them, now, I will be thinking “snout” house. how appropriate!

    I have noticed:
    Granite counter tops
    stainless steel appliances
    stone floors in neutral colors
    neutral walls with a “feature” wall in red or some other color
    two toned walls seperated by chair railing for those trying to add “character”
    french doors replacing sliders. 🙁

    Here in Aiken SC its all of the above in 1940’s-50’s homes plus they are painting the brick and adding seamed metal roofs. (I love metal roofs on cute little ranchers but painting brick just seems so wrong) oh….and lastly, they take away the iron work posts and add big colonial columns.
    I intend to refinish mine and someone told me they “dated” my house…and I needed to put a pitch on my “flat” car port roof. lol I will be replacing some bad wood,,,but its staying flat…and…I’m keeping the iron!!! Lets celebrate the iron work!!!

  16. JKM says

    Interior trends I’m sick of seeing:

    Granite countertops
    Tumbled marble backsplashes (or anything, for that matter)
    Vessel sinks
    Showers with more electronic components than my car’s dashboard
    Master bedrooms/baths referred to as “retreats/spas”
    Home theaters
    Overblown “Impress the delivery man” two-story entrance foyers
    Anything “Old World” – from antiqued wall finishes to hand scraped wood floors to rusty iron fixtures

    Exterior trend I’m sick of: Tall houses with lots of pointy gables, arched windows and a front porch topped with a two-story high arch. Blech.

    Good design never goes out of style. Pretense and showiness wear thin. My two cents worth!

  17. Catherine says

    I’m about 2 years late to this conversation, but I just nodded my way through this entire page- both the article and the comments. Well said! My husband and I are in the process of purchasing a 1940s home to restore, and I am SO happy to have stumbled upon this. We are looking forward to restoring the home (our first and hopefully only restoration), and I appreciate all of this input!

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