Help me name and find inspiration for my home aesthetic
May 31, 2021 5:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving into an apartment large enough to set up how I want (rather than being constrained by space limitations), yay! But I am terrible at anything involving visual aesthetics--I have a sense of what I do and don't like, but I don't know what looks good together, and need to see what others do for inspiration. But I don't even know how to search for inspiration! Help?

For example, I need to outfit my living room with a large area rug, a new sofa, and some side tables. I want it all to look somewhat cohesive, and to fit an aesthetic that I feel but don't know how to articulate.

I like cozy and livable, but sophisticated and clean. By "cozy and livable" I mean both physically comfortable and looks like a pleasant and welcoming place to be. By "sophisticated" I mean it looks like an adult instead of a college student lives here (sorry if this sounds judgy, it's not, I just don't know how else to put it). By "clean" I mean not visually or physically cluttered.

An attempt to articulate what I do and don't like:

I prefer wood instead of metal and glass, fabrics instead of leather, silver instead of gold, and solids or abstracts instead of patterns. My personal fashion, insofar as I have any, is mostly black with splashes of jewel tones, but that's not what I want in my home decor. Neutral with splashes of color is good, but when I search for "neutrals" I get mostly light colors, and I am not compatible with light colors. Greys are good but too much grey is boring and lifeless. I currently default to dark blues, deep greys, and emerald greens for sheets, blankets, and towels.

Natural and foresty are words that resonate strongly, but when I try searching with those terms I run into extremes I don't like: log cabin or country farmhouse decor (not what I'm going for), hunter chic (very no), or witchy (I like hints of witchy, but not as a major theme, and nothing that's culturally appropriative).

I once described what I wanted as "forest apothecary" but that can imply much more clutter than I want. Forest apothecary designed by Apple, maybe? Except the Apple aesthetic is too cold and white and blue for me.

I can almost picture the hipster magazine photoshoot with a sort of minimalist decor but warmer and more inviting than minimalist usually is, and enough plants to be interesting but not so many it's cluttered.

Please share any terms or ideas the above inspires in you. I would appreciate both suggestions of descriptive terms to use in searching for inspiration, and recommendations of specific places (besides, which I have covered) to enter those search terms for inspiration.
posted by rhiannonstone to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I feel like a lot of apartments I see on r/CozyPlaces fit the general description of cozy and livable but sophisticated and clean, so I guess that's a suggestion about where to look and maybe a name for it if it works (alternatively, comments on a post you like might offer search terms).
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:08 PM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Less is more. My house has become "my house" because I've gradually added to it. I rebuilt that fence, painted that wall, purchased that sofa. It's a grand place because it speaks to me.
posted by SPrintF at 5:10 PM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

When I think “forest”, I think live edge furniture. I think that would soften some of the hard lines of modern/minimal.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:17 PM on May 31, 2021

This is I think a gen-z thing but my kid used it to redesign her room - go on Pinterest and tumble and search for forestcore, naturecore, cottagecore and any other noun+core. You’ll get back a bunch of mood boards and room designs around specific themes. Apparently my kid’s room at her dads is frogcore and her space in my place is mushroomcore. You sound like you want forestcore.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:23 PM on May 31, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You might search on Arts and Crafts or Craftsman for an aesthetic with a lot of ‘natural’ materials and colors but definitely -designed-
posted by janell at 5:25 PM on May 31, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I’ve found Pinterest is pretty great at relevant aesthetic suggestions once you’ve already pinned some things you like. Maybe spend time on there looking through search results for the terms you gave above like “wood furniture” or “cozy and clean” or “emerald green bedspread” or whatnot, and pinning the ones you like, and seeing what else comes up.
posted by music for skeletons at 5:34 PM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you vibe with the now I think dorothyisunderwood has the trick, and eponysterical, too. If that feels too fast moving, look at lots and lots and lots of old picture books of interiors. (Once the libraries reopen.) Almost all the "decorator" ones will look dumb now, but there should be flashes of beautiful anyway, and you can get a hundred and fifty years of style to pick through.

