How naff is your home? The new middle-class interiors clichés designers hate

naff decor
Coordinating materials – especially hot pink damask – are out, says veteran interior designer Nicky Haslam - Property Bedroom Interiors

Remember that bitchy and condescending Alan Clark snipe at Michael Heseltine? Margaret Thatcher’s reckless junior defence minister described the former secretary of state as the kind of person who “bought his own furniture”? What did that mean exactly?

Clark was alluding to his own belonging to an upper-middle, aristo-adjacent tribe that inherits his homeware from his parents and would never be reduced to – oh, the shame! – having to shop for it. But what sort of furniture is this?

Across families from Cumbria to Cornwall, the passed-on pieces in his world would be the same: sturdy, fashionless mahogany and chintz, crusty oils and limescale-striated crystal, George Smith armchairs, Howard sofas, French dressers, armoires and circular Georgian “breakfast” tables covered in silver-framed family photos. It didn’t matter that this stuff was clichéd, because cliché was the whole point.

chintz living room
The style of sturdy, fashionless mahogany and chintz furniture belonging to the upper-middle, aristo-adjacent tribe - Alamy

Alan Clark actually appropriated the Heseltine put-down from another MP, Baron Michael Jopling. But neither man’s opinion has aged particularly well: the snooty allusion to a nouveau/arriviste type with a lack of “breeding” – and no family sideboards to inherit – has not even lasted a single generation. The Fitzrovia home of Jopling’s son, art dealer and gallerist Jay Jopling, tells a story of expensive, carefully considered, very modern and fashionable acquisition, not brown and sturdy hand-me-downs.

But then, because this is how we are now, we keep looking and judging, forensically scanning and critiquing details, and we become sniffy, catty, nitpicking, desktop Alan Clarks ourselves. Snotty Alan Clark might appreciate the shameless cattiness of our micro-examination. Still, he would surely also be horrified to see how the home has become a fast-moving, highly “fashionised” aesthetic: styles coming and going, colours trending, fabrics falling in and out of favour, whole cultures and architectures being eaten up, celebrated, then spat out.

In 2024, the desired look for the English man’s home is not a bequeathed castle; it is a self-purchased house that avoids stereotype and obviousness. It suggests an eye for the unusual,  isn’t of a style that feels warmed-over or done to death and is now available in – cheap, ersatz-edition – Dunelm, or knocked-off and mass-produced in China.

The new naff

So what are today’s middle-class design clichés? “Fitted wooden bookcases on either side of the fireplace… with cupboards underneath and a TV on the left,” veteran interior designer Nicky Haslam offers for starters. “So dreary and overdone. Such a cliché.” Haslam – whose signature decorating style has, over the years, veered from Hollywood Regency through to English Opulent, Ranch Theatrical and Sloane-Ski Oligarch, and has made a career out of either loving or loathing – lists a few more home clichés that ick his boxes. (Are you ready? There are quite a few.)

"Show" shelving: out
'Show' shelving: out - Veronica Rodriguez

“Cushions on points or creased sideways. Multiple cushions (as opposed to pillows) on beds [Nicky really cannot bear this]. Coordinated material in bedrooms and sitting rooms… in any room, actually. Lilies indoors. ‘Throws’. Dining rooms. Carver (dining) chairs. Grandfather clocks. Slick (modern/hi-tech) picture lights. Big, over-saggy, slouchy sofas. Hidden TV/audio equipment. ‘Mood’ lighting. Coloured bath towels. That ghastly ‘hotel’ look…” Nicky could go on.

But that last one – the modern and almost ubiquitous boutique hostelry style, with its piles of Taschen coffee table books as decoration, white or wenge floor-to-ceiling “show” shelving, gilt-edged Oliver Bonas-ish ceramics, brand new (probably fake) mid-century modern furniture classics, and Etsy pop-art pieces – has become a cliché genre all of its own.

The members’ club knock-off

All designers have stories of clients who would want a home with a look based on a hotel they’ve stayed in, their recent night out at 5 Hertford Street, or the last Soho House outpost they’ve visited, wanting the artwork, the old books on the shelves, the beaten-up leather sofas, etc delivered to them wholesale.

Aubrey Plaza and Meghann Fahy in White Lotus, filmed at the enviable San Domenico Palace in Taormina, Sicily
Aubrey Plaza and Meghann Fahy in White Lotus, filmed at the enviable San Domenico Palace in Taormina, Sicily - Fabio Lovino/HBO

Last year it was the old money, White Lotus look that everyone was buying into. This replicated the decadent Mediterranean, jet-set style of the rooms at the San Domenico Palace, Taormina (from The White Lotus, season two), and Sicily’s crumbling charm: bold, palm-tree or tropical bird-print wallpaper, Moorish ceramics, geometric Beni Ourain rugs, encaustic tiles and plaster-pink paint.

