Predicting New Paradigms in Interior Design

Finding the future: Predicting new paradigms in interior design


Gazing into the crystal ball, what can we see coming for interior design? Prognosticating is never an easy task, but by looking to research we can do better than just reading tea leaves.

To start, we should ask ourselves: What about today will inform the way we live tomorrow? Our current dealings with extreme weather events and a global pandemic are sure to affect our long-term attitudes. At the same time, technological leaps have given us near-instant access to an entire planet’s worth of goods and ideas. Different cultures and philosophies share freely from country to country, continent to continent, leading to a first-of-its-kind global melting pot.

By combining these observations with emerging market trends, a clearer picture of an exciting future begins to form. Interior design will evolve with the aid of innovative materials and abundant inspiration. It’s time to leave the present behind. The future starts now.


Looking to 2021 and beyond

Oftentimes, design predictions don’t look much farther than the coming year. But predicting what 2021 will bring from the end of 2020 doesn’t get at the full picture. The kinds of era-defining events taking place today will influence not just 2021, but many years beyond.

Fleeting trends will increasingly give way to longer-staying paradigms, as people look to transition into ways of living that are more environmentally and economically sustainable. This pivot started awhile back, meaning the preference for long-term design investment has already started to show up in our cultural zeitgeist.

One industry that has already been affected by this shift is fast fashion. These retailers, once unchallenged rulers of the apparel landscape, have been slowing down significantly in recent years, with some former giants even shutting their doors permanently. This is just the beginning. People’s preferences are only going to continue to trend away from quick and cheap.


What the future holds

When looking to the way current and future events are likely to shape interior design, some broad patterns emerge amongst the likely predictions. Generally speaking, we expect to see:

  • Increasing adoption of biophilic design.
  • Eco-friendly living in décor, furnishings and architecture.
  • Designing for forever, with intergenerational living and the combining of traditional and modern.


To get a better understanding of what each of these points mean, let's sink our teeth into the finer details.


Biophilic design: Building interior landscapes

The term biophilia was first coined by Harvard naturalist Dr. Edward O. Wilson in 1984. It was the name he gave to his hypothesis that humans naturally gravitate toward interaction and association with other forms of life. Simply put, humans are drawn to nature.

While it may seem a bit obvious, the concept sent waves through the worlds of architecture and design. In the decades since the introduction of biophilia, biophilic design has been developed into an established set of principles meant to improve human and environmental well-being. At its most basic, this design philosophy seeks to connect a building’s occupants with the natural world.

The three principles of biophilic design are:

  • Direct experience of nature, where building occupants are in contact with tangible natural elements such as plants and natural lighting.
  • Indirect experience of nature, where building occupants are in contact with elements that mimic nature, such as landscape murals or sun lamps.
  • Experience of space and place, where the space within the building is arranged to enhance occupant well-being through things like light, airflow and window views.


Research into the benefits of biophilic design has generated some promising results. In particular, the visual presence of plants has been shown to have potential benefits ranging from fewer sick days to higher pain tolerance. Other studies have found benefits to having a room with a view, such as faster recovery from depression when the patient’s room has an exterior-facing window.

Young people have already been embracing the benefits of plants, as part of the self-care and wellness movement. According to the 2019 National Gardening Survey, 18- to 34-year-olds spend an impressive $13 billion on garden items, much of it dedicated to purchasing and maintaining houseplants.


Green integration will increase

If simple houseplants are already on trend, the future of greenery in interior design looks to be taking interior-dwelling flora to a whole new level. While large-scale integration of plants in interior design was taking off before 2020, the extreme isolation experienced during COVID19 combined with the increase of extreme weather events promises to keep the accelerator pressed to the floor. In the future we’re going to see even more and grander interior recreations of peaceful outdoor greenery.

One of the most popular examples already being implemented is the idea of a “living wall” or “vertical garden,” literally walls covered in plants. Beyond the Instagrammable beauty these installations provide, they’re a means of near-complete immersion in nature without having to step outside. Other “living” innovations have been popping up in design as well, such as planted dividers instead of traditional office separation screens.


Chasing natural lighting

Another key element of biophilic design — natural light — will become an ever-more-dominant trend in lighting design going forward. This won’t just be due to the popularity of natural light, but also a result of changing government regulations and guidelines.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has emphasized daylight (real or simulated) as vital to creating a high-quality indoor environment. This recognition stems from research that shows that natural light cycles are important for occupant health and circadian rhythms. The USGBC also emphasizes the role that natural lighting can play in saving energy and reducing one’s carbon footprint.

Interior layouts will be increasingly developed with the help of computer models to allow the maximum amount of natural light filtration. To some degree, absolute efficiency and maximum occupancy will give way to designs that allow occupants to experience the greatest amount of daylight exposure possible in a given space.

Natural lighting will also play an outsized role in future construction. Large windows with automatic glare control, skylights and other features will be popular. Even beyond the inclusion of windows, the very lines of design will be adapted to increase the flow of light.


Mimicking the natural world with softer shapes

The psychology of shapes is something most people intuitively understand. Some shapes just make us feel a certain way. Consider the sense of uniformity and rigidity we feel in an environment composed predominantly of symmetry and right angles.

