From Bazaar to Big-Box: Uncovering the Origins of the Boho Chic Design Style

Austin Interior Designer Amity Worrel Tracks the Complicated Origins of Boho Chic — from Writers to Woodstock to WalMart

Boho Chic Interior Design

Boho chic is a “know it when you see it” kind of style. We’re all familiar with the hippie-inspired beaded curtains, wall tapestries, and oversized floor cushions that make up the look. But what are the origins of the boho chic design style? Other popular styles are more easily traced. Scandinavian decor comes from Scandinavia. Baroque design lives in the Palace of Versailles. Mid-century modern was born in the American suburbs in the 1950s. So, where did boho chic come from? Let’s try to uncover this complicated origin story. 


My Interest in Bohemian Design

At my Austin interior design firm, I rarely decorate in the boho chic style — at least in the commercialized sense. The look is often reserved for 20-somethings setting up their first apartments and expressing their creative side (maybe for the first time). So, as a designer, why do I have an interest in boho chic at all? Well, we were all young and free-spirited once, and I like to think I still am. 

I’ve always been a bit of a hippie. Growing up in 1970s Austin meant shoes (and sometimes shirts) were optional, especially at Barton Springs pool, where topless swimming was the norm for all. Back then, the town prided itself on its free spirit and laid-back style. I went through my preppy Laura Ashley and melodramatic British New Romantics phases, but I always maintained an appreciation for the casual hippie vibes that defined my youth.  

When I set up my first apartment in New York City in my 20s, I went to Urban Outfitters and bought all the Moroccan patterned things I could find. I layered my futon with tapestries and hammered wrought iron sconces on the wall. I created as much of a well-traveled space as possible and later realized I was ahead of the boho chic curve that would start trending years later. 

Boho chic Interior Design Style

What is the Boho Chic Design Style? 

The bohemian or boho chic interior design style is characterized by creativity, global influences, and a casual, laid-back approach. If you were to create a boho-inspired space, you might start with a Berber rug, accent with rattan furnishings, hang free-flowing curtains, and adorn the walls with tapestries. Many boho chic go-to pieces look like the Hollywood set dressings for a Moroccan bazaar. But, you don’t have to be an eclectic traveler to get the look. Today, the style is so popular that you can conveniently shop for it on the shelves of your favorite big-box stores — from World Market to WalMart. 

While the bohemian look has been around for hundreds of years (more on that later), it really resonated and peaked during the hippie culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. So, it’s not uncommon to also layer in retro furnishings, lava lamps, and recommissioned Woodstock posters. While there are no “rules” to boho chic, there is a strict adherence to the creative lifestyle (or at least the illusion of one). 

So where did the free-spirited design style of choice come from, and how did the “hippie” counterculture look become so commodified in the design world? 

Interior Design - Boho

Bohemia and the Romani People 

Boho is short for bohemian, which actually refers to the Bohemia region in the modern-day Czech Republic. This area was mistakenly believed to be home to the Romani people, an Indo-Aryan nomadic group known for their creativity in music and oral history. The group has had a complicated history, facing discrimination and persecution throughout Europe and the world. The Romani have been referred to as “gypsies,” now considered a racial slur. Many people who decorate in the bohemian style do not know its relation to the Romani. However, it is important to recognize it as a part of its complicated origin story. 


“Bohemian” Writers, Artists, and Creatives

Bohemian is derived from the French word “Bohémien,” which refers to any artist, writer, actor, or musician who leads an unconventional lifestyle. Direct appropriation of Romani culture, the term was used among early 19th-century European creatives. In 1862, the Westminster Review described a Bohemian as “simply an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and art.” The term became associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, a group of artists, including figures like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Jane and William Morris. The group rocked the standards of the day with free-flowing clothes and audacious behavior. 


Woodstock Hippies 

The bohemian counterculture resonated with the beatnik movement defined by Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road. This would eventually give way to the hippie culture of the ’60s and ’70s. Hippies’ ideas of rebelling against the mainstream aligned with the creative, free-spirited Pre-Raphaelite movement. The cycle would continue, but this time with music festivals, long hair, and peace & love. Because hippie culture is one of the more recent examples of the bohemian aesthetic, the boho chic look relies on many hippie-inspired decor items today. You can find throw pillow prints plucked from paisley hippie tunics and floor cushions that signify a carefree hangout spot. 

Boho Style

Big-Box Shoppers

Once a style resonates and becomes trendy, you can count on big-box stores to swoop in and capitalize on the look. The bohemian style has appealed to creatives for decades, and now you don’t have to go any further than your local WalMart to curate the well-traveled aesthetic. While I do not approve of the commercialization of the hippie and bohemian style, I do understand the appeal. While marketing can somewhat ruin things, it is amazing that this style has been so prevalent and appealing for so many generations in art, popular culture, and interior design. 

And access isn’t a bad thing. Most young people with whom the style resonates don’t have the funds to travel the globe and bring home Moroccan rugs or curate vintage collectibles. What big-box boho does allow for, however, is a springboard of creativity and the first steps to exploring one’s style. 


Our Beloved Boho

I will never recover from my love of casual living. As much as I adore creating high-style and traditional spaces, I will never be someone who can live in a formal way. (Honestly, I sometimes pine for the early days of my tiny NYC apartments filled with curbside finds and Urban Outfitters textile prints.) The boho chic style is complicated but still speaks to aspiring creatives and young free thinkers — setting the stage for early independence. 

Like boho, I have the heart of a global hippie — even if only in my mind. 

Amity Worrel

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.



Austin Interior Designer