We Asked 80 Designers What Homes Will Look Like in 2021, and Here’s What They Said

published Dec 22, 2020
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Home may be where the heart is, but during the pandemic, for many of us it’s become where everything is. For those of us fortunate enough to socially distance at home, sprucing up our places is a seriously 2020 hobby. With this increased focus on nesting, we wanted to take official stock of the trends, solutions, and styles worth investing in for 2021 and beyond. What matters right now? What will be the next big thing? What will homes in real life (and on Instagram) look like over the next year? How did the pandemic shape all of this?

To get a full picture of what’s really going on in the world of home design, we surveyed 80 designers that belong to a variety of professional organizations and networks, including the American Society of Interior Designers, the New York Design Center, the Black Interior Designers Network, the Female Design Council, Decorist, Spacejoy, and Modsy to get their insider insights. Respondents mainly live and work in North America, but some European respondents participated as well. During the survey—a combination of multiple choice and open ended questions focused on style and decor predictions—designers touched on everything from trending materials and colors to what people are overspending and underspending on. Here’s everything we learned:

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock, Graphic: Apartment Therapy

People are craving comfort and a sense of calm

While the end to the COVID pandemic is beginning to take shape, stress levels—which were already through the roof—are now out of control. So it’s no surprise that many people want their home to be a calm, nurturing retreat from the chaos of the world. The panacea for overstimulation comes in the form of what you surround yourself with at home—materials, colors, and even types of furnishings.

For our surveyed designers, this means nature-inspired colors like dark greens, ochre, and terracotta and adding in a variety of rich, warm textures. Besides wood, respondents noted that bouclé (51 percent) and vegan leather (56 percent) would be rising in popularity for 2021. Additionally, the natural stone travertine and concrete were also noted as elements we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the next year. Palettes and surfaces seem to be getting earthier and rawer—no surprise, considering how calming and centering nature is for weary souls.

Of course, one easy and affordable way to instantly add serenity to a space is with greenery—and the design world’s houseplant obsession isn’t slowing down in the new year either. Some popular options for 2021 include the monstera (38 percent of designers choose the low-maintenance plant known for its sculptural, hole-filled leaves) and bird of paradise (35 percent favored the regal tropical plant). Many respondents favored getting rid of faux plants, but when your environment is temperamental, fake greenery can still provide some of the visual benefits plants bring to a home.

Credit: Apartment Therapy

Customization is surging

The more time you spend at home, the more things might tend to bug you. Why are the scissors always so hard to find? Where can we display all the kids’ artwork? How have I gone this long without a coat closet? People need efficient systems and designs that work for their routines and spaces. Most of the designers surveyed believe customization has become—and will continue to be—increasingly popular. With the pandemic, we as a society have been forced to take a hard look at our environments and if they truly work for us and represent who we are,” says Virginia-based designer Monique Holmes

New York-based designer Kathleen Walsh agrees. “Families spent the better part of 2020 in their homes, and they undoubtedly have a better understanding of their space, what works, and what doesn’t,” she says. Walsh says she’s receiving more one-of-a-kind requests than ever before, including everything from custom rugs to coat closets.

One additional request that’s been steadily rolling in for many designers surveyed is for bespoke cabinetry.  “Living in the midst of a pandemic, bespoke cabinetry has been a huge demand,” says Maryland-based designer Quintin Tate. “It’s solely due to everyone having to work from home, school from home, and many more things [that cause] clutter. Therefore, we can hide it with cabinetry in traditional and minimal styles.”

While custom cabinetry is out of reach for many, you can certainly hack the heck out of an IKEA system. It’s no surprise, then, that DIY projects also continue to surge in homes. To that end, designers predict the most popular DIY home projects in 2021 will be wall treatments. “Accent walls are coming back around in full force,” says Tate. “Whether it’s just painting, adding depth with custom wood designs, or even wallpaper, the aesthetic adds value and is the most simple way to bring wow factor into a space.”

Painting is also the least expensive way to transform a room. The instant gratification and low cost of painting one’s space will have people grabbing rollers once it’s warm enough to open up all the windows and get to it. “Whether homeowners paint their kitchen cabinets, bathroom walls, or simply spruce up their front door for more curb appeal, this doable home improvement will remain on the top of the home ‘to do’ list,” says California-based designer Kerrie Kelly.

Form is following function

Ultimately, designers agree that 2020 changed design, putting the focus back on functionality and comfort over what looks good in an Instagram post. Anyone who sits in a cool but uncomfortable chair during the work day can attest to this. “Design in 2020 has become more about actually living and being comfortable in your space,” says California-based designer Heather Wise. “With a return to staying at home, practicality has become more important. I see this being a continued focus moving forward—being able to actually live in a room, feel[ing] comfortable and at peace.”

If you’re looking to make some updates in the new year, consider an ergonomic office chair for working or a plush sectional for family movie night. A majority of designers we surveyed said if they could only recommend one piece of furniture for their clients it would be a comfortable piece of seating. Looking for a little bit of shopping advice? Sixty-five percent of designers surveyed think rounded furniture silhouettes will be everywhere next year, so don’t be afraid to introduce some curves into your spaces.

