Interior Design

6 Timeless Trends That Interior Designers Are Now Reconsidering

Are we done with open-floor plans? Emily Henderson has a fresh perspective.

February  1, 2021
Photo by Emily Henderson

There’s a certain irony in calling a trend “timeless.” Trends, by nature, come and go, which makes it tough to know which ones cross over into being long-standing and dependable and which ones will disappear. All-over carpeting, for instance, once had its moment, as did mirrored walls. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan of those. Framed-in bathtubs have been overruled by free-standing ones, and popcorn ceilings have been replaced by smooth surfaces. And yet, there are a handful of designs that have remained popular in recent years, making them appear as timeless as trends can get.

Until the pandemic hit and quarantine put our homes under a microscope.

After months of staring at the same rooms day in and day out, even design choices with the most staying power are starting to feel stale. If certain aspects of your home need a refresh—whether they’re somewhat current upgrades or perpetual leftovers from the ‘70s—we don’t blame you for wanting to make a change.

You’re not alone. Designers Katie Gebhardt, Julia Marcum, and Emily Henderson are also reconsidering long-standing trends as they peer into 2021, and their solutions don’t necessarily involve an entirely new perspective. Here’s how they would reinvent six so-called timeless details—without causing too much disruption.

A Classic Subway Tile Pattern

Try Instead: Fresh Layouts and Smaller Squares

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I have never been a fan of open shelves. I have 3 German Shepherd Dogs and an African Gray Parrot. I am constantly fighting fur, feathers, dander and dust throughout my home. My kitchen wares need to be stowed away in closed cupboards to keep them clean and safe. Even then, the dust finds a way to accumulate inside. ”
— Beverly D.

Katie Gebhardt, principal and owner of Solstice Interiors, is ready to move away from standard subway tiles this year. But before you gasp, it’s not that she wants to do away with them entirely, she just wants them to be used differently. “Three-by-six subway tiles can be set in an array of patterns, and that's really where I see trends moving to in 2021: different layouts using that classic shape. I'm all for a vertical stacked tile, mosaics, and square tiles, whether that be a zellige or a ceramic option.” Gebhardt notes that even a small touch-up can make a well-used item feel new, and that’s especially true of this material.

Light Wood Finishes

Try Instead: Darker Wood Tones

Natural light is always a detail to accentuate in design, but with that understanding came a reliance on light-wood finishes that would help make a space feel light and bright. The principle of the trend stays true, but it might be overdone—and Julia Marcum of Chris Loves Julia is looking to branch out this year. “Light wood has reigned supreme for a while,” she says. “But now, we’re going to start seeing a lot more mid-to-dark wood tones that are rich in color. I’m going to say the same is true for leather furniture!” If you have lots of light woods in a space, never fear. Marcum says you can mix in darker tones to add texture. “Mixing wood tones is encouraged,” she adds. “Wood isn’t just for furniture or floors, either. I also predict we’ll be seeing a lot more wood tones in walls, ceilings, and cabinetry.”

Open-Concept Layouts

Try Instead: A Wall With a Window

Walls in common spaces have had a tough run recently, since open-floor plans have been the baseline for living-meets-entertaining conducive design. But considering that most of last year saw no entertaining and lots of togetherness, walls might be coming back into favor. Take it from designer Emily Henderson of Emily Henderson Design. “I wouldn’t say I’m ‘over’ open-concept because it’s still so beautiful in the right space, but this pandemic has shown us that walls aren’t always a bad thing to embrace, if you know what I mean,” she says. Instead of deciding between no walls and too many walls, Henderson thinks that “interior windows” could offer the best of both worlds. “You get the illusion of openness and the natural light, but with a little more privacy,” she says. “Plus they are an added architectural feature, which is a great thing in my book.”

Photo by Emily Henderson

Rows of Floating Shelves

Try Instead: A Single Floating Shelf

As beautiful as floating shelves can be when kitchenware and accessories are artfully arranged, they can easily fall into disarray—all it takes is a few days of cooking every meal at home. Gebhardt imagines that many people have also relaxed their hold on aesthetics lately, and floating shelves could get a streamlined refresh with this in mind. “We're starting to see just one floating shelf installed a bit higher, in line with a range hood, for a more minimal approach versus rows of floating shelves,” she says. “I also foresee a more mixed-use solution with closed upper cabinets.” These options prioritize function slightly more than style, so that it’s not always necessary to stack bowls and lean photographs just so.