I also value photographs of everyday-person interiors before WWII. They were almost all poorer in stuff than we are, but valued ornament more, so pictures of where the handmade decoration is in a two room flat where five people cook and sleep is pretty telling.
posted by clew at 5:45 PM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

I wonder if Sarah Susanka's work (see here and here) might resonate.
posted by 10ch at 6:00 PM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

You could try adding "hygge" to your search to capture Scandinavian clean but cozy with plenty of wood.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 6:20 PM on May 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

This sounds like Huckberry's aesthetic.
posted by A Blue Moon at 7:30 PM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not just for the aesthetics, but for ideas in general, try Apartment Therapy
posted by TimHare at 10:07 PM on May 31, 2021

Farrow and Ball sell (expensive) paint and wallpaper, and I think their aesthetic might appeal to you. You can recreate their style for far less if you just use their inspiration gallery as a guide.
You might also find some inspiration in the interiors of Ilse Crawford.
Also, I agree with SPrintF -- take your time. Start with just the basics and collect the details over more time. Maybe get the rug and the sofa, but just one side table, or a big tray, and then look out over some time for interesting side tables. Get some good lamps, but not all the lamps, and see what you need as you inhabit your space.
posted by mumimor at 2:18 AM on June 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Personally I would be much less concerned with naming your aesthetic. If only because once you do that you're kind of confining yourself to stuff that has already been cohesively categorised. I would look for spaces online that appeal, and follow who they follow. I'm old so I barely do Pinterest but I do follow some design bloggers, and they've prompted me to follow other design bloggers. They have very different houses but they're all really good at designing beautiful spaces and have good suggestions about how to respond to a space and use light, plants, layout etc to maximise what you have. Even if your apartment is big there will still be things that you probably need to reckon with and respond to about its shape, lighting and the building itself, if you want to maximise its appeal. Fwiw the bloggers I like are Daniel Kanter, Chris loves Julia and Yellow Brick Home. (On phone- no links sorry).
posted by jojobobo at 2:56 AM on June 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nthing Pinterest. Not just for the searches - although, a search is your first step. Pick, like, anything you want to search for - "cozy living rooms" or "wood furniture" or whatever - and then see what comes up. If you particularly like any of the pictures that come up, for any reason, then save them. But - and here is the key I've learned - then go back to the "home" page periodically and see what ELSE comes up. Because Pinterest is really good about tracking what kinds of pictures you pin and showing you ones that IT thinks are similar. Sometimes they're not things that fit your initial search, but they're of a similar aesthetic. This works even better if you go with a more generic search - "cozy living room" or "small living rooms" as opposed to "cottagecore living room design with greens and blues" or whatever.

You can save the pictures you've "saved" in groups - maybe one per room in your new apartment - and after you've saved a bunch in that group, when you go look at that group you may get a prompt from Pinterest to find even more photos for that group, and the algorithm does a pretty good job at finding you even more similar photos. So that's another way to kind of hunt for things.

And yeah, a mood board/picture collection like this is a good way to figure out what you like. Don't worry about whether it matches a particular design style so much. What you're aiming for is a decently-sized collection of pictures, so that in a couple weeks when you go back through the list you will notice that "oh hey, I seem to bookmark photos with window seats over and over, maybe that's something I should have in my own space" or "wow, it looks like I really really like green, looks like that's the color scheme I should go with" or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:40 AM on June 1, 2021

Best answer: In fact - here's a look at the "Decor looks" group on my own Pinterest board. You will notice that I have all KINDS of random shit in there - everything from lighting to bookshelves to bedding to window treatments to little decorative things. Those are all from all different Pinterest browses - sometimes I wasn't even looking for anything in particular, just sort of browsing the home page. And Pinterest may have shown me something based on a craft project search I'd done once, but I thought "oh, that'd be a nice thing in the bathroom" and I pinned it there instead.

