Whitney Robinson is editor-in-chief of Elle Decor magazine, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Previously style director of Town & Country, Robinson appears on the Bravo show “Best Room Wins.” He joined the Washington Post for a recent Home Front online chat; here is an edited excerpt.
Q: Are dark colors still the “in thing” for wall paint?
A: In a word: yes! There was a stigma around painting walls a dark color for a long time. I think it came out of the ’80s when rich reds and chocolate browns ruled the day, and people thought that it made rooms feel small. Dark colors actually have the opposite effect in small spaces as we see in the magazine all the time. We are loving rich eggplants and purples, teals and blues, and bronzes and greens.
Q: What are your thoughts on the longevity of subway tile?
A: Long live subway tile. It’s the easiest and cleanest way (and most cost effective) to transform a bathroom or kitchen. You can use it in big ways (a whole room) or small (a backsplash), it complements a variety of metal accents (gold, nickel, brass, etc.) and it’s coming in really cool colors now. Our November cover has a kitchen covered in turquoise subway tiles from wall to ceiling. It’s a WOW.
Q: We are building a house in Florida and looking forward to decorating with (tasteful) coastal hues and themes. Coastal never seems to go out of style, but I’m wondering if it does tend to change with the trends?
A: I’m all about vernacular design. That is to say that a coastal house should “look” coastal just as a city apartment should look “city” (no bamboo armchairs in a Georgetown townhouse, for instance). Palm trees and pastel colors pulled from the beach never go out of style.
Q: What are the design trends you think will be big in 2020?
A: The big trends in 2020 actually have nothing to do with colors or styles in my opinion. The big trend we are focusing at Elle Decor has to do more with how design makes you feel and how it can improve your life: make you richer (can painting a wall a certain color make you more productive, for instance), make you smarter, make you sleep better, make you happier. There’s a term for it: Universal Design, and we’re dedicating a lot of column inches and space on our website to the designers and architects who are creating a better future. My favorite stories are about a deaf architect who is reimagining the sidewalk of the future and the best home products for people with a range of disabilities.
Q: I have a mid-century modern home and would like to find some appropriate furniture. I don’t have the budget for high-quality vintage pieces, but I also don’t want to buy West Elm’s whole mid-century modern line. Any suggestions?
A: One hundred percent, a flea market. Brimfield is still one of the best in the country and worth the trip. [Editor’s note: Brimfield Antique Flea Markets, comprised of about 20 individually owned show fields, are held three times a year in central Massachusetts.] EBay and Etsy are also great resources, and Design Within Reach is a great resource for re-editioned classic pieces. Remember, when a lot of mid-century furniture was being mass-produced, it was supposed to be priced for everyone, not just for a select few. So I think going the “new/old” route is a good solution for you. And remember the most important thing: You don’t have to buy everything at once. Collecting quality pieces over time is always a good idea.
Q: Please tell me these trends are falling out of style: Mason jars being used for everything but canning; words on step risers such as “We do forgiveness,” “We are kind to others” and so on; shiplap boards inside the house; and wooden word art on the walls such as”Be Happy,” “Live Laugh Love” and so on. What is new and fresh?
A: I’m with you: no slogans on your walls. Save it for the classroom. And rooms that look pulled straight from a catalogue (no one is that organized). I do think eventually all trends come around, though (I’m living for shag rug in winter to be honest). What’s new and fresh? Decorating that is reflective of you and your individual style.
Q: Our whole house is white with white walls, beige carpets and white trim. It’s all very nice and warm and fresh, but I want a dark, cozy bedroom. Any specific color recs? I was thinking maybe a deep green. We live in a forest and have large windows.
A: Bring that forest in! Go into the woods and pick the leaves and color match a sample. I love the idea of a green bedroom. Really deep browns, burgundy and ambers could be an incredible accent.
Q: What are you thoughts on faux interior brick as an accent wall? We live in a rowhouse, so it’s plausible that it was original, but of course it would not be. It seems like the materials have come a long way. But would it be cheesy to add this to our 15-year old home?
A: I’m torn. I love the idea that you want to add history to your space and bring it in line with the architecture of the rowhouse. But in this case, I would add texture with wallpaper. There’s so many beautiful and historic patterns that can add age and drama and tell a story that isn’t a faux material.
Q: Do you think chintz is coming back in a big way? Is 1980s design a thing again?
A: Chintz rooms aren’t my personal aesthetic, but I was a big fan of the late Mario Buatta’s and I have to say that a big bouffanted flowery chintz’d room puts a big smile on my face. Is ’80s design now a thing again? I think ’80s everything is a thing again. Excuse me while I lower my Depeche Mode soundtrack in my Reagan Red living room.
Q: Do you think the whole decluttering organizing thing will continue in a big way?
A: I have big respect for Marie Kondo but I am an unabashed hoarder, maximalist, and collector and always will be. I think we’re seeing a return to stuff, and I’m all for it.
Q: We have a townhouse with bones that are a bit more traditional than our taste, so we’re slowly making changes. It’s a narrow space and the main floor has a single large space with both the living room and dining room. The space is divided visually because the dining space has a chair rail and other molding, then there is a column on the wall between the two rooms. We’d like to take all that down. Will we regret taking away the delineation of space?
A: How long do you intend to live in the space? If it’s long-term, I say make bold choices now. You can always put up drywall if you change your mind. Design (even architecture) is not permanent.
Q: My new-to-me house still has its 1950s pink bathroom. What kind of shower curtain should I get to match? I’d like something like what it would originally have had, but none of the “pink bathroom” pictures I can find online seem to have shower curtains.
A: Please never change. There is nothing better than your 1950s pink tiled bathroom, and I love that you love it. In this case I would go the clean white shower curtain route as it contrasts the best. Or you could do black, which is more of the era. Polka-dot would be amazing and cheeky.
Q: How has Instagram changed the design world?
A: It’s not so much Instagram for me as it is the camera phone. I feel fundamentally like the camera phone has literally changed the way we see the world around us, in most cases in a supersaturated color scheme, through a 5 1/2-inch piece of vertical glass. I see the rise of maximalist design completely as a result of the camera phone. In the design industry I think Instagram has allowed more people to call themselves designers than actually should, and showcase a very narrow body of work, and that’s disappointing.