Interior design in 2019 will centre around wellbeing and comfort, says Michelle Ogundehin. Her trend report includes the tactile surfaces and humble materials of "soft Scandi", plus a splash of tangy mustard.
Design is rarely conceived in a vacuum, and statements of style are always a response to what's happening in the world at large. So any serious trend prediction has to be based on a rigorous examination of the current cultural context.
At present, all things are in flux. I feel we have reached a crucial tipping point – to put it bluntly, a choice between taking responsibility for where we've found ourselves, or oblivion.
As I fervently believe in the power of our surroundings to affect our wellbeing, the positioning of the home as a space to restore and replenish becomes ever more vital. Rather than an externally facing show space, the home should now be thought of as an acutely personal place for reflection, retreat and a degree of introspection. It must enable the search for authenticity and personal truth that starts with each of us asking: what change can I make as an individual that will have a positive effect on my life, family and work? And, by extension, society as a whole?
Change must come, because in my opinion there's a direct line between our always-on, resolutely screen-based world and the rising rates worldwide of cancer, ill-health and social isolation. To recall Gandhi's famous aphorism, it's time we as individuals became the change we want to see. In short, what we fuel and surround ourselves with creates the story of our lives.
With that in mind, here then are six trends I predict will gather pace through 2019:
Wellbeing comes home
We can only be the proactive author of a rewarding script if we take full responsibility for how we treat ourselves, our individual environments, and ultimately, the planet. We are, after all, in this together.
With a heightened sense of personal responsibility comes the exponential growth of the wellbeing sector. Driven less by exotic spa-breaks and yoga holidays for the few, and more by accessible, affordable ways for everyone to make a daily difference to their lives, wellbeing literally comes home in two main ways.
First, as scientific studies and Sunday Times bestsellers repeatedly verify the disastrous effects of poor sleep on our bodies, health and happiness, the business around sleep will explode; from freely available advice apps that promote better understanding, to high-spec mattresses and devices that improve and track our slumber. The private zones of the home will therefore become the new focus of popular attention, with ambient noise reduction top of the agenda.
Second, as pollution becomes an ever-hotter topic, niche paint brands that reduce airborne odours, bacteria and dirt, like Airlite, will set the bar high for the multinationals. We'll see further appreciation of the ability of plants to naturally clean our air, indoors and out, too. Thus the popularity boom of houseplants seen in 2018 continues apace, but now prompted by health benefits rather than aesthetics.
Likewise, gardening becomes more about the useful than the purely ornamental, whether the creation of healing scented gardens in hospitals or vegetable growing in window boxes. Finally, every shade of green will grow in popularity, as urban dwellers try to recreate a sense of solace inside by any means possible. This hue becomes the soothing salve of the spectrum.
Increased texture and tactility
Wellbeing does however require more than just flat colour and some greenery.
In this acutely digital age, as physical, sensory beings we have a primal need to surround ourselves with surfaces that thrill our fingertips or tempt our toes. Tactile stimulation, whether being hugged or stroking a pet, triggers oxytocin, the love hormone. It also lowers cortisol levels, reducing anxiety and stress. It is the language of compassion, helping us bond and connect with others.
As such, enhanced tactility at home is no superficial conceit, especially when our working days are spent umbilically connected to the super-smooth screens of our phones, tablets or laptops. So the need to be re-connected IRL via touch to our sensory physicality has never been more important for our collective sanity.
Cue then the demise of digitally printed fabrics in favour of real embroidery, thick wool bouclés, linens and all other weaves with seriously cocooning texture. Think too of elaborately embossed wall coverings, a revival of wall panelling and papers made from deliciously touchy-feely cork and bamboo.
Plus, glossy lacquers that obscure a material's heritage will fall out of favour to be replaced by finishes such as brass, easily workable in sheets and admired for its ability to patinate; waxed plywood; or Shou Sugi Ban, the Japanese art of weather-proofing wood to a fine charred black.
Marble, stone, ceramic and porcelain (especially as handmade, hand-decorated artisan tiles) will continue to be popular too as they reference both the natural, as well as the intrinsically textural.
