I love traditional interior design patterns, from scenic wallpapers to floral bedding to chintz-adorn sofas. As a kid, I took lessons in textile patterns from Laura Ashley at Austin’s former Highland Mall. I’d admire the aisles of classic floral bedding patterns inspired by the far-off English countryside. My mother surprised me one summer with a brand-new room complete with the Laura Ashley bedding pattern I’d been eyeing, and I’ve been hooked on pattern ever since.
Today, it seems folks are once again embracing patterns from 1980s designers like Laura Ashley and John Derian — and even 1880s designers like William Morris! My Austin interior design firm is currently working on a project where we just installed Morris & Co. wallpaper in the client’s music room. After years of people adopting stark, minimalist interiors, it’s refreshing to see these old-school patterns return to the spotlight. As I’ve said before, everything old is new again. However, these timeless patterns aren’t constrained by the old rules, as their applications and pairings have been completely reimagined to appeal to a new, younger audience.
Pattern Design Movements Through the Decades
Let’s take a look at some of the prominent design movements that produced the traditional patterns still attracting newcomers decades later.
Arts & Crafts Movement (1880s – 1920s)
The Arts & Crafts movement developed in Britain and spread across Europe and the United States through the 1880s to 1920s. It was a reaction against factory-produced goods and art that felt artificial and unconnected from the materials used. Arts & Crafts leaders sought inspiration from Medieval motifs, the English countryside, and organic forms.
William Morris became a leader of the movement, known for his iconic woodblock-printed wallpaper patterns at Morris & Co. His designs feature birds, botanical elements, and other nods to nature. Strawberry Thief is his most popular pattern, featuring a sly bird stealing a ripe strawberry from a twisting pattern of vines.
Pattern & Decoration Movement (1970s – 1980s)
The Pattern & Decoration movement, also known as P&D, took off in New York City almost a century later. Rooted in feminist ideals, the movement sought to legitimize the decorative arts, taking inspiration from wallpaper, textiles, embroidery, and other forms of ornamentation. At the time, these art forms were looked down on in the male-dominated fine art world as “women’s crafts.” The movement set the stage for a renewed interest in heavily adorned patterns inspired by old-world designs from around the globe.
While not official members of the movement, P&D set the cultural backdrop for designers like Laura Ashley and John Derian, whose work utilized flat repeating florals and decoupage collages influenced by classic motifs and vintage designs. The popularity of their work would take off during this time.
New Antiquarian Movement (Today – )
Today, younger folks are outfitting their homes with Morris & Co. reproduction wallpapers paired alongside Derian melamine plates and any other object that strikes their fancy. There’s this embrace of tradition contrasted with an outright breaking of any existing rules regarding constraints to a singular interior design theme. It’s the use of old, classic patterns with a fresh take.
Antique expert Michael Diaz-Griffith coined this movement as the New Antiquarians, describing a renewed interest in traditional design alongside personal expression. In other words, there’s a newfound freedom to mix any motifs, styles, or design eras you please. The movement is striking a chord with young collectors and heavily influencing the design world.
Traditional Interior Design Patterns are Back But With a New Take
Traditional patterns are being revitalized as their new corporate owners dig up rediscovered prints from the archives and partner up for brand collaborations. Morris & Co. Lead Designer Jessica Clayworth is working on the largest rerelease of William Morris designs this century under Sanderson Design Group, which owns heritage brands including Arthur Sanderson & Sons, Zoffany, and Harlequin. She says Morris’s designs “look as contemporary or heritage as the environment you put them in,” which sums up the younger generation’s flexible application of these old-world designs.
One reason behind the big push behind period patterns, at least in the case of Morris & Co., is Sanderson Design Group CEO Lisa Montague. So far, she’s shocked long-time fans of the 160-year-old brand with Disney, Ruggable, and other brand collaborations. She says, “Surprising collabs are one of the keys to revitalizing a heritage brand.” She implemented this strategy at LVMH, with labels like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany’s collaborating with Supreme, Nike, and Spalding. One thing is for sure, folks (especially younger folks) are talking about Morris & Co. again, over a century after its launch.
It’s interesting to think that Morris’s designs adorning the walls of the Victoria and Albert Museum are now available on everything from William Sonoma dishes to Ruggable rugs. Laura Ashley has had several brand collaborations with other fashion brands to reach new and younger audiences. John Derian even has a Target collection featuring four packs of stoneware plates for $20, while single plates on his own site fetch more than $150 each. It’s all a delicate balancing act between new and old, high brow and low brow.
These classic patterns are being revitalized, repackaged, and redefined as the brands work to find ways to get them in front of younger audiences. While there’s something humorous about the contrast of having Morris’s museum-quality patterns printed on your washable kitchen rug, the new applications of these prints open the door for a whole new audience to appreciate them. As a lover of traditional patterns, I think that’s a pretty great thing.
It just goes to show that everything old is new again!
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.