A Sea of Sameness

By Kate Riley June 25, 2018

I returned from Europe on Friday and took a few days to rest and acclimate to the time change. It was a whirlwind trip and I experienced so much, I’ll share more of what I saw in the weeks to come.

I noticed something during my trip, that the power of the internet is taking over the world of design. As we become more connected, elements of design are on exponential repeat around the globe.

I was sitting in a cafe in Brussels a week ago, and it struck me how I really could have been in Anywhere, USA. The ubiquitous elements were all present: white subway tile, metal Tolix barstools, black warehouse pendants.


cafe in brussels

There is an emerging harmonization of “style”, and globalization is the reason behind it. It’s assumed people have the same tastes and expect a certain look when they enter a coffee shop or bistro. Edison bulbs, brick walls, reclaimed wood, industrial chairs. These elements are now commonplace around the world.


cafe in prague

I stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Prague last week, and immediately noticed that every single cup, pillow, piece of art and furniture came from IKEA. Clearly, the proprietor had taken the quick and easy route with the decor. It was clean and pretty, but it had no soul.

Brands like IKEA have heavily influenced the global design aesthetic making it all too simple to buy from big box stores to furnish a space, then call it a day. They sell products loved at first sight, but ones that eventually become boring once everyone else owns them. We love to shop IKEA because it’s cheap and mostly well made, but become blasé when we see the same products rearranged and photographed over and over again.

IKEA is not alone in the manufacturing of sameness. I stepped into a home store in Antewerp and thought, again, this could be Anywhere USA, these homogeneous products are for sale to appease the masses. I saw several things I loved for my home, but knew I could find something similar back home.


zara home, antewerp, belgium


I stayed in an Airbnb loft in Brussels, the decor was curated and more eclectic, which I appreciated. The owner had filled the space with necessities, and had also taken the time to layer the space with interesting artwork and lighting. Greater effort had been made to mix classic and modern, old and new.


loft in brussels, belgium


When I ducked into the lobby of a hotel in Bruges in Belgium, I unexpectedly entered a room filled with dappled light and curvy wingback chairs upholstered in luxurious velvet. I stopped to soak it all in because it was a medley of colors and shapes never seen before. There was no “sameness” present here. It was a unique and beautiful space filled with classic and thoughtful touches that made sense in this little place in the world.


hotel de orangerie, bruges, belgium


Anyone who browses Pinterest notices this sameness I speak of. The safe choices. A herd mentality where people adopt the same look, over and over. Sameness swallowing uniqueness.

This is what I’ve come to appreciate about blogs with originality and sites like Apartment Therapy house tours. It’s refreshing to see people move away from a bandwagon style of decorating. It’s another reason why I love to travel, to experience both sides of design, to observe the effects of globalization and mass produced sameness, but also to encounter the uniqueness that still remains.

This is why we need creatives in this world, the artists and designers who beautify spaces with their talents and individual expression. As threatening as the internet is to uniqueness, it’s also necessary for innovation, so the same look doesn’t get rehashed over and over again.

If you’re like me, you look forward to reading blogs and design sites every day because it’s there where we’re stimulated, educated, and inspired about design. What are your thoughts on “sameness” in design? Do you get bored of the same look too?




    • Yes! The “same faux-artisanal aesthetic” is on the move across the world! And this: “This confluence of style is being accelerated by companies that foster a sense of placelessness, using technology to break down geography.” So true.

  1. My thoughts exactly. Every before/after seems to involve white paint- brick, wood cabinets, walls all eliminated in a sea of white. Sad that you found the same “designs” in Europe. My other problem with those materials in public spaces is that all the hard surfaces make for a very noisy space. I find it difficult to relax with the buzz of magnified conversation. That hotel lobby oozes serenity.

  2. Hear, hear, Kate. And it’s been going on for a while – I remember years ago my first visit to a newly-married friend’s home and every room looked like Page X of a Crate & Barrel catalog. BORING (and a little pretentious, IMHO). It makes me appreciate my more modest home filled with items that used to be my grandmother’s, or gifts from a dear friend or furniture I collected over the years. And while the pages of Coastal Living make me swoon, I wonder how content I’d really be to have that “everyone-wants-this” magazine look in my own home.

    • Agreed! The catalog look is lovely, but don’t you find when you visit someone’s home that you’re drawn to that artwork or those pieces on display that are unique or collected? They immediately pop out to me and make a home more personalized.

  3. Kate,

    You need to do a cafe tour of Seoul! I loved how different many of the cafes were–and there are over 13,000 of them! If I can see one trend in them, it’s “Empty your grandmother’s attic.” My daughter lives there and highlights some of them on her YouTube channel: cari cakes. This is the most recent one that highlights a cafe: https://youtu.be/dQma53RU-Gs.

    (And I’d love to see you travel to Seoul! I went solo in April. Stayed in the cutest AirBnB, ate way too much good food, saw amazing things, etc.)

  4. This has frustrated me for 30 years, when I went to visit a friend. We had both recently left the east coast; she was in Dallas and I was in northern California. She took me to her local mall, raving about all the unique stores, but I’d seen them all in San Jose. Since then, I have what I call my Malling of America speech. My husband is sick of it, but it’s more valid every day, even when we’re in Europe.

    • Agreed Peggi, I remember being in Melbourne last year and at several times, thinking to myself this brewery/shop/bistro could be anywhere in the USA. The same design elements in repetition around the globe.

