The themes that return again and again.

March 23, 2021

Seasons changes, tastes evolve, but certain design themes seem to return again and again—or never go away.

Last March, few believed that COVID-19 would still dictate our daily lives a whole year later. The 12 intervening months have wrought much devastation and misery far beyond measure. Dreams have been put on hold, businesses shuttered, but our increased time at home was a hidden blessing as notions of comfort continue to evolve in new and profound ways.  Trends are an amalgam of influences, but as people have been investing in feathering their nests rather than other discretionary purchases – there are understated, elegant looks that never go out of fashion. Here’s a list of the hallmarks of timeless interior style. Read more, ‘Top 10 Design Trends for 2021: Meet Your New Home.’

An elegant interior by Axel Vervoordt prove the perfect white sofa is a timeless classic that never goes out of style. Image via

Blue-and-White Porcelain

This classic combination dates back to 14th-century China—that’s where blue-and-white porcelain was first developed—but blew up in 17th-century Netherlands, which exported Delft glazed earthenware all over Europe. Since then, it’s been used everywhere from tableware to tile work in the country and city homes of social doyennes such as Babe Paley and Tory Burch.

As Oscar Wilde put it: “I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china.”

White Bedding 

Soothing, uncomplicated white helps keep visual stimulation to a minimum. We always choose simple white sheets – they suit all seasons, all styles, all settings  – minimalism to maximalism.  In today’s chaotic world it’s nice to unwind in a bedroom that feels fresh and serene. Read more, ‘Can You Design A Happy Home? It’s Easier Than It Looks.’

Marble Benchtops 

A time-honoured choice for benchtops, marble is a classic that’s versatile enough to look good in all kinds of kitchens. Like a white button-down shirt, white marble is adaptable, mixing well with different styles and a wide variety of materials (stainless, wood, tile). It can be dressed up with a polished finish, or made more casual with a honed finish.

The White Sofa 

The only certainties in life maybe death and taxes, but add to that the need for a perfect white sofa. Read more, ‘Finding the Perfect Sofa For Your Living Room.’

It’s the ideal staple to build an interior around.

White sofa with Lucy Montgomery cushions,

Rattan & Wicker

While wicker’s apex was in the 19th century, when trade routes from Asia brought a steady supply of rattan to Europe, the art of weaving objects from natural fibres actually goes back as far as ancient Egypt. Today, however,  wicker and rattan is as popular as every with designs evolving with the times, despite the construction process barely changed in thousands of year. The world’s most beautiful houses feature wicker bedheads to hanging light fixtures, rattan sofas, dining seats, tables, bedsides, commodes, chests, and much more. Read more, ‘Be Part of The Rattan Resurgence (Buy A Piece of History.)’

Natural woven straw is more than a trend; it’s a material that has been used and tested through time to add warmth, interest, and craftsmanship to rooms.

Piana Wicker Dining Chairs from MCM House, $390,

The Farmhouse Table 

A perennial classic: the farmhouse table instantly grounds a space. Read more, ‘How to Choose The Right Dining Table.’

A classic farmhouse table pictured at Melissa Penfold’s country house in Australia’s Southern Highlands.

Upholstered Furniture 

Not going out last year meant more Netflix nights and TV dinners en famille, and big upholstered sofas and armchairs became the must-have furniture of lockdown. They are the key to comfort; softening the hard lines of architecture and determining the quality, durability and function of our rooms. They add to the physical warmth of an interior and are what makes any room feel right.

Upholstered furniture softens the hard line of architecture. Image via Armadillo & Co Collection


The sheer variety of wall lamp styles makes their use in any interior uplifting, especially since the advent of cooler-to-the-touch LED bulbs. Read more, ‘The Essential Guide to Lighting.’

The sheer variety of wall lamp styles makes their use in any interior uplifting. Image via CB2.

Wide-Plank Oak Floors 

Few materials are as widely used, and have been around as long, as wide-plank oak for flooring which can last for hundreds of years. Durable pale floor planks offer a classic look that’s easily integrated with many design aesthetics. Wide-plank floors were used in early houses out of necessity but are now used in kitchens and family rooms to create a feeling of warmth and ease.

You just sand it, seal it, sand it, seal it. You don’t get as many dust mites and it doesn’t harbour as much dust — and it’s more hygienic.

Durable pale timber floor planks offer a classic look that’s easily integrated with many design aesthetics. Image via Armadillo & Co Company


Floor coverings made of sisal and other stiff, natural fibres make rooms instantly look right, whatever your style. And are available in every imaginable pattern, colour, design, and mix of materials.  Bonus: They’re practical, long-lasting, and budget-friendly.

Canopy Bed

Promising a crib’s cosseting comforts, canopy beds are trending. They’ve come back in the biggest, most feverish way. We understand the allure; they’re a space in a space that give you that snug feeling with curtains you can tug shut to block out an en-suite office or a bustling spouse. But the canopy dates back to when medieval European nobility would travel between their castles or manor houses and needed beds that could be transported but still offer privacy (because of the curtains) from their staff (who often slept in the same room, for convenience and security). They’ve come a long way since.

Canopy beds make a bedroom feel cosy, and private, which is needed more than ever now.

