The Beauty Of Boho Chic

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Bohemian design has a piecemeal quality—as if every accent, object, and furniture find was picked up along a storied journey through time. Yet the beauty of it is that everything has its rightful place in a well-worn tapestry. Crafty and colorful, worldly, and eclectic, the carefree look is also homey.

Born with a free-spirited vibe, bohemian design came into being in early 20th-century Europe—specifically England, Austria, and France—as part of a movement of nomadic artists who balked at convention and embraced a creative lifestyle that disrupted tradition. The aesthetic “was a reaction to the more formal living arrangements that had taken place prior,” says Alexander Doherty of Alexander Doherty Design based in New York and Paris.

Clare Louise Frost, co-owner of Tamam, a line of textiles and décor in Manhattan, describes it as “a design version of an urban, peripatetic, artistic, and intellectual lifestyle, which favored art and creative work above a life directed by making money and purchasing status comforts. It’s a design scheme that favors the labor of love and the collected piece over the templates of the more traditional,” Frost says.

A living room designed by Jessica Davis.
A living room designed by Jessica Davis


“I see bohemian style as a way of life more than a design aesthetic,” says Michelle Salz-Smith, founder of Studio Surface, a design firm in Del Mar, Calif. “We are all craving that free-spiritedness more than ever. There’s a sense of curiosity, adventure, and poetry in it.”

Layered and full of life, bohemian-style décor was expressed through textural elements such as shawls draped over lamp shades, rich colors on walls, and a lack of boundary or design norms. “There were lots of mismatching shapes that didn’t necessarily work together and the overall sense that anything would do,” Doherty says. “Color palettes were very saturated with purples, oranges, chocolates, and other jewel tones.”

After the 1920s, bohemian design all but faded away; however, it has come back full force over the past 20 years with a more modern vernacular, Doherty says. “Now, it’s much more eclectic and denotes a very informal lifestyle with flea market finds mixed with antiques.”

At its core, the effect is comfortable, cozy, well-traveled, and atmospheric, says Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo of Laurie Blumenfeld Design in New York. “It’s a feeling that artists have been there—as if you’ve been transported to another land. You look around the space and want to learn the stories behind the pieces,” she says. Weaving together a visual about your life, travels, and loves takes some storytelling in the details of the design.


A close-up view of the living room designed by Jessica Davis shows how layering colorful artwork works
A close-up view of the living room designed by Jessica Davis shows how layering colorful artwork works.


Mix, Don’t Match

The essential elements of bohemian design include artful touches, an unabashed use of color and pattern, a sense of playfulness, and items that are meaningful to the owner, says Elisabeth Rogoff, principal at Champalimaud Design in New York. “There should be an ease to it all and a mix of pieces from across various styles and patterns and in all sizes and scales, as well as a mix of materials and textures,” she says.

Blending old and new is one of the best ways to pull off the look. This means combining family heirlooms with things you’ve collected along the way—décor from your travels or around the block, Frost says. “Make sure the room has a feeling of warmth and completeness, without diving toward clutter. Antique and vintage pieces are ideal, but quality and condition are a consideration, especially for pieces like pillows that will receive heavy use,” she says. Consider mounting and framing antique textiles on the walls and including bookshelves bursting with tomes, as well as a variety of artwork. “It is the exact opposite of going into a showroom and picking things out where there is going to be the same vernacular that goes from one object to another,” Doherty says.

Another way to create an eclectic, lived-in space is by melding high and low with interesting objects, textiles, and furniture, says Sarah Henry, managing director at Paris-based La Manufacture Cogolin. “Rugs are essential, and if there is a lot of bold pattern on the floor, it’s better to have less on the furniture, or vice versa,” she says.

To ground the space, Rogoff suggests keeping one or two main color themes, particularly for the largest pieces. “It’s essential to have a color story in mind as the base of the room’s palette and then build off that by having no color story in mind, but by instead relying on a mix of textures and patterns to activate your personal ethos,” she says.

Don’t be afraid of color—and mixing colors that you might normally think clash, says Jessica Davis of Atelier Davis, a design studio based in New York and Atlanta, and make sure there are plenty of natural textures in there as well.

An office area by Alexander Doherty, who likes to incorporate collected pieces.
An office area by Alexander Doherty, who likes to incorporate collected pieces


Let There Be Layers

Bohemian style infuses a space with life because of its eclecticism. “You can choose things that have a story and your home suddenly becomes more of a varied historical lesson,” Doherty says. Layering is an ideal way to achieve a collected look. “It also allows you to bring in and be inspired by many different regions,” he says. For example, fabrics from the Middle and Far East, furniture from Europe, or accessories from Asia. “Collected can feel bohemian but also sophisticated at the same time,” Doherty says.