  5. So true! It’s disappointing that we collectively have done this (I know I do it my own life too). I am an American living in Cape Town, and just returned from a trip to Europe. In all three places everything looks the same same same. Especially if a cafe/shop/apartment is trying to appeal to a general 20-40 something middle class crowd, the aesthetic is identical. Interestingly, I noted in Budapest that the “global” aesthetic seems to have a much weaker hold, there is more local flavor to be experienced than many of the other cities. Next time check it out and see what you think!

    • Exactly! Same aesthetic EVERYWHERE. So happy to read about Budapest, it just moved higher on my list of places to go!

  6. Our home was built in 1985. We painting everything (closets, cabinets, doors) and taking it from warm colors to cool colors. I had originally planned to go “safe” but at the last minute painted a bathroom cabinet the most gorgeous navy. My younger self wouldn’t have considered this a bold move but my older self has been conditioned to see white everything. Now that I have my confidence back, on to the next cabinet and color!

    • Yay Lisa, good for you! Navy is a classic, I can tell you’re glad you did it! Keep it up!

  7. Yes, this! My newer home is filled with a collection of some new things, but mostly old furniture and decor that is meaningful to me because it has been passed down in my family. I’m drawn to that same aesthetic when I’m out and about. I don’t want it all to be “perfect.” B-o-r-i-n-g. :-)

  8. I wholeheartedly agree. So many decorating blogs look exactly the same now. It’s like everybody knows that look is safe, and the personality is totally missing. While I think a classic design is always best, you have to inject your personality into it. Otherwise, it looks exactly like every other home in blogland.

  9. I’ve noticed in watching House Hunters International that IKEA has cornered the market for furniture on those spaces. I spot something in every episode!
    I treasure the items that I have held onto that belonged to mine or my husband’s grandparents. I remember when I was growing up and my mother would comment on liking an antique and I would turn up my nose. She told me my taste would change as I got older. She was right! New and shiny doesn’t have the allure it used to have. I have stayed in many places in Europe that looked like they were furnished from attic finds that really contributed to the warmth of the place.
    I love your travel posts and really enjoy following you on Instagram!

    • Ha ha we hate to say “mom was right” but she was this time! Our tastes do mature as we do and we appreciate things with history, ones that have story and meaning. I too have been fortunate to stay in private homes in foreign countries: Denmark, Norway, Australia, and Italy where care had been taken to furnish in a personal way, those were the best places because they were so cozy.
      Thanks for reading along, and for the follow on Instagram!

  10. Yes I have been thinking exactly that. Every magazine, pinterest board most essentially show the same look and I have grown quite tired of it.

  11. I have to put in a lot of effort to find the unusual aesthetic with a personal point of view. I abandoned Pinterest a long time ago because their algorithm is designed to serve more of the same. I used to love Apartment Therapy, but even their home tours are getting predictable (white kitchen remodels, subway tiled bathrooms, thrift shopped home decor). I’m tired of reading reviews of Chip and Joanna’s Magnolia collection at Target.

    I find myself gravitating towards sites like theselby.com and specific designers on Instagram. I don’t always love what I see, but it’s always interesting to see how people live their lives rather than stage their homes.

    • Yes, I love this! Predictable interiors are boring, bring on the personality!

  12. You might enjoy addicted2decorating.com.She tried the gray and white look but hated it. She does her own thing and uses a lot of color.

  13. I find this very interesting, as well. However when I think back to my teens, 20s and 30s, with my first spaces of my own to decorate (first home in 97) I was completely into the white woodwork, white cabinets, woven baskets and old signs, and couldn’t find examples anywhere! I hated the browns, golds, reds, dark styles I would see out there. It was very frustrating for me to have ideas in my head that I wanted to implement yet I couldn’t find anything to help me do that. So while I agree it’s now EVERYWHERE, I sometimes feel – Hey, I had that painted brick fireplace with planks above it YEARS before Joanna Gaines did it to all her houses! Ha!
    And I remember hearing my mom talk about buying her antiques when she was first married because it was all they could afford! How crazy considering so often a good piece can be quite expensive now. Antique shops were her IKEA back in the 70s :)
    Anyway, it can be so hard to get that collected-over-time look when you are on a strict budget without a lot of time to go on the hunt. But I agree…sameness is everywhere especially in restaurants/coffee houses/etc. Makes me wonder what will be considered “sameness” in 20 years?

    • That’s why I love a great thrift store find Kim, gotta have something quirky or unique in every space or it will be stale.

    • Agreed! I think there was sameness in every era of decorating, long before the internet. I think that’s why you can walk into a house and guess the decade when it was decorated. I think the feeling of “sameness” takes over even more quickly now that we have the internet, because we see more examples of a new style more quickly, and locating and purchasing items is easier. It’s easy to say “everyone has xyz” after seeing 100 posts online, but you would never have seen all of them in the world of monthly design magazines. Then I look around at people’s houses in my life and don’t see what I see on the internet. I wonder, is it all as prevalent as it seems?

  14. When I had the luxury of space, I piled in all the family hand-me-downs that were offered to me. Eventually, those heirlooms pinned me down to that style and that house!

    Our daughter moved from her rental into a roomier house and agreed to receive a truckload of dressers, side tables, hutches, and the piano. We stored the rest and moved to a condo a fraction the size of the house.

