Original interior design isn’t influenced by the fleeting frivolity of trends. It isn’t a slave to “Instagramability” and whatever hashtag is currently doing the rounds. Or is it?
There’s a complex relationship between interior design and consumer trends. On the one hand, to follow trends is the definition of conformity - the opposite of what original design is all about. But on the other, to be part of a trend means you are relevant, appeal to today’s consumer market and are part of the current conversation.
A panel of industry experts at the recent 100% Design event, part of London Design Festival week, attempted to decode this sometimes conflicted relationship. It comprised Simon Rawlings from David Collins Studio; Suzy Hoodless, formerly of House & Garden and Wallpaper magazine (now running her own consultancy); and award-winning RIBA architect, Rabih Hage.
Blinded by trends
As a rule, interior design tries to strike a delicate balance between trendiness and classic style. And the truth is, most designers like to think they influence trends, rather than the other way around. Hoodless, whose website describes her as a “tastemaker” (read: trendsetter) argues that designers shouldn’t be a slave to trends, but they are “an essential part” of our business. “What we’re all after as designers is integrity,” she says, “so ‘trend’ can feel a bit like a dirty word.”
A common result of the pervasive nature of trends is how it has changed the way clients present briefs these days, often bringing in a Pinterest board filled with the exact items they’d like to include in the final design. This, argues Hage, reduces the job of designer to personal shopper. The key to avoiding this prescriptive approach, he says, is to identify the link between each of the items the client has selected and use this as a guide for the design process, rather than a shopping list. “It’s noise,” he explains, “and you have to kind of listen until there is a voice that you recognise. We [as designers] have to be a little be more directive.” Hoodless agrees, arguing that the job of the designer is now to curate people’s ideas, because “they are blinded by trends. We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t understand or react to trends...They help us understand our clients and where they are coming from. But what I’m not interested in is interiors that are just [made up of] building blocks of trends.”
There is a difference between how designers approach trend curation in residential vs commercial projects. In the context of restaurant design - particularly in the casual dining sector - referencing the right trends can be make or break for a business. Not being swayed by faddy gimmicks is all well and good, but refusing to acknowledge the ‘zeitgeist’ is disregarding an opportunity to reach a potentially huge customer base.
“If I was to completely ignore every trend that’s going on in the world, we could end up with an empty restaurant,” says Rawlings. “I think it’s really important to try and understand trends because people are looking for familiarity; things that they can engage with and, inevitably, some of those things are going to be trend driven.”
Problems can arise when restaurants invest too much in a very current trend though. A consensus view on the panel was that they should be seen as a tool to communicate with a customer base, rather than an idea on which to build a entire brand’s identity. Afterall, a trend by its nature is transient - which doesn’t bode well for the survival of your business.
Social media and design
Instagram (and social media in general) is always at the centre of any discussion about trends and there were mixed views on the value of its usage. Hoodless describes her relationship with Instagram as “love-hate,” but argues it’s becoming increasingly important, “whether we like it or not,” and has made traditional websites largely “redundant” - at least in the design world. “I often turn to Instagram now rather than Google because I know the information will be more current,” agrees Rawlings.
It’s interesting to see how Instagram is viewed by younger generations almost as the place trends are made - rather than where they are shared - and how much it influences what is popular. Remembering that “trends are a consequence of design, not a purpose,” as Hage puts it, is key to maintaining that all-important integrity as a designer and creating an interior that will stand the test of time - regardless of how many ‘likes’ it may have.