The key components of bohemian design are comfort and usability, a mix of high and low and old and new, patterns, textures, and things from various places you’ve been, Frost says. “Light where you need it, pillows where you need them, an ottoman that can be a perch or table, a travel trunk you use as a coffee table,” she says.

Layering different patterns, textures, colors, and interesting accessories can lend depth to a room, and reflect the owner’s travels and culture in a relaxed environment, Henry says. She recommends using pillows to layer in patterns. “Wood side tables and interesting stools can bring a different type of texture and sculpture to a room,” Henry says.

Blumenfeld-Russo suggests combining a neutral base with a contemporary statement piece (think rugs, or furniture) and layering in a collection of well-curated objects such as pottery, sculptures, or baskets.

“While bohemian décor and design falls on the maximalist spectrum, I aim to balance the design with minimal touches, be it a clean-lined furniture piece or the blank canvas of a white wall. The room should feel eclectic but also have negative space and room to breathe,” she says.


A warm-yet-chic bedroom by Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo
A warm-yet-chic bedroom by Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo.


Play With Patterning

Adding life to the look is as much about color as it is about pattern. Frost suggests using patterns that are reproductions of French or British prints or brocades such as abstract florals. “Nothing too palatial or rigid or too country,” she says. “Bohemian is an urban style,” Frost says.

Salz-Smith loves Spanish patterns that hearken back to times of antiquity; “a good chintz fabric to add unexpected botanical flavor.” She sometimes taps a mural artist for both indoor and outdoor graphics that are singular to the home.

The trick is to use patterns of different sizes and shapes, such as a small Indian block print combined with a large cabana stripe, so that they don’t compete, Davis says. “Pattern is all about varying scales and finding one element, whether it be a color or theme or texture that unknowingly makes everything tie together in an easy way,” Rogoff says. “Elevate the look by using an artful eye that understands color and scale relationships. Respect the idea that beautiful pieces complement each other no matter how different they are.”

Cue the Comfort Factor

The look should evoke the geography of a life, Salz-Smith says. “I love the idea of home as an autobiography, especially when we work on second and third homes that should convey a lived-in warmth,” she says. “Forget contrived and perfect; these homes reflect a spirit of harmony, an emotional connection with place, time, and culture.” She prefers comfortable seating from designers, including Croft House and Michael Robbins. “No spindly chairs. We never want clients saying, ‘Be careful sitting on that.’”

Textures in textiles/rugs should be entirely geared toward comfort, too, Frost says. “A cashmere throw on the sofa for snuggling with a book, or pillows that don’t match per se but are in the same color family,” she says. “I think of warm textures, too, not the shiny sheen of silk, but the warmth and hand of cotton, linen, or wool,” she says.

“A bohemian room is intimate and not a showpiece for guests,” Frost says. She recommends using furniture in a British or more classic style rather than a sleek modernist look. Coffee tables and side/occasional tables can be done in walnut or cherry or use brass or copper tray tables where you need them. “Comfortable chintz sofas, striped armchairs, kilim ottomans; mix in some rattan or leather, fibers, surfaces, and textures. Think warmth, think comfort, think of reading your favorite novel and your ideal place to do it,” Frost says.

A space designed by Michelle Salz-Smith, who says she sees bohemian as a way of life, rather than a design style.
A space designed by Michelle Salz-Smith, who says she sees bohemian as a way of life, rather than a design style

Modern Marvels

Originally appeared on

“Less is more.”

That was the edict of one of modern architecture’s patron saints, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and is still a guiding principle for many contemporary practitioners. Geometric shapes, a lack of ornamentation, open, efficient floor plans, and seamless indoor-outdoor living are hallmarks of modern masterpieces. But above all, materials—glass, steel, and concrete—shape the designs.

Van der Rohe himself was a glass-and-steel devotee, as evidenced not only by his signature glass box skyscrapers (such as the Seagram building in New York), but also the private homes he designed.

One of his most famous is the Farnsworth House, a one-level glass home, framed in white metal. Located about an hour from Chicago, it was completed in 1951 and is now a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Van der Rohe, born in Germany and part of a migration of architects to the U.S. before World War II, was part of the International Modern school. But other styles, such as Dutch De Stijl architecture, also incorporated many of the modern elements.

One example is the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht in the Netherlands. The residence was designed by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld for the woman he loved, Truus Schröder, and her three children, according to Natalie Dubois, curator of the house, which is now a museum. Rietveld was inspired by the Dutch artistic movement De Stijl. Fluid transitions between interior and exterior, clean lines, and the use of primary colors next to white, gray, and black (think Piet Mondrian, who was one of the leaders of the movement).