    Not much from my collection would fit into the physical space or the modern feel of the high-rise. The other three children live in homes about the size of my new one. CB2, Target and Ikea cater to our square footage and satisfy quick furnishing. And when we want to make a change, there’s less sentimentality.

    When a charity truck arrived to clear out my storage, I pinned a note to a sturdy square oak farm table to give its new owners a sense of its history from 4+ generations of my family. Two of my kids prefer their round Ikea tables, a third built his own with reclaimed wood, and the youngest likes his plastic tulip table decorated with his wife’s amazing floral art.

    This reminds me of how some of us buy new better-fitting and feeling affordable versions of classic styles to wear with our essential uniform jeans. I can spot a version of my former farm table in the catalogs but it’s been reworked to fit into apartments and modern lifestyles.

  15. I’m not sure people are necessarily driven by the pursuit of a certain aesthetic (well, maybe some people and retailers are), but I think there are real technological and societal shifts that are influencing people’s consumption patterns. Instagram replaces framed photos. iPad replaces books, magazines, televisions, entertainment centers, home theaters, etc. White, minimalism, and KonMari provide respite from the noise of the world. People are seeking meaningful experiences, rather than possessions, so given the choice of spendy china or basic white Ikea dishes, the Ikea dishes are winning.

    • Amazing insight Geraldine, I love that perspective. Minimalism over maximalism, not just how much we own, but what we own.
      Well said, thank you!

  16. I went to Paris with friends probably around 15 years ago and the apartment was decorated in Ikea I was very disappointed. Can’t get away from Ikea when you’re renting apartments that’s for sure.

    • Ha! We stayed in a “mansion” in a storybook French village about 5 years ago. The exquisite grounds could have been a movie set.
      But the sad interior was all IKEA and mostly broken! The beds were on the floor; the lamps were broken. It was ridiculous. And this was their actual home!
      They swapped for a stay at my friend’s’ gorgeous home in AustinTX, with her equally lovely house on the Frio River, thrown in! They def got the better deal!
      I’m proud of my kids, who have spent 10 months rebuilding after hurricane Harvey.,not a bit of subway tile anywhere!!
      Hate this lemming mentality. Maybe my kids WILL end up wanting some of the family antiques and rugs after all!

      • I love modern pieces, and I love shopping places like IKEA, CB2, Target, but I don’t like to see entire rooms decorated with all new or big box. For a room to have soul it needs an heirloom, a vintage piece (whether it’s art or furniture) or just something with a story.

    • I think you can find a unique place that reflects the local culture if you look harder for it, but search VRBO or Airbnb and SO many of the apartments look straight out of IKEA. It’s crazy. I stayed in an Airbnb in Paris in the Marais which was a medley of modern and vintage pieces. (see #4 in this post: https://centsationalstyle.com/2018/02/why-i-choose-airbnb/) and it was one of the best I’ve ever stayed in, it really felt like we were Parisians for a few days, not like an IKEA showroom at all.

  17. I agree with the sameness but I would like to offer that the instant gratification factor should not be ignored right now. Stores just want to make money! While reading your blog I thought of the movie with Meg Ryan with the cute bookstore and Tom Hanks and the big chain…the little guy can only hold on to “unique” for so long. The flip shows and Air B&B are designed to be done quickly and cheaply so the owner can make the most money. I would imagine you are not the type who would be careless/destructive but man talk to anyone who has rented by the week and you will hear horror stories! IKEA makes it easy to replace : ) I see the sameness with clothing and restaurants too as you mentioned – the Instagram world has taken over !
    I yearn for different/special/unique myself in all these places – maybe it’s just a matter of going out of our way to spend more at the cute little places and book a little more expensive Air B&B to keep them going !

    • These unique places to stay are still out there, they are just become harder to find. As an apartment or homeowner who is renting to travelers, you want to keep your place rented, and as I wrote, it’s as though the masses have come to expect the IKEA look so they feel more comfortable in a foreign place? Also as you said, cheap to replace if damaged or destroyed. Those of us who actually pay closer attention to design are the ones to notice the advance of sameness. Most people don’t care where a table or chair came from as long as it’s functional.

  18. Stay in a place rented through Rent Villas dot com if you go back to Europe. We stayed in two, one in France and one in Italy. Not boring or the same at all. I actually resist the trends I see of gray and white and neutrals. I still have my walls painted in the cream to yellow and gold family. I will always have reds/pinks too because these colors make me happy. The “farmhouse” look is overdone now with all the galvanized metal etc. my home is eclectic mix of antiques and old and new. I lean towards an English look. I still enjoy decorating blogs, magazines and books for ideas but despise the sameness. My favorite magazine is English Homes.

    • I love the cottage style of homes in that mag too!
      Also “because these colors make me happy” <------ YES.

  19. I have been saying this for 5 years at least. I blogged about it somewhere along the way. I even got “sucked in” and started a MBR redecorate 5 or 6 years ago and then couldn’t finish it because it wasn’t me – it was Pinterest!!!! I fly through blogs looking for inspiration and I have a few favorites I literally stare at and soak in the details because they are original and unique. I’ve dropped a lot of blogs because my free time is limited and they have become commercials for sponsors – not what I’m looking for!

