As designers, we love being among the first to incorporate a new design trend into our homes or business locations. But perish the thought that in doing so, we might be promoting a design fad. Ask any designer approaching retirement age: “Did you ever specify shag carpeting in the 1970s?” Uh-huh…thought so. Why did we DO that? Probably because either the client really wanted that crazy new look; or we thought loosely tousled carpet long enough to hide a hamster was fun, something to enjoy until it wore out—which was soon.
Trend vs. fad: what’s the difference? Simply put, a fad is short-lived, while a trend lasts many years. We think of broader concepts like minimalism or open floor plans as trends and carpet styles as fads. But who can know what will last or reappear in a future decade? After all, arc lamps, also from the 1970s, are back.
WE can know, if we take the time to analyze style and products in terms of the elements of good design. How would design elements apply to shag? It’s about proportion and scale. Most of those yarns were disproportionately long compared to diameter; high density supporting durability was missing, or it wouldn’t have had its distinctive tousled look. That led to walking on the sides of loose-laying yarns, a no-no in terms of durability and resilience in the carpet world. So yes, we should have known.
Reclaimed materials: trend or fad? Certainly we consider sustainable design a trend, since the movement’s growth rate has increased exponentially, garnering nearly global support. But what of design fads that play off the trend of sustainability?
Consider a popular imported bed sold at a big box home furnishings chain, made of FSC-certified reclaimed pine. A question posted on their website by a potential customer asked how to know there were any harmful chemicals in the wood. The company’s response referred them to the FSC website, but not to a page with detailed information. Searching further, I could find no information on requirements, other than means of proving the wood was reclaimed. Allowable sources in this FSC category include wood debris from construction sites and torn-down residential, commercial and industrial buildings, among other sources…but I was unable to find any standards requiring tests for chemicals or toxins in the reclaimed wood itself.
While I can imagine many great uses for reclaimed debris, I’m not sure a headboard is among them. Given possible contaminants, pests and pesticides to eliminate them, I’d be a little uncomfortable reading in bed, my sleeping pillow pressed against the wood. But that’s just me.
This simple, stacked look may be the urban version of a fad from five years back: that of stacked wood, as in firewood, which brought indoors more bark-covered wood than ever before, along with more fire risk and pests. Eventually, the fad evolved to more refined and interesting interpretations.
We love using reclaimed barn wood in its “as-found” state to create new things with it, as it has an inherently interesting, textured appearance with its unique history intact, from rust-stained nail holes to knots and scars. Reclaimed scrap 4x4s or 2x4s? Not so much.
- Verdict on raw, reclaimed, stacked/laminated lumber furniture: FAD.
But even reclaimed dimensional lumber doesn’t have to look like it’s just been scooped up off the ground and laminated together. Artisan furniture pieces incorporate reclaimed dimensional lumber, but they carefully select and place each piece to enhance its coloration. They use it in interesting patterns. And many actually sand and finish it to release its inner beauty.
The younger set seems more accepting of raw materials, and we get that. They’re on a budget and they’re excited about sustainability. I love that about this generation. But it’s not just the younger set who buys these products, just as it’s not just them buying shabby chic repainted vintage furniture. So what’s the appeal of a look that shows off being repurposed?
Green as a Status Symbol. What we’re seeing is a new form of conspicuous consumption. Just as the shabby chic consumer wants to show off their creativity (or the creativity of those who put incongruous pieces together and painted them), there is a trend to want to be seen as being eco-conscious. Consumers buying reclaimed or repurposed products want their friends to see how sustainable-minded they are in buying furniture that in no way could be mistaken for anything BUT repurposed vintage pieces or sustainable, reclaimed wood.
- Verdict on reclaimed wood: TREND, although we hope users will consider the most appropriate uses for it and ultimately drive disclosure of possible contaminants in the wood, just as questioning and research by users drove changes in the way vinyl was manufactured to protect factory workers from harm.
- Verdict on products described vaguely as “green” or “eco-friendly” without sharing details on their physical attributes and origin: FAD. We can thank William McDonough for this change.
Artisan Designs. The growing popularity of artisan designed and created furnishings over the past decade warms my heart as a designer. They are made by hand, with respect for the material’s inherent qualities, and are often finished with natural oils. Wherever they are placed, they stand on their own as something special to behold. To be able to incorporate a unique piece that reflects the artist’s inspiration, respect for the material(s), interesting lines, good proportion and balance is a joy.
The fun is in the sourcing of artists whose work speaks to us. From resort town shops to regional art fairs, the hunt to find these pieces is so much more rewarding than typing “artisan furniture” into your web browser, only to get page after page of “artisan inspired,” mass-produced furniture. Of course, the higher the budget, the easier it is to find unique pieces exhibiting good design.
- Verdict on custom, artisan-made furnishings: TREND
Catalogs arrive daily that seem to place the attribute of being “reclaimed” or “repurposed” above functionality and good design. Retail chains are, after all, corporations with shareholders, so they need product offerings aligned with the profitable fads, not just the trends.
In contrast, there are some retailers with inspiring catalog lines—we all know who they are—whose pieces offer all the elements of good design at reasonable prices. For this, we applaud their buyers, because all too often, good design is available only to those who can afford it.
A professional member of IIDA, Diana earned her specialty LEED credential for Interior Design + Construction in 2013, having earned her LEED AP in Building Design and Construction in 2006. She worked for Del Webb Corporation designing semi-custom interiors, and spent thirteen years with a local builder supplier before returning to work as an independent designer. She also operates an antiques dealership and teaches sustainable design, space planning, materials and estimates, and color theory at the college level. In creating livable interiors, she is particularly sensitive to not allowing our high-tech lifestyles and the interior walls of our homes to divide us from one another, and has been focusing on Mid-century Modern design in recent years. Diana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org