Each generation develops its own identity based on the events and cultural influences around them. Baby boomers became known as the “Me Generation,” focused on self-fulfillment but also socially influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Generation X were the first “latchkey kids,” with many of them growing up in single-parent households and learning how to take care of themselves at an early age. Then came the millennials, whose early exposure to video games groomed them for the intense competition they faced in college and the job market. On their heels is Generation Z, savvy to social media but also on their guard in a post-9/11 world.
It’s no wonder that these distinctive generations have their own personalities as well as their own styles, influencing everything from the clothes they wear to the cars they drive to the way they decorate their living space. The decorating style of a baby boomer is not the same as that of a millennial—and Gen Xers are likewise different from Gen Z in their lifestyle and decorating choices.
So, let’s take at what decorating styles are prevalent with each generation.
Baby boomers (born 1945-1964) came of age in the era of earth tones, and they may have some bad memories of those muddy, murky colors that their parents favored for walls, furniture, carpet, and draperies. But lo and behold, boomers still love neutrals—just cleaner and more subtle than the earth tones of old.
Most baby boomers are empty nesters by now, so they are adjusting their lifestyles and decorating choices accordingly. While boomers are not necessarily conservative in their decorating choices, they are more focused on quality and durability. They’ve reached the point in their lives where they’ll be shedding possessions rather than accumulating them, so they tend to focus on purchasing items that will last. As a result, they tend to favor traditional to transitional decorating styles with classic furniture pieces and rooms that are more sophisticated and uncluttered.
Still, in the midst of their careers and child-raising years, Gen Xers (born 1965-1980) need a decorating style that fits their busy lifestyle. They are likely to be more contemporary or eclectic in their decorating choices than the boomers. After all, they probably have teens or even younger children in the household, so they want a décor that works for everybody.
Gen Xers’ color choices are likely to be lighter, brighter or more vibrant than older generations. They’ve still got plenty of time to modify their decorating choices, so they’re willing to be more experimental. They are looking for durability in their decorating choices—but for different reasons than the boomers. They’re making these choices because they want the fabrics, finishes and floor coverings to hold up to the rigors of an active family.
Millennials (born 1981-1996) grew up in the era of globalization, as the world became more connected. They are computer-savvy, comfortable with social media, and adept at many forms of technology.
With their worldview and ability to access information quickly, millennials tend to be environmentally and socially minded, with a waste-not/want-not attitude. As a result, millennials tend to prefer minimalistic decors, with reclaimed woods and industrial accents. While it may seem surprising, millennials prefer mid-century modern style and are largely responsible for its current popularity. The style, as it turns out, works well with their lifestyles and sensibilities.
Unlike their parents and grandparents who gravitated toward the suburbs, millennials have returned to the inner city, and many enjoy an urban lifestyle. They appreciate the clean lines, pared-down styling and smaller footprint of mid-century modern furnishings, which are well-suited to smaller urban apartments and lofts. Their color choices trend toward clean neutrals with both new and distressed metallics thrown in for interest.
From the crib onward, Gen Zers (born 1997-present) have had technology at their fingertips. As a result, they are never intimidated by the latest gadgets on the market. Extremely quick at accessing and processing the digital world around them, Gen Zers are even more technologically advanced than their millennial counterparts and tend to take it all for granted.
While many Gen Zers are too young to know their decorating preferences, the oldest members of this generation have now entered young adulthood and already are showing style preferences. In general, they are showing tendencies for warm, comfortable interiors punctuated by rustic accents. To understand this styling, think of a living room with leather overstuffed seating, distressed ceiling beams, vintage lighting and small collections. Gen Zers also tend to fill spaces with the things they love. As they age, these items inevitably will include souvenirs from their travels and memorabilia from their families.