    • It’s a difficult dance as a design blogger to create original content and to also make money. Sponsored posts are part of job for many of us, the trick is to keep it relevant to what you’re already writing about and not go overboard with the “commercials” aspect of blogging. I look to fellow bloggers and design sites for inspiration, I don’t mind the occasional sponsored post, as long as it’s authentic.

  20. Your observations encouraged me to stay true to me! I have old things, found things, repurposed things that are special only to me and definitely not trendy. I think the affiliate world of blogging and social media has helped perpetuate the sameness. If I buy something for my home and can ‘link’ it for my readers/viewers, then maybe I can make a few pennies. For a lot of people, this is how they make their income, which is awesome! I do some of that myself. Figuring out how to navigate that world and stay true to your own voice/style is tricky because it is easy to slide into sameness that way.

    • You’re right about that. I too have used affiliate links to make a few pennies, it’s part of this business. As previously mentioned, I do love to shop stores like Target, CB2, West Elm, IKEA, for filling spaces here and there. I look forward to the new collections, for the most part, they do a great job producing affordable pieces in current styles. An entire room of antiques would feel just as lifeless if it didn’t have modern elements to freshen it.

      • Yes – so agree with this statement and all your previous ones! For really unique design – checkout Natalie Clayman. She’s local and not widely known, but she’s so different!

  21. OMG, yes! I am from Europe and have been noticing this creeping up for years. When I discovered that my Mom had the same fake IKEA plant in her bathroom that was “freshening up” mine, I had it. This awareness now guides my design choices a lot.
    Also, ever notice that the color red practically disappeared from the internet??
    Kate, I see a post series about unique designs coming on!
    Thank you for this post!

  22. This is such a timely post for me personally as I am trying to grow my brand. I have always valued creativity and uniqueness in my own designs as well as others. I am posting this on facebook. Thought provoking post.

    • Be true to yourself and your own personal taste Cindy, that’s what keeps it interesting! Different is GOOD.

  23. Bravo. The lack of a feeling or personality in homes is epidemic. You hit the nail on the head. When I was consulting I use to say Inwanted the home to reflect the homeowner. For it to have a FEELING. Anyone can decorate a pretty room by copying what they see in a showroom but it takes talent to givers room a certain FEEL.

  24. Agreed with most rentals on AirBnBs, HomeAway, etc. for Europe (I’m specifically looking at places in Germany) resembling each other, along with MANY of them being fully furnished by IKEA. I love IKEA, don’t get me wrong. But if I’m looking for a unique home to stay in overseas, and it appears to be a gorgeous farmhouse or similar from the outside, I would hope that would be reflected on the inside. I’m still searching for that authentic experience to stay in for when we travel overseas next summer.

    • That reminds me Dawn, I need to do another Airbnb abroad post, I’m always on the hunt for a place to stay that reflects the area, the culture, the architecture, in some way.

  25. I couldn’t agree more. Two examples that have bored me are: the decade plus obsession with all beige rooms–they are colorless and lifeless (only to be replaced with another non-color: the all-grey rooms); and the Joanna Gaines copycat rooms–that’s 80 percent of what you see on Instagram. Don’t get me wrong, I love Joanna Gaines and her decorating style, but I don’t want to see it everywhere. I like to experience an individual’s unique point of view in their spaces.

    • Totally agree Jill. Joanna nails it, she’s very talented, I love so many of her more innovative ideas. But then the copycats come out and all we see is the same farmhouse style on repeat. But if that’s what people love, I’m never one to advise one to NOT decorate a certain way just because it’s been done. If you see a style you love and are inspired by it, then go for it! But like you said, I like individuality, a fresh spin on a classic is my favorite.

  26. Kate, you hit the nail on the head! We were blessed to win living room and dining room furniture a year and a half ago. Thankfully the designers took the time to “get” us and filled our rooms with color! The one thing they staged but I didn’t keep, was a large painting. It looked like “furniture store art.” So I gathered up photographs from our travels and a beautiful oil painting my daughter made for us and created a gallery wall. Now when people come in, that’s the first thing they notice! It’s filling a home with what you love that makes it special and unique.

    • I LOVE that Michelle, good for you creating a gallery wall filled with art that is meaningful. :)

  27. I never understood the idea of following a trend when it comes to furnishing your own home. If you love an all IKEA look, then go for it. If you want to mix it up, then do that. I’ve just always painted my place and decorated it it the way I happen to like it at that point in my life. Over time, I’ve had a couple of different looks. As far as how the Airbnb is decorated, I don’t usually care as long as it’s clean, comfortable and well located. I’m not in it except to sleep because I’m too busy touring, and seeing all the wonderful sites.

  28. I couldn’t agree more. I remember watching an episode of House Hunters International that was filmed in Madagascar. I was excited to see how they live in such a far away land. And they had stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops. I was so bummed out and bored by the sameness. They could have been anywhere in North America. I realize they were probably catering to the US family in the episode but it was still really disappointing to see the same old thing in a small foreign country.

  29. One thing to note when considering “design” around your home/the country/the world, is that not everyone CARES about it. Some people don’t want to put effort or thought into how their home or AirBnB rental looks – they want a one-day trip to Ikea so they have the items they need and then they move on (to hiking, volunteering, beach with the kids, etc). And this is not a bad thing.

    I am very committed to the design of my home, from our $200k reno (with more to go) and now the decorating – and by committed, I mean by the amount of thought, energy, time, and money I put into it. However, for my sister – her home is a place for her family to live, and land after a long day out and about. She finds something at Target she likes, she buys it, right then/there. Me? I see it and like it, but I’ll think about it, maybe in two weeks if I’m still envisioning it I’ll go back and buy it (or buy online).

