Have you ever felt the urge to take on an exceedingly complicated DIY project? I have, and recently, the inspiration hit. My attention zeroed in on the dated tile surrounding my living room fireplace, and an afternoon of researching painted tile trends commenced.
Inspired by the Moroccan-style patterned tile that’s wildly popular right now, I counted it settled: I’d transform the uninspiring salmon hues into a work of art fit for the ’gram. That is, until my ever candid, artistic-eyed mother set me straight.
“Um, I’m not so sure that style would look very good in your house,” she offered, cautiously. She pointed out that patterned tile in a more traditionally styled home, like mine, would stick out like a sore thumb. And once I pushed past my initial tendency to feel offended, I realized that I didn’t even like that tile pattern that much. But after an afternoon of devouring trendy home decor blogs, I simply came to think that because virtually “everyone else” thought that aesthetic worked, then I should try it, too.
After some deliberation (separated, necessarily, from my counter-productive, Instagram-heavy research), I opted to paint my tile a crisp white instead, which fits the style of my home much better. The tile incident got me thinking, though: I was about to spend an entire afternoon transforming a part of my home into a style that, in my heart of hearts, I didn’t even care for. But why?
The evolution of personal style—as told by social media
At some point in our lives, we all develop a sense of style, a taste, a “signature.” This can apply to everything from our clothes, to the foods we like to prepare, the music we enjoy, and especially the way we adorn our homes. It makes sense that the place we choose to live, to invite people into, should reflect our tastes, our preferences. In a sense, our homes are the culmination of our experiences, a sincere and intimate expression of who we are.
Our taste, as displayed in our homes, is a mixture of different elements: our childhood homes, our geographical regions, inspiration from places we’ve traveled, or the activities we enjoyed growing up, to name a few. For instance, if you studied abroad in college, your home may feature mementos from your travels or even incorporate style elements that impacted you. Perhaps seeing the Alhambra was a life-changing experience for you, so your home reveals Moorish influences. Or, if your childhood summers were defined by frequent beach vacations with your family, your home may carry a coastal flair.
Regardless, one element that undeniably affects our style is popular culture as expressed through social media, especially the most visual of the platforms: Instagram.
It takes a mere cursory look at our feeds to see which home decor trends are raging right now. Influencers—like Joanna Gaines of the wildly popular HGTV series Fixer Upper and her resulting Magnolia empire—have had a tremendous influence on the aesthetic that controls the home improvement industry. For example, neutral walls, natural woods, open concepts, subway tile, quartz surfaces, and rustic touches currently dominate the highly visual space of home decor blogs and Instagram accounts.
These images are undeniably pristine and clean, and for many homemakers, the aesthetic fits their personal preferences quite well. However, this isn’t true of everyone. There seems to be a “dark web” of style inspiration that is markedly different from the monolithic, Gaines-inspired style narrative that dominates the mainstream, but it takes some digging to find.
The problem with the current style narrative is the way its ubiquity can infiltrate our personal preferences. When we spend so much time absorbing the style standards as told by social media influencers, it is all too easy to end up believing that this is how everyone’s homes should look. We then feel compelled to survey our own homes with a critical eye: “What would Jo Gaines think of the rabbit warren of rooms in my 1920s apartment?” I have felt this pressure to cast a critical eye on my own beloved home because it does not perfectly conform to the trends that I see online. And I know I am not alone.
Nonetheless, my strange dissatisfaction with my home has led me to question: even if our digital feeds appear quite homogeneous, should our homes be, too?
Reclaim your personal style by taking a step back
By taking a brief break from consuming the going trends, I was able to regain a sense of what I liked, instead of feeling I had to model my home after the latest trends. I learned that while there are many elements of the current style trends that I love—the neutral color palettes, for example—there are many items in my home that would not fit that style narrative at all. Our family antiques, our ultra-comfy floral-patterned couch, the beloved oversized club chairs that are just a bit too large for our small living room, the reclaimed wooden mantel we used to fashion a faux fireplace in our master bedroom with just a touch of its original lime green paint left for character: these are all items that make our home feel, well, like home.
Not to mention, some of the style feeds on Instagram feel completely impractical for our family. With a very active little boy in the house, all-white everything, expensive rugs, and hard marble surfaces are not the best options for us. And while I love a clutter-free countertop, sometimes a lived-in home means that miscellaneous items accumulate. As such, I need to focus on finding ways to organize and optimize, not simply fight the urge to throw everything away as soon as my kitchen aesthetic starts to deteriorate.
So while it’s fun to draw inspiration from popular trends, I’ve learned that I need to be careful about letting them swallow my own preferences, my own creative expression. After all, a home is a consumable good, not an item to showcase. It is a place for our families to live in, to enjoy, a place to capture our own unique personalities, lifestyles, experiences, backgrounds, and preferences. If we strip those away, we create something much less than a home. Instead, we may inadvertently curate a space that feels more like a museum, or perhaps a model home in a new subdivision.
If you’re in a place where you feel your personal style is being consumed by what you see online, take a step back. If you like the neutral palettes that are trending right now, then by all means, enjoy them. But don’t be afraid to display a family heirloom or your children’s artwork, even if its primary color palette will mess up the aesthetic. After all, these touches are precisely what transform your four walls from a collection of wood and plaster to the beating heart of your family life.