I’m always getting asked if this is timeless or that is trendy. So, today I’m sharing 5 timeless decorating details to help you know what exactly is timeless vs. trendy and more importantly, when this distinction matters.
Any time my Instagram account picks up a bunch of new followers, I start getting a lot of messages that go like this:
“Maria, is zellige tile timeless or trendy?”
“What about gold/bronze hardware?”
“Is upper shelving timeless or trendy?”
And on and on….
But here’s the thing, many of these questions are confusing one major point of distinction. That is, many of you are mixing up questions about decorating vs. questions about hard finishes.
And, decorating is very different than installing hard finishes. Once you understand this, you can rest a bit easier.
Because you don’t need to worry about whether your lighting, wallpaper, or your leopard staircase runner is timeless. It’s unlikely anyone else will like any of your choices in these categories anyway because decorating is so personal.
And since decorating elements are so easy to replace when compared to hard finishes like tile and countertops, decorating is where you really can choose what you like or indulge in a trendy element.
5 Timeless Decorating Details You Can’t Ignore
By the way, it’s not like I have some magical insight that makes me the gatekeeper of what’s timeless. BUT, I’ve been decorating, blogging and teaching colour for a loooong time. So, I’ve seen many trends and fads come and go. Patterns often emerge in what ends up standing the test of time. It’s a bit more subtle than a firm checklist of attributes.
However, here are 5 timeless decorating details you can apply to help you recognize and make TIMELESS decorating choices in your home.
1. Colour is Timeless
You know, it’s easy to find many designers making the opposite claim, saying that a neutral room is more timeless. But that kind of advice is flawed and not helpful to you. Because if you follow my content, you know that nothing dates your home faster than choosing everything in the trendy neutral of the moment.
And to be clear, timeless decorating does NOT mean safe and boring decorating. But Maria, isn’t it possible to create a timeless AND neutral room? Absolutely. But there is nothing timeless about a room furnished top-to-bottom in brown and beige (Tuscan trend of the early 2000s), or grey-on-grey (grey trend of the 2010s).
Read more: What Makes a Neutral Room Timeless & Beautiful
But Maria, what about white?
Great question! Yes, white is neutral and I would also call it timeless. However, there’s an important detail we need to consider, especially during this current trend. Choosing EVERYTHING in black and white does not make timeless decor. Too often the interiors of the black and white trend look bland, stark, predictable.
Again it must be said – choosing everything in the trendy neutral of the moment is NOT timeless.
May I also remind you that boring now equals timeless later (design rule #1). But this particular design rule applies to glued-down, permanent or semi-permanent hard finishes such as tile and countertops. But I wouldn’t apply this rule to decorating overall.
See what I’m getting at?
If you choose natural wood floors with white or cream for your glued down hard finishes like tile, rather than a trending beige, grey, taupe, or black, you’ll never have to rip it out and you can decorate it a million different ways over time. It will be so easy to change it up if you like or decorate with your favourite colour, which will always make you happy.
And that includes PAINT. White finishes allow you to wrap any room in luxurious COLOUR. That means you can choose a trending and/or bold colour for your paint, decorating, art, and styling. My favourite decorating formula is to make sure you have at least one or two large elements in your room in COLOUR.
So for example, in this video, when I said, “if all else fails, choose white” I meant TILE. Not stark white walls.
One of my favourite ways to help you incorporate colour into your decorating is by choosing a sofa in your favourite colour.
Read more: 3 Colourful Sofas to Save You from Decision Fatigue
My sunflower yellow sofa
Timeless refers to something that will never go out of style. In other words, it is created with a long view in mind. Timeless decorating is making selections that will last well beyond the current trend and shouldn’t need replacing until it is threadbare. But, a timeless room can also easily be styled and accessorized to reflect your interests in the moment.
And what is the most timeless furniture, you ask? Classical antique furniture. As I mentioned in this post.