    Yes, design around the world is becoming more cohesive, how can it not now that we’re all www-connected. And I do feel this phenomenon is a little sad, considering it’s crossing oceans and countries. But, in the end, perhaps the bright light is that it will make the stand-out spaces stand-out and shine even more.

    • Yes, “it will make the stand-out spaces stand-out and shine even more” totally agree.

  30. You nailed it on the head and I agree! That was one reason I stopped watching HGTV because it was ALL THE SAME. Yes, white kitchens look nice but it is not my thing when I work full-time and have a messy husband and 9 year old daughter that I’d spend half my free time wiping the white cabinets down from their mess. I love looking at homes but it gets boring quickly when they all start to look the same. I finally myself said screw it, live with what I LIKE and LOVE instead of it looking like it is out of HGTV/Fixer Upper/Pinterest.

  31. It has become so boring, hasn’t it? I noticed when Fixer Upper started airing that everyone started mimicking that style in their homes and in the new homes that were being built in our area. This isn’t a brag AT ALL, it is just that it means so much that when people come to our home that they do remark on how unique our style is. We love color, pieces that tell our story, and quirky art. I don’t mind going to a restaurant that does this, but I don’t want that in our home!

    • Yep, I love when someone sees something in my home and asks “Where is that from?” and I have a story to tell about it.

  32. There was an episode of “Friends” that covered this! Rachel was bringing home Pottery Barn furniture and telling Phoebe that it was all antiques. Phoebe believed it until she saw their entire living room displayed in the store window!
    We recently purchased a new build home that has a lot of farmhouse elements which I like but I’m looking forward to putting my own spin on things. All the homes in the development are by the same builder so I definitely don’t want my house to look like everyone else’s.
    I love shopping estate sales and antique shops. Many of my grandparents’ things have been passed to me so it all makes for a lovely mix along with more modern everyday pieces.
    Seventeen years ago I visited a friend of my Mom’s and she had a real barn door separating the dining and living areas, it looked so fantastic! Now almost twenty years later barn doors are everywhere (including my new house)!

  33. We just returned from 2 weeks in Slovenia and Croatia, all spent in AirBnB’s. It was a bit distressing to see that Ikea had hit the Baltic area as hard as it has NYC. The only distinctive place was a cabin perched way above Plitvitichek where old dishes and cupboards abounded. Maybe when AirBnB hosts go to furnish a place they pick the certain and replaceable, which is certainly easier than scouring thrift stores. We didn’t see any private home places so I don’t know if this trend extended into personally owned spots.

  34. So agree. I remember traveling overseas 20 years ago and everything was so different from my home town. Now I don’t bother to go into interior stores when I travel.

  35. Yes, yes, yes!! This reality makes me a little sick inside. There is so much variety in this world, it’s sad to see globalization sweeping it away. Language, fashion, architecture, interior design, art. Bring back the roots, the culture! Things that last and deserve to be passed down!

    • It really makes me sad. I was walking around old town Munich two summer ago and 80% of the shops on the ground floor were American or big brand stores. NOOOO. It was so different from when I visited 18 years before, when it felt authentically German. It pushes me to visit the smaller, less touristy places in search of towns where culture remains.

  36. Hi Kate!
    As a newbie decorator trying to find my way, I like so many different styles and colors I can never narrow my focus. How do you advise decorating so you don’t fall into the Pinterest” trap?

    • What a great question! I think it’s great to use Pinterest as inspiration, saving images of elements you like, but then not doing a copycat look and instead make a space in your own style. For example, if you love the white shiplap look that’s everywhere, consider painting it or varying the planks or using white in combination with paint/wallpaper. As far as developing your own style, take the analytical approach. When you see an image of a space, ask yourself what element exactly do you like? The layout? The furniture? The artwork? When you really narrow it down you can figure out what you’re drawn to and then mold your own personal style.

  37. I have been feeling this sentiment for quite some time now. It’s the blessing and curse of Pinterest and all the access we have to design via the Internet and even HGTV. I was struggling with my living room last year when I was giving it a refresh. I had to pull back from Pinterest and Instagram and really only read the blogs that were my tried and true, the ones who embraced originality and following your gut (like yours). Once I did this, and found my starting point it all started coming together. I knew griege would depress me and white walls wouldn’t work in my cool North facing space. I realize now how much my approach to decorating is similar to my mom’s and influenced by working with what I have or love.

    This sameness is one of the biggest roadblocks I have when working with clients. I feel most successful when I can push them out of their comfort zone but some really don’t want this. It’s part of the reason I’ve decided to stop offering traditional design services. I’d rather teach workshops and give people the tools to find their own style.

    This was a great and thought provoking post! Thanks for sharing it.

    • Pinterest IS a blessing and a curse. If I have a mental block when I’m thinking about decorating, I’ll do a Pinterest search and get inspired. But I also find UGH the sameness on repeat in many aspects. I agree with you on pushing people outside their comfort zone, most people are NOT risk takers in design. It makes them nervous, so they make the safe choice. It’s okay, that’s where they’re comfortable, it’s their home. So great that you provide people with inspiration and tools as you said, when people learn to make design choices on their own, there is more personal satisfaction than having the choice made for them.

