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‘Mid-Century Millennial’ – the ubiquitous look that invaded the homes of a generation | Interiors

FFor two years from 2017, I was subletting an apartment in Stockholm, and the deal was that it would contain everything except the landlady’s clothes and some of her books. I was fine with that because I hadn’t brought anything with me except some clothes and a few books.

My New Abode earned nearly full marks on the Millennial Apartment Bingo Card, created in 2018 by Laura Schocker for the Apartment Therapy website. It featured 24 home decor pillars to check off and went viral online. In the living room of my apartment, a neon “love” sign hung above the brass bar cart. There was a faux cowhide rug here and a Berber-style rug there. There was also an imitation Eames chair, a marble table with rose gold legs, wacky contrasts between the round, soft things and the hard, angular things, and plants everywhere. Edison bulbs in rose gold cages, brass pineapple bookends at either end of a shelf strewn with mini cacti… there were plenty of them.

None of these things were inherently bad, but the cliché of it all made my heart ache. And I swore to myself that when I was able to make my own choices, I would be different. My apartment would be recognizable mine, not an amalgamation of things I had seen on Instagram.

Scallop shell chair with bronze legs
Scallop shell chair with bronze legs. Artwork: Eleanor Bannister/The Guardian

Back in London, I bought some furniture of my own: a wood and iron coffee table at Wayfair, a mustard yellow armchair at the Habitat sale. But then I started noticing something. My furniture, pieces that I had carefully selected from various retailers, were in other people’s homes. Or rather, if not my furniture, furniture that strangely resembles my furniture.

I struggled to describe the style that many of my friends had adopted. It wasn’t quite the look of the bingo card — not rose gold and millennial pink — but it was close. It was mid-century – often with clean lines and exposed wood – but not strictly. Often it had industrial finishes: tables with black metal legs, curved sofas on narrow legs that looked both sturdy and spindly.

Where does this pastel-scalloped-modernist look come from? How did it find its way into everything from estate agents’ show homes to the cover of Harry Styles’ new album? I asked interiors writer Nathan Ma what he would call the style. “A millennial mid-century perversion,” he said.

Let’s call it the mid-century millennium, then, because it sounds pretty generational. Or maybe it should be Made-millennial century, as furniture company Made.com seems to have a special hold on this style and on young furniture buyers. It more than doubled its UK warehouse space last year thanks to the locked furniture boom and recorded a 38% increase in sales at the start of this year, despite supply chain problems.

This is a company whose furniture seems tasteful and affordable (for those who left Ikea) but without the price tag of designer goods. When I started asking where friends got their Scandinavian dining chairs and velvet sofas with toothpick legs, “Made” was often the answer. For many, Schocker told me, “anything mid-century is really synonymous with quality.”

Appearances, however, can be deceiving. These dupes often look great on the website and can sit in a showroom for three minutes, but aren’t always as comfortable as they look. I asked a friend how he came to own not one but three Made sofas.

“They felt a little more sophisticated than Ikea, but with each one I realized they were deeply uncomfortable,” he said. “A gray sofa was hard as rock.

Robin Day style slender leg sofa.
Robin Day style slender leg sofa.

In the United States, a 2017 article about West Elm’s particularly unsatisfactory Peggy sofa (named, predictably, after the Mad Men character) went so viral that the company ended up offering refunds to everyone who purchased it.

Milly Burroughs, who worked in furniture public relations, told me that the mid-century trend has been around for about a decade. “It’s a trickle down from the high end, like you see in fashion.” In 2013, she noticed at trade shows that Danish brands such as Gubi were offering new takes on mid-century furniture. “They would be picked up by a hotel or restaurant and then people would see them and want them home.”

The reign of the mid-century aesthetic may seem arbitrary, but it’s the opposite of what many millennials grew up with in their parents’ homes. “I was surrounded by a lot of Victorian layering, flowers, chintzes, colors,” says furniture designer Sheena Murphy. “And maybe we’re fed up.”