Homes’ layouts are evolving

Given all the turmoil of 2020, it’s no wonder wellness and self-care have become top priorities, so expect this shift to impact homes in both big and small ways. Fifty-nine percent of designers say the focus in 2021 will switch from setting up a home office to carving out a meditation zone or quiet space. Whether a dedicated room or just a co-opted corner of a common area, making space for whatever version of me-time suits you best can have a mental payoff, especially if you surround yourself with the things you love most.

When it comes to trends, sometimes it’s just as fun to know what’s on its way out as it is to know what’s in. While the designers surveyed all have different opinions on passé decor trends—you should always decorate with what makes you smile, anyway—some common themes are fewer gray tones and less emphasis on

Similarly, in recent years, an open floor plan has been the desirable ideal layout. How many times have you watched Chip and Joanna Gaines tear down a wall in a dated “Fixer Upper”? One of the most striking findings from the survey is that almost half of the designers (44 percent) polled predict closed floor plans will make a huge comeback. But why?

All this time families have spent together quarantining has made one thing clear: Everyone needs their own space. Video chats, school zooms, and virtual therapy sessions or doctor’s appointments require quiet environments without someone making breakfast or screaming in the background. Plus, closed floor plans help hide messes!

Don’t expect walls to go up overnight, though. Construction can be expensive, and many designers predict temporary solutions—including curtains, room dividers, and even sound-proofing of spaces—will help bridge the gap for many folks who aren’t looking to renovate right now. Fixes can be made, and it’s been a year of improvising, which will likely continue into 2021.

Make the most out of your home budget

Being a savvy shopper may have always been your M.O., but now it’s more important than ever. Want some free designer advice on how to max out your dollars? Well, when it comes to decorating, one area designers say consumers splurge on unnecessarily is furniture sets. Instead of opting for all matching pieces, mix up styles to create visual interest. Plus, mixing and matching can showcase your personality and point of view. Other decor items designers say people tend to spend too much on include random single-use gadgets like grilled cheese makers and fancy window treatments. Multipurpose tools will always win out over something highly specialized in designers’ eyes, and customizing store-bought curtains is a relatively easy, much cheaper way to get a high-end look for less on your windows.

On the flip side, when it comes to the items you should invest in, design experts suggest spending more on art. Besides adding texture and soul to a space, original art pieces can also appreciate in value, which makes them solid purchases. Rugs came in as another category to spend more on. Floor coverings really anchor a room, and often the bigger, the better—particularly if you’re trying to tie a color scheme together and max out the sound-dampening benefits of area carpeting. Lastly, designers felt that their clients could be spending more on sofas and sectionals. Your sofa is one of the biggest pieces of furniture in your home, and you’ll probably use it each and every day, so make it count.

The next big design style and home trends are…

According to 60 percent of designers polled, warm minimalism is poised to become the breakout decorating style for 2021. Unlike traditional minimal interiors, which can sometimes feel cold and harsh, warm minimalism introduces warm shades and cozy design elements to less-is-more spaces. This hybrid style jibes with the aforementioned color palettes and materials that designers love for next year. On the whole, expect tones to become creamier, and for various stained and white woods to mix together liberally.

In addition, 41 percent of designers say fluting, a classic architectural form found on furnishings from dining tables to ceramic vases, is going to come on strong. Fluted decor is yet another way to bring subtle texture and visual interest into a home. On a similar note, soothing natural finishes such as blond wood and raw wood cabinets are on the rise as well.

The future will shape decor

Design can certainly be cyclical. Toward the end of last year, the 1920s Art Deco movement seemed to come back into the zeitgeist, and it’s still leaving its mark on tile treatments, finishes, and curved forms. So we asked all 80 designers what decade they think might be the next influential one. While the votes were split, the future got 16 percent, followed closely by the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps this means to expect truly fresh design ideas going forward, but only time will tell.

Think fast—design edition

What’s an Apartment Therapy designer questionnaire without a round of “This or That?” We asked designers to pick one decorating idea over another rival concept, and were able to suss out out a few additional trend predictions this way. First, minimalism won out over maximalism. Muted tones topped bright colors, while wallpaper beat out paint out to the tune of 74 percent to 26 percent. In terms of art treatments, move over, gallery wall! A majority of designers said that one big art piece is the way to go. Lastly, if you were thinking about buying a bar cart, now might be the time to go the route of the bar cabinet instead.

In conclusion

In polling our panel of design experts, it became clear that people want to feel safe, calm, grounded, and happy in their homes. One powerful lesson the pandemic has taught us is that our homes, if we’re lucky enough to have them, are our sanctuaries. To make them feel like a safe haven—at least for 2021—it’s going to be all about filling them with warm, comforting colors and textures, bringing the outdoors in with greenery and nature-inspired materials, and curbing distracting clutter with customized solutions, whether bespoke or DIY projects. Ultimately, your home reflects your aesthetic and affects how you feel. 2021 will be all about making the changes observed in our time forced indoors to achieve a peaceful and optimistic space. Enjoy the process!