While they’ve long been popular for their efficiency, those rigid lines and angles have historically done very little to promote our connection to nature. Instead they’ve focused on order and authority over the natural world. As a result, many urban areas have been having a negative effect on our mental states.

As biophilic design gains traction in the private and public spheres, softer shapes are inevitable. From furniture to counters, wall trim to entryways, expect to see more and more flowing curves. Not only do such shapes allow for a greater sense of connection to the natural world, but the mimicry of organic flow helps occupants feel more connected with and in control of their personal space. That sense of personal control can have tremendous benefits for psychological health, feeding into the ongoing wellness trends.


Eco-friendly design: Shopping and living “woke”

The continued impact of climate change will undoubtedly be one of the greatest determining factors in future design. After all, the changes are global in scale and powerful in their effects. People will be relying on their interiors to help develop a sense of stability and responsibility — spaces that not only shelter, but also do no harm.

The other driving factor of eco-friendly design is decades of persistent, positive messaging. The younger generations have grown up immersed in the concepts of fair trade, recycling and sustainability, tiny living and more. This early indoctrination has created adults broadly interested in things that are both environmentally and socially conscious, and this holds true when they’re looking for furniture and décor.


Taking a page from tiny living

True tiny homes are unlikely to ever become the dominant living arrangement, so long as other options are available. They’re just too restrictive to be a good fit for everyone.

That being said, both millennial and Gen Z buyers are favoring smaller accommodations than previous generations. This isn’t always by choice — issues like minimum wage stagnation mean that many younger people simply don’t have the means to buy comparable square footage as their parents.

However, it’s not just necessity that’s driven down house size. Many homebuyers are drawn to the improved economic and environmental sustainability of smaller living. That doesn’t mean that people want to make do with less, though.

One of the key trends that’s going to explode as a result of smaller living is multifunctional furniture. According to one research group, this market is expected to grow by as much as $13.2 billion between 2021 and 2027. Beyond being trendy and innovative, pieces like coffee tables that turn into desks or chairs with hidden bookshelves allow people to limit the compromises they need to make in terms of amenities while living in smaller spaces.


Renewable and recycled materials

Demand for furniture and décor made from renewable and recycled materials has been surging over the past four years, and it’s only expected to continue to grow. Consumers are increasingly wary of bringing unsustainable and chemical-laden products into their homes. As a result, they’re seeking out alternatives that reduce their carbon footprint without compromising on style or quality.

As projects like The Ocean Cleanup continue to focus on creating new products from ocean waste, recycled plastic furniture and components will be increasingly in demand. Recycled plastic bottles are already being used to create upholstery fabrics and carpets.

Reclaimed lumber is another resource expected to see consistent annual growth over the next seven years. Its applications range from exterior construction to flooring and furniture. Bamboo is yet another material expected to gain in popularity, particularly as a sustainable hardwood substitute.


Designing for forever: Bringing the generations together

At the heart of future interior design, there will be an intrinsic emphasis on the past. A major part of this will come from the expansion of multi-generational living. Design will be required to satisfy the aesthetic and practical requirements of several generations of adults sharing the same home. Looking to the past for antique or heirloom pieces will go hand-in-hand with installing smart devices and modern furnishings.


Grandparents, parents and children will cohabitate

Abandoning the single-family-home model isn’t just cost effective, it also helps address the feelings of loneliness and isolation that have been increasing in the modern world. These days, one in every five Americans lives in a multi-generational household, an 8% increase over the 1980s. That percentage will only continue to climb, with Fast Company reporting in 2019 that as many as 41% of current homebuyers are interested in cohabitating with elderly parents or adult children.

Designing for multiple generations of adults presents unique considerations, and effective solutions have to take a number of factors into consideration. Of particular importance is the need for separate private spaces. Each adult generation is likely to have independent social lives, as well as different noise and schedule expectations. The key to harmony will be found in innovative designs that carve out private spaces for each family member.

It will also be essential to find the right balance of eras in furnishings and décor.


Designs will combine the old and the new

Even in homes that are not multi-generational, a passion for multi-generational aesthetic is still on the rise. You don’t need to browse for long on Instagram or Pinterest to see that merging old and new elements has been massively popular of late — just check out the hashtag grandmillennial. While this will naturally continue into 2021, it is also representative of a long-term shift in design.

Tying back into an interest in sustainability, vintage and antique furniture has been seeing a rise in popularity amongst millennial shoppers. People are drawn to the ‘recycled’ aspect of antiques, but they’re also seeking affordable heirloom quality. Well-made pieces demand top dollar when purchased new. For those on a budget, antique options can often be found at a fraction of the price.

This emphasis on heirlooms not only satisfies a craving for longevity and stability, it truly encompasses the notion of "forever" design.


Looking into the way beyond

While these predictions can give you a solid read on the next few years at least, it’s hard to speculate what the far future will hold. Sometimes design moves cyclically, in which case fast consumerism may be back on trend in 2035. However, with the sobering impacts that today’s challenges are having on folks, it’s feasible that ideas like biophilic, eco-friendly and multi-generational design will only continue to expand in the decades ahead.

As the future unfolds, Bellacor will be right here to help. If you’re an industry professional, why don't you sign up for free with Bellacor Pro Advantage? We'll keep you up to date with the latest insights and emerging trends. You'll also get guaranteed discounts on top brands, all with free shipping!

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