2. Timeless generally means anything that is expensive or difficult to replace should be boring
Here’s a list of things that should be chosen deliberately to be simple, plain and safe (which is not to say they aren’t pretty). But, they should be considered backdrop items, not the stars of the show:
- Plumbing fixtures: Soft, silver finishes like polished nickel and chrome are so much more versatile and less likely to be instantly dated like the look-at-me-black hardware that’s everywhere.
- Tile: Big, messy job (IYKYK). Tile fads are among the quickest to cycle in and then out. Some tile patterns are out in just a few years! Stick with solid white or cream. Consider tiles as the art canvas, not the main art.
- Wood flooring: How much will it cost you (not to mention the hassle) to replace that dated weathered-wood-look floor you thought was so fresh looking in the grey trend? Because replacing flooring is a ginormous job. Where will you put all your furniture? That’s why we generally replace flooring right BEFORE we move in because doing it later means you’re packing up and moving everything again. Instead, I recommend simple natural light to medium brown wood look flooring. The end.
- Countertops: You will NOT love the busy, artsy slab full of “interesting movement” that caught your eye today at the stone yard forever. I can promise that. Simple and subtle countertops in white, cream, black or very pale neutrals will give you maximum longevity. And that’s good, because good countertops are not cheap.
- Cabinet Hardware: Those 4 or 6 inch blocky matte black pulls that so many of us are installing on every drawer and cabinet? Just don’t. The most timeless hardware should look integrated and soft. Stick with small knobs on cabinets and pulls on drawers ONLY.
3. Timeless means your backdrop is versatile enough to decorate with COLOUR
I have wondered many times why so many people will absolutely insist on an interesting tile choice for their backsplash but suddenly can’t be bold with their area rug and sofa.
To set things straight, here is a list of things that you can absolutely go wild with and choose a pretty colour:
- Sofa: Yes, you might need a practical colour so the dog can snuggle up or spilling your coffee isn’t the end of the world. But that doesn’t mean your sofa needs to be the colour of mud. Choose a rich colour that you LOVE for your sofa. You’ll never regret it.
- Area rug: This is probably the biggest MISSED opportunity for colour. That is, when people choose BOTH the SOFA and the AREA RUG in the safe, trending neutral of the moment. Two great colour moments were just missed. Not to mention, this is one of the best ways to pull together and repeat colour like a designer. Learn more here.
- Accent Chairs: Having trouble committing to a sofa in a bold colour? Then your next stop is accent chairs. They’re not an accent if they’re drab and colourless. Just sayin’.
- Bedding: Even if you love hotel white sheets, coverlets and pillows are destined for colour. Don’t let them down. And if you’re trying to choose a wall colour for your bedroom – THIS is a great starting point.
- Toss Pillows: Ditto.👆🏼
- Artwork: Don’t just settle for the taupe and charcoal pretend painting. Instead of looking chic and sophisticated, it looks sad. Opt for artwork that INSPIRES colour choice. This is also a great starting point for choosing your wall colour.
- Lighting: This one may surprise you. But, while it’s a bit of a hassle to replace ALL your lighting, you can absolutely go for a trendy statement piece. You just might have to be willing to replace it down the road (or take it with you when you move, like I did with my dining room light).
- PAINT: Ok, so I get that repainting all 5,000 square feet is not inexpensive (I know because I just did it). But repainting a fun colour in a bedroom, bathroom, vanity, or kitchen island? That’s pretty minor. And SO worth it. Even adding colour on your cabinetry, if you know you love it, is a great place to incorporate colour.
4. The litmus test for trendy vs. timeless
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no easy foolproof way to know what is trendy vs. timeless. It takes awareness of what the trends are, where they’ve been, and where they are going. But, that’s where I can help. Because this is what I do. Follow me for endless fun and guidance to help you understand what is timeless vs. trendy.
Sometimes things become dated when they prove to be impractical, after all.
Many are declaring open shelving over because they don’t like the dusting. However, it’s still a good way to take a dated, builder kitchen and make it feel more current.
