April 18, 2021

happy-House

The home veterans

Warm colors, natural elements and other design trends for 2021

12 min read

The past year has been a time of change for all of us — notably in the amount of time we’ve spent tucked away inside our homes. And this, inevitably, has altered our relationships with our dwellings.

“The pandemic has affected the way everyone views their home,” says Alberthe K. Buabeng, a Seattle-based interior design blogger and a member of House Beautiful magazine’s advisory board. “Where most people would typically spend anywhere from 40 to 60 hours a week away from home, now home is also work, school, church, the park,” she says, all in addition to being the place where we live.

As our homes have come to fulfill a wider variety of functions for us, our feelings toward them have shifted, as well.

“I think the pandemic has already instilled a deeper appreciation for home as not just a source of shelter, but also comfort and happiness,” says Hadley Keller, senior editor at House Beautiful. 

Every turn of the year brings a spate of trend predictions. But as we move into our second year of dealing with the coronavirus and its effects on our daily life, examining the patterns likely to prevail in 2021 is a particularly poignant exercise.

“Home has never been as important as it was [in 2020], and our hope is that we have all learned to be grateful for these spaces and the comfort they provide,” says Keller, who advocates “a focus on filling our homes with things we love.”

Since we’re likely to be spending most of our time at home for at least the next few months, trendwatchers are seeing an emphasis on making our domicile a place we truly enjoy, as well as a hub for every aspect of our lives. 

“People are going to begin to think of their home as command central,” says Marian Salzman, a longtime trendspotter who serves as senior vice president for global communications at Philip Morris International.

This year will be all about comfort, light and being connected to nature.

“You will see a lot of people who are after that authentic, cozy home that is classic,” says Shirin Sarikhani, founder and CEO of Seattle Staged to Sell & Design.

Here’s how style-setters and local residents are translating those trends into making the home a place of warmth and welcome.

Get creative with your space

Erin Hochschild and her husband, Aaron Fortner, live in a 1906 Craftsman in the heart of Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. “We love the location,” Hochschild says. But now that they have two small children, a baby and a 3-year-old, they’re feeling constrained by the home’s small size. 

The house has two bedrooms — and a single bathroom. “There’s no bathroom on the first floor,” Hochschild says, which means that the kids’ bath toys and all of the family toiletries are on full display for any visitors (in pre-pandemic days).

Finding a home with more space in their price range would mean leaving the city, which they don’t want to do. “So we’re going to try to make this house work,” Hochschild says. For them, that means turning one of the bedrooms into a pair of small but separate bedrooms for the kids, plus adding an extra half-bath downstairs, which will be carved out of space that is now a porch. 

Making existing homes work better is something that designers and remodelers are increasingly seeing around the region and across the nation.

“With much of the country having spent more time at home than ever, people have a vested interest in creating homes that serve them better,” Buabeng says. “[We saw] a surge in home projects — from small refreshes to large renovations — throughout 2020, and I believe this will carry well into 2021 as people continue to use their homes more and see them through a different lens.”

Many people are looking to finish attics or basements in order to create more space, says Emma Zimmerman, marketing specialist for Queen Anne-based Model Remodel.

“People are asking for the highest and lowest levels [of their homes] to become fully functional,” she says. “There are a lot of creative solutions for almost doubling the square footage by utilizing those spaces.”

Others are reaching outside the house and into open spaces to claim more room for living.

“People who can, I’m seeing more of them create an outbuilding,” says Amy Panos, home editor for Better Homes & Gardens. These spaces can be used for storage, as school or office spaces, or as a retreat from the main house.

Sacha Panko, of Kirkland, is working on just such a space for her boys, ages 5 and 2. Her family is nearly done building a shed of just under 200 square feet outside their house. She says their house is on the smaller side and includes her husband’s work-from-home space. 

The Panko family, of Kirkland, have built a detached shed of just under 200 square feet to be used by their sons, ages 5 and 2. Furnished with heat, electricity, a play structure and a crash pad, it allows the boys to get exercise in a space that’s away from their work-from-home father in the main house. (Courtesy of Sacha Panko)
The Panko family, of Kirkland, have built a detached shed of just under 200 square feet to be used by their sons, ages 5 and 2. Furnished with heat, electricity, a play structure and a crash pad, it allows the boys to get exercise in a space that’s away from their work-from-home father in the main house. (Courtesy of Sacha Panko)

The new shed is designed to serve as a play space for the boys and, importantly, to allow their dad to have his meetings in a place where the kids are not playing.

“I just need them to get out and get exercise,” Panko says of her children. The shed has contributed immensely to that effort: Furnished with heat, electricity, a play structure and a crash pad, it allows the boys to get exercise no matter the weather or time of day. 

“Now, they have a place to play,” Panko says. “We can use it as a home office later.”

Make a statement with customization

Besides needing space to live, work and play at home, we also need to make it a cozy place so we actually like being there.

