Tole: The Granny-Chic Accents You Might Want to Start Snatching Up

January 24, 2017

The same shy forever-tween who lives deep inside me, who loves tiny floral patterns and books featuring magic and her stuffed animals and poppy red nail polish, was semi-elated when she read recently that a tole trend is "going to heat up in 2017" (Apartment Therapy's words, not mine). Apologies for spiraling into third person—the elated person is clearly me.

Do you know tole? Alas, it is not a trendy new fish dish with a silent accent mark. Tole, which comes from the French term for "painted tin," is just that: a tradition of painted metal ornamentations for the home, often tinplate—and frilly and elaborate and floral in design.

Before seeing it mentioned recently, I knew tole less by name and more by sight: My mom has an excellent pair of flowery tole sconces, resplendent in their chippy, pastel opulence, and it's a hard-to-miss player at any flea market or antique mall you'll visit.

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This is what sprang to my inner teenage mind when I saw the word "tole:" decorative metal that's been shaped into foliage and florals, as for a chandelier, and then painted to appear more lifelike. Flowers propping up your lightbulbs!

But the 18th century origins of the tradition (first European, before catching on in America) were apparently more functional: Toleware. Decorative, painted tin trays, teapots, pitchers, breadboxes, and the like. (And perhaps more practical yet: This eBay dealer claims the whole tradition was started as a way to keep metal homewares from rusting.)

So why is this flowery, slightly kitschy bit of folk art going to creep onto your Pinterest boards? The writer I had come across suggested it as the newest leaf in the whole "granny-chic" trend—which, sure, I can see the connection there. It's old and cottage-cheesy (please sign my petition for this term to replace "shabby-chic"), but I'd also like to think that tole's appeal is more about decoration just for decoration's sake.

Tole is anti-minimalism, pro-flourish. Tole doesn't apologize for being a bit... flouncy.

For this reason I seriously doubt it will catch on with any of the more architecturally-leaning design-y types. But I like it just for being a bit ballsy (in that teenage princess sort of way), and welcome the invasion.

And what about you? Tell us in the comments if the idea of more tole makes you want to smile a big smile or cringe.

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.