Everything becomes dated when we’ve all seen something that was originally sexy, say for example, the trending rustic villa on the Mediterranean Tuscan (aka vibes of 25 years ago) done badly and worse, over and over. And also, NOT located in Tuscany.
Overdone = dated
Badly done = dated
Versatile and fresh (sometimes boring) backdrop for decorating = timeless
Decorating with your favourite colours = timeless
Looks so new and exciting, gotta have it = TRY IT out on a pillow or rug, but don’t choose it for your glued-down surfaces
5. The refined side of timeless decorating
So yes, there are more advanced levels of timeless decorating like having the ‘Devil Wears Prada’ level of taste (below).
Or, like knowing which investment pieces like art and antiques will elevate your space and stand the test of time.
Or, like knowing the most timeless way to use neutrals.
Or, like having a fancy design education that allows you to identify the period of any style.
Because, the cliche is true. The devil is in the details.
Here’s the clip if you haven’t seen the movie
And while that’s true, I promise you, that if you save this post and refer back to these 5 decorating details WHENEVER you need to make a big decision for your house, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of the game. You’ll jump right off the trend treadmill and into timeless decorating that still allows you to express yourself.
Have you seen my new weekly Instagram series? I’ve started sharing trendy or timeless Thursdays. Here’s one about subway tile sizes (even that’s not as easy as you think).
Got a timeless vs. trendy question? Pop it in the comments below and maybe it’ll end up in my weekly Instagram series!
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Great post! I’ve been following you for a while… and now have a dilemma. We built a shop/guest house on our lot – white pole barn with black windows – trendy yes but timeless in farm country where we live. We are now going to build the main house which will be approximately 50 ft to the left of the shop. I’m all in on the anti white and black exterior trend but what do we do about the exterior of the house? Does it need to match the shop?? Or can it be its own color palette? Thank you!
I think this is one of those instances where you need to buy Maria’s exterior house color package.
I think any style can be revamped and updated to look fresh even Glam, Farmhouse and Tuscan. Just by looking at what those look like now on videos and magazines you will see how it can be done. You don’t need to avoid your favorite style just because it can still look amazing with the right tweaking.
Wonderful post, Maria! Following you since 2011 has given me the courage to be colorful with area rugs, furniture and art. One thing that I’ve never solved and had to ignore (until now) is the “black hole” a large TV creates in our living room, since we aren’t able to have a separate room for entertainment. Recently, my very dear husband asked if I’d agree to replace our big-enough 55” TV with a 75” one! Yikes!! Our living room isn’t large, so you can imagine that this HUGE black hole would suck the life out of our colorful living room! Nevertheless, I agreed because I’m grateful for everything he does for me, and I think he’s more important than decor. I resigned myself to ignoring the ginormous black hole…until I saw an article about Samsung’s The Frame television. When it’s turned off you can choose from a huge array of art to display on the screen so it turns into a beautiful, decorative part of the room. Now I’m excited about the TV. He gets his immersive TV and I get art. Win win! It’s arriving today. Yes, it’s more expensive than a similar size TV, but for us it will be worth it. I don’t work for Samsung or get a discount for writing about The Frame TV. I wish! 🙂 I just thought I’d mention it in case anyone else struggles with the large TV dilemma in their otherwise carefully decorated colorful living room.
I just looked at this yesterday and have to have one! You can buy art for it on Etsy…I’m so excited with all the options.
Some trends become “out” when the upkeep becomes too great. Like the wood floors of my childhood that had to be waxed. Watch for it next: marble kitchen counters, open shelving, too much glass in bathrooms, bathroom sink vessels, dark tile and counters that shows water spots.
Pale marble kitchen counters fall into the timeless category. One never tires of them, as long as patina is not considered undesirable. And original limited open shelving can be seen in houses from many decades. It’s done differently over time, but also seems timeless to me. The rest I agree with. Those huge, glass enclosed showers must be a nightmare to keep looking good.
Marble stains, cracks and crazes. Open shelving will work for you if you like dusting in the kitchen and like keeping things exact and losing cabinet space. Watch design shows in 15 yrs and these will be the thing people want changed. Already they are adding the kitchen behind the kitchen because the first kitchen is “for show.”
