You are the space you keep: Should we be thinking of interior design more like fashion?

If you grew up going to public school in the early 2000s like I did, you might recall the persuasive essay topic that seemed to show up on every standardized test from grades 4–8: Should students in public schools be required to wear school uniforms?

Your argument could typically go one of two ways (both of which had great merit, I might add):

Pro-uniform:

  • Encourages focus on academics vs. “superfluous” things like clothing
  • Helps mitigate appearance of differences in socioeconomic status amongst students
  • Promotes equality & fairness

Anti-uniform:

  • Goes against freedom of expression
  • Does not allow for creativity
  • Stifles some students’ identity

I would break pencil after pencil writing an impassioned stance for anti-uniforms, shuddering at the very idea of having to leave my polka dot dresses layered over jeans at home. *The horror.*

Post-test, I would continue my fervor in conversation with friends and fellow students, as well as at home with parents.

To be clear, I am not conjuring up this pre-adolescent memory to try to substantiate my 11-year old stance some 15 years later. Rather, I bring this up because I find it to be a microcosm of the important role fashion, style & clothing play in our lives (for better or for worse). Nothing says “ingrained in the minds of people everywhere” like showing up on a standardized test for every child to debate and discuss. Even the idea that students who, unlike myself ,would take a pro-uniform stance, by its very nature, articulates a view on the role of fashion (albeit a likely negative one). This notion is best encapsulated by Miranda Priestly’s iconic monologue in The Devil Wears Prada when Andrea eschews fashion as “this stuff:”

“This…Stuff”? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select , I don’t know that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you are trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then i think it was Yves Saint Laurent — wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets?And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

Aside from the fact that that is no doubt one of the most iconic love-letter moments to fashion in the history of film, it’s also a testament to the role fashion plays in culture.

An anecdote from my childhood and a quote from a beloved movie are just two examples of the endless references I could give underscoring the pervasiveness of fashion’s role in our world — and I doubt anyone is highly contesting that idea. But with that in mind I land on a question that has been vexing me for the last 6 months or so: Why doesn’t the same level of fervor for fashion & the critical role it plays in helping to shape identity for so many people exist in parallel in the world of interior design? Do our spaces not articulate just as much about who we are, if not more?

It was a few months ago in the midst of redecorating my own apartment that I started to think about this connection between fashion & interior design. Much like my conceit in my persuasive essays, the choices I make for what to put in my home are deeply personal, and the more I considered it the more I realized how inextricably linked it was from my identity.

One of my favorite spots in my apartment, in large part thanks to this vintage Anthony Burrell print.

Because of this, I go to great lengths to find interesting, unique pieces that will make my home feel uniquely mine. But I am often left disappointed and frustrated at the lack of variety, and the homogeneity that exists when I go searching into the depths of the internet. The home decor industry at large it seems still focuses much more on function than the self/self-expression.

I have a few hypotheses as to why this is the case:

  1. Accessibility: Even the term “interior design” in it of itself feels like something only the elite could aspire to think of. The conversations around interior design are often featuring gorgeous, sprawling interiors in the likes of Architectural Digest, which, of course, are marvelous eye candy but leave much to be desired for the average consumer.
  2. Pace: Fashion is of course a seasonal industry with new trends, styles emerging every few months. This allows for much more frequent experimentation and self expression. Interior design trends seem to follow a much longer timeline, more akin to architecture (think the popularity of “Mid Century Modern” as the perfect example of this).
  3. Volume: It is of course a surprise to no one that you likely own more pairs of jeans than you do say, couches. (Ed note: My jeans to couch ratio is approximately 25:1). It makes sense that just by the nature of stuff people need to design a home being smaller, it leaves less room for experimentation.

But I have reason to believe this could, and is going to, change. There are signs of a budding paradigm shift, and I believe people are beginning to see what they hang on their walls more like what they choose to put on their backs.

For one, shows like Amazing Interiors on Netflix, which spotlights quirky/eccentric characters and their homes, are focusing more on the unique vs. the ordinary or functional (a la HGTV). The #InteriorDesign TikTok has ushered in a new-era of Gen Z Chip & Joanna Gaines (though, still, though the hashtag has 4.2 Billion views, it pales in comparison to #Fashion on the platform, which has over 10x at 46 Billion views).

Furthermore, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, people have spent more time at home in the last year than ever before. I’ve been fascinated to see how this has shifted how people think about their spaces, even in the most subtle of subconscious ways. Take for example one personal anecdote: My “work from home” setup sits squarely in front of a gallery wall in my living room. Adorned with prints I’ve collected over time, gifts from friends and family, and various knick-knacks, colleagues often comment on it during our Zooms. It dawned on me that this was much like small talk that used to happen in the office — only now, “Wow, I love your jacket!” was now replaced with “What a fun print, who’s the artist?”

I’ve also been delighted to see an emerging focus on shopping small & vintage when it comes to home design (see here for more on that!). The more spotlight challenger brands, designers, and platforms receive over and above big players like West Elm, IKEA & Wayfair, the more diversification I think we will see in the space over time. These trend setters will ultimately fuel desire from the mass consumer, which will either force market leaders to either catch up and start thinking outside the box, or begin to shrink their monopoly on the industry.

My final observation is inspired by my favorite discovery as of late: shopping platform Lyst. Lyst takes you through a series of on-boarding questions about your favorite brands, looks you like and don’t like, to ultimately create a series of curate lists (hence the name) that are highly-specific based on your preferences. I could imagine a parallel world in which this could exist for interior design. Instead of pages upon pages of Google results of gray Scandinavian-inspired sofas, I’d have an edit “BOLD VELVET SEATING” or “EMERALD GREEN LAMPS & VASES.” I’ve yet to find a retailer, platform, or brand who’s setting the tone in thinking of interior design in this way and offering consumers a comparable shopping experience to those that exist for fashion (note: if you know something I don’t, please leave it in the comments below!).

I look forward to seeing how the role of interior design changes (or doesn’t) in the coming years. In the meantime, you can find me painting over every last patch of white in my apartment.

Self-proclaimed maximalist. Big fan of getting sh*t done. Not a fan of rules. I have more questions than answers. Lover of all things EXTRA bit.ly/3jX572l