  38. YES!!!!! Also makes it harder and a lot more expensive to find original pieces that make your home unique. I also think, THIS IS IT, that blogs need mass appeal so they don’t design crazy unique rooms… they won’t get shared or featured.

  39. All this is so very true. It makes me wonder though, has design had an element of “sameness” all along, and the internet is just confirming it? Think about it- people have been lusting over the pottery barn look long before the internet and social media boomed; I remember my mom getting the catalogues when I was in high school (in the late 90’s/early 2000’s). I can remember being obsessed with IKEA before I was married- again, before Pinterest/IG/etc. We’ve all been shopping at Target buying quick/cheaply made products for a long time. If someone has not traveled and brought back elements from local makers, wouldn’t it all mostly be the same anyway, across the globe? I do think that we draw inspiration from social media, and has it translated to “sameness” as you mention. My point is, that I think design has largely had a “sameness” long before social media. Social media just confirms that is has.

    • Really interesting perspective Leslie. Perhaps it’s a circle, where brands come up with a look, it takes hold in society (like the Pottery Barn example) because it’s presented beautifully, then people just opt for that look because it’s easy. Not everyone’s a decorator, many people don’t care about a beautifully curated interior layered with meaningful things, they just want easy and practical. I have plenty of friends who look at me cross-eyed when I start to talk about design, they find it overwhelming to even think about it so they just march down to Pottery Barn/IKEA/Crate+Barrel and say “I’ll take that”.

  40. I’m not into social media, but I agree with all this. Just had the kitchen and bathrooms redone, and made it very clear we didn’t want a kitchen without walls that looks like a white lab. Also, we wanted to keep our appliances that work just fine even though they’re not stainless steel. The rooms may not look all hip and cool, but to us it’s a big improvement and we did it all for $20K.

  41. Thank you for this post. I am a working artist who loves design but find the ikea ,farmhouse,boho ,industrial etc. a bit of a bore. To me the most interesting houses are those that tell a story about the people living there. I guess I like an undecorated look.
    Over the years I have “helped” friends and acquaintances with designing their homes. I always worked with what they had first and added in for a more cohesive feel. Anyway,great post. I wish more designers would step away from sameness.

    • It becomes more difficult to be creative when so many ideas have been shared. Sometimes I’ll come up with (what I think is) something new and a quick internet search reveals, nope, that’s been done. Then there’s the hesitation to even go there. I like what you said about the “undecorated look”. When you browse Instagram, everything is picture perfect. The hunt for the “undecorated” and “unique” continues, I’m always searching.

  42. I loved this post and glad someone else feels this way. I’ve loved interior design since I was a kid. Up until a few years ago magazines were basically my drug of choice lol. Like legit good design makes my heart beat fast. Now I go to the bookstore pick up a magazine and go meh and put it back down. Don’t get me wrong it’s all nice but I’m looking for something more. I love a good trend and try to incorporate a bit into my house I feel like it makes your home look up to date but I also like to use thrift store and auction finds, pieces from my parents home from when I was a kid and more expensive custom pieces. I want my home to have some dimension and comfort to it and that takes time. Maybe it’s because people are trying to get things done so quickly now. It’s funny we recently stayed in an airbnb in Vegas and there wasn’t one thing that wasn’t from Ikea. My husband sat down on one of the cheap uncomfortable couches and said this place looks great in photos but it’s uncomfortable and it feels like I’m staying at an Ikea. If we want a place to just sleep and could care less everything came from the same place we’ll just stay at a hotel. To me the whole point of an Airbnb is like you feel like you’re staying at someone else’s house like the movie The Holiday and you can spend the week discovering new little things about the place. Rachel is right when she says if you don’t curate a certain look you don’t get the mass appeal and shares and we’ve become a society whose made that our main goal. Thank you for the reminder that in reality that shouldn’t matter! Loved the post Katie!!!

  43. I was on the blogging train early, when people didn’t want rapid “before and after” projects. The One Room Challenge was for updates, not entire remodeling projects back then!

    I think people have become so addicted to “fast decor” (just like “fast fashion”) that influencers are resorting to the same sources that can accommodate that timeline – Target, World Market, Wayfair, West Elm, etc.

    There is a chicken or the egg question. Why do we want it fast and cheap? I personally decided that I didn’t want to stay on the blogging train in the direction where it was going and tapped out five or six years ago.

    • It’s like that with so much of the world right now, the 24 news cycle. So rarely do we dwell on a beautiful space or enjoy the process of decorating, the pace is more rapid, as are expectations. It’s BOOM, full room makeover! Then …. what’s next? I remember the days when an entire blog post could be about one little change made in a space. *sigh* I miss that.

  44. Interesting post and I definitely agree! I’ve lived in four different states, and with the exception of geographical distinctions, all have had the same chain restaurants and same large stores. It’s getting more difficult to find uniqueness.
    However, just as I change what I wear as clothing styles fluctuates (I’m not still wearing my baggy, high-waisted jeans of the 90’s, thank goodness), I change my home decor as furniture styles change . I loved my blue and white striped Ikea couch in the 90’s with my sunflower decor. I loved my dark green, red and gold walls and dark furniture phase in the early 2000’s. And, now that I’ve moved on to gray and beige and neutral furnishings and walls, I love those equally as well. I’m sure I’ll get tired of neutral eventually, but for now it feels fresh and clean. Like fashion, I think home decor will always follow trends. While that may bring about “sameness”, as long as you currently love it, then it probably doesn’t matter.