“Anything we can do to make our homes more comfortable, we’re going for it,” Panos says. “We just want to feel ensconced in our home.”

Just as important will be a sense of personalization, of making our homes all about ourselves. To that end, many designers are seeing a rise in customization.

“People are valuing handmade craftsmanship, one-of-a-kind pieces,” Sarikhani says. “Anything homemade is very in.”

“I see more custom pieces being commissioned, more personal decor and a focus on investing in comfort pieces,” Buabeng says.

Hung Ly of Mountlake Terrace has enjoyed picking out custom pieces for the condominium that he moved into three years ago. He says he has been investing in quality pieces whenever he can. 

In November, Ly ordered a custom Pierson couch from Room & Board, which he personalized with cadet-blue leather and sled legs in white oak.

“I’ve been searching for the perfect couch for a while now. I’ve looked everywhere,” he says. He was attracted to the Pierson couch for its midcentury feel and clean lines. “I saw this one, and I’m like: This is it.”

Salzman predicts a rise this year in the use of bright, vibrant art. That’s certainly been the case for Ly, who is accenting his condo’s decor with custom artwork.

“I commissioned some abstract art” from a former work client who now lives in Italy and took up painting during that country’s lockdown, Ly says.

Mixing styles is also going to be commonplace in the new year, the experts say.

“The biggest trends for the Seattle area are going to be farmhouse decor and modern decor, and a mixture of the two,” Sarikhani says. “It’s going to be ‘eclectic modern.’ ”

Karina Lameraner also predicts that modern farmhouse will be a key style in the region this year. She’s a creative stylist for Modsy, a San Francisco-based online interior design company, which is predicting an emphasis on modern decor in Washington state in 2021.

“I think there’s a really beautiful, nuanced style that we’re seeing throughout the Pacific Northwest,” she says. “It’s really about clean lines.”

Another mix of styles that’s gaining in popularity is Japandi, which melds Japanese-influenced minimalism with midcentury Scandinavian design, Lameraner says.

“They’re really just calming,” she says of both styles, which makes them especially appealing in our chaotic world. And when you combine them, it creates a very peaceful effect, she says.

Panos says that mixing decor styles can be a way to add your own personality to a space.

“The more opposite of styles you can mix together in one room, the more interesting the mix, the more personal and one-of-a-kind it looks,” she says. “It’s just fun to put your personal spin on that mix.”

Emma Zimmerman, of Seattle-based Model Remodel, says people are taking decorating inspiration from their travels. The firm recently designed this Hawaiian-themed powder room that features palm leaf wallpaper. (Courtesy of Cindy Apple 
Photography via Model Remodel)
Emma Zimmerman, of Seattle-based Model Remodel, says people are taking decorating inspiration from their travels. The firm recently designed this Hawaiian-themed powder room that features palm leaf wallpaper. (Courtesy of Cindy Apple
Photography via Model Remodel)

With travel limited due to coronavirus restrictions, the trips we’re not taking are likely to play a role in 2021’s decor decisions, too.

“Obviously, the stay-at-home order has influenced design trends a ton,” Zimmerman says. “I think people are finding inspiration in their previous travels.”

Her firm is seeing a rise in interest for such things as Turkish-pattern rugs and Japanese shoji screens, she says, and “we just did a tropical Hawaiian powder room,” featuring palm leaf wallpaper.

“It’s cool to see people bring some eclectic creativity to their homes,” Zimmerman says.

In addition to travel, look for a sense of nostalgia in the new year. Sarikhani says that last year, even before the pandemic hit, she was seeing a trend toward “old Holly-wood glam.” Art deco and boho styles were in, as were materials such as rattan and motifs featuring peacocks and pineapples. These will all continue to be popular in 2021, she predicts. 

Another way nostalgia is being expressed is via a trend known as grandmillennial style, in which people in their mid-20s to late 30s adopt the decorating styles favored by their grandparents, while updating them for modern times. Decor such as skirted tables and chintz pillows are being brought back and updated, Panos says. “It’s being made cool by a younger generation,” she says.

While young people “don’t want a room full of heirloom furniture,” she says, they do want some. “It’s a fun challenge to integrate that into a modern room.”

Create warmth with colors and light

White will always be a popular color choice for home interiors, but softer and warmer tones are coming into vogue.

“It seems like there’s a trend away from all-white,” Zimmerman says. “People are choosing beige over white.”

Panos agrees, noting that neutral colors are shifting from cooler to warmer. “We’re getting to a moment of beiges and browns,” she says.

Soft, light colors are in, according to Sarikhani, as are earth tones. 

“Warm gray is going to be everywhere,” she says, adding that green is also going to be popular, particularly in kitchens. 

Panos says that warm colors in general are on the rise, with “more oranges, more persimmon-y colors, more red tones.”

This is a trend that works well for Laura Lundin, who lives in the East Renton Highlands.

When Lundin and her husband, Jason, began planning a remodel of their main bathroom last year, she was dismayed by the lack of color choices on the market.

