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The Way We Were: Updating Decor For A Timeless Look


While many of us have experienced nostalgia for days gone by, few folks have “misty water-colored memories” of decorating fads like carpeted bathrooms or harvest gold appliances. In order to keep your home from becoming a shrine to a previous decade, it’s important to update its style every few years. It doesn’t have to be a major overhaul; just a touch here and there will keep your interiors feeling fresh. We all know fashion is cyclical, and sometimes it’s worth hanging on to something until the tides turn back in its favor. But while some pieces will stand the test of time, sometimes today’s trends can be tomorrow’s regrets. Here, we suggest ways to modernize a few familiar looks from previous eras.

WayWeWere2Oriental Rugs

The Oriental rug is an undisputed classic, adding sophistication to any space. Yet rug styles and preferences have evolved over the decades. In the 80s and 90s, many Oriental rugs had navy and red colors with intricate details. Aubusson rugs, with their floral patterns and pastel tones, were also popular. Today’s rugs tend to have tribal or geometric motifs, or are vintage pieces with highly faded finishes. If you have a rug that’s looking dated, there are several choices.

If you’re open to replacing your current rug, two of the most fashionable options are kilims and Oushaks. Rich, warm-toned kilims and subtly-hued Oushaks both come in an array of colors and patterns. Unless you’re going for a total room overhaul, look for a rug with accent colors that pick up something in your space, be it the paint or a piece of furniture.

WayWeWere6However, if you have an heirloom-quality piece (or you still love it) there are options. A professional cleaning can unearth colors you’d all but forgotten. Layering it beneath a neutral rug such as sisal can tone down the impact. Take a close look at the colors in your rug and see if there’s a more modern accent shade you can pick out, and use for wall paint or accessories. Alternatively, neutralize the rug by using it in a room with crisp white walls and otherwise restrained decor, where it will be a welcome pop of color. If none of these options work, you can either store it for a few years until it’s back in fashion, or sell it on consignment and use the spoils to buy a new one!

Wallpaper Borders

While wallpaper has made a resurgence in recent years, the wallpaper border is over. To keep detail on your walls, look for wallpaper in updated florals or natural textures. Add interest with wainscoting or beadboard. If you like the way that wallpaper border draws the eye upward, install paneling at 2/3 or 3/4 height around the room, and top it with an eye-catching paint color or wallpaper.

WayWeWere4Faux Wood Paneling

Along with ping pong and foosball tables, faux wood paneling graced many a 70s basement. Though the game tables are fun, it’s probably time to update the vibe. To be fair, not all faux paneling was created equal. Pre-1960s stuff was generally topped with a layer of natural wood and can be nice quality, so it’s possible to achieve a simple update just by whitewashing the paneling, which brightens the room while allowing the wood grain to come through. Faux paneling from more recent times is usually fiberboard with a wood design printed or glued on top, and if you decide to paint over it, you’ll need an oil-based primer. If you want to remove faux paneling, be prepared for the possibility of bare foundation or framing hiding beneath, so you may need to hire a handyman to install a drywall if you want to paint. You can also retain the warmth of a wood paneled room by replacing faux paneling with the real deal. Today’s wood paneling is often horizontal instead of vertical, and planks of weathered, reclaimed wood are especially chic. It’s a terrific choice for an accent wall!

Matching Furniture Sets

For years, a complete set of furniture was de rigueur in pulled-together spaces, particularly bedrooms. These days, a more eclectic, less formal look is in fashion. Take a look around your home and see if any pieces can swap rooms (a friend with a fresh eye can be really helpful here). Break up a monotone sofa set by replacing the smallest piece with a chair from another part of the house. Think of new ways to use an existing item—small tables work great beside the bed; chests of drawers can become side tables or buffets, depending on their size.

WayWeWere5For wood furniture that looks a bit out of date or whose finish is less than perfect, painting it white or a fun color will impart new life. Dining room chairs, sideboards, and wall frames are popular choices for this look, but don’t be afraid to think big. A bedframe, secretary, or armoire in a bold new shade can change the feel of a room. This is a good DIY project, but if that’s not your specialty, a  home decor shop can either assist or provide a referral.


copyright Allegra's StudioValances, whether alone or atop curtains or blinds, are useful for hiding unsightly hardware, filtering light and views, or to soften a window frame. However, the right style can prevent them from looking dated. Swags, jabots, festoons, and balloon valances are all styles that were often featured in formal, traditional spaces, while current preferences trend toward more tailored designs that keep the focus on the view and the architecture. Roman shades, which offer privacy while softening the window with fabric, are a terrific alternative, and can be customized with virtually any fabric. If you like the dressier look of a valance, the trick is to use clean lines—think box pleat or a straight panel. You can also use a patterned valance with solid drapes for a custom look. This works particularly well with either a board-mounted valance or a fabric-covered cornice.

It’s natural to collect decor over time, and many inviting homes successfully layer styles and pieces from different eras. With an update here and there, you won’t have to worry about your home becoming an ode to the Brady Bunch—unless you want it to!

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