But Schröder had ideas, too, and wanted a home that was less constrained than most traditional builds.

“It’s based on the way she wanted to live,” Dubois says. That meant a glass facade, which was new at the time, open interior spaces with sliding walls, little to no ornamentation, and built-ins and furniture that have multiple uses. Visitors to the home often compare it to a houseboat, mobile home, or modern tiny house, where everything is multifunctional and compact, Dubois notes.

Many of the design elements seen in these homes are still popular with today’s architects. Take the Lost House in London by architect Sir David Adjaye, winner of the 2021 Royal Gold Medal, an award approved by Her Majesty The Queen and given to those who have had a significant influence on the advancement of architecture.

The 4,000-square-foot residence gets its name from its simple entryway, according to listing agent Guy Bradshaw of United Kingdom Sotheby’s International Realty. “It’s literally just a front door,” he says. “You could walk by it every day for 10 years and not know it’s there.”

The Lost House in London was designed by Sir David Adjaye. It looks understated from the outside, but is architecturally sophisticated inside


Property ID: MFL5LR |

United Kingdom Sotheby’s International Realty

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But beyond that door is an open living space with textured black walls and three light wells that create glass-encased interior courtyards and flood the space with sunlight. One of those light wells is at the center of the space and features a fishpond, while the others create gardens within the home.

The Lost House interior, has black walls and three light wells.
The Lost House interior, has black walls and three light wells


“This home was created in 2004 effectively out of nothing,” he says. “It was an old storage yard, and Sir David Adjaye created this incredible U-shaped home with volume, space, and the clever use of light.”

The three-bedroom, three-bathroom home, listed for £6.5 million, also features an indoor pool, a large office above the garage, and a lime-green sunken entertainment room that brings color to the otherwise dark palette.

In Spain’s Balearic Islands, the color scheme is decidedly lighter. There, affluent foreign buyers are looking for minimalist homes with views, clean lines, and outdoor space, says Alejandra Vanoli, managing director of VIVA Sotheby’s.

One such property is a newly completed four-bedroom, four-bathroom villa in Palma de Mallorca. The white box structure is like a modern version of Van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, but with mountain views. And although there are floor-to-ceiling windows, it is also partially covered by Iroko wooden cladding that brings warmth to the minimalist architecture.

“The construction is very solid with a lot of noble wood,” says Vanoli, adding that home automation allows owners to control and monitor the residence from afar. There’s a pool and lounge area, outdoor fireplace, oak flooring throughout, travertine marble floors, and radiant, underfloor heating. The property is listed for €3.5 million and is represented by Sandra Cosio of Mallorca Sotheby’s.

A white box home in Palma de Mallorca, nails indoor-outdoor synergy
A white box home in Palma de Mallorca, nails indoor-outdoor synergy.

The preferred materials of modern architecture, exposed steel, concrete, and lots of glass, are also on display at a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home on the market in Seattle. Like the Mallorca home, it incorporates natural elements to take the edge off the minimalist design.

“The materials, while restrained in the home, are still very rich and so well defined,” says listing agent Moira Holley, the founding director of Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty and a co-founder of the firm’s resale division. “The use of the materials is really exquisite.”

Double-height windows in the center of the residence, asking $2.45 million, allow for far-reaching views of the Puget Sound, Bainbridge Island, and the Olympic Mountains. The main floor has an open-floor plan with a fireplace surrounded by cold-rolled steel and walls lined with bookshelves.

Designed by Seattle-based Eric Cobb, one of the top-five contemporary architects in the Northwest U.S., the residence has two terraces that extend the living space outside, Holley notes. On the upper level, the outdoor space is adjacent to the primary bedroom suite and features a spa with “the most incredible view.”

In fact, Cobb’s ample use of glass means there are vistas from almost everywhere in the house, including the garage.

“Luxury equals a view for your car,” Holley jokes.


Property ID: 9RE8SE |

Mallorca Sotheby’s International Realty

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A white box home in Palma de Mallorca, nails indoor-outdoor synergy

Totally Tactile

Originally appeared on

A truly inspired interior isn’t just something pretty to look at, it’s an immersive experience felt through every sense—including touch. The plushness of a shaggy rug underfoot, the splendor of running your fingers through a faux fur hide, the cozy lure of a hand-knit ottoman—by incorporating texture and tactility into your design, the look and feel becomes interactive. “Careful and thoughtful layering of a space makes a room come alive,” says Rome, Italy-based architect and designer Achille Salvagni. “Alongside color and materials, tactile elements are extremely important. These are the details that can complete a room and transform it from a clinical, sterile environment into a warm and inviting space,” he says.

