If I told you to picture a contemporary or modern-day interior design scheme, you’d probably think of a room with sleek lines, a muted color palette, and maybe some bold artwork. Design elements like carpeting, wood paneling, or parquet flooring wouldn’t even cross your mind. However, these design trends from the 1970s and 80s are coming back in style in a big way for the 2020s. I’ve been working with my team of Austin interior designers to examine the history of these trends and how we can incorporate them into homes today. And yes, we will be talking about glass blocks and brass fixtures! I can already feel some of you cringe, but there is a case to be made for these design elements, some of which date back centuries before the 70s rec room that is currently coming to mind. (One of these elements can even be found in the Palace of Versailles!) So let’s take a look at the most popular 70s and 80s interior design trends and why they are back in style. After all, everything old is new again!
1. Wall-to-wall Carpeting
Historically, wall-to-wall carpets of the 18th and 19th centuries were made from wool, expensive to produce, and reserved for only the most luxurious homes. As a result, carpeting started out as a status symbol. So, what changed? In the 1950s, new technologies developed and gave rise to the inexpensive nylon broadloom carpeting, which many of us have come to know as the carpeting standard. During the post-World War II housing boom, technicolored and patterned carpeting was installed in new houses across the country because it was inexpensive and quick to lay. Americans still loved carpeting around this time, and it was marketed as a cozy and plush finish for living rooms and bedrooms. But, of course, you can have too much of a good thing. Carpets in the bathroom and kitchen marked a turning point, and the carpet industry was eventually outpaced by hard flooring options in the early 2000s.
However, wall-to-wall carpeting is back in the 2020s. New advances eliminate many of the cons, as companies produce hypo-allergenic, stain-resistant, and recyclable carpets. While tile and hardwoods can be cold and hard on the feet, carpets offer quiet, plush, and shoeless luxury. I loved upholstered furniture, so why not “upholster your floor”? When made from the right materials and applied correctly, carpets can be an asset in living rooms and bedrooms on cold nights. Conclusion: our Austin interior designers are on board with this 70s trend!
2. Wood Paneling
While wood paneling had a moment in the 70s, it was utilized in homes centuries earlier and really hasn’t gone anywhere since. There are many different wall paneling styles out there, and you aren’t limited to the 70s rec room faux paneling you may be remembering. Decorative wood paneling can be incredibly versatile, timeless, and refined. In fact, decorative wall coverings are one of our favorite ways to transform our clients’ spaces. Board and batten and beadboard paneling are perfect for Craftsman homes, and raised panels add charm to Colonial houses. Contemporary homes can even maintain a streamlined look with flat paneling. With finishes ranging from light to dark stains and even high-gloss lacquers, there are paneling options for every aesthetic out there. Conclusion: our Austin interior designers say this 70s trend never left!
3. Glass Block
When I start talking about glass blocks, I can tell people immediately jump to the Miami Vice-styled bathroom with icy cubes backlit by neon lights. Let me just say that this glass block application can stay in the 80s! Glass blocks have actually been used in American design since the late 1800s when they were introduced by French architect Gustave Falconnier at an exposition. The original glass blocks featured beautiful geometric designs but tended to fog, making builders hesitant to cement them into a wall. Advances were quickly made. By the 1930s, glass blocks became a staple in Art Deco-era design, especially in cities like New York and Chicago. Because of their strength, privacy, and ability to let natural light in, glass blocks were used as sidewalk and vault lights to illuminate underground spaces beneath city streets. Famous architects like Frank Llyod Wright even got on the glass block trend, creating stunning block designs that don’t even closely resemble an ice cube. In the late 1970s, glass blocks began their revival when the New York Times referred to them as an “alluring and mysterious…bright and sparkling…formal, but…intimate” design material.
Today, glass blocks are making a comeback and being applied in new ways with designs that hark back to Deco-era beauty. Our Austin interior designers believe that they provide a beautiful way to break up spaces without blocking light. Plus, the new designs are strong, soundproof, and energy-efficient. Conclusion: glass blocks have a lot to offer; they just need to be reinvented.
4. Parquet Flooring
When we talk about the history of parquet flooring, we’re not talking about your grandma’s floors unless your grandma was a French aristocrat! Parquet floors were first introduced in 16th century France as a practical and less expensive alternative to marble flooring, which was difficult to maintain and could put a strain on buildings. Louis XIV popularized this trend when he installed parquet flooring in the Palace of Versailles. Since then, the geometric look of parquet wood tiles has gone in and out of style through the decades. In America, parquet floors were trendy during the 60s and 70s, and they are making a comeback today. Some of the benefits of parquet floors are that they offer bold style and easy installation. If you find some in the course of a renovation, they are actually easy to refinish. Conclusion: our Austin interior designers think these floors are worth saving.
5. Brass Fixtures
Brass fixtures have been making a slow comeback since the 2010s, and our Austin interior designers are ready to fully embrace this retro trend. Brass has been used in homes since the Victorian era, but brass fixtures are primarily associated with the ostentatious and “more is more” design attitude of the 80s. We are ditching the shiny plated brass look in favor of a more subtle application for the 2020s. Matt and satin brass fixtures mixed with other metals throughout the home allows this material to act as a soft accent rather than the main attention grabber. With a warm and welcoming tone, brass fixtures can find their place in a range of interior design styles. Conclusion: when it comes to reimagining 80s trends for modern-day living, less is more.
The Case for Embracing “Old-fashioned” Interior Design Styles
The past decade of interior design has focused on uniformity, clean lines, neutral color palettes, and an overall lack of personal expression. When flipping through design magazines and home improvement shows, it appeared that homeowners agreed to ascribe to monotony in the 2010s. However, that is all changing in the new decade. Once again, homeowners are looking to embrace color and personal style, just like we did in the 70s and 80s. So it makes sense that these past design trends are making a comeback. Don’t be afraid to do something different when it comes to your renovation, and seek inspiration from the rebellious homeowners of past decades. Everything can be reimagined, and that’s why everything old is new.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.