Recently we had the exterior of our house painted, and the most marvelous thing about it was that we hired our neighbor’s small business to do it. He’s been in business for over 30 years, so not only did we get excellent service for a great deal, but we got to know him as he came to our home every day.
One day, he was on the roof touching up the window frames when I came home from running errands and we got to chatting. He had taken a friendly peak in our living room window that morning and he complimented me on our interior design style, commented on our classic fireplace, (painting brick is egregious, we agreed) but what he was most surprised to see was a decent representation of traditional furniture. He had a large collection of antiques that he’d acquired over the years, and was trying to sell a few pieces without much luck. He mentioned how my generation seems to prefer things that will fall apart.
I know what he means. The internet has driven antique prices down; it’s almost impossible to sell anything at its true value. And the millennial styles of the last decade or so have cycled through extreme minimalism, rustic farmhouse, and bohemian revival. Pink walls, palm prints, and neon signs ate their way through Urban Outfitters and college dorm living rooms. Mid-Century modern saw its own resurgence among the younger, hipster generations. Traditional styles seem forgotten and unloved. Seem being the operative word.
But I’ve always loved antiques, and I know I’m not the only one of my generation to do so. My grandmother owned an antique shop in Sonoma, CA and when she died, she left thousands of items to her children and grandchildren. At 16, I wandered through her shop and the piles of beautiful things that my aunts and uncles were cataloging and chose a few articles to keep: A blue crystal perfume bottle. Two watercolor paintings of women and dogs in gold frames. A silver and jade bracelet. My parents came home with so much that they crammed the corners of their house with tables and shelves of Hummel figurines and still put piles more in the garage, slowly doling it out to their children as they moved out and made homes of their own. My father inherited my grandmother’s love of old, beautiful things, and proudly told the story of this or that piece to dinner guests. He recalls fondly his childhood of being dragged to and fro from antique shop to antique shop as his mother learned the trade on the fly.
Now it’s my turn to tell stories about old, beautiful things: I have a Stickley coffee table and a Drexel headboard and as my neighbor suspected, many people my age don’t know what Stickley and Drexel means. (Turns out the Stickley is a fake, but it’s an antique fake, as I like to say.) For years now, I’ve spent lunch hours and whatever snatch of time I could get scouring an antique mall and thrift stores for a find. Traveling for work meant I got to check out different neighborhood shops and estate sales. Now that I’m a mom, I snatch time to scour Facebook Marketplace instead. I follow shops on TikTok and belong to a Facebook group of 15,000 like-minded women named “Grandmillennial Style.”
The appeal of antique and grandmillenial style
Grandmillennial décor is marked by a love for a more traditional, “grandmotherly” style, favoring antiques, florals, and a blue and white color scheme, particularly with ginger jars. Discussions on the Facebook group revolve around styling questions (how should I position my ginger jar collection on my mantel?) to china patterns and general dish quality (Pottery Barn plates break easily; Juliska is the way to go.) Members regularly post spectacular finds on Facebook Marketplace in locations too far from them, urging “someone go buy this!” Women take polls when they are torn between two curtain patterns. Chinoiseries, gingham, and floral abound. Wallpaper is a must. Some women go for the Florida Coastal look: bamboo furniture, palm and flamingo prints, building a retiree’s haven.
It’s worth noting that this style is not constricted by generation or age, despite its title. I’m grandmillennial-adjacent in my own choices: favoring antiques and florals, but leaning more towards greens and golds than blues and whites, preferring dark wood to bamboo.
But my mother is more grandmillennial than I am, with her own extensive collection of blue and white china on her front table. While most of our parents spent our childhoods building fake Tuscan villas with granite countertops, my mother has always been partial to the New England and Southern styles, despite living in Southern California.
While many describe grandmillennial decor as “your grandmother’s living room is back in style,” such a description doesn’t quite fit. As with all styles that come back into fashion, there’s a good amount of cherry-picking happening. Grandmillennial style isn’t just anything grandmotherly. There’s a marked breeziness to the style; it’s more bright and cheerful than dark and heavy. Knick-knacks have certainly not retaken the shelves and mantels of young women. A ginger jar, a few stacked coffee table books, a brass bust, and a plant are all you need.
There’s always been a pendulum swing between minimalism and maximalism, but grandmillennial style is a happy medium between the two. It would be shortsighted to think that this style has come back merely as a rebellion against the farmhouse and modernism that’s came before. There’s an element of that, certainly, but I think there’s more to it.
The last two years have been the most uncertain that anyone of the millennial and younger generations can remember. Even before the pandemic, the last few decades have seen everything change. The rise of social media and the internet has contributed to a quick turnover of anything related to style. Whether something is cheugy, basic, dated…they’re all rationales for excusing why we are no longer into the thing we were once very much into. Through social media and its quick dissemination and then overexposure of any trend, all we seem to do is take the latest hot thing, chew it up, and spit it out again. By the time you can buy the latest puff sleeve dress or decorate your house with shiplap, that ship has sailed.
A style with lasting power
After years of quickly rotating styles, it’s understandable that we want something that will last, something proven to last. At the essence of Grandmillennial style is a refusal to participate in the design trends; it would be almost hipster, almost ironic, if there wasn’t at its core a very earnest and sincere motivation: to find and commit to a style for life.
The pursuit of grandmillennial style is the pursuit of something classic that no one can look back at in ten years and wince. Like a white button up and blue jeans, like a little black dress, there’s a sweet spot emerging in home décor that withstands the test of time. It’s an ad-hoc blend of Martha Stewart and Ina Garten and Southern Living. (If you’re looking for a couple more contemporary influencers that embody the style, check out Julia Berolzheimer or SincerlyMolly.) It eschews the nihilism of modernism by calling back to something that comforts us, the feeling of safety we had in our grandmother’s living rooms as children. Meaningful at least to us, if not to others. With so much of traditional society being discarded for new ideas and new structures, we ache for some of kind of stability. We want things that are not easily broken, as it feels so much has proven to be in these last few years. And when we can disagree on everything these days, these women have a pursuit that lets them set the concerns and cares of the world aside and make their corner of the world beautiful, comfortable, and comforting.
Despite my neighbor’s take on my generation’s disregard for good furniture, it seems clear to me that we are hungry for more than the cheap and mass-manufactured, more than impulse-ordering junk on the internet and donating it a few months later. This isn’t to say that GM style is perfectly ethical. Homegoods and Ballard and other brands have figured out where the trends are and there’s still a good deal of baiting for impulse-buying the cheaply made, just with a blue and white floral print this time around. But the goal of grandmillennial style is still one of longevity. We’re looking for something that won’t need to be replaced in five or ten years. There’s a reason so many young people are turning to craftsmanship, to procuring quality pieces to decorate their homes as well as learning more traditional skills like sewing, embroidery, and woodwork. If you made something yourself, it has value beyond the latest trend. If you inherited something sentimental, or found a spectacular piece on a trip to Palm Springs, it’s more than fodder for a clout-chasing Instagram post. It has a story, and, like my father with his inherited antiques, we want stories to tell.