If you’ve kept up with past blogs, you know I’ve been on a cross-country road trip investigating American interior design styles, but I think I might just take a trip across the pond to explore a “not-so” All-American style. Maybe even stay at the famous Charleston House to ignite my creativity. Yes, I’m headed to East Sussex, England, to uncover more about the Bloomsbury Group interior design style and its influence over modern interior trends.
What is the Bloomsbury Group?
American poet Dorothy Parker summarized the Bloomsbury Group as a cast of characters who “lived in squares, painted in circles, and loved in triangles.” Founded in the early 1900s, the Bloomsbury Group comprised some of the era’s most innovative and avant-garde thinkers, including notable figures like Virginia Woolfe, E. M. Forster, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant. This loose collective of friends lived, worked, and studied together in Bloomsbury, London, and would retreat to their shared Charleston country house in East Sussex for creative inspiration. Cultural influencers of the day, the Bloomsbury group shaped art, politics, and design as well as ideas around feminism and sexuality. Over 100 years later, their ideas and style still have an influence today.
The Bloomsbury Design Aesthetic
The ideas of the Bloomsbury Group moved from conversations to the walls of their homes. At Charleston, the artists of the group couldn’t limit their vision to canvas alone, painting the walls, mantels, and even furniture with vignettes. Virginia Woolfe styled her own Monk’s House with brightly painted walls, hand-painted accents, floral print textiles, and decorative tiles. The bright, colorful, and personalized interiors of Bloomsbury residences opposed the dark, stuffy, and refined Victorian style of the day.
Elements of the Bloomsbury Design Style
The elements of the Bloomsbury design style resonate over 100 years later as our own culture is experiencing shifts in ideas, aesthetics, and views of the home.
Bloomsbury interiors embraced bright color palettes of turquoise blue, avocado green, dusty rose, burnt orange, and bright yellow. This color palette directly opposed the dark burgundies, greens, and browns of the Victorian style. Similarly, modern homeowners are moving away from the whites and grays of the 2010s and opting for brighter, more personalized color schemes. At my Austin interior design firm, we recently completed our Bloomsburian-inspired Bellvue project, featuring an all yellow bathroom, patterned tile accents, and a turquoise accented kitchen.
The Bloomsbury Group brought in patterns inspired by the English countryside through textiles, rugs, and hand-stenciled art on walls and furniture pieces. In our Holiday Haus project, we commissioned foix bois walls throughout much of the home and a hand-painted ladybug design for the bathroom. We also brought in even more patterns with cottage-inspired textiles, including red checks and floral prints. The pattern play adds layers of visual interest and creates that cozy, comfortable feel the Bloomsbury Group was after in their own residences.
While color and patterns are two major aspects of Bloomsbury design, personalization is the one that most clearly resonates today. Home and style trends, in general, are moving away from a mass-produced, off-the-shelf, plug-and-play mentality and toward something custom that truly reflects the individual. Our Society Hill project comes to mind, a project more than 20 years in the making! Through a long-standing and collaborative relationship, we created a truly personal space that honors the home and the inhabitants.
My Love of Bloomsbury Style (and All Things English)
I’ve always loved the Bloomsbury Group, and it turns out I’m not alone. The Bloomsbury Group is having a moment, and you can feel their influence throughout the decade’s design and fashion trends. The New York Times style section just covered the Dior 2023 spring show, where Art Director Kim Jones not only sent out models dressed in sweaters with impressionist paintings by Bloomsbury founding member Duncan Grant but also commissioned a replica of Charleston as a backdrop. It’s clear Bloomsbury ideas still speak to many, even after 100 years.
The Bloomsbury Group challenges tradition and the status quo, which feels very modern indeed. The stories of the members capture the imagination like a book, with tales of scandal, romance, and suicide. And the look of Bloomsburian spaces, with bright country colors and hand-painted accents, takes on a bohemian and free attitude. As an English major focusing on poetry and an obsession with the Second British Invasion, it’s no surprise I clung to this group’s style!
Why Does the Bloomsbury Style Resonate with Americans Over 100 Years Later?
In the interior design world, there is a movement away from uniformity and a push toward personalization that mirrors the Bloomsbury Group’s rejection of the Victorian style and reimagination of the home. Today’s homeowners are embracing bright colors, patterns, and upcycled pieces that reflect their personalities while taking a more sustainable and creative approach to design. So why are people looking to the Bloomsbury Group for inspiration?
Our current decade holds many similar cultural ideals in line with the Bloomsbury school of thought. Today we see an embrace of free-spirited expression, a reconsideration of values, and a fear of global uncertainties. In a time when it becomes intimidating or scary to look to the future, it is comforting to look to the past and take notes from those who have been there before. We tend to circle through trends because we all love a good comforting dose of nostalgia and the confidence to trust something tried and true. Speaking of nostalgia, I might just go and pull out one of my college poetry books and take the rest of the evening to read by the fire.
“It will be an odd life, but it ought to be a good one for painting.” — Vanessa Bell
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.