On my open shelves, which flank the sink, I keep dishes that are used every day. It is no more trouble to put them away neatly than it is to make a mess. Once or twice a year, I take everything down, wash what is dusty, and wipe down the shelves. Pretty matters to me, and the amount of work is minimal. No regular dusting is required. It’s also very convenient to grab plates and cups and bowls from those shelves. I have plenty of cabinet space as well, and my dishes are actually stored more efficiently on the shelves than they would be in a cabinet.
People should arrange their kitchens the way they like. I’m just trying to point out that blanket condemnations of open shelving don’t necessarily reflect lived experience with it.
Oh, and my marble has not stained, cracked, or crazed in ten years. It does spot and scratch. Patina.
Totally agree with this! I choose everything with low maintenance in mind.
I heard one wit comment that putting in vessel sinks was telling your short friends you hate them (I’m short and I agree!).
Marble is a ton of upkeep although always gorgeous, open shelving is a lot of work.
I once rented a house that had vessel sinks and I hated them.
One of them was on a small vanity, which meant the cleanser bottle with the pump dispenser had to go behind the vessel – not very accessible.
I agree with Kay. Marble is timeless. I have marble countertops. I’ve raised two children to adulthood with those counters. We are cooks and red wine drinkers – and we use our kitchen hard. There are no stains. There is etching but I think that only makes the marble more beautiful. Every time
I touch it, I love it more. I’m not sure what kind of marble cracks and crazes – my Carrara doesn’t.
Thanks, b. I use my kitchen hard too. Lots of cooking and red wine. Grease and messes. I do wipe up acids and squeeze lemons in the sink.
Curious to know: what is the most timeless wood finish for kitchen cabinetry? The one problem with white is that it’s hard to keep clean. My instinct would be to repeat my neutral wood floor tone or to choose a wood that isn’t associated with a particular trend.
I’ve had white kitchen cabinets for ten years now and find them not difficult at all, but I wipe down any dirt as soon as I notice it. If you have children and dogs, they may be a bad choice.
No dogs, just a lot of energetic kids. Another thing about white is that it really shows wear – which isn’t a problem when you don’t have a large number of people in a house, and is when you do. Dings and chips on a wood finish blend in much better than on white.
I have had white cabinets for years. Any cabinet doors that have a frame, such as shaker or colonial, will get dirty, especially at the bottom where the frame catches the dirt. I recently remodeled my kitchen, and still have white cabinets, but the fronts are completely smooth, and a breeze to wipe down.
I said no to flat front (actually my husband vetoed) and have heartily regretted it.. Next time!!
Light to medium brown would be most timeless, just like with wood flooring.
All those reddish cherry or yellowy orange wood cabinets are not timeless.
You make so much sense, Maria! I always look forward to your posts and I’m really looking forward to the new Trendy or Timeless on Thursdays. I appreciate all you do. Thanks!
I would love to see you do a blog on dark moody design — all your posts are light and airy – there are some of us that prefer to live on the dark side! LOL! I am building a barn house and want to have that moody/cozy vibe. Thanks!
Function before form. I like pulls on everything because its just easier to grab from every direction.
Question about this statement: “4 or 6 inch blocky matte black pulls”. I’m wondering what style you’re referring to here and if you could point to a photo. I currently only have 1 metal in my kitchen. (Mid-century style walnut cabinets, off white counters and stainless appliances/sink/faucet.) I want to bring in a second color, and I have black in the neighboring rooms (bar counter, fireplace, staircase.) So black pulls and island pendants seem like the obvious choice for a second color in the kitchen and to bring in the black from the other areas of the great room. Wondering what type of pulls you’re thinking are bad vs okay.