Canopy beds are  a space in a space that give you that snug feeling with curtains you can tug shut to block out an en-suite office or a bustling spouse, Image via Traditional Home

Ikat Print Textiles 

The centuries-old woven textile ubiquitous in Southeast Asia and South America is both exotic and traditional, vibrant and muted. They look just as fresh 1000 years later, when used in pastels, neutral or stronger hues.

Ideal for adding character, drama and a sense of the exotic to a space.


Perhaps best utilized in a cosy bedroom setting, toile is a European decorating classic. Made of linen and adorned with a pastoral or scenic print, it works well in both small ways (like on an upholstered chair) and wall-to-wall. Toile always carries with it romance and a old-school charm vibe. And it’s one of the few fabrics you can commit to absolutely; more is always more in the perfect way. It brings a sense of history and classicism to any space.

Gallery Walls

A salon-style accent wall is an opportunity for someone to make a very personal statement about who they are and what they like. Read more, ‘How To Display Your Collections.’

Gallery walls in small spaces draw the viewer in, creating an immediate sense of warmth.

Tell a story: Whether it’s an impressive collection of priceless family photos, gallery walls tell a story, and invite reflection.  Group themes: paintings of the same era or genre, like portraits of pets. A wall of only framed pieces can appear flat. Add elements of 3-D interest such as a collection of turtle shells or vintage textiles to add texture. In these groupings, the centre line of the middle picture or object should be at eye level.

Gallery walls tell a story such as this Sean Anderson living room, via Alyssa Rosenheck.

Scenic Wallpaper

Scenic wallpaper arrived on the design scene in the late 1970s, depicting beautiful panoramic scenes of exotic locations. It’s the easiest conversation starter for any dinner party. Variations and styles, from the realistic to the more abstract, have helped it endure. You might not be able to visit Provence or Asia anytime soon, but you can unfurl their panoramas on your walls. A scenic wallcovering can be transporting and make us feel as if we’re surrounded by nature. Designers are increasingly wrapping rooms in soft-toned riverside landscapes and hanging hand-painted murals in lieu of art in dining rooms. By candlelight, you feel like you are living in the painting. Choose from an infinitely rich repertoire: earthly paradises, magnificent horizons, fantastical bestiaries, luxurious flora, breathtaking landscapes. They’re an unbeatable Zoom background.

Built-in Bookcases 

Classic built-in bookshelves, overflowing with novels you’ve read and loved, never goes out of fashion. Built-in bookshelves are timeless and always elevate the sophistication of a room if done with well-chosen materials, and painted to match the walls.

They can help define a space, too, but most importantly add that feeling we crave of comfort like a warm hug from a trusted friend.

Loose covers

Removable linen covers have a relaxed, informal aesthetic. They can be changed with the season and — because they can be cleaned and replaced — may extend the life of the home’s most hardworking piece of furniture, the sofa.


Folding, portable, and as useful as they can be beautiful, screens are on the rise in our homes to define space within rooms and provide privacy. They also create instant office spaces, plus add warmth to interiors. They can hide clutter, and when the children’s mess is a heaving pile of unsorted toys and clothes, a well-placed screen can make things look respectable. And they are fun for children’s homemade theatrics. Today’s screens come with as many or as few panels as you want, in ravishing finishes that range from translucent to solid. If you want a room to be truly versatile and portable, choose a screen that is light enough for one person to fold and carry. Don’t however use a screen as an enormous photo album. Remember it’s a screen, not a screen test.

Hanging Pots & Pans 

Hanging pots and pans over a kitchen island is an easy, chic way to save cabinet space, keep everyday items close at hand, and give a multidimensional feel to a kitchen. A caveat? Hanging pots and pans should be nickel or pewter, so they don’t have to be polished all the time.

Hanging cookware on utensil racks is an easy, chic way to save cabinet space, keep everyday items close at hand, and give a multidimensional feel to a kitchenImage via @joeruggiero_collection.


The glazed Calico, a type of Indian cotton adorned in large florals and botanicals, traces back to the early 1600s. It became ubiquitous in American design in the 1980s, and is back in various forms, from wallpaper to china to fabrics and floor coverings.

Chintz looks great if you are going for the lived-in, look in a country house.

Vintage furniture

There seems to be an even larger appetite for vintage this year.  The purpose of vintage is giving a sense of patina, history and texture. A positive by-product of the quarantine thrust upon so many of us as a result of the pandemic is a renewed sense of personal style and purpose—and a deepening interest in spaces where that can be cultivated. One aesthetic that’s trending is a balance of contrasts, or a kind of surrealistic energy that takes the form of scales that are wildly different, juxtaposed in a space with something really big next to something small. Think of it as personal expression.

Wall-to-wall carpeting

Wall-to-wall floor coverings make any room feel instantly cosy and plush. There is something that will always be inherently comfortable about it.

Durable pale timber floor planks paired with classic upholstery are a sure-fire winner for a timeless interior. Image via Armadillo Collection

related stories


Don’t miss the style set’s fave newsletter

Get Melissa's weekly rundown of where top interior designers source their things and find inspiration - that will instantly transform your pad.

Close and please don't show again