  45. I couldn’t agree with this more. I subscribe to so many blogs, but I seldom read through them. If you show me a photo of an all white kitchen, subway tile, while walls and blue accents, I pass. I just happened on a blog the other day, and the author was going on about how she was adding color – it was soft blue accents. I’ve seen that so many times. I have always loved blue, but now I’m second guessing myself because I see it everywhere! It is just so boring and monotonous!! Can we please see some color and NEW ideas!!! Thanks for letting me vent!!

  46. Spot on! It has gotten to the point where I don’t even want to buy a magazine because I know it will be same old same old….I love when you walk into a space and you feel the owners personalities. I love how a special item can create a whole room or just a beautiful pause. I have everything from modern wingbacks in teal along side my favourite skull pillow to an antique crystal and gold martini shaker used for wild posies to my grandfathers microscope set up with found bits of nature (including a shed snake skin) . My favourite pieces might just be a flea market find; an Art Deco dining suite that I have broken up….table is my desk, sideboard is my credenza, and china cabinet is in the media room holding cd’s and sheet music. So much fun to see oddities instead of the expected. Great great blog! Loved reading the responses, you touched upon a collective sigh!

  47. Such an insightful post, like so many of yours are, Kate. I am also building a new house like on of the commenters above, in a cookie cutter neighborhood and my goal is to make it custom. And by “custom”, I mean, custom to me! I have found the best way to figure out what your spin or your personality is when it comes to decorating is go through all of your pins/saved collections on IG and find common themes. For me, just a few examples are patterned drapes, painted ceilings in bold colors, built-ins with eclectic hardware. Every room can’t have these things, but my point is, envoking these design elements amidst neutral walls and white subway tile will give it my spin. Sticking with the classics and the “safe” options are often budget friendly because one wouldn’t have to worry about getting tired of them and feeling like they need to pay to change them; I know I feel that way, but it’s about the mix. Ironically, I ordered Eddie Ross’ “Modern Mix” today before reading your article…:)

  48. YESSSS and i have though this for a while. I feel so uninspired these days by blogs, instagram, pinterest, because it’s all very much of that sameness and nothing sparks interest anymore. i have found myself drifting to food blogs more for inspiration (not in the design sense, but just to speak to my soul). I’ve even found myself caring less about what my own home looks like which is so weird… I mean I care, but I am so less prone to make changes these days. I’m content with it as is, but I just have no desire to change it because nothing excites me and moves me to make those changes either.

  49. It’s funny to me because every home I have had in the last 10 years I have decorated it in a Scandinavian/coastal design because I love a simple, airy feeling.
    This survived as all my friends joined the rustic and farmhouse trends.
    When I moved to Idaho a few years back I was so impressed with their building style, but disappointed that every house seems to be brown. I asked a builder why is every house brown and he said ” because everyone else has brown so people keep picking brown”.
    Now this last year, all houses are built farmhouse white. People seem to feel safe in doing what others do. Not many want to risk being unique, due to failure and not doing what is ” in”
    When we moved to Idaho 3 years ago I did wire brushed oak cabinets, but grey was the “in”. The cabinet shop tried to convince me to do grey!! So, I believe there is a lot of peer pressure to ” fit in”
    Took me until I was an adult to do what I liked( even if it’s the same style for 10 years lol).
    Love your posts!

    • Yes exactly! There is “peer pressure” to conform in all ways: my mom lives in a neighborhood where every house is painted some shade of dust, but she just had her house painted bright blue and the neighbors have been complaining behind her back about how it “doesn’t fit in”. It’s not to my taste, but it’s neat and well-maintained and it makes her happy every time she comes home, so why should she be vilified for having (horror!) a cheerful color on her own house?

  50. This is somewhat related to the topic, I heard from a friend that my favorite local estate sale company no longer does sales. The reason being that the boomers , and I am one, are selling parents home contents and no one wants the stuff. What used to bring 40k in sales was bringing less than 10k and not covering costs enough. They would selll contents of beautiful mansions and cool older homes. I loved to follow them, great stuff st reasonable prices. The millennials want pottery barn. Not the beautiful dining room tables or the occasional glass or pottery piece or art that make a house interesting and inviting. They can’t see that old chairs and couches can be recovered in cool modern fabric and the bones are so much better than what is in the store for more money. No imagination. I never thought about the theory you touch on. Pinterest and hgtv sameness and IKEA. That sounds like what is driving it.

    • So interesting Jeanne, thank you for sharing that! There was an estate sale down the road from me a few weeks ago, and like you said, it saw little traffic. It seems so many want “new”.

  51. We stay in the same Airbnb once a year. The first year we rented it it was so eclectic and unique, full of antiques and one of a kind treasures, it was perfect! Two years later, white everything from IKEA and Target. Still cute and clean but not as interesting. The owner told me that things get stolen, broken, or “lost”, things go missing, etc. Everything needed to be easy to replace, not so unique, and inexpensive. She said it was a pain to have such a nice place and she was constantly worried about damage. Now she sleeps better and the irony is it stays booked year round. She said it’s uniqueness turned some people off and they didn’t like how different it was. We go back there yearly because the location is perfect for us, even if the decor is boring to me. My husband and children certainly don’t care one way or the other how Airbnb’s are decorated. The priority for them is if there’s a pool or some other bonus (pool table, foosball, basketball hoop,etc) My husband sometimes teases me about my interest in houses and decor. With all that’s going on in the world and with what’s really important, why do you still love to look at magazines and read blogs? I guess it’s a pleasant distraction and I just like it, just like you can watch sports all day when you have the time!

