Romancing the Dilapidated: What Will Post-Recession Décor Look Like?

Will the financial crisis translate into a discernible new style?

Oddly enough, design thrived in the Great Depression. The age of breadlines and Hoovervilles gave us Charles and Ray Eames, Marcel Breuer and other designers who steered Americans to a more efficient way of living. It was a cleansing, bracing moment in which we sloughed off our Victorian inheritance and took modernism to heart.


Will a new style emerge from the current scarcity?

It’s hard to imagine, given that much of the new architecture will be the unglamorous fulfillment of stimulus spending for new schools, hospitals, and transportation infrastructure–infertile ground for new design ideas.

Say goodbye to those grand shiny homes standing in splendid isolation. Architects are now more concerned with reworking existing structures than building new ones. Rather then razing and rebuilding, homeowners renovate. Factories and offices will be reworked for efficiency and sustainability. With suburbs languishing, planners and developers will favor infill.

Still, some kind of new aesthetic will come out of all this. Furniture happens so fast we’re already seeing the first responses to the downturn. But architecture can take years to formulate, so it’s harder to know what Downturn Décor might actually look here.

Here are a few possibilities.

rough luxe


Rooms will romance the dilapidated. An early indicator is Rough Luxe, a London hotel designed by Rabih Hage as the opposite of the high-living boutique hotel of the hedge fund era. It opened last year in the King’s Cross neighborhood with artfully torn wallpaper, bare floorboards and chipped paint. To be sure, this is a theatrical expression of neglect which stands alongside luxuriant wallpaper and huge photographs of Italian palazzos. Nonetheless, it suggests that an anti-opulence may come into fashion.

micro compact home

Houses will shrink to a mini scale. One of the sleeper trends of the last year has been the proliferation of tiny shed-like structures, like the Kithaus sold by Design Within Reach. People who are reluctant or unable to trade up to a bigger house are using them as home offices, yoga studios and guestrooms. Plus, they’re a form of instant gratification: tiny structures like the Micro Compact Home (above) arrive within weeks of the down payment, and the don’t require contractors traipsing through your home.

Aside from these practical benefits, the super small home holds a picturesque appeal as a sanctuary or escape from the complications of everyday life. For any baby boomer with regrets about how their life path, the road not taken can arrive on a flatbed truck, and it takes just a few hours to assemble.


Architecture will go back to the farm. An emerging genre of contemporary homes reflect the humble virtues rustic structures, like the converted dairy house (above) by the British firm Skene Catling de la Peña. Like any trend, the rustic-building revival is a reaction against what came before–in this case the clean, hard-edged surfaces of modernism. That cabins and farmhouses would appeal in hard times is no surprise. With their heavy timber and stone walls, they convey solidity and reassurance at a time when those qualities are in short supply.