Is Anything Truly "Classic"?

Is Anything Truly "Classic"?

Eleanor Büsing
Sep 21, 2015

I recently wrote about trends, the zeitgeist, and how it feels when others warm up to a look you once thought of as "yours". One way to avoid the trend roller coaster is, of course, to forgo fads entirely and opt for a classic style at home. But what is classic? Does it even exist, and if so, how do you find it?

There's no shortage of advice out there on how to achieve a "timeless" look or avoid making "trendy mistakes" with your interiors. But, with all the skepticism of someone who went from working in fashion to interiors and knows how trend- (*ahem* sales-) driven industries work, I don't buy it. Like a jeans-and-white-shirt outfit combo, what looks classic and unchanging at first glance is regularly updated and tweaked to stay current. It's the shade of timber, the cut of a trouser, the details on a table leg that will change over time, making what was meant to be classic look dated eventually.

Still, there are a few things to keep in mind if you're determined to go after "classic" (almost as difficult as chasing trendy, to my mind). Read on for my thoughts, and share yours in the comments below.

The Right Antique
The obvious solution, when attempting to create a look that won't soon look dated, is to choose something already dated. Items which have stood the test of time and have been looked after, whether vintage or properly antique, have usually done so for a reason. For example, I'll forever be a fan of the traditional French hall mirror. With its arched shape and gilded frame, it looks luxe in a traditional setting and just as good accompanying sleek, contemporary furniture.

Design Icons
Similarly, specific designer pieces often become classic, thanks to their enduring aesthetic and functional value. While Mid-century design has been trending for the last decade, and probably won't hang around at its current level of popularity forever, it did get there for a reason. Clean lines, space-saving ideas, and authentic use of materials make this era a great one to shop from. But don't be limited to (longing for) Eames seating and Castiglioni lighting; other decades offer iconic pieces, too, and possibly more affordable ones at that.

Function First
One tenet of "classic" design is that it functions as well now as it did then. Not merely down to aesthetics, pieces with real longevity are also comfortable, space-saving, versatile, and/or clever in some way. A great example is the humble task lamp: available at every price point and in every color imaginable, its no-frills design can be used virtually anywhere.

(Image credit: Rue Mag)

Super Simplicity
When in doubt, go for quiet: monochrome design, simple lines, a lack of ornamentation. When there's less stuff there, there's less to look dated. There is nothing quite so classic, to my mind, as a simple four-poster bed with all-white bedding. No matter what decade you're in, that's gonna look (and feel) good.

(Image credit: Lovely Life)

Natural Elements
Nature, let's hope, isn't going to go out of style anytime soon. Natural patterns and motifs like ferns, florals, and leopard print have been popular for the last hundred years or so, so I think they're a safe bet. Whether you go for a famous print like the William Morris wallpaper pictured above, or just something which suggests a natural feel, take inspiration from outside for a classic interior.

How do you feel about the term "classic" in relation to design? Would you call these concepts classic? What is classic to you?

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