Two years ago, when my partner and I first moved in together, we had seven beloved pieces of art and nowhere to sit. Our move coincided with the pandemic phase when everyone was seriously tired of their surroundings, so our parents and siblings took the opportunity to throw their rejected furniture in our direction. We got just about everything we needed: a bed, six mismatched chairs, side tables, drawers, and lopsided bookshelves.
How to find your interior design style
Cottagecore, Japandi, and Dark Academia: Go beyond fads on Instagram and Pinterest to find out what you really liked Strategy needed — and expert help
The only bad thing about this rough legacy was that it was completely devoid of style. The best thing is that we have the essentials, so we can take our time figuring out what “style” means to us. Because in a time of inspiration galore—when thousands of trends are blooming on Instagram and Pinterest, and online shopping offers custom sofas and vintage lamps with disturbing ease—defining our personal aesthetics has been a mess.
As San Francisco interior designer Nose Nozawa told me: “Your appetite is always bigger than your actual stomach. The same goes for design.” I sought advice from interior designers, designers, artists, and aesthetics too, who all echoed: We’re in an age of overwhelming choices, and it’s never been more challenging. And More feasible to exercise individual taste.
Lots of gorgeous low-slung living rooms and stylish home offices have lured me into my social feeds; But I also had the feeling that these visions were someone else’s taste, and not mine. Furniture designer and founder of Objects for Objects, Leonard Bessemer, confirmed my suspicions: The ease of inspiration with a click often doesn’t lead to lasting fulfillment. “People want to imitate really cool aesthetics they see on Instagram, which I think is great, because your house will look nicer afterward,” Bessemer said, “but the fallacy is that it’s not necessarily your personal style.” When the glamour of this trend wears off, you’re living with a boucle chair that looks like it belongs in someone else’s home.
Obviously, I needed a much stronger sense of my own taste to navigate this seemingly endless landscape, and my path toward personal interior design style began to remind me of a different journey I took a few years ago. At the time, I was suffering from a fashion binge, so I adopted TikTok’s favorite framework — the three word method — developed by designer Alison Bornstein. This approach isolates three qualities that should allow you to fully express your aesthetic. Bornstein’s lyrics, for example, are classic, ’70s and chic. Knowing my words (fun, sharp, easy) helped me simplify my dressing and shopping more deliberately. I wondered if the method could also apply to my home.
I messaged Bornstein to see if she thought of using those words to design the house. My timing was perfect. She had just moved into a new home and realized she desperately needed to adjust her three-word style. “I bought a sofa that was very cool, very ’70s, very smart and interesting,” she told me on the phone. But the sofa was uncomfortable. She realized that she needed her home to be warm; “Warm” was one of three keywords that should describe everything I got. “I just got excited because the sofa was so cool. So, we all make mistakes. And I hope everyone doesn’t make the antique sofa size mistake.”
To “find the words,” she suggests looking beyond the pictures—and reading about interior design. She even suggests extending the method to four Words for Interiors: The three basic words and one additional word for each space in the home. For example, if your words are modern, earthy, and elegant, you might want to add “calm” to your bedroom and “whimsical” to your office.
Bornstein and I chatted about how, for interiors, there’s a very different subtlety to sensibility than fashion. For example, I need a little humor with my clothes: an acid color, and a pair of glamorous, glamorous shoes. However, “fun” certainly didn’t make it into the pantheon of home decor. In fact, that word was the trigger for some of my greatest home furnishing regrets. I bought an embarrassingly expensive mirror with fingerprints of people putting lipstick on it; It looks just as complicated as you can imagine. My partner suggested I stop buying the food themed seats. In my defense, it’s weird living in a time when you can type “poo that looks like an ear of corn” into the search bar and find exactly what you’re looking for.
In my unfortunate poop time, I felt so envious of the people who were in keeping with the trends of the moment: cottagecore, dark academia, Japandi. However, I resisted falling for the preppy look. Shannon Maldonado, creative director of home store YOWIE, agreed that distinguishing between what inspires you and what you want to live with can be difficult. Like Bornstein’s Three Words, Maldonado proposed a radically simple method of her own. I advise you to ask yourself: What have you always loved?
“What are the things that you interact with on your own constantly, versus the things that are algorithm-fed?” I suggested keeping tabs on colors, textures, art styles, and patterns that appeal to you for years. “There are certain things throughout my life that I’ve always been drawn to, like line drawings. You’ll always see things that will entice you or affect you. But I think it’s exciting to start discovering things that you really like. And that really takes time.”
Defining your beauty also requires a play on words, Bornstein says. For example, the word “sleek” can apply to both industrial and minimalist—but the color schemes, atmospheres, and textures of these styles are very different. I’ve found that if I break down popular decor trends into their three-word components, I can start to pick out a few that resonate individually. Cottagecore will be rustic, romantic and soft. Dark Academia: moody, gothic, cultivated. Japandi: organic, utilitarian, sleek. Planted – I liked it! expediency – not so much.
I found it especially helpful to list the words that he did not do echo. I didn’t like “spare” or “neutral” at all. I was anti-minimalist, but was I an extremist? You landed on “Live On”. I cringed when my partner suggested a black iron coffee table because it was “too cute”. But was my style “feminine”? No, but it was “fertile”.
Another tried-and-true strategy, according to interior designer and founder of House of Honey, Tamara Kaye-Honey, is to interview yourself. Kaye-Honey has noticed that many of her clients are lost in a sea of inspiration. So, she developed a questionnaire about taste in general: “What’s the last book you read? What’s your favorite thing about your house? Are you a morning person or a night owl? What’s your favorite hotel, your favorite restaurant, that song on repeat, your favorite movie?” Or a martini?”
Kai Honey said the most important thing is that your personal beauty means something You. It’s a feeling. If you feel like one dining table is “Martini” and one is “Margarita,” and you know you have a total three-olive aesthetic, you can choose the right table with confidence.
Furniture designer Bessemer suggested going more symmetrical or even onamonapeatic, like moisturizer or little. “Which word will give the sentimental feeling?” Asked. And this is how you avoid the algorithm, because it will never understand moisturizer The way you work.
Incidentally, this is one of my words for my home office, which I only isolated in my conversation with Bessemer. I’ve found that the best way to get to know my words has been to speak them—professionally, for the sake of this article, but also over the past few weeks with friends, asking if they think something has a “martini feel.” At the antiques market, I picked up a lamp that looked particularly “planted” and knew it deserved a place in my home. I turned down a set of sculptural dining chairs because they weren’t “lush.” And perhaps as an explanation for why I had to let all this thinking permeate for a while, I finally settled on “live in” as the last – and most descriptive – word.
Maggie Lange is a writer covering style, culture, and art. She lives in Philadelphia.