And for younger people, who often rent and move around a lot, mid-century millennial pieces are suitable because they are relatively compact. Because mid-century has been around since, well, the mid-20th century, it will also fit into homes, from new apartments to Victorian conversions. And the genius of companies like Made is that while every piece is different, they all set the same vibe, can be mixed and matched easily, and work with other millennial trends like wonky vases, enamel dinnerware and raffia placemats.

Wire side table.
Wire side table.

There’s comfort in perceived mid-century timelessness: it feels like a safe bet, something you want to own for the next decade at least. And since it’s everywhere, it’s reassuring for buyers.

I asked Ali Edwards, Head of Design at Made, why mid-century was so appealing. “In times of uncertainty, people often go back to what they know best,” she says. Murphy speculates that he may have such longevity because he seemed futuristic when he first appeared about 80 years ago: “Maybe that gave him a little more trail.”

I remember when I got my mid-century library and my mom told me, in the most loving way possible, that it looked like something a grandma would own. Maybe furniture trends skip the generations and my kids will decorate their moon colony bedrooms with frilly, floral throw pillows.

But now that it’s like this ubiquitous, millennial mid-century style is undoubtedly decline. So what could happen next? Everyone I’ve asked thinks 70s style rattan will be great. Schocker also suggested a trend she calls Memphis deco: “A combination of the geometric shapes of 1980s Memphis design with the soft colors and curves of art deco.” Murphy said we should expect to see more mid-century, but with the addition of what she called “piece”: with hairpin legs and with pieces that have more visual weight . She quotes designer Percival Lafer, a maker of heavy, masculine, lounge-y mid-century furniture.

Coffee table with golden decorative pineapple.
Coffee table with golden decorative pineapple.

One thing is certain: Gen Z won’t want anything that reminds them of their grumpy millennial elders. I asked my 20-year-old sister what scenery her peers were in. “The clutter, the colors and the warmth,” she said. “Gen Z likes to be quirky. Maybe it’s a general fear of being basic.

Gen Z is also a bit more concerned about sustainability. My sister customized an old dresser with shiny, mismatched second-hand knobs. Interior designer Emily Shaw, 23, known as @emilyrayna on TikTok, where she has 5.4 million followers, told me younger generations have more of a ‘fixer upper’ mindset and not just because they couldn’t afford to spend £1,200 on a sofa.

According to Shaw, TikTok designers are creating a lot more educational content, so users not only see inspiration for their home, but also step-by-step instructions on how to make it. “I’ve seen a lot of people take furniture and add wooden dowels or lollipop sticks to add texture,” she says.

Nathan Ma has also noticed a fondness for textures, which has led in unfortunate directions: Gigi Hadid decorated her kitchen cabinets with colorful pastes, and recent TikTok trends include spray painting pool noodles to create headboards, and the use of expanding foam insulation to decorate frameless mirrors. “An artist friend of mine has photos of moldy sandwich cutting on her dining table, but honestly, I’d rather have that than one of those mirrors,” Ma says.

This kind of quirkiness can lead to throwing away more furniture, because trendy interiors are also fast interiors, destined for the charity shop or landfill. Homeware purchases have surged since the pandemic, and in recent years H&M, PrettyLittleThing and even Poundland have dabbled in homewares. The more cheap home furniture we buy, the more we are going to throw away. And as awareness of this grows, people may think twice about whether a mid-century style millennial sofa is what they really want.

Perhaps one of the best places to look for clues about interior trends is the gallery at London’s influential Sketch food center, recently redesigned by India Mahdavi. Her 2014 design (with David Shrigley) helped launch the global millennial pink phenomenon; today it shines a golden yellow, with metallic wallpaper and soft mustard banquettes. Mahdavi says the new space, filled with contrasting tactile textures, has “warmth, because that’s what I think we need now: unity again.” Maybe the sequel won’t be so much a look as a feeling.

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