This Is Apartment Therapy’s 2020 Pattern of the Year

updated Apr 16, 2020
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They’re on your notepad, they’re in trendy Matisse-inspired wallpaper and tableware, and—we’re calling it—they’re about to be everywhere. Abstract shapes, particularly wavy lines and amoeba-like forms (which we’re going to call scribbles), came on strong in fashion, art, and interiors last year and they’re showing no signs of slowing down in 2020. The design world’s no stranger to these kinds of marks; we’ve been looking at them for centuries, even if they haven’t always been lauded as “art.” But there’s a subtlety to the trend this time around that gives it a more modern sensibility—sofas are serpentine, and people are painting murals of “blobs” of color on their walls. That’s why we’re declaring our second annual pattern of the year Freely Scribbled, a celebration of organic shapes.

For us, a scribble (which is not to be confused with our logo, the squiggle) is, at its core, a study in contrast, and that’s what makes it feel so of the moment and timeless. It is linear yet soft, energetic but still visually soothing, meandering but with a clear starting and ending point. And so we partnered with Copenhagen-based designer Rebecca Frederiksen of Capricorn Studio to bring to life Freely Scribbled, a hand-created design that consists of varied “scribble” brushstrokes dancing on a surface.

How Did We Pick This Pattern of the Year?

We’re at all the major industry trade shows, furniture fairs, and brand press previews scouting motif, material, and color trends, so we always have a strong inkling of what’s happening in surface pattern design. And we’ve been noticing that different kinds of scribbles have been popping up in your homes, too, mainly as decorative wall treatments. Some are freeform and super bold, like this Keith Haring inspired “wallpaper” painted by artist Annie Gallagher in this Charleston row house.

Others are less abstract and more anatomical, as seen on this bathroom’s walls.

And, of course, the now iconic Vivienne Westwood and Cole & Son Squiggle wallpaper has been in the mix for over a decade now. This pattern is a much more hard-lined, sharp geometric interpretation of a scribble, but it’s a variation nonetheless.

But we didn’t want to stop at just observation. To nail down our second annual Pattern of the Year, we pinned a ton of inspiration to our Pinterest boards, and then we asked our audience (yes, you!) to help us narrow all of it down through an Instagram Story poll, design style edition. Floral patterns won out over leafy ones, natural forms and abstract shapes were in a dead heat, and neutral colors bested brighter shades. Taking this and our own knowledge of the market into consideration, we came up with two different directions for patterns: Freely Scribbled and Floral/Fruity.

It was pretty impossible to choose between those two, so we took a vote with a small panel of designers, including Emily Henderson and Gabriela Gargano of Grisoro Designs (with extra approval from our founder and CEO Maxwell Ryan and our Editor-in-Chief Laura Schocker!)—and Freely Scribbled was the clear winner. No offense to Floral/Fruity, but the scribbles not only feel true to what you, our audience voted on, but it also pushes forward design sensibilities, aesthetically. And that’s how Freely Scribbled became the direction for our second Apartment Therapy Pattern of the Year.

How Did We Find Designer Rebecca Frederiksen?

The beauty of a scribble is that it’s at once easily recognizable but also open to endless interpretation. Scribbles also run the gamut stylistically, from colorful ’80s kitsch to a more refined script-like scrawl. When we were first pinning ideas, we spotted a botanical motif Frederiksen had made—and no one on AT’s editorial team could quite shake it. It felt handmade—and it basically was, she mostly creates patterns by hand and then reworks them on the computer. Once we decided on our Freely Scribbled direction, we commissioned Frederiksen to create something in the style that would feel painterly and organic and speak to the rise of the maker movement.

And did she ever deliver: Frederiksen actually riffed on a few different styles of scribbles. “I wanted to create something that was light and interesting for the viewer to look at,” says Frederiksen. “Even though the directions are very different from each other, they all share the brightness and lightness.” For a second, we thought there might be two 2020 Patterns of the Year—we also loved a more maximalist interpretation she created. But in the end, it was the pattern done in her original style—what we first found on Pinterest—that we felt was the Pattern of the Year. We just had her put a little bit of an Apartment Therapy twist on it.

Frederiksen’s marks in Freely Scribbled look organic, without hard geometry and edges. One might call them watery, even—almost like a watercolor brush or stroke of Japanese sumi-e ink. We loved how her technique creates different visual weights within each scribble and shape—and how some of the scribbles are totally abstract, while others almost resemble blooms (or whatever else your imagination leads you to). The beauty is that it’s up to you (yes, you again!) to decide what you want to see in this pattern—is it a person’s face, just a bunch of random swirls, leaves blowing in the wind? You decide. And the three color ways? They’re all fairly neutral, but speak to different moods. “The blue-and-white color way is very soothing for the eye to look at, while the terracotta color way is warm and soft,” says Frederiksen. “The black and white is more hard and graphic.” There’s something for everyone here, folks.

While Frederiksen sought to create something with a “lightness and easiness to it,” Freely Scribbled is, of course, not without precedent. It harks back to the automatic drawings of the Surrealists and the work of Cy Twombly, who ascribed to artist Paul Klee’s notion that, “A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.” Well, Freely Scribbled takes those lines and makes them dance.

Retro Meets Modern

And now for the fun part—incorporating scribbles into your home. Wallpaper and wall murals are a natural fit. But these decorative treatments require a level of commitment that you might not be ready to make, so we got you. If you are ready to bring Freely Scribbled home, check out our offerings on Society6. We’ve honed in on a core group of furnishings and accessories that truly shine with our 2020 Pattern of the Year printed on them.

Credit: Society6

We’re big fans of fun shower curtains, and one with the Freely Scribbled pattern on it adds a visually exciting accent to a bathroom without feeling overwhelming. A terracotta-colored scribble tray is perfect for a coffee table, and the blue Freely Scribbled art print is maybe that missing piece your gallery wall has been needing. And our CEO Maxwell has already ordered the duvet cover! Use the code “ATPATTERN” (Valid until July 31, 2020) for a 25 percent discount off of Freely Scribbled products.

Credit: Society 6

We’re excited to hear what you think of this year’s pattern and our commitment to giving the creations of artists and designers another platform to share their work. And we’re thrilled to continue exploring the way the scribble trend is going to play out in the home design space all 2020 long.