I’m going to let you in on a secret love affair I’m having…with romantic interiors! When you think of romantic spaces, frilly pastel rooms adorned with fresh-cut roses may come to mind. And those spaces can be very romantic. However, there’s also romance in dark, moody rooms lined with built-in bookshelves and a stocked bar cart. Romanticism encompasses everything from cheesy rom-com meet-cutes and roses to sad poetry and rainy days. We romanticize the past, other people’s lives, and our own daydreams. At the heart of it, romance is an escape to a new world. I’ve had a long love affair with Romanticism and created many romantic spaces for my client’s homes, which all actually look very different depending on what they romanticize in their lives. So, what constitutes a romantic space, how can we achieve it, and how can we hold onto the fleeting dream?
Defining Romantic Interiors
Merriam-Webster defines romance as:
- a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love
- a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life
But can we really put a textbook definition on a feeling like romance? To me, romantic spaces reflect a sense of mystery. They showcase a love for something or just the idea of romantic love on its own. When I think of a romantic space, I relate it to something remote from everyday life. Romance is escapism. And sometimes, we all need an escape from the outside world when we cross the threshold and retreat into our homes.
Romanticism as a Movement
Looking to Romanticism as a historical movement gives us further insight into the dreamy feeling of escapism romantic spaces provide. Romanticism was an artistic movement that originated in Europe from 1800 to 1850. It’s characterized by its emphasis on emotion, individualism, nature, and the glorification of the past. In many ways, Romantics were reacting against the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment movements of the day and harking back to the times of medieval legend. I think we can all relate to the feeling of romanticizing past decades, especially with the recent challenges of the 2020s. However, in our dreamy escapes to the 60s, 70s, or 80s, we imagine a far better fantasy than the reality of the times. Just like the Romantics did. Romantic artists and writers of the era portray Arthurian legends and the romantic age of chivalry and princesses. While their works evoke inspiration and awe, their portrayals are highly imaginative. How romantic?
My Fascination with Romance
From the Old World…
My love affair with romantic interiors began in high school. In my bedroom, I had a print of a famous Romantic-era work featuring a woman sprawled on a rock, embracing her natural realm as the ocean splashed around her. It was incredibly romantic (and paired perfectly with my Laura Ashley floral print bedding), and I loved everything about it. Perhaps I was even romanticizing Romanticism! My fascination grew from there. I poured over painters like John William Waterhouse and Henry Wallis, and I memorized the poems of Alfred Tennyson and William Blake. My interest in Romanticism was partly because I was looking for an escape from my angsty teenage years and partly for my devotion to all things beautiful.
To the New…
While I had long-standing crushes on the Romantics of the 1800s, the New Romantics quickly stole my heart in the 1980s. The New Romantic movement is a subculture that originated in Europe in the 70s and 80s. It was characterized by eccentric London fashion and influenced by the likes of David Bowie and Marc Bolan. I was a total Anglophile (and still am), so I did my best to take a page from their style book — embracing frills, pirate shirts, and the Union Jack. I’d sit in my 1980s-style room after school and wallow in my moody teenage sadness flipping the pages of fashion magazines while listening to Morrissey music. These experiences are far from Meg Ryan style meet-cutes, but they are just as romantic to me.
Studying Romance and Creating Romantic Spaces
In my early college years, I majored in English. I spent my days studying the Romantic poets I loved, reading Shakespeare and John Milton, and even visiting John Keats’s grave site just to prove how serious and deep I was. I loved every minute of it! My initial schooling gave me the foundation I needed to design with a flair for romance.
As I got into my design career, I gravitated to elements that gave a room that romantic feeling. First, I’d look through design history books, seeking old-world inspiration from the Georgian era and dreaming up romantic variations of how I imagined Moroccan interior design to feel. Next, I’d curate collections of objects, ranging from expensive museum-quality pieces acquired at auction to things tossed on the street. After all, who’s to say which item had a richer or more romantic past? Finally, I’d focus on designing for comfort, layering in rich colors and textiles, and selecting plush furnishings for rainy days spent reading. Not much has changed, as I am still designing spaces that will transport their inhabitants to a whole new world.
Why Are We Drawn to Romantic Interiors?
So, why are we drawn to these rich and layered romantic interiors over simple white boxes that get the job done? Well, the straightforward answer is that interior design affects our mood more than we might initially expect. I’ve never understood people’s desires to be confronted and challenged in their homes. You know, those people who have a museum instead of a retreat? I can appreciate the edge of a challenging space, but I cannot imagine coming home to it at the end of the day. There are so many things in the outside world that we can’t control, so I think we need these romantic escapes to leave our harsh realities behind. Why spend all of your time in the real world when daydreams are at your fingertips? The trick to creating a romantic space lies in nostalgic comforts, whether it be 18th-century art or 80s band posters. Allow your home to transport you. Begin your romantic love affair with your home.
It’s rough out there, and we could all use a romantic escape.
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.