There’s an example of the pull Maria is referring to in this post: https://mariakillam.com/lighting-hardware-kitchen-design/
I incorporated a lot of your advice when we built our home in 2010/2011….cream tiles, white kitchen, black granite counter, etc. and now 10+ years later I can say I am so so happy I found you when I did. Also, when I had to recover my sofa, I chose a yellow velvet for my master bedroom and green velvet for the living room and I love them both. Thanks Maria!
When I was a child, my mother, my sister, and I took piano lessons from a former concert pianist who lived with her mother in a big old house in Berkeley, California. We were there for three hours every week and had to quietly entertain ourselves for two of those hours. We spent those hours in a sunroom just off the kitchen, with builtin bookcases under the big windows overlooking the garden. The grand piano was in the living room, which was furnished with threadbare antiques and carpets. The entire house had probably not been updated since it was built, probably early in the twentieth century. Judging by their age and condition, the furnishings had been handed down through at least one or two generations.
This may sound weird and far off to a modern sensibility, but that house and those furnishings shaped my sense of beauty. My father had built our ranch house in the late 1940s, and everything in it was of that time, in the most ordinary sense. I have no idea what I would be like today had I not spent those hours, once a week, for three and a half years, in those surroundings.
To me, that house represents timelessness. I could live in it, just as it was, today. Sadly, it has been thoroughly modernized and was on the market a few years ago, for millions.
Memories! My aunt, uncle and cousins lived in a similar house with wonderful windows built in 1924 in the Berkeley hills, also with threadbare antiques and carpets. I spent a lot of time in that house growing up in the 1950s and loved it. I’m sure it influenced me to hang on to the two pieces of antique furniture passed down in my family along with smaller items, as well as my love of windows! My cousin lived in it until he died a few years ago and his sister sold it for close to two million in 2021. It had never been updated and had become quite shabby, but I was able to take a fond walk down memory lane on Zillow. The house you loved sounds beautiful.
Great advice and post!
Maria, so glad I started following you some years ago before we renovated our current home. We now have a timeless marble bathroom and a beautiful, neutral quartzite kitchen countertops with the CORRECT undertone shade of white subway tile backsplash. We are now introducing new colors in our decorating, and since we followed the rules you outlined in this post, we don’t have to change one thing that was previously installed! Thank you!
I definitely have to agree with you on the highly patterned stone countertops. They look good at the moment, but they’re so extreme that the backlash against them is going to be really dramatic. All that expensive natural stone is going to end up in landfills in just a few years. What a horrible use of natural resources.
I couldn’t agree more with your concern for waste of natural resources when expensive counters (expensive to mine, transport and cut) go out of style. One can only hope that perhaps a cottage recycling industry will spring up to reuse/repurpose those counters. Break up, turn over and use rough side as stepping stones? My parents used “scrap” granite slabs for outdoor tables.
Timeless or trendy: the skinny shaker style? I’m thinking of it for some built-ins. (I have ‘regular’ shaker in the kitchen with a MCM vibe on the whole main floor).
But I thought GOD was in the details… (at least according to Mies van der Rohe or maybe Gustave Flaubert)
Another great post, Maria! I always get a rush of happy when I see a Maria email in my inbox!
Love this post! You mentioned posting questions…here’s mine: are there any tips for determining timeless pendant lighting for kitchens?
You wrote that it’s okay to do something trendy with lighting, but if the preference is for keeping things as timeless as possible are there any guidelines to keep in mind?
Thanks for considering!
Maria…so is unpolished brass hardware timeless or trendy? I’m so drawn to it, because I use gilt accents with lamps, picture frames, etc., but are you saying it’s not timeless in a bathroom or for kitchen cabinet pulls?
Besides marble, what is a timeless stone or faux stone for basement flooring?
I don’t want wood (in case of water issues) or vinyl (I’m trying to avoid plastic) so I am looking at porcelain tiles that look like stone. Looking at images from deVOL kitchens or European cottages, I see creamy stone, beige stone, green, taupe, gray, charcoal, black… which is most flexible, less limiting? Is there a timeless, darker colored tile to hide dirt for someone who likes to garden?
What are your thoughts on appliances? What is trendy vs. Timeless? Thank you!