What Is Archival Revival? – The New Maximalist Design Trend Taking Over Instagram

Greg Stevens

Late last year, I was sitting down to lunch with the team from Morris & Co. and noticed that the pattern on the napkin in my lap seemed vaguely familiar. I knew it wasn’t an iconic Morris print (those are instantly recognizable!), but something about it felt historic. As it turns out, the Morris & Co. design team had taken several archival patterns and “cleaned them up” a bit for a more modern riff—this was one of several in the new-old collection. “Fresh maximalism” is what they are calling it. And since that lunch—at Paris Design Week and High Point Market, in new wallpaper and fabric collections, and even in the pages (print and digital!) of House Beautiful—I’ve been seeing the concept everywhere.

It’s 80s splendor without the ruffles, chintz that doesn’t feel grandmotherly, Victorian-era patterns in defiantly modern colorways.

It’s 80s splendor without the ruffles, chintz that doesn’t feel grandmotherly, Victorian-era patterns in defiantly modern colorways. You might see it described as “fresh” take, a “clean” version, or even a “modern” interpretation of classic maximalism. We’re calling it the Archival Revival.

old paper with flower

A pattern from the Bassett McNab archive. 

Bassett McNab

blue and white interior

The new Wilton pattern is a monochromatic take on this archival print. 

Bassett McNab

“Interior design is definitely moving away from the midcentury obsession that we had for so long,” proclaims celebrity designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard. “People are going back to that House of Hackney, Victorian thing.” Just look to the rise of the Grandmillennial design trend and the Victorian fashion references in Hill House Home’s iconic Nap Dresses—both fueled, in large part, by the pandemic-induced need to stay home (possibly even in your own childhood bedroom). The preference for a lighter, more modern spin on these old-timey motifs is now picking up steam.

Bullard has his own fabric and wallpaper line coming out that plays into the archival revival. “It’s traditional prints in fresher colors,” he explains. “Coming out of COVID, everyone wants that 80s revival, but done in a more modern way: avocado, deep pinks, moving away from that rosy ‘millennial pink’ to a dusty look.”

fabric swatches

Martyn Lawrence Bullard’s newest fabric pattern takes its motif from a traditional tree of life design, pared back and colored with modern hues.

Martyn Lawrence Bullard

Like Morris & Co., textile purveyor Bassett McNab has looked to its own extensive archive for some of its latest launches, pulling out fabrics from the early 20th Century and presenting them in new, cleaner palettes. Artists George Venson and Diane Hill recently launched patterns based on traditional scenics, murals, and motifs—with their own twists. Their success follows a recent surge in the popularity of custom wall murals, many of which follow the same process of refining historic concepts.

The effect is less literal than true nostalgia, a harkening back to familiar motifs in a way that doesn’t actually repeat the past.

colorful living room

Nashville artist Charlotte Terrell creates custom murals for her clients that reference traditional scenics but veer more towards abstraction. “I draw from my time as a landscape architect as well as a decorative painter,” Terrell says. “I bring those elements of beauty, peace, and grounding into my own idealized dream-like landscapes to capture the 19th and 20th-century wall murals we’ve come to love—and that we’re inspired to recreate.”

dining room with painted wall

A mural by Charlotte Terrell.

Leslee Mitchell

What’s pushing designers to reinvent traditional maximalist motifs? “The world is an uncertain place right now, and people have been nesting for the last two years,” New York designer Barry Goralnick points out. “A lot of maximalist interiors contain things that are familiar, either from our own past or from a simpler time. Layers of fabrics, carpets, woods, and objects are warm and inviting and provide a comfortable and pleasing environment. It’s the home decor equivalent of comfort food.”

pink bedroom

A bedroom by Barry Goralnick is maximalist in its pattern mixing, but subdued in its color palette for a more streamlined take.

Barry Goralnick

Archival revival is comfort with a twist: a pattern from a bygone era in an undeniably du jour color palette or a boldly-executed reimagining of an old-school concept. Take, for example, the resurgence of the allover pattern room. Once a dated peer of matching furniture sets, the trend of swathing a room’s walls, upholstery, and window treatments in the exact same pattern has returned with a vengeance. These new interpretations manage to make even the busiest patterns appear beguilingly graphic and fresh.

Modern-day maximalism takes a more refined, curated, and personal approach.

The past few years, in which we all spent more time than usual at home, seemed to boost our collective confidence in decorating—whether that manifests in simply going bold to make ourselves happy (see: dopamine dressing) or adapting a familiar style to make it more uniquely our own. “Covid deprived us and now we want it all at once!” is how Betsy Wentz puts it.

“Today, more than ever, people are attracted to layered design and not identifying with just one style,” says Zandy Gammons of Raleigh’s Miretta Interiors. “They want a ‘collected’ look with textures, color, and items that are unique to them, while still appearing fresh.”

Philip Thomas Vanderford and Jason James Jones of Studio Thomas James agree: “We have noticed that clients like the sentimentality of their parents’ and grandparents’ homes, which in many cases had layers of ‘life’ added to each space.” But of course, they want their own twist on this look. “Modern-day maximalism takes a more refined, curated, and personal approach,” says Philip Mitchell.

patterned bedroom

A bedroom by Lindsey Coral Harper features a Morris & Co. print on walls, bedding, and window treatments.

Morris & Co.

Benjamin Reyneart, creative director of Interior Define, says one of the simplest ways to experiment with this trend is to mix and match your art. At Interior Define’s newest Brooklyn studio, Reyneart showcases the approach: “You see it here, where we put graphic, modern pieces next to more traditional landscapes.” Framing offers yet another way to juxtapose eras on your walls: Place a modern mixed-media work in a repainted baroque frame to give it a completely fresh feel. The recent impulse to freshen up a classic motif “goes hand-in-hand with the resurgence of collecting,” says Rinck’s Valentin Goux.

colorful modern home

Like all good collections—and interiors—archival revival is about the mix. “I think what makes maximalism different now is that it’s less about shock value and more about cohesiveness,” says Baton Rouge-based Rachel Cannon. “‘Eclectic’ used to be the word we used for maximalism, but for me, that always meant ‘weird and kind of bad taste.’ Maximalism is in very good taste, and it gives us lots of things to admire!” Today’s new interpretations of the classics ensure that these designs stick around for years to come.

“People want to see things they admire and that make them happy,” says Next Wave designer Travis London. “More is more!”

Credits for lead image: Living room by Right Meets Left Interior Design: Frank Frances Studio. Blue sofa by Bassett McNab. Entryway by Betsey Wentz: Carmel Brantley. Fabrics by Morris & Co.

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