One Style of Patterned Tiles

Try Instead: Mixed Colors and Patterns

Patterned tiles have been a fixture in kitchens for years now, and that could be because they provide some movement to equally popular all-white palettes. But Marcum sees this changing a bit in 2021, as designers embrace more creative solutions to backsplashes and bathrooms. “We're loving the use of a variety of colors and tones mixed together to make a pattern more interesting,” she says. “From making intricate designs with penny or squared mosaics, to creating large checkerboard patterns, tiles are becoming even more of a work of art.” To make this happen, stick to complementary colors that can weave together a look that’s entirely your own.

Squared-Off Edges

Try Instead: Curved Edges

In keeping with the clean lines of minimalism, squared-off edges have dominated design trends in every room—and Marcum has a hunch that that’s about to change. “Curves are back and bigger than ever,” she says. The biggest transformation could happen in the kitchen, where the tight corners of islands or even cabinets may have smoother edges in the future. But Marcum also says that smaller upgrades can embrace curves, too. “Think of a rounded sofa,” she notes, alongside side tables, pillows, and light fixtures. It feels a bit more comforting, which is something we’re all looking forward to in the year ahead.

Which long-standing trends are you totally done with? Tell us in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • phantomfox
  • Matt
  • smccassell
  • Serena
  • Beverly Duffy
    Beverly Duffy
Kelly Dawson

Written by: Kelly Dawson

Writer and Editor


phantomfox February 6, 2022
Gosh, Kelly this is really embarrassing. I hope every family that is struggling to put food of the table can remodel their stale kitchen. Maybe Black families who are mourning a loved one killed by the police can find solace by ordering $2000 in patterned tile. Such a relevant article for lower or middle class folks. Actually, it's really elitist and out of touch with reality of so many American households.
Eartha February 8, 2022
I used to, and still do, enjoy Food 52 recipes. But, yes the site has become very upscale design-y and elite feeling. Not loving the direction the site is going….
Matt April 30, 2021
"All-over carpeting, for instance, once had its moment, […] Framed-in bathtubs have been overruled by free-standing ones"

Well if this isn't just the snottiest thing I've read today. Neither of those things have gone anywhere for people who aren't wealthy urbanites. How about Food52 stick to writing helpful articles instead of talking down to their readers.
Matt April 30, 2021
And this doesn't even cover that the meat of the article is just describing the average house from the 70's. I was waiting for you to say formica counters, and then you'd just have my parents kitchen.
smccassell March 3, 2021
We have a good sized eat in kitchen. 100 year old house that we expanded the kitchen and 1/2 bath into a sun room. Lots of cooking going on in the kitchen. There are interior doors to the dining room and front entry that can close the kitchen space off when cooking is over whelming with its good smells. This also keeps the smells out of the upstairs. So some open concept with the ability to close the space as needed. Not sure I want to cook in my lifeing space as many of these new homes are set up.
Serena February 16, 2021
I am so over the all-white kitchen and open concept kitchens! TBH, I was never a fan of either. Trends come and go, and if you're planning on staying in your house for awhile, design it according to your taste, instead of slavishly following trends. After all you have to live with the results.
One thing I've seen recently that I am a huge fan of is the creative use of tiles in different colors and patterns. I am particularly a fan of framing out white subway tiles with colorful, hand painted ceramic ones, mixing the modern with an Old World look.
Beverly D. February 15, 2021
I have never been a fan of open shelves. I have 3 German Shepherd Dogs and an African Gray Parrot. I am constantly fighting fur, feathers, dander and dust throughout my home. My kitchen wares need to be stowed away in closed cupboards to keep them clean and safe. Even then, the dust finds a way to accumulate inside.
Ellen February 7, 2021
I'm done with open floor plans and kitchen islands and would like to see kitchens built around a big table as seen in some European houses. Other things that need to go away are over the stove microwaves and glass-enclosed everything in the bathroom.