Remember the Tuscan Kitchen? Millennials Want It Back

Remember the Tuscan Kitchen? Millennials Want It Back

It was only a matter of time before people started pining for the Olive Garden aesthetics of their pre-housing crisis childhoods—right down to the ceramic roosters.

Welcome to The Trend Times, a column that explores design fads in the age of doomscrolling.

Every real estate show, whether it follows potential buyers in Beverly Hills or Mobile, Alabama, reveals a sick obsession with "The Kitchen." The house could be perfect in most ways, but some newlywed couple living with their in-laws to save money will not be able to get past some (relatively) inconsequential problem with the cooking area, whether it’s the color of the cabinets or ugly backsplash. What’s never said outright—but most Americans know deep in their bones—is that the kitchen is not just the home’s main gathering place, but a clear tell of your wealth and taste level.

Up until recently, an early 2000s Tuscan kitchen would be an immediate "no" from any sane potential home buyer. But these are not normal times. With the return of the early aughts in nearly every aesthetic category—including bedrooms—it was only a matter of time before millennials started pining for these spaces from their childhoods, which are so ugly I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a hand in "killing the kitchen" all together. Recently, I’ve been shocked—and I’m not sure why—that nostalgia for them has been popping up on Twitter and TikTok:

To refresh your memory, the Tuscan kitchen trend of the early aughts was essentially: What does an American "new money" or upper middle class housewife—one who has possibly never been to Europe—think an Italian villa looks like? Or more simply: is it possible to live in an Olive Garden?

It was all brown and earth tones, garish marble, ornate details and molding, wrought iron fixtures, sponge paint, cherry cabinets, and backsplash murals of vineyard landscapes or fleur-de-lis. (Never mind that the latter is French; an important part of this look is that it was not holistic, and jumbled a bunch of different European inspirations together).

"The ‘Tuscan kitchen’ trend was part of a wider overall ‘eclectic old-world luxury european’ style that proliferated during the excess of the 2000s housing bubble," architectural designer & co-founder of the Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute (CARI), Evan Collins, writes in an email. "I’ve been calling it ‘McEclectic’ since it was tied to the height of McMansions, and how it was a melange of various European styles as opposed to being solely ‘Tuscan’ or ‘French’ etc."

Tuscan kitchens are associated with the housing bubble crash of 2007 and the associated subprime mortgage crisis. Even when they were featured in a more "modest" three bedroom home in, let’s say, Orange County, this style is inextricably linked with the image of a nouveau riche Boomer, taking on more than he could afford for his family in the name of the "American dream"—only to then receive a call on the kitchen landline during dinner where he learns he’s losing it all. (Those decorative roosters were great for smashing during fits of rage.) In 2023, when owning any home at all is out of the question for most Americans, the kind of upward mobility for the middle class that existed back then—even if it all hinged on a house of cards and came crashing down—seems quaint.

It’s easy to chalk up McMansions—and this style of decor, which was their primary modus operandi—to the uber rich, but as Kate Wagner, a contributor to Dwell and proprietor of the blog McMansion Hell, which critiques and archives this style of architecture, explains in The Baffler, it’s not that simple. "Owing to the fact that McMansions are owned by a demographic encompassing the upper-middle class as well as the unconscionably rich, it’s tempting to lump them in with the patrician architecture of old—the Hearst Castles and Biltmore Estates," wrote Wagner. "However, the truth is a bit more complex. The McMansion straddles the divide between high and what’s called vernacular architecture, i.e. the trailer parks and worker’s cottages and dormitories occupied by the working and middle classes."

Similarly existing in this gray zone class-wise, the Tuscan kitchen reminds millennials of formative moments in their life when they became aware of class—and where their family happened to sit, one aspect of the conversation happening on social media.

For others, who grew up poor or in cities, the suburban use of garish marble and fake foliage was completely off limits, even if through pop culture it was part of the cultural imagination. (In my mind’s eye, Carmela Soprano’s kitchen was the peak of this aesthetic, but closer examination reveals it’s far too plain and beige to even qualify).

The nostalgia factor brought on by this aesthetic is a return to a time of abundance and stability, before the 2009 recession. Moving into the 2010s, this kind of maximalism became not just unaffordable but tacky. The pendulum swung the other way—every new build contained a minimalist open floor plan or modern farmhouse kitchen. Now we have "McModerns" and "millennial gray." As we see again and again throughout history, new design trends tend to embrace pre-held notions of "bad taste" as a form of rebellion.

As we battle warnings of an impending recession, and prices soar on shoddily made modernist boxes with zero character, it’s not shocking that some people lust for the maximalist "soul" of the Tuscan kitchen, even if it involves re-writing history a little bit. But is this more than just a nostalgic fascination? Will we actually start seeing Tuscan kitchens intentionally in homes?

When asked if Tuscan kitchens are primed for a comeback, residential interior designer Rock Herzog, who built Cocaine Decor, the Twitter account that documented the work of queer designers from the 1970s-1990s, wrote over text, "Not in an overt or direct way, but I do think there’s potential for some elements to come back into style….The Tuscan kitchen had some warmth to it (the terra-cotta colors, the blonde wood, the hearth-like formulation of the room, the wrought iron) that I could see getting alluded to in design."

But for his part, Collins isn’t convinced this "trend" will transition beyond online discourse. "I’m not sure we’ll see a full-on resurgence anytime soon," he writes, "given that this style is both quite expensive to implement, and still in the initial ‘fascinating but still seen as generally tacky/kitschy phase’ of a design revival."

After all, you’d need an actual house—and 100K—for a kitchen remodel that’s evocative of fast-casual breadsticks and lukewarm minestrone. 

Alana Hope Levinson
The Trend Times columnist. Exploring design fads in the age of doomscrolling.




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