What's great about using Pinterest is that you can focus on the visual instead of getting all tied in knots trying to think of the words to describe what you're looking for, you can just look at a picture and go "ah! That!" and save it. And then if you're talking to someone about what you want, instead of trying to describe it you can pull up a picture and go "this here."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:56 AM on June 1, 2021

Best answer: I wonder if you’d like the rich palettes and nature-inspired aesthetic in New Nordic Colour ? I love the use of moody paint hues and the kind of ad hoc but stylishly minimum interior selections.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:36 AM on June 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

The couch will be the biggest thing in your living room. Find a comfy couch in a color that appeals to you and then build around that.
posted by mareli at 5:16 AM on June 1, 2021

Best answer: Pinterest is a great resource! Maybe this wall would be a good start?
Bohemian or Boho plus any search term that defines your aesthetic (natural, dark green, minimalist, ...) should give you good starting points.
posted by Fallbala at 8:10 AM on June 1, 2021

Lisa Holt has a great series on her YouTube channel which introduces the major types of interior design styles. It's a good overview.
posted by conrad53 at 8:11 AM on June 1, 2021

Go shopping, in person if possible, but also look at lots of rooms on Pinterest and home - decorating sites. Look at rugs, couches, and artwork. There will be things that spark your interest; look for things you really love. Buy a couch, good-sized rug, or art work you really love, and add from there. Ikea is great for useful things, or a kitchen, but probably not for 1 major design item. Big department stores may have lots of furniture to look at.

I like the term Forest Apothecary. I'd look for an apothecary chest of some sort, perhaps topped with a glass-doored unit which you can fill with apothecary jars of bits. There's a range of whimsy you can indulge with the idea. Save any photos you like on Pinterest, start lots of different boards.

a start of decor sites and shops:
Martha Stewart
Real Simple
Architectural Digest
House Beautiful
Pottery Barn
West Elm
RH (Renovator's Hardware)
Urban Outfitters
posted by theora55 at 9:41 AM on June 1, 2021

When I was decorating our living room, I found that picking a name for the aesthetic I wanted was less useful for searching online for decorated rooms fitting that aesthetic than for using it as a tool to evaluate individual pieces. We had two 1930s-looking chairs and a photo of the 1908 Paris-New York Road Rally to design around, so I picked "1930s adventure club" as the name and would simply ask myself "Would I see this couch in a 1930s adventure club?" and then, a bit later, "In a 1930s adventure club, what would I expect to see on the wall and on this table?" (Answer: a barometer and an antique-looking globe, respectively.)
posted by telophase at 9:48 AM on June 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

'rustic minimalist' should do it

you can add 'hygge' or 'zen' for intentionally Scandinavian or Japanese leanings.

-core if you want to look like Goop.

'Shabby chic' or 'farmhouse' for the Real Simple version.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:07 AM on June 1, 2021

To build on mareli's couch comment- I find that it makes a room ‘cleaner’ to have a couch with firm cushions- one that you don’t have to fluff all the time.

I have also found that curtains make a huge difference, so I’d give some thought to that.
posted by Monday at 2:54 PM on June 1, 2021

Do any of these Scandinavian color trends appeal to you? Lots of wood and textiles in these photos.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:13 PM on June 1, 2021

Best answer: Daniel Kanter's style might appeal?
His blog has a lot of renovation stuff, but his decor posts seem like they might be your kind of thing. He's not afraid of a dark neutral!
posted by exceptinsects at 4:44 PM on June 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, this was all really helpful!

I did know about Pinterest, and that the name of the aesthetic isn't as important as finding pieces and inspiration I like, but needed a place to start that wasn't just random browsing because my brain quickly gets discouraged and bored if I don't find something that fits early in my search. I marked the answers that helped me most with that as Best.

Nouncore searches were less helpful because most results were quite over-the-top in achieving the theme, and it all reads as clutter to me. Same with boho and similar, which tend toward cluttered or witchy or appropriative.

After going down many rabbitholes, in an unexpected-to-me twist it turns out I really like the subtly-designed and darker-hued things that turn up in searches for Midcentury Modern! I am almost certainly going to end up with this couch (though gonna agonize over whether to go grey, aqua, or teal for another couple days, because that determines where I go with the area rug...).
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:20 PM on June 3, 2021

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