“Everything was gray and white,” says Lundin, who works in cardiac ultrasound at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. “It’s gray outside [already], and white makes me think of the hospital.”

She ended up anticipating 2021’s trend toward warm neutrals when she opted for cream and tan colors. “It’s supposed to look clean. Not sterile, but clean,” she says. “It’s bright and happy, and it makes me happy.”

East Renton Highlands family Laura and Jason Lundin chose warm, neutral shades of cream and tan when they remodeled the main bathroom of their home. (Courtesy of Laura Lundin)
East Renton Highlands family Laura and Jason Lundin chose warm, neutral shades of cream and tan when they remodeled the main bathroom of their home. (Courtesy of Laura Lundin)

Now the Lundins are renovating the bathroom used by their children, and warm, creamy tones are again on the menu. 

“Definitely some warm tones and maybe some pops of color,” she says.

Carlen Romain and her husband, Kyle, also went with warm neutrals when choosing paint colors for their new home in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood.

“We wanted kind of a lighter space, but I didn’t want to go stark white in color,” Romain says. “We were going for kind of a warm-y, gray-ey color.” 

The Romains chose Pale Oak from Benjamin Moore as their main paint shade, which they plan to use throughout the house. Romain says it gives a light and airy feel to the living room: “It makes my ceilings seem taller somehow.”

Along with warm neutrals, jewel tones and deep, rich hues are popular, especially as accents.

“We are seeing a huge response to big, bold colors,” Lameraner says, such as with a deep-green sofa or a dark accent wall.

Buabeng says she has observed more instances of layered neutrals in bold applications, such as black on black.

“I also see more adventurous applications of colors, especially rich jewel tones like emerald, marigold and fuchsia,” she says.

All of these colors are being put on display through another trend: a focus on lighting.

“Lots of lighting” — both natural and artificial — has been the biggest customer request at Seattle Staged to Sell & Design, Sarikhani says.

“People found out, when they were stuck in their home, how much lighting was important to them,” she says.

One of the biggest trends in Seattle is the addition of a skylight, according to Zimmerman. “It can dramatically change the way a home feels,” she says. “It’s pretty dark, and people want to get all the light they can get.”

Hochschild and her family are among those applying this trend in their home remodel. In addition to adding more windows in the master bedroom and increasing the size of windows downstairs, they’re installing a skylight in the bathroom. 

Add comfort with classic furnishings

When it comes to furniture in 2021, think classic, comfortable and functional. 

“Design is about psychology. Design is about emotion,” Sarikhani says — so it makes sense that classic furnishings are trending. “We associate classic with something stable, something that is safe, like an anchor.”

Sectionals and modular sofas are increasingly popular, Panos says. 

“Because they’re modular, they can be reconfigured any way you like,” she says. The whole family can pile onto large pieces for movie nights or video calls with friends and relatives.

As our living spaces continue to evolve, keeping our stuff from overwhelming us is going to be critical, Lameraner says. 

“Having things in place and organized” will be important, she says. “It’s the idea that we are stripping out anything unnecessary.”

This will make furniture that can hide our clutter especially popular, Lameraner says. “We’re seeing a need for storage, and for hidden storage,” she says, along with pieces that are multifunctional. Storage coffee tables in particular are having “a bit of a moment,” she says.

Get cozy with a bit of nature

All of our time spent inside is giving us a hankering for the outdoors, and experts say natural materials and textures are going to be very important as we move further into 2021.

People are “going to want to be around green things, things that feel natural and healthy,” Salzman says.

Sarikhani says she expects a greater use of lightweight furniture made from materials such as rattan and cane. “It’s that authentic, organic, soulful, cozy home,” she says. 

When Seattle Staged to Sell & Design prepped this home for a recent sale, designers relied on a number of top trends, according to the firm’s CEO, Shirin Sarikhani, including warm neutrals mixed with pops of color, and organic elements such as wood and rattan. (Courtesy of Greg White Photography via Seattle Staged to Sell & Design)
When Seattle Staged to Sell & Design prepped this home for a recent sale, designers relied on a number of top trends, according to the firm’s CEO, Shirin Sarikhani, including warm neutrals mixed with pops of color, and organic elements such as wood and rattan. (Courtesy of Greg White Photography via Seattle Staged to Sell & Design)

Wood, especially the light-colored varieties, is having a special moment, Sarikhani says. It’s being seen everywhere, from shelves and kitchen islands to flooring.

The craving for nature is also reaching into textiles and wall coverings. “You’re going to see a lot of botanical prints in our fabric, in our art,” Sarikhani says.

Embellishments that are natural are also popular, says Panos. Think leather drawer pulls on a dresser, she says.

In Seattle homes this year, Sarikhani says she sees three principles undergirding the things we choose to bring into our homes: “It’s going to be beautiful, functional and because we love it. If it doesn’t fit into those three categories, we shouldn’t have it.”