When the pandemic set upon us with the weight of an andiron, design and home trends turned toward a concept called “grandma chic.” It was all the rage, a style geared around nostalgia and security. And goodness knows after the spring of 2020, we needed all the comfort and security we could get.
But as I investigated closer, I had to chuckle. My friends and I have been embracing “grandma chic” long before it ever had a name. This is because we are sentimental people who spent many years without two nickels to rub together. We’ve been wheeling and dealing in antique malls, scavenging off curbs, and picking through each other’s garages since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of us having our own places). A room that looks accumulated, sentimental and cozily “overfull” is a “trend” we’ve been familiar with for a long time.
So, it’s amusing to see this long-established home-look get a name, and be so specifically defined and embraced by even some of the snootiest design aficionados. And there are different moods to “grandma chic” depending on a lot of things. But the overarching requirements for “grandma chic” can be boiled down into five basic requirements.
1. Hunt for Treasures
Do you love old blue and white china? Do you love it but can’t find it in any store? Do you wish your mom had some in the family vault to hand down to you? Sure, but your mom likes the color orange, and there is no family vault. Therefore, you have to hunt it like prey. You don’t need a hunting permit, just some funds, an eBay account and patience. These things are online, at an antique store, in an estate sale, or down in a friend’s basement. Be prepared to spend weekends at an auction or in Goodwill. Creating “grandma chic” style means a commitment to long-haul hunting for the things you love.
2. Embrace Clutter
Picture it (Sophia-style): an open window, lace curtains, plants, a flickering candle, and a few seashells from a trip years ago. If you want a “grandma chic” house, you have to like some clutter. These are not rooms where law and order prevail. These are rooms where you come home and lay your keys on a dining room tray amid a vase of flowers, a framed picture of your favorite pet, and a stack of postcards from your aunt who lives in France. These rooms have bookshelves overflowing with pottery and stacks of National Geographic back issues. They glow yellow at twilight with stained glass lamps and maybe even a retro tv turned into a fish tank. Grandma Chic is the exact opposite of anything Marie Kondo ever had in mind. Did anyone tell grandma she had too many sets of dishes? No. Would she have listened to them if they had? Don’t be silly. She would have chuckled and taken a sip of Sanka and admired her coffee spoon collection. Repeat this to yourself if you feel the urge to clear surfaces, “It’s not clutter, it’s decor.”
3. Flowers and Wallpaper
Whether it’s a mandatory vase on your kitchen table or wallpaper everywhere, you cannot avoid florals if you love “grandma chic.” Floral chintz chairs, rose still-life paintings and flower wallpaper are essentials. My own grandmother’s house had a bathroom so girly and epic that I remember it with great detail. It had pink tiled walls, fluffy bathmats, and the boldest pink rose wallpaper I’d ever seen. If I could recreate that in a future house, I absolutely would. But all that to say, “grandma chic” requires flowers or wallpaper, and maybe both.
4. Find the Fluff
If you’re going to find nostalgia and security, a fluffy eiderdown comforter will help. This is not a style for streamlined furniture or a bed with no headboard. Down pillows, or comforters, are key. The fluffier your chairs and sofa, the better. Layers of warm quilts, fuzzy throw blankets, and a general feeling of being able to catch a nap in almost any room of the house are key components to “grandma chic.”
Is your mother’s 1980s China cabinet out of style? Maybe. Do you love it and want to use it anyway? That’s “grandma chic.” Try to avoid buying new things. Big box stores probably don’t have what you’re looking for. You need picture frames collected over years, art inherited from a cousin, and rugs you bought 20 years ago. Be patient and get sentimental. The things you decorate with should mean something to you. Whether you found it, stalked it on eBay, or begged your sister to let you have it, a true “grandma chic” room will look like it’s been there for at least 30 years. Like a movie set or historical period movie, your home should look a little time-worn. Create your own personal time capsule, but not a sad one, a happy one. It’s easy to see why “grandma chic” is such an attractive concept. It’s a style that is here to stay, whether it has a defining name or not. It’s the perfect decor for the sentimental, the frugal, the maximalist, or the person who just really wishes they could move back into grandma’s house. So just in case you needed it, this is your permission to create a slightly cluttered, homey, soft place to land after you’ve had a hard day, a rough week or survived a pandemic.