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Custom Residential, Interior Design

2021 Trendy and Timeless Design

Each year, materials and design styles come in and out of vogue. Sometimes, it feels like a game of chance, and other times we can see the changes coming from a mile away. As 2021 dawns, we’re reflecting on what design elements are here for the moment and what’s here to stay.

January 5, 2021

Architects and designers are trained in a wide variety of things, but we lack the ability to predict the future. While this is deeply irritating, it doesn’t stop us from pretending we actually have the ability, and we can often revel in the joy found in our role as “taste-makers.”

While I think that’s a bit of a grandiose description of what we do, the truth is we do get to propose design solutions and routinely walk the line between timeless and trendy in our solutions. As we enter a new year, it’s fun to look back at what worked and look forward to what we might be seeing more of in the future.

How do we know if something is trendy or timeless?

I’m not sure we ever know for sure whether something will be trendy or timeless; however, I also know architects and designers love to think we do. It has to be said: I’m a huge advocate for being true to yourself and what you love when it comes to your own spaces, but you can always benefit from going into a design choice with eyes wide open.

So, acknowledging that, here are my calls on ten design elements I’m seeing right now, and whether or not I think they’re trendy or timeless.

Some things will always look great and be popular.

Sometimes, sticking with classic, timeless design can keep you from exploring that fun, fashionable element that really speaks to you right now. But timeless design will always look great, even as other design movements come and go.

White Subway Tile

This has certainly been deeply integrated into the American design palette over the last decade and it is easy to think it falls into the trend category. I think, however, that older restaurants all over major cities prove that there’s something inherently welcoming about this simple and neutral tile pattern. It is about as cozy as a white tile can be. I think we’ll continue to see versions of this with differing grout colors and modifications to the standard 3"x6" shape, but this one is going to still look good down the road. I call it timeless.

Open Floor Plans

Suddenly, with our pandemic realities, I hear a lot about open floor plans going away. We’re certainly seeing our clients asking for more divided spaces, but main living spaces are going to remain more open. I wager we’ll see a continued increase in larger pantries to hide clutter, ancillary spaces off living spaces for cozier nooks, and an attempt to divide up the big open space while keeping it open, but we’ll still stay focused on open floor plans. I call this timeless.

Exterior Rooms

It might seem like outdoor rooms and living spaces are trendy, as they’ve created a lot of buzz during the Covid-19 pandemic. It makes sense that everyone wants some fresh air and flexible spaces right now, but great, usable outdoor spaces have been a part of great design for a long time. My amazing Uncle Paavo had this outstanding backyard party room and it was the center of everyone’s attention! Outdoor rooms are classic and most definitely timeless, so it’s a great place to invest in when you’re considering updates to your home or yard.

Sustainable Design

No architect would dare call sustainable design trendy, but the reality is that it’s been treated as a trendy solution for a long time and, at one time, no one took it seriously. With the amazing science behind Passive House techniques, and building codes following suit, it’s becoming easier and easier to build and remodel homes and other buildings into beautiful and sustainable spaces. Sustainable building practices are the ultimate timeless design because they literally extend the life of the project. So, yes, deeply necessary, and definitely timeless.

Some things are popular now, but might not stand up in five or ten years.

A trendy solution might be perfect when you recognize it as representative of your goals and you’re aware that it may not look as “of the moment” later on in time. Design should be fun and there’s always a place for trends.

Yellow Metal Hardware

I opened up this topic to the office and this particular item brought on a lot of discussion. On the one hand, classic, older homes and boats are filled with brass hardware and they’ve aged well. On the flip side, some of us can’t unsee the yellow-metal hardware that flooded the market in the 1980s along with some other troubling architectural trends we’d rather forget. What we’re seeing now looks pretty classic and I’m excited to use it in projects. That said, I just can’t forget the horrors of the ’80s and, though I recognize this isn’t a consensus, even at Board & Vellum, my controversial vote is for trendy.

Soft Pastels

Soft pastels were everywhere this year and last. They’re welcoming, soft, and cozy — I really love them in the right environment. I also have no doubt on this one: they’re firmly trendy. But trends are meant to be explored, so go ahead and indulge if it’s in an application you can easily change down the road. (A fresh coat of paint isn’t a huge investment and can be changed in a weekend.) And, if you’re in a retail or restaurant environment, trendy design can be your friend.

Reclaimed Wood

I love reclaimed wood so much. It brings the story of the past into the present, it adds texture and history into a space, and adds visual and textural layers, too. You can often get larger sizes of wood, as well, which are growing harder and harder to find in new wood, are more sustainable, and add more “life” to the wood. Still, I think we’ve had the moment and, while there will still be great instances to use reclaimed wood, this is a trend on its way out.

Shou Sugi Ban Wood

Shou Sugi Ban is charred cedar used as exterior siding. It’s a relatively new material in America but has grown in popularity because it’s naturally fire-resistant and, well, absolutely gorgeous. We’re seeing more and more examples of it get built. I love the look of it and it works well within the Pacific Northwest where wood will probably always be a popular siding material. I hope it ends up being timeless! It certainly is timeless in Japan where it has been used for generations. I’ll keep using it because I think it looks good but, right now, it sadly falls into the “trend” category.

Open One-Bedrooms

Anyone touring apartment buildings right now knows how common open “one-bedrooms” are. These are bedrooms without windows and, through a quirk of the Seattle building code, in lieu of a window, there’s usually an opening at the top of a wall to let air in. They’re useful because they allow for a bedroom in narrow and deep apartments.

We’re seeing, however, that tenants want some acoustical privacy, too. The half-wall works fine when you’re solo, but when you have someone else living with you, it just isn’t ideal. I think this is a trend we’re going to see go away and people might be pursuing operable transom windows above doors like old schools. Anything to help keep some quiet.

The Modern Farmhouse

I’m sad about this one. I think it is trendy but, dammit, I love it! There’s something appealing about this classic form with big windows and white trim. I want so deeply for this to be timeless, but it is becoming so common I think it falls into the trend category. That said, it looks good and will look good in years to come, even if it means you know when something was built. That’s perfectly okay.


One of the enjoyable parts about a blog post like this is realizing that the fun of design is that we’re constantly experimenting with new ideas. Trends are worth pursuing to help elevate design and lead to finding the next new idea that becomes timeless. The spaces we design and live in are meant for us, and whether you go with something timeless or something bold and trendy, go into it knowing that the pursuit of something better is always worth it.

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