Time Keeps on Slipping… Into New Furniture

You see it happening with clothing styles all the time. That cutting-edge outfit, interesting new design, or awesome trend so-and-so just started suddenly goes passé just as everyone else is just catching on. Surely it was only yesterday that your shoulder pads and neon bandanas identified you as gnarly or bodacious or some such thing. You certainly FELT fairly fly sporting the look at that Huey Lewis concert – or was it Bananarama?

At least when clothing goes out of style, it’s easy enough to donate the remains to Goodwill or hang them in the back of the closet in hopes that one-day society will come to their senses, and the style will return. It’s a little trickier with home decor, however, the items are bigger and often far more expensive. Plus, it’s not always that easy to tell when something’s “in style” and when it’s not. The gap between what we see on TV and what’s practical (or even desirable) in our own homes is wide.

The folks on those home renovation shows are certainly fun to watch, and some of their ideas are wonderful. Unless our budget is roughly comparable to a major cable network, however, we may have to pick-and-choose what we adapt to our surroundings. And let’s not even get started on home design magazines. They figure anyone who’ll drop $10 on some glossy pictures and meager text must have money to burn when it comes to furry chairs or incorporating custom granite from the Holy Land and such.
How can those of us with modest budgets and real jobs make design choices that will stand the test of time, whatever the trends happen to do? There are no absolute guarantees in the world of design, but here are some classic elements and approaches which will almost certainly protect your guests from feeling gagged by spoons, and which will never be grody, let alone to the max.


The nice thing about antiques is that they have, by definition, already stood the test of time. You’ve probably noticed how often films rely on popular music from decades past to accent powerful moments. By busting out “Come Together” or “Unchained Melody,” the scene instantly has a classic vibe that will feel the same a decade or (presumably) a century later. Current hits are fine for the credits, but you don’t want to risk your artistic credibility on the likelihood Iggy Azalea will still be a big deal by the time your project hits Netflix.

Antique furniture is already classic. It’s usually high quality to begin with (hence it’s having lasted until now) and demonstrates craftsmanship and practicality above all other considerations. It’s easy enough to update the hardware or even refinish the surface if you wish – otherwise, just make sure it’s clean and functional and that you surround it with items of comparable style.


It’s certainly possible to have a tacky or outdated fireplace, but you’d have to work at it. A basic brick fireplace is classic by nature and tends to upscale any room. While your traditional, wood-burning fireplaces are timeless, even those gas-and-ceramic numbers tend to look amazing. There are even some assertively artificial variations that produce little or no heat that still manage to impress in the right setting.

The point is, it’s hard to go wrong with a fireplace. It adds a sense of warmth even when it’s not in use and nudges up the value of almost any residence. Make sure the mantle is solid and appropriately finished, and decorate sparingly (it’s not a curio cabinet). If the brick needs serious cleaning or updating, that can make a huge difference as well.

Neutral Colors (for Anything Permanent)

Interior color schemes seem to evolve more quickly than just about any other element of design. If you enjoy repainting your home every decade or so, that works out great for you – who doesn’t love having tarps and ladders everywhere for a month or two? Otherwise, consider sticking with the tried-and-true: off-whites, light grays, and other subtle neutrals.

You can still bring color into the room with your choice of area rugs, hanging art, accessories, throw pillows, tablecloths, or anything else your imagination allows. Those elements lend themselves more readily to seasonal rotation, or eventual replacement, or even being tucked away while realtors show your home to folks with different tastes than yours. They’re also fun to shop for, or even to discover unexpectedly while not actually meaning to shop for them. When was the last time that happened to you with paint?

It’s your home, and there’s nothing wrong with it reflecting your personality, so if you’re committed to bold colors or unusual wall coverings, more power to you. Be aware, however, that in a few short years, those daring patterns or brave choices may project very different messages to others. I mean, you can still wear your hair in a mohawk if you like, but don’t be shocked if the rest of the world sees Joe Dirt instead of Patrick Swayze as a result.

Inner Space

What today we call “minimalism” used to simply be “picking up after yourself” or “finding somewhere else for that.” Crowded rooms and clutter are never good stylistic choices – it looks bad and raises your blood pressure. Less truly is more – just like it was a decade ago and will be a decade from now.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have what you need in each room. Don’t be afraid of space, however, especially if that space is natural. Leave some room around couches and recliners. Use a large throw rug underneath a coffee table to “fill” the middle of the room without actually taking up additional square feet. Not every square foot of wall requires filling, and under no circumstances should your bookshelves be packed from top to bottom.

Let the room “breathe” a bit, and you’ll find yourself breathing a bit more easily as well.

