How You Can Use Nostalgia to Enhance Your Home

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WORDS BY Gillian Grefe

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Published on September 28, 2020

2020 has become a time machine of pop-culture touchstones: A burst of interest in tie-dyeing. A resurgence of drive-in movie theaters. The return of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” to the charts (thanks to this viral video of teenage twins hearing the 1981 hit for the first time). And given the extraordinary events of this year, the taste for nostalgia is no surprise.

Revisiting the fashions, movies and music we enjoyed when we (or our parents) were young is a simple act of self-soothing. Reflecting on how our grandparents survived ups and downs can gird us for our own challenges. Recalling a great vacation can provide hope and inspiration.

Science supports these truths: Thinking about happier times can help us weather a crisis.

By weaving notes of personal nostalgia into your home design, you’re not only practicing self-care but also telling a story that is uniquely yours. And there’s nothing more beautiful than that.

Here with the breakdown on how to layer in nostalgic items are Havenly design lead Heather Goerzen, who recently shared small space hacks, Parisian-chic style tips and Summer 2020 design trends, and Shelby Girard, Havenly’s VP of Creative & Design.

“Home is at its best when it shares your story, incorporates your history and reflects your unique interests and passions,” Heather says. 

Weave in elements that have meaning for you. 

Perhaps it’s a family heirloom or a decor element that brings back pleasant memories of your childhood home or your ultimate happy place. 

One of Heather’s favorite travel traditions is bringing home something representative of the culture and place that she’s visiting. A piece of art is typically the answer.

“Many of the pieces throughout our home were discovered on our trips and remind me of all these amazing experiences, like the Scotch decanter we brought home from Scotland or the vintage mirror from Paris,” she says.

“It’s a powerful way to capture the memories.”

Shelby Girard, Havenly’s VP of Creative & Design, doesn’t have much room to spare in her small Brooklyn flat

But it’s a given that a portrait of her grandmother, which was painted by her grandfather, hangs on her dining room wall.

A natural conversation starter and stunning work of art, the painting “will stick with us, wherever we go,” Shelby told 

“There’s something so special and poignant about weaving family narratives throughout your home,” says Heather, whose own shelves display a tea pot from her grandmother and a vintage globe from her grandfather.

In her kitchen, she keeps her mother-in-law’s silver cake server close at hand and uses it regularly.

These items go beyond simple decor, she says. “They are pieces of my family’s history and have a soul and character all their own.”

Another way to instill a sense of nostalgia, comfort and coziness throughout your home: Explore the Scandinavian principle of hygge and its longing for simpler times. 

“Think natural textures and rustic woods,” Heather says. “Bring in a faux fur throw or shearling pillow that cues a wistful affection for cabin life.”

Consider hygge decor items that look and feel a little weathered, like this reclaimed wood coffee table, with all its knots and natural imperfections left intact. Pieces burnished with character suggest a past and a story.  

How do you know if you’ve crossed the line from personal nostalgia to personal museum? The difference is lived-in appeal and a lack of preciousness.

Weave in soul and character through pieces that have some meaning and history to you,” Heather says. “They should feel like natural extensions of your home style, and be displayed on shelves alongside your everyday reading books, above the sofa you curl up to binge Netflix on, or something you actually can use frequently.” 

Like Heather’s decanter or cake server. Your grandmother’s piano that the family still gathers around. Or the vintage mirror, purchased in a Paris flea market, that greets you in your entryway.

“You want to walk into your home, kick up your feet and relax, versus feel like you can’t touch anything,” Heather says.

“But it also won’t feel like your home if you don’t weave in accents that evoke memories and speak to your stories.”

Let our professional designers help you marry your old treasures with a refreshing new look. Take Havenly’s style quiz to get started.

Words by Staci Sturrock