  52. Please check out Natalie Clayman design – she’s local and SO gorgeous and different. I’d love to see her work get more recognition

  53. I think people like sameness, as evidenced by all the home bloggers that were doing makeovers way back when blogging was a new thing. They were all making over their new to them beige homes. Which they all made sure to tell everyone how’s ugly it was before they made it over ! I can’t stand that! It was beautiful to someone once! When people read blogs like that over and over that tell you how ugly this or that is and this new cheap thing I just bought is so much better, they tend to believe it.
    A side note, the gray trend is pretty much over but here in West Texas it’s finally catching on!? most people here were still decorating in the Tuscan/western style. Different style but still the sameness everywhere.

  54. I’ve gone back to staying in hotels. At least someone is there to greet you when you walk in and you won’t be lacking in furniture or lighting to read by or a desk. The worst trend is the industrial rustic look with the bare lightbulbs and uncomfortable metal chairs and gray walls. It kind of breaks my heart when I see people rip out the old which had it’s charms and replace it with this look which to me is depressing. A bare lightbulb belongs in a prison cell. My husband and I looked forward to eating at a new restaurant in town but when we got there, it was decorated with the industrial trend with hard surfaces and lots of black.The noise level was so high we had to shout at each other. We won’t be going back. Thanks for saying what a lot of us are thinking.

    • I agree Laurie, I find the industrial look to be cold, it’s okay when used in small doses, but when an entire space is decorated with metal chairs and furniture and gray walls it feels lifeless to me.

  55. Every home in our neighborhood is sided in what I like to call “retirement beige.” I fell in love with a a deep blue called Pacific when we built and our house sticks out like a sore thumb, but we get so many compliments on it. Of course now, five years later, almost every new house I see going in town up is using my beloved Pacific blue. Now I’m becoming part of the cliche, lol.

    • bravo Carmen, way to be ahead of the pack with your inspirational use of color!

  56. I couldn’t agree more. I really see it in my Instagram feeds– all white farmhouse photos. I miss magazines like Mary Englebreight’s Home Companion. She showcased homes with personality. I get caught up in the is this on trend thinking, but try hard not to. I love color and eclectic decor and I am getting better at decorating only in ways that make my heart sing.

  57. Hate to be a nay sayer but that Bruges hotel is every bit as samey as its peers, just a different kind of samey category to belong to.

    I don’t have as much of a problem with same-ness. I think design trends have always been design trends and, among western cultures, there’s long been a race to conform. Everyone wants to look like X to be fashionable.

    Not sure if this question has come up in the comments so far but: to what extent do you feel responsibility in this due to your position as a design influencer? I hope you don’t find that an offensive question (I don’t mean it that way since I don’t have a problem with design trends generally). Much of your style and projects over time have matched trends (chevron, etc). How would you step away from those trends to stop the global same-y-ness you don’t like?

    • Interesting question, I’m not offended CD but to be frank, I don’t carry any “responsibility” for my style or my projects having an influence. My style is classic/transitional with a bit of modern thrown in. I am flattered when anyone draws inspiration from my work. I don’t believe anyone, including me, should step away from their style, even as an “influencer”. What we all contribute is something unique and creative. Many times, the things we call “trends” like shiplap are actually ideas that have been around forever they just gain popularity again when an influencer like JG puts them in the spotlight, and people mimic the look because it looks fresh and new again.

  58. We are staying in an Airbnb in Caceres, Spain, as I write this and the wifi is spotty, so I’ll have to read the rest of the comments when it’s more solid (Lisbon is next!). I remembered this post and came back to it after traveling in Iceland and now Spain for the last few weeks. It is crazy how much the airbnbs have been alike in the countries we’ve been! We’ve only stayed in them in Iceland, Spain, and Greece, but in those IKEA reigns and the design feel is either sleek/minimalist (and I know this is sexist, but I really can feel when it’s a male bachelor who decorated) or Scandinavian/white and very uncluttered. The outside of buildings and homes vary so much that it is still stunning to come inside and find this sea of sameness. I guess one thing is that many people go to hotels for predictability, but now that can be found with airbnb. Kate, I’m a long, long time reader, though don’t think I’ve ever commented — I’ve sometimes wondered, “why in the world?!” about some apartmenttherapy posts (I mean, this could be MY house and I’d never put mine on this blog/site), but now I’ll think about them in the context of a departure from sameness after reading your post. My online blog design diet has always included a balance between the biggies (apartmenttherapy, remodelista) and the individual (your blog, makingitlovely, ramblingrenovators, etc) or individual-ish (designsponge, cup of jo, etc). I’ve appreciated the latter two kinds for a number of reasons, but now I realize it’s also because like small bookstores I count on you and them not to only do/have a sea of sameness dictated by larger corporate/financial interests. I think that’s why I/we can get uppity about sponsorship at times. It’s like, “wait — that’s not why I come here!” and it’s not enough to have the disclaimer that your opinions are yours… However, I completely appreciate that your/their time is real and needs compensation. A delicate balance for all.

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