Loungecore: San Domenico Palace in Sicily
Loungecore: San Domenico Palace

“All those details are lovely because they are about cachet and authenticity,” says interior designer Annabel Stringer of Stringer Interiors. “But once they become readily available, over-replicated and too visible, when the encaustic is reproduced as porcelain for instance, that authenticity and originality loses something and turns into a bit of an overdone cliché. And yes, The White Lotus and Soho House used to be recurring reference points. Now it’s more likely to be [hotels] The Newt or Heckfield Place.”

Soho House, White City
Soho House, White City

The statement chair, or kitchen or bathroom…

My job as an editor at Wallpaper magazine, a world authority on interiors and architecture culture, has probably made me a guilty contributor to the madness, velocity and capriciousness of trends (even Kim Kardashian wants us to know about her new “Donald Judd” table these days). However, having snooped (professionally speaking, obviously) around new developments, private homes, design fairs and hotel lobbies for more than 10 years now, I’ve noticed that some contemporary design tropes do seem to outstay their welcome more than others.

“It’s the show kitchen for me,” says my fellow Wallpaper staffer Nick Vinson. “You get a lot of these in celebrity homes that have been done by highly paid but not particularly creative interior designers – vast acreages of pristine worktop, ceiling-high cupboards, decorative bowls of lemons, Kai Shun knives and olive-wood chopping boards that have never met one another.”

The 'show kitchen' – often found in celebrity homes and with vast acreages of pristine worktop
The 'show kitchen' – often found in celebrity homes and with vast acreages of pristine worktop - E+

Bathrooms? Nick is “so over” that “masculine, exotically veined, ‘total marble’ look, where every wall and surface looks like the cliff of an Italian quarry”. (The total marble look, notes Vinson, is now available at Topps Tiles.) “And what I call ‘Trophy’ chairs,” he adds. “At any given time there is a certain chair that every man will have in his home office space.”

marble bathroom
Nick Vinson pronounces anathema on veiny marble bathrooms

During the dotcom boom, he explains, the trophy chair du jour was the Herman Miller Aeron, which gave way to the Eames Soft Pad (in white or tan leather). “Right now it’s the Pierre Jeanneret Lounge Chair, in wood and rattan. An original will set you back about eight or nine grand on 1stDibs. But because there are dozens of much cheaper knock-offs now available you’ll see it behind the desk of virtually every art dealer’s office in Europe.” (And around the dining table? Enough already with the Carl Hansen CH24 Wishbone chairs. Especially the cheap copies.)  

Enough already with the Carl Hansen CH24 Wishbone chairs – especially the cheap copies
Enough already with the Carl Hansen CH24 Wishbone chairs – especially the cheap copies

Industrial? Over

“The industrial look is finished,” says Adam Hills, co-founder of the salvage shop and design studio Retrouvius. “I really don’t want to see another overscaled, enamel factory lampshade.”

Hills is also over Edison light bulbs and warehouse trolleys repurposed as coffee tables. It’s a major statement from a man who, with his wife, interior designer Maria Speake, played a major role in kicking off the industrial/factory look 20 years ago. Now Hills watches what used to be honest, solid and functional high-quality items get (badly) reproduced in Indian and eastern European factories, mainly for use in chain pubs and quasi-hipster coffee bars all over the country.

Other contenders for the interiors at Chez Cliché? Hills is done with pastels and “anything trying to be ‘accidentally Wes Anderson’”. Let’s add stripy stair runners, herringbone patterns (in bathroom tiling and parquet flooring), “waterfall” kitchen countertops, navy-blue kitchen units, L-shaped sofas, rainbow-hued English maximalism, ready-tablescaped tables (a touch of the Miss Havishams when you aren’t actually expecting anyone for dinner), luxury designer logos on throws and ceramics (you are not on MTV Cribs), Britpop artwork (swear-word neons, Jamie Reid’s Sex Pistols record artwork, etc), a trio of pendant lights over the kitchen island, “breakfast bar” stools, grey-toned walls and paintwork, unnecessary wood panelling, Crittall-window room dividers, coloured arches connecting rooms (this is not the 1970s), “art” fridges.

 Rule of three: mind your pendant lights, along with more or less everything else it seems
Rule of three: mind your pendant lights, along with more or less everything else it seems

And a small confession. In the home I share with the aforementioned interior designer Annabel Stringer, at least three rooms are done out in clichéd Farrow & Ball Setting Plaster pink and we have clichéd encaustic tiles in the bathroom and in the larder. There’s a clichéd Jamie Reid print in the hall, our sitting room is muddy grey, I have amassed three or four industrial salvage-chic lamps and a clichéd Nain Trading Beni Ourain rug is still on the shopping list.

So, homeowners of Great Britain… ignore the snobs, the Alan Clarks and the style writers, and cliché away.