Tactility can be expressed in many ways, through textured fabrics and materials, through the art of layering, whether rugs or throw blankets, or through accents and artwork that bring a sense of warmth and depth to a room. “It is important to mix the ingredients in the same way a chef creates a perfect dish, bringing all the flavors together in a harmonious balance,” Salvagni says. Contrasts between hard and soft finishes and light and dark colors are essential. And the room shouldn’t be too crowded—individual pieces need to be able to breathe and stand out on their own, Salvagni says.

Achille Salvagni, who designed the room below, says tactile elements can complete and transform a room into a warm, inviting space
Achille Salvagni, who designed the room below, says tactile elements can complete and transform a room into a warm, inviting space.

Focus on Fabrics and Finishes

The fabrics and textiles you choose are key to creating a sense of tactility. Los Angeles-based interior designer Peti Lau uses plush fabrics, such as cashmere, velvet, and mohair, to add softness to a room. “It’s the same feeling when you put on a high-quality cashmere sweater—it’s just so yummy—the same goes for designing a room with fabrics that are super soft to the touch,” she says. Cashmere can be applied as window treatments. “It drapes beautifully, is incredibly soft, and the consistency of color can be very soothing and set the tone of the room,” Lau says. Lush fabrics such as velvet, embroidery, or silk also work well for drapery.

Woven fabrics, such as mohair, are a great way to introduce textures. They lend incredibly rich color to an upholstery piece and are very durable, Lau says. She also loves to use Mongolian cashmere or a sheepskin rug in a bedroom. “It’s a fantastic way to be connected to your senses—waking up and the first thing your feet touch is that soft, plush rug,” she says. Rugs can also be layered—a faux fur hide over a natural fiber, for example. Designers Michael Violante and Paul Rochford of Violante & Rochford Interiors in Santa Fe, N.M., create a sense of touch in a room by incorporating upholstery on chairs, sofas, ottomans, and lampshades, and through artwork and antiques, wallpaper, glass and steel tables, baskets, and other woven materials like seagrass. They also love to use textiles, such as Navajo rugs, as wall hangings. Tactile finishes aren’t just limited to fabrics, upholstery, or rugs. They can also be applied to walls. Salvagni suggests using alpaca or bronze wall panels.

Nubby wallpaper, plaster-style wall treatments, upholstered pieces, textured tile or wood flooring, and light fixtures are some of the ways you can add a palpable touch to a space, says Nina Magon, founder and principal of Nina Magon Studio in Houston.

Magon first considers the use, durability, and location of the tactile piece itself. “It can be beautiful and add interest, but if it does not wear well, or doesn’t feel good, i.e., fabric that is coarse or scratchy, then it is not functional,” she says.

A bedroom by Peti Lau combines textures and colors.
A bedroom by Peti Lau combines textures and colors

Look to Layering

Layering touchable surfaces adds more interest and depth within your design. For example, using a range of different fabric throw pillows on your sofa will create beautiful layers and add interest for the eye with a range of textures, Magon says.

Salvagni chooses to layer natural textiles including sheepskin, wool, mohair, and velvet, and then adds throw pillows—all while introducing other materials like parchment, bronze, fine woods, marble, onyx, and Murano glass in the way of furniture and accessories in other areas of the room. Rugs, whether hand-tufted wool or silk, against a hardwood or stone floor for contrast, are another way Salvagni adds a tangible quality. “Each of these has a different feel and can help the ambience change during the day along with different levels of light,” he says.

Successfully layering is all about contrasting different elements, say Violante and Rochford. “You don’t want rugs to be too bulky, or accent pieces to be overwhelming; a balance between all the different textures will give you an environment that is comfortable yet stylish, with a bit of depth—and the effect of many things pulled together to create one unified feeling or experience.”

Salvagni creates harmony between textures and colors. “You can have contrast, but it must be balanced and resonate with something else in the room,” he says.

Create Balance

Balancing smooth surfaces with textured ones is key, Magon says. Color and texture are also important. “Make sure the color and texture of your tactile surfaces blend with the other elements in your space so everything feels cohesive,” she says.

Violante and Rochford opt for soft, sheer window treatments along with stone or wood on the floor with a rug adding into the mix. “What you want is a lush, elegant tactile experience that works harmoniously,” they say.

To keep a space balanced, Salvagni uses natural materials for upholstery along with velvet and mohair. “Velvet curtains can be used to lend a sense of drama and grandeur or on the contrary, silk or sheer curtains give lightness to a room,” he says. “Colors, materials, and textures will bring all the pieces together.”

A chic yet warm room designed by Violante & Rochford Interiors
A chic yet warm room designed by Violante & Rochford Interiors.