When decorating your home, aim to create timeless spaces. Credit: Spacejoy / Unsplash

Home design trends change rapidly today, often influenced by microtrends on TikTok and Instagram. This can pressure homeowners to update their spaces more frequently than they would in the past, which leads to environmental waste. So, how can homeowners create unique spaces that reflect their personalities while maintaining a timeless appeal? 

The Escape Home spoke with Mark Nichols, a strategic architecture and interior design advisor at Real Estate Bees, about the best practices for creating a distinctive home design that will stand the test of time. Nichols, an LA-based architect renowned for his commitment to sustainable design and the founder of McNichols Design, also provides insight on creating spaces that defy the whims of fashion, favoring appeal and functionality while reducing waste. 

The following has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

The Escape Home: Many people shifted their attention to their homes when the pandemic began. Four years later, we still spend much time at home. How do you think this has influenced home upgrade renovations and interior design? 

Nichols: The biggest project type that saw a surge was yard projects. A lot of people look out to the yard while they’re working and start thinking, ‘Maybe I can do this little improvement.’ Yard projects are also usually the most budget-friendly. 

That said, home renovations were on the rise at all scales, especially in Southern California and other states where legislation has changed for things like accessory dwelling units. There are more people at home; maybe before, they didn’t need a home office. Then legislation, almost serendipitously, comes into place, making it easier to create extra room on a property in a cost-effective way.

The Escape Home: Kitchens go through a lot of trend cycles between popular wall colors, countertop materials, and overall room aesthetics. Why do you think that is?

Nichols: People, in general, like variety. The major challenge as an architect or designer is: How do you find timeless things? If aesthetic preferences can change over time, are there things that can still look good? While they may not be trendy, people will still look at them and say, ‘Yeah, that’s beautiful.’ It may not be what you’d find on a magazine cover, but it’s still going to have appeal. 

The Escape Home: What are some kitchen trends that have faded recently?

Nichols: Calacatta quartz countertops with large gray veining became really popular about eight years ago. They look like marble, but the graining is bolder and a little more contemporary. You saw that done in a lot of kitchens; it kind of lost its newness. With countertops, it’s always going to change. The safer bets are more neutral: less grainy and less patterning. 

If it’s a color that’s bold that might be trendy, a color that a client likes, that may be something they love for years. If it’s a statement piece, it can have a lot of value to them.

A little greenery goes a long way. Credit: Prudence Earl Unsplash

The Escape Home: How can you utilize sustainable design to avoid short-lived trends? 

Nichols: Most people like greenery or plant life, just because evolutionarily speaking we still have a connection to the outdoors. There still is that instinctual preference for the natural world. Warm wood features have stayed in design for hundreds of years. Now, there’s the horrific wood paneling of the eighties, so there are bad implementations.

The Escape Home:  What are some current renovation and interior design trends that you think people should steer clear of? 

Nichols: There are elements in any trend that, done thoughtfully, can be timeless. I try to be open, but there are some things that are just objectively unpleasant to look at. There’s siding from the seventies and eighties, where it’s just like rock aggregate and concrete wall covering. It just doesn’t look good. 

Pantone has colors of the year, and not to say don’t do those colors, but don’t overdo it. If it’s an accent, do it in a limited fashion. When the love for that color fades, and we’re on to the next color, it’s going to make you want to redo this space a lot sooner.

For bold accent colors, choose materials that complement them and balance the space. If you have a wallpaper or wall covering with many graphic patterns, maybe don’t do a floor pattern. If you’re going to draw attention to one thing, use other surfaces or materials to be more neutral and let that accent actually pop. 

People inherently know which materials go where. If it doesn’t typically belong there, don’t try to put it there. Like if you a butcher block countertop, don’t do a butcher block backsplash.

For bold accent colors, choose materials that complement them and balance the space. Credit: Spacejoy / Unsplash

The Escape Home: What advice would you give to someone trying to figure out their long-term aesthetic?

Nichols: Go through different instances of architectural inspiration: Pinterest, magazines, online periodicals, or other people’s houses. Try to get a compilation of different spaces or materials that you think are working well. Is there a pattern I’m seeing over and over again? Try to really understand why the aesthetic is working or why it’s appealing.

It’s not as fun as ‘green is really trendy now’—it’s a little more rigorous. I think if you approach it from that investigative approach, you’ll find something that’s a little more timeless.

The Escape Home: What are your thoughts on the criticism that fast homeware, often cheaper and plastic-heavy, from brands like Zara and H&M, is becoming the new fast fashion, quickly going out of trend?

Nichols: From a sustainable design standpoint, it’s a nightmare. 

The Escape Home: On social media, there are lots of videos showing people scouring places like Target or TJ Maxx for home goods or knickknacks as a form of escapism. Do you think this constant retail therapy is impacting the vibe of their homes?

Nichols: I think it’s less problematic if they’re seeking out pieces that have meaning to them and they want to keep. When they finally do find something that speaks to them, they’ll have an emotional attachment to it. Whatever can make a space more enjoyable is a great thing from a sustainable design standpoint. 

If they are not intending to keep it for long, hopefully, consumers are asking these questions: What’s the recycled content of the good? How can they extend its life cycle? Is it going to Goodwill or the landfill?  Can these items be more sustainably made? If it’s completely reclaimed, like vintage or thrift shopping, does that have more meaning because it’s unique or harder to find?

It’s a new name for something that’s been around for a long time: people trying to find unique one-off items for their house. Maybe it becomes something where they collect pieces that make sense for a certain time of year and having a stronger connection to the seasons. Hopefully, the products can be more sustainably-made and kept around so that they’re rotated every now and then, as opposed to ‘okay, I had this for a month, I’m going to get rid of it.’

The Escape Home: Any final thoughts on sustainably designing a space to survive trend cycles? 

Nichols: To actually create a space in your home that was sustainably designed, it’s still in balance with the natural world around it. For every material you brought in, what’s the life cycle assessment of it? Does it have an Environmental Product Declaration? If you’re building a new space, is your wood coming from a place that practices responsible forestry? For energy consumption, is your space net zero? Do you have solar panels? Are you offsetting the energy use?

There’s sort of the performance-based sustainable design and then appreciation for nature sustainable design. Trying to passively ventilate and daylight your space is a way to reduce energy consumption, but people also like a lot of windows. People like the ability to feel a breeze in the space. A lot of glass and direct sunlight can heat up stone; people like the feel of stone or warm concrete on their feet – and you’re not putting in extra flooring. You’re using less material but creating something that’s still appealing. Sustainable strategies that have inherent appeal are going to be the ones that survive trendiness.

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