I’m writing this as autumn makes its way to Texas. As the weather begins to cool, we break out our wool sweaters and velvet skirts and pour a few more cups of coffee or tea throughout the day than we did during the summer. Maybe we even light the fireplace if it falls below 40 degrees. For me, the changing season brings a sense of poignancy and has me thinking about how poignant design decisions work their way into our homes. From vintage furniture to paint colors, a surprising number of our home design choices are rooted in memories, sentimentality, and experiences. Poignancy in interior design is an undeniable force.
The Unsung Design Elements We Should Be Paying Attention To
In the Unsung to Undeniable series, Interior Designer Amity Worrel examines underrated design elements that have the power to make or break your interior. Pay attention because these underdogs have an undeniable force soon-to-be recognized!
Defining Poignancy in Interior Design
Merriam-Webster defines poignancy as a quality that painfully or deeply affects one’s feelings or something designed to make a lasting impression. Initially, it may sound like poignancy is something negative or challenging that we should steer clear of. However, I think the root of poignancy is actually a positive. In a world where we can feel very cut off or desensitized, it’s comforting to be reminded of the past and tune into our emotions. Feelings are layered and a reminder that something lost can still evoke a powerful sense of comfort.
My Own Experience with Poignancy
When fall rolls in over my Austin interior design studio, it brings welcomed gray days along with it. Texas is a place that struggles with too much sun for much of the year, so dreary fall days bring a sense of relief from the overpowering brightness. For a brief time, we get to experience cooler weather, falling leaves, and even a few rain showers. We can build a fire (even if we have to run the AC to stand the heat), wear our rain boots, and feel a brief chill in the early mornings. Finally, I can be contemplative in the break from my world of glaring light.
I love this time of year. But that being said, it’s also a sad time for me. My father passed suddenly in the fall before Thanksgiving — three months after my 12th birthday and two days before my sister’s 14th. It was a sad time. But, over the years, the sadness has turned into a sense of poignancy. It has become less painful and sharp and has grown into a time for reflection on my favorite memories with my father. My family has had our ups and downs, but in our fractured and less-than-perfect way, we’ve cobbled ourselves together. We’re happy and successful, but that sadness is still there. Fall is a time when I can look back with sweetness on those memories.
It may be surprising, but I bump into that same sweet sadness in folks all the time as an interior designer. As designers, our job is to help people add character in the most intimate spaces of their homes, and it comes with its fair share of emotions.
Our Homes are Emotional Places and There’s Poignancy in Our Design Choices
Designing interiors with a sense of poignancy, a nod to our own sadness and passage of time, might sound like a strange thing at first. However, more often than not, my work with clients brings up personal histories, memories, and lots of emotions. Many times clients want to incorporate a blanket passed down from grandma or a tribute to a lost parent into their space as a memento. Even if these sentimental objects make us feel sad, like the changing weather, the memory is also sweet and adds personal meaning to our space.
Even less sentimental folks come into the design process with their own experiences and memories — good and bad — that come up in very poignant ways and influence their decisions. For example, I might show someone a textile pattern that reminds them of their auntie who used to always bake oatmeal cookies for the holidays. If you liked your auntie, you might decide to use that pattern. However, if you hated being dragged to her tacky house every year, you might tell me never to offend your eyes with a daisy print ever again.
The remodeling process also highlights change itself, bringing a sense of poignancy with it. Sometimes a painful memory comes up when deciding how to repurpose a long unused bedroom that used to be occupied by a teenager who went off to college. Sometimes remodeling our family home might mean stripping the wallpaper that mom selected in the 70s. Yet, it is possible to honor the past while moving forward.
Emotions are expected during the interior design process and heavily guide decision-making. It is always interesting and hard to predict what will come up when working so closely with clients in their private spaces.
Ways to Incorporate a Sense of Poignancy in Your Home
There are many products out there that lean into poignancy. However, the idea of poignancy will be unique to the individual. Here are some ways to incorporate a sense of poignancy in your home.
Vintage and Heirloom Furniture
Vintage and heirloom furniture pieces add poignancy to a space, whether they were passed down directly from your grandmother or just remind you of her home. When it comes to sentimentality, I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules.
Sentimental Paint Colors
Farrow and Ball is known for their eccentric paint names. When I came across Sulking Room Pink, I immediately felt a sense of nostalgia for a time I had never even lived in. This sad rosy pink harkens back to the French boudoir, evoking feelings of ennui on a winter’s day.
Mementos and Photos
Mementos and photos are the most direct way to add poignant energy to your home. I like to incorporate these items in intimate spaces, like dressing rooms, where you will see them daily and have a moment to reflect.
The interior design process brings up a lot of unexpected memories. You may be surprised by what colors, patterns, and textures push to the surface. Stay open to the design process and allow yourself to feel the emotions that come up.
Embracing Old Memories and Making New
Our homes’ interiors evoke emotions, and designing our spaces around memories is a powerful thing. The idea of home comes tangled with past experiences. Sometimes we feel overtaken with emotion for achieving a standard we never dreamed of or experience simple joy for creating a space to bring our family together. The fall season brings a reminder that the green leaves can die, and so can people. Let’s allow that to heighten the appreciation of our current lives.
Embrace your old memories through poignancy but don’t hold back on making new ones.
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.