Looking back at the past, sometimes it can be hard to believe the trends. Blue eyeshadow, shoulder pads, crimped hair, parachute pants… Flipping through old photos one may think, why did I ever think that looked good!? No matter how outlandish some trends may seem, past tastes always have a way of linking back around in the present time.
This illustrates the concept of the 20-30 Year Trend Cycle, a phenomenon apparent in all areas of design, including fashion and interiors. The idea of the Trend Cycle emerged from an observance known as “Laver’s Law” and is based on an analysis of the sales volume of a particular trend over time. The stages of the cycle include introduction, rise, maturity, decline, and obsolescence. If you picture this on a graph, it appears to be an arch. But why is the Trend Cycle so apparent in every facet of design?
As designers look to create new offerings for future seasons, inspiration is drawn from all over: nature, pop culture, current events, and also precedent. The saying “if you don’t learn from the past you’re doomed to repeat it” encapsulates why the latter is so important to the design process. When looking for new ideas, designers’ precedent studies are often one of the biggest influences on their new work. However, when you’re looking for inspiration, you aren’t going to want to look in the “recent past” (10 years or so), as those trends still read as “obsolete.” So you look further back in history, to a time period where change has caused it to feel alien enough to be interesting and unique enough to be desired, but not so old it feels antiquated. Here lies a sweet spot for precedent and inspiration, about 20-30 years back. So when posh designers, fashion houses, furniture makers, and interior designers start referencing these past design elements, the process of resurrection begins. The design elements, or “trends,” are reinvented with a modern twist and emerge from their graves of obsolescence at the bottom of the Trend Cycle wave, reincarnate through the phases of introduction and rise, until once more fully matured.
Now if the Trend Cycle was truly just passing off the exact same trends as new design, there would be no innovation. So every time a trend does go through this cycle, it is revamped. We look to see what made something successful or unsuccessful in the past and investigate how to keep the good parts and revamp the ineffective. Let’s take a look at our current zeitgeist and the trends from that past that have re-emerged today.
The Postmodern movement reached its heyday in the 1980s-90s. It represents a rejection of the 1950’s modernist ideas of “form follows function” to create a kitschy, colorful, and artificial aesthetic. Elements of this movement include “Memphis Style” which produced some of the most geometric and colorful designs seen to date. Now that about 30 years have passed since the last maturing of this postmodern aesthetic, it is back on the rise.
Look out for spaces with arch walkways, arched mobile-esque lighting with round bulbs, colored granite, unique geometric shapes, gold hardware, bulbous round forms (do Boucle sofas come to mind?) and pastel colors. All of these elements are emerging from a rejection of the minimalist aesthetics of the 2010s and the need for joy, exuberance, and creativity following the dark years of the Covid pandemic.
With the 1990s starting off in economic recession, budgets were tight. There was also a widening gap between urban and suburban spaces, as the Yuppies of earlier generations moved to the suburbs to start families. In these homes chintz, floral, and neutrals emerged as the popular tastes. We can see this recalled today in the “cottage core” trend.
Urban areas, rejecting the “gaudy” nature of the 1980s, the 1990s, exhibited a more restrained sense of design with the emergence of more industrial tastes. This, paired with the rise of punk and hip-hop culture, which existed largely in urban areas, warehouses, city streets, and allies, created a very iconic aesthetic. The art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, and Keith Haring, whose work was circulating in the high-brow art world of the 80’s, was becoming more widespread, which led to the increase in graffiti as an art practice. This influence can be seen in interiors with bright pops of color, industrial materials, and large scale double-height spaces. These design elements are resurrected today as a push for sustainability (think adaptive re-use of industrial spaces) and reliance on local art and culture are in vogue. Check out our project Coda on Bryant from MRP Realty that showcases a modern take on these 1990’s music and hip-hop trends.
While trends really do come and go (and as we’ve learned, come back again), there are ways to ensure a truly timeless space. One technique, and something we love to do here at SR/A, is incorporate objects from the past in new and inventive ways.
At our Denizen project with Rushmark Properties (now known as The Point at Eisenhower Square), vintage roller blades bring a pop of color and interest into a millwork grid gallery wall. These colorful elements infuse a sense of fun and whimsy into the space. In our Avec on H with WC Smith project industrial pipe shelves display vintage garden objects which bring in a refreshingly organic feel. And at our Solaire 8250 project with Washington Property Company, old farm tools are displayed in an artful way to ground the space in its geographical history. By incorporating vintage pieces in modern spaces, trends of the past are recalled along with the nostalgic memories they bring, creating a space with storied depth.
It is worth noting that the emergence of the internet, which makes conjuring images of the past easier than ever, has contributed to a vast shortening of the trend cycle. Items that may be on trend for a moment, fall out of favor in just weeks. We may even be seeing an end to trends all together. Apps like TikTok and Instagram make sharing personal style so simple and accessible for all people, the power of big fashion labels and design houses is lessening. Folks also aim to buy fewer new, trendy items and stick with more timeless or vintage pieces in an effort to be sustainable. What do you think? Is the Trend Cycle here to stay or will the future hold a more eclectic and individual focused aesthetic?
Caroline Boyle is a Junior Designer at SR/A. In her spare time she enjoys painting and runs a small vintage decor business.