Built-In Shelving

Speaking of shelves, few features have stood the test of time as well as built-in bookshelves. Living rooms, offices, next to the fireplace, below the stairs, or along the upper landing, built-ins are awesome yesterday, today, and forevermore.

Obviously, you’re encouraged to keep your books there, if you’re an old-school bookworm who prefers hard copies over downloads to your tablet, and you tend to buy rather than borrow from your local library. But you don’t have to be a voracious reader to fill your shelves in interesting ways. Look for old classic titles at used bookstores, flea markets, garage sales, or anywhere else people may have them piled on card tables or thrown into boxes at negligible prices. Note what looks good at a distance as well as what you’d actually want on your shelves.

You can also dig out and display your high school or college yearbooks, family photos, trophies, plaques, or pretty much anything else you’d like to have visible but not asserted into the room. Built-in shelves offer a fascinating ability to organize and present, while at the same time subtly pulling back and out-of-the-way, as if their contents are being held and protected rather than forced into the spotlight. Ironically, items on well-designed shelves actually draw the eye while coyly acting as if they’re trying to avoid the attention.
It’s a wonder they don’t blush from time to time.

Ideally, you have a mix of books to other goodies of around 2-to-1 or more. They are bookshelves, after all; visually, they BEG for books to appear upon them. But they should rarely contain JUST books – not if your goal is to maintain a classic look along with the practical functions.

Area Rugs

Whether you have wall-to-wall carpet, wood or imitation flooring, or have gone full modern industrial with finished concrete, area rugs are an amazing opportunity to bring colors, patterns, and variety into every room.

Rugs come in endless patterns and styles, and a wide range of sizes. That means they can serve a practical function (wood looks nice, but it’s hard on the feet when you’re in your comfies each evening!) as well as serve as a nice design element. Rugs help define a space and break up the room without actually “taking up” precious square footage. They can be under furniture or alone in the middle of the room. (Or you could go truly old school and hang a few, but today’s rugs aren’t really made to double as tapestries.)

While they’re not cheap, it’s not overly prohibitive to swap them out from time to time or change where and how you use them. The same room with a different area rug can have a very different feel. Plus, if you choose well, area rugs are timeless.

Stand-Alone Tubs

The range of options available in the 21st century when it comes to bathrooms and bathing are both impressive and bewildering. It’s hard to know sometimes whether buyers intend to simply shower in luxury or move into their master bathroom full-time – possibly hosting get-togethers right there next to the fancy sinks and space-age shower attachments.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with going full-on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” in your bathing accommodations if that’s your desire. If you’re concerned with long-term viability, however, or there’s an outside chance you’ll one day wish to sell your home at a reasonable profit, classic is almost always better.
You don’t have to revert to an outdoor outhouse or anything, but a nice clawfoot tub is just as modern as any other bath option and adds immediate grandeur to even the simplest bathroom. They come in a range of styles and price points, although you’ll probably want to stick with cast iron and porcelain if possible. They’re not cheap, but that’s partly the point – they’re not cheap.

Sure, there are fancier tubs with all those “massaging spouts” and whatnot, but honestly – how often do you think people really use those after the novelty wears off?

Tasteful Art

Give yourself a little credit for knowing what looks good hanging in your living room or displayed in your den. The world of upscale art is a strange beast, full of pretense and investment strategies as much as actual aesthetic enjoyment. Let’s assume, however, that you’re not looking for something you can loan to the local museum while you summer in Europe. You want to add visual, emotional, or even spiritual elements to your surroundings.

Somewhere between the Mona Lisa and Dogs Playing Poker are numerous options for your style and price point. Like wine or jewelry, art doesn’t have to be expensive to be just right for you and your home. Be patient when shopping, and keep in mind this is art – you’re not marrying it, you’re hanging it in the guest room or standing it in the corner of the dining room. Besides, you don’t always find just the right piece; sometimes, it has to find you. Give it multiple opportunities.

Finally, not all art has to be painting or sculpture or weird metal contraptions you don’t really like but seem to be trendy with the cool kids. An oversized mirror can bring visual interest to the room, adding light and the illusion of size to the mix as a bonus. Quirky furniture choices or interesting accessories like throw pillows, quilts, clocks, or even those maligned “knick-knacks” can personalize your surroundings without committing you to anything long-term or costing more than a car payment or three.


Perhaps the easiest way to summarize “timeless design” is this: keep things simple, leave yourself some flexibility to adjust over time, and trust your own eyes and emotions. Nothing’s more classic than being true to your sense of self – especially when it comes to your home. And if that means shunning a few trends?

Totally wicked, dude.