The rise of the humble material
In line with this will be an increase in what I've dubbed "povera" materials: hitherto perceived as humble, rattan, jute, plywood, sisal and hemp will be employed by master designers as if they are haute materials. In other words, rather than being looked down on as being too lowly to be considered beautiful, their inherent texture, authenticity and tactility will be newly celebrated.
On the one hand this is just smart. It taps into a hugely under-utilised toolbox giving designers an updated palette to play with. On the other, it acknowledges important ecological concerns about sustainability.
Design needs to be seen to be making differently.
Flight to the familiar
A reinterpretation of nostalgia is likely to emerge in tandem.
As we see people start to reject fast fashion and throwaway culture, classic furniture pieces will be re-editioned. Whether designer or traditional vintage, we'll see these pieces updated with povera materials, while heritage labels collaborate with fashion labels to reach larger audiences. And, as plastic is rapidly ostracised, we'll see a fairly obvious revival of old-fashioned glassware for food and drink storage.
It all speaks of a return to the familiar in a similar fashion to last season's mainstream move towards velvet upholstery in faintly retro shades of peach, pale pink and pistachio. Consumers will be drawn towards products, materials and finishes that project a sense of fond recognition and uncomplicated comfort. Whether we call it modern craft, or new with integrity, it's about the appreciation of a true creative process built upon a platform of expertise.
We're already seeing this in music, with a return to narrative songs underscored by strong country/Nashville influences – consider the recent hits from Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson, and Kylie Minogue and Jack Savoretti.
What this also means is that any brand, business or organisation that wishes to succeed in these post-truth times must be highly consumer responsive, and answerable, to have visible integrity sewn into the very seams of their being. Otherwise change will be wrought from within by their employees, or externally by shoppers consciously spending elsewhere as they invest their time, energy and money only into brands they implicitly trust.
Soft Scandi becomes the big trend
When we pull all of these influences together – the textures, the materials, the nascent adoption of colour – it adds up to a feel I'd describe as "soft Scandi". In other words, a warmed-up version of that Instagram favourite interiors style.
Where Scandinavian cool typically connotes pristine perfect black, white and wood backdrops with a smudge of oh-so-stylish grey and perhaps a few sheepskins, imagine this seductive simplicity loaded up with extra-added tactility, imperfection and a pale flush of colour. It suddenly gets a lot more interesting, not to mention attainable and friendly.
By employing hemp for our curtains, cork on our walls, and plywood, wicker and jute for our furniture and finishes, it's all more liveable. It feels real, not just for the cameras, which frankly is what we desperately need after a year in which even the Oxford Dictionary determined that "toxic" was the word that best captured the "ethos, mood and preoccupations".
Colour of the year? A touch of spice
In times of such complexity I believe it's nigh on impossible to present a single hue as emblematic for the year ahead.
I was quite damning of Pantone's choice of Living Coral as its 2019 colour of the year, and neither did I much like Dulux's passive and anodyne Spiced Honey. Many too are suggesting that beige will be the shade of the year. This I resoundly reject. To revert to beige is like taking the oblivion option, the head in the sand it's-nothing-to-do-with-me path. It speaks only of conformity, ubiquity and non-choice.
Instead then, I'd like to suggest an accent colour. A shade that adds a touch of heat to anything it touches: the piquant and tangy mustard. Think of it as the equivalent of the proverbial kick up the backside we need to get cracking with the changes that are required in what promises to be a pivotal year.
The thing is, perhaps surprisingly, this deep ochre yellow is akin to something of a tonal peacemaker, treading a conciliatory line between full-on colour (representative of the current chaos of the world) and greige neutrality (the auto default for the quiet we crave at home). For while at first it might seem a touch too edgy to be broadly palatable, it is in fact tremendously adaptable, warming without overwhelming and capable of turning sedate into sexy. Not for nothing is it one of the world's most widely employed condiments.
It does come with a caveat – mustard doesn't really do nuance; use enough to add deliberate flavour.
Consider it a slightly leftfield catalyst, my colour trope of hope, the all-important push for us to collectively course correct before it's too late. If combined within environments that not only reconnect us to our essential humanity but also enable us to be our best selves, we might just have a second chance.
Photograph, showing Helios 710 apartment in London's Television Centre, is by Michael Sinclair.