The Year Childhood Nostalgia Took Over Our Homes

The Year Childhood Nostalgia Took Over Our Homes

In 2023, it seems like everyone was trying to reconnect with their younger self.

From the contested comeback of wall-to-wall carpeting to the Y2K craze’s creep into home decor, 2023 was defined by nostalgic interiors. The 2000s-era interiors obsession spanned many design styles (cue millennials pining for the Tuscan kitchen), but a considerable amount of fervor centered on the early-aughts teen girl bedroom. Animal print, pink walls, bean bag chairs, and all kinds of Hello Kitty merch became highly covetable as the look lovingly dubbed "trashy Y2K" took off. It’s not uncommon for design fixations from the past to have comebacks, but it seemed like nostalgia for childhood pop culture fixtures had a particular hold on the zeitgeist this year, dominating not just dorm rooms tours flaunted on TikTok, but also professionally designed, magazine-featured homes.

In March, for example, when Massachusetts design shop Pon the Store dropped a batch of ceramicist Emily Yong Beck’s sculptural candleholders depicting cartoon characters like Garfield, Bambi, and Hello Kitty, half of the pieces sold out on the very first night. Pon’s stock at large is thoughtfully silly; many pieces, like multidisciplinary artist Ryan Patrick Martin’s Floppy Hand coaster or glassblowing artist Miwa Ito’s decorative Goofy Fruit, tickle a sense of childlike play, even if they don’t make a specific reference. As such, in the three years the shop has been open, cofounder Madde Pontin says she and her mother, whom she runs the store with, have developed a sense for what draws people to nostalgiafying their spaces. "Playful interiors provide us a sense of safety, where we can have control in an uncontrollable world," says Pontin. "Whether it’s a bright color, a baguette candleholder, or a fake flower, these choices all seem to be rooted in a humorous and childlike fantastical reimagining of reality."

Another cartoon character that won its way back into many hearts and homes this year—beyond Snoopy, who seems to be having a renewed moment under the sun—was Miffy, the charmingly simple bunny from a 1955 picture book by Dutch artist Dick Bruna. The MoMA Design Store has been selling Miffy lamps in various sizes since 2015, but in 2023, the storybook character made a full ascendance to cult favorite on TikTok. The #Miffy hashtag has more than 650 million views, and though there are certainly some posts devoted to Miffy-related clothing and food, the vast majority focus on Miffy home decor, from diffusers and DIY mirrors to the limited-edition Miffy x Le Creuset collection launched in select countries this year. Naturally, MoMA Design Store’s Miffy product line expanded in 2023, with enamel baking pans, mixing bowls, and a milk pan emblazoned with Miffy’s various facial expressions available exclusively via the shop. "Back in 2015 when MoMA Design Store first introduced our oversized Miffy lamp, we didn't quite know how to position it—for children or adults?" says Chay Costello, associate director of merchandising at MoMA. This year, it seems like the answer turned out to be: both.

Elsewhere in TikTok interiors, Airbnb upped the ante of its exclusive, movie-themed rentals, which in previous years were largely only available to one lucky booker. It’s no surprise that the Barbie Malibu DreamHouse experience and Shrek’s Swamp in Scotland generated tons of online chatter, but our collective appetite for Barbiecore and Shrekcore went much, much beyond that. On TikTok, people documented their elaborate Shrek-themed dinner parties—complete with cottagecore-adjacent tablescapes with fake logs in some cases, and mossy accents and goblets in others—further solidifying Shrek’s reign as the king of the internet. And #Barbiecore was...everywhere. The New York Times covered the "surging" interior design trend, while other publications like Dorm Therapy and Good Housekeeping doled out hot-pink decor roundups, including Barbie-branded candles and entire sofas, as well as other homeware like vases, toasters, and shower curtains that just fit the overall color scheme.

Though utilitarian fixtures like baths, sinks, and toilets may not have as obvious a capacity for evoking nostalgia, Kohler proved they could do just that with their Heritage Colors collection, launched in January. After noticing the popularity of their Instagram series featuring archival Kohler products and colors, the brand decided to bring back two fan-favorite archived vintage colors. It had to be the buzziest bath-related campaign of the year, with more than 100,000 votes from consumers. Midcentury bathroom tiling also received some much deserved love this year for its splendid idiosyncrasies.

Midcentury suburbia was on Another Human founder Leah Ring’s mind when she was creating the design firm’s Galliforms furniture collection, with the distinct pastel tones and rounded features of the mirror, chair, nightstand, and lamps. "My mind immediately went to mod living rooms with chartreuse carpet, and that inspired the color palette of chartreuse, nude, and peach. The patterns in the lampshades were inspired by paisley prints which were very en vogue in the ’60s—I thought of a housewife in an A-line paisley dress with a martini in hand," Ring says, speaking to color and pattern’s ability to deftly evoke a different time.

In a year when "millennial gray" was out, the Y2K takeover got bigger, and the "girliesall but dominated the internet, it seems like more people were trying to connect with their younger inner selves freely. There’s no telling if the market will always be hot enough for Happy Bunny pillows to list on eBay for $250, but at the very least it’s clear that 2023 showed many people the power of a more playful, childlike interior.  

Top photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Another Human

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