Last month I wrote about the Bloomsbury Group on the heels of a New York Times piece outlining why fashion houses like Dior keep returning to the group’s impressionist style full of color, romanticism, and bohemian ideals. Over 100 years later, folks are still captivated by the group’s art, words, and scandals — entranced by leading figures such as Virginia Woolfe, E. M. Forster, and Duncan Grant. Diving back into the Bloomsbury style led me to reflect on my days as an English major, reading poetry in my room with the sounds of the Second British Invasion drifting from the radio.
Wondering where I’m going with this? Fundamentally, our draw to past design styles is rooted in nostalgia — that bittersweet feeling we get when experiencing something that triggers a memory (sometimes for an era we never even experienced). Researching the Bloomsbury Group reminded me of long afternoons spent in my bohemian-styled apartment with a Union Jack hung above the bed. I have a fondness for nostalgia. As I’m writing this now, I’m sitting in reupholstered barrel chairs once owned by my mother in the living room of my Austin childhood home, which I renovated a few years back.
When working with clients at my Austin interior design studio, I often find that folks tend to gravitate toward items with a sense of nostalgia. They will pick the wallpaper pattern that reminds them of holiday dinners at Grandma’s house or, like me, reupholster the armchairs they climbed into as kids. However, redesigning a space inherently looks to a future with new aspirations. So, how do we find the balance between nostalgia vs. futurism in interior design to make way for new memories while honoring the past?
The Nostalgia/Futurism Spectrum
The schools of nostalgia and futurism lie on opposite ends of the spectrum, with retrofuturism sneaking somewhere in the middle. Each has its own role in home design, and where you fall will impact your final space.
What is Nostalgia?
Nostalgia’s role in the home: comfort and connections.
Merriam-Webster defines nostalgia as a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning to return to some past period or irrecoverable condition. Nostalgia also ties into the idea of poignancy, recognizing the passage of time and finding comfort in the items that evoke mixed emotions of fondness and sorrow. Through things like Grandma’s china set, we can experience the warm feeling of holiday dinners that have long passed, which can be comforting and a little sad at the same time. Studies show that the power of nostalgia takes us beyond memory lane — to reinforce social connections, reconcile our past, and inspire creativity. Nostalgic pieces help tell our life stories and give meaning to our homes.
What is Futurism?
Futurism’s role in the home: aspiration and new beginnings.
While nostalgia is a feeling, futurism is a movement. Futurism began in 1909 when Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published “Manifesto del Futurismo” in a Parisian newspaper, calling for a complete rejection of the past and tradition to focus solely on the future ahead. While nostalgia embraces self-indulgent tenderness, poignancy, yearning, and even sadness, futurism looks ahead to what’s new with complete abandon. Through art that featured strong lines and repetition, futurists welcomed the machine age, embracing speed, innovation, and the working class. Futurism refers to a movement and style. However, the ideals behind the movement come into play for many homeowners looking to renovate their space, especially those who want to scrap everything and start from scratch. Even folks who wish to honor the past in their design still aspire to provide a more comfortable and functional space for their future.
What is Retrofuturism?
Retrofuturism’s role in the home: escapism.
Somewhere between nostalgia and futurism lies retrofuturism (most likely sitting closer to nostalgia). Retrofuturism is an artistic movement that pictures the future from the perspective of the past, tapping into that anticipation and wish for a perfect world. Shows like The Jetsons and Apple TV’s newly released Hello Tomorrow! perfectly encapsulate the aesthetic, which tends to lean heavily into mid-century modern design. While futurism holds a sense of practicality, retrofuturism is anything but. It’s nostalgia for a future that never happened. It provides a sense of escapism, which can be comforting when the real future feels uncertain. While most homeowners teeter over the line between nostalgia and futurism, those who embrace retrofuturism escapism are part of a unique niche.
The Jetsons Theme
The Lure of Nostalgia from Home Decor to Tacos
Many of my clients are influenced by nostalgia as we embark on the home-design journey together, and it brings out strong emotional reactions. For example, I’ve had clients turn down a light fixture because it too closely resembled the fender of their family car (true story). On the other hand, I’ve had people instantly recall their childhood bedroom when I show them a fabric sample that reminds them of their old bedspread. People are naturally nostalgic, and it informs our decisions whether we initially realize it or not.
After my mother’s death, I moved into my childhood home. When I set out to renovate, I was heavily influenced by the nostalgia in the walls and sought to create my idealized version of the rambling 1970s ranch. Each decision was guided by memories of my childhood or what I would have wanted it to be. It is by no means a time capsule, but it is influenced by the decade of my first 10 years of life.
Nostalgia goes beyond major design choices. Sometimes it’s as simple as what we pick for lunch. For example, when I eat Taco Cabana (which is rare and never a good idea), the food tastes more like high school memories than tacos.
Honor the Old While Making Way for the New
While I fall on the nostalgia side of the spectrum, I recognize that too much can block us and prevent growth in our homes. We have to find a balance between the old and new, living with our memories while creating space to make new ones. Before embarking on the design journey (and inevitable side trip down memory lane), take a moment to recognize where your decisions stem.
It’s ok to look back, but remember there’s even more on the road ahead.
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.