Millennials with old souls splash out on ‘grandma chic’ homes

Meet the millennials who prefer a nostalgic design aesthetic inspired by the quirky comfort of their grandparents’ homes and the opulence of bygone eras.

Some call it grandma chic, others label it forward-thinking traditionalism and another set dubs it preppy eclecticism. But devotees of the style have been nicknamed “grandmillennials” — a portmanteau of grandma and millennials — according to a September House Beautiful article.

“Millennials are connecting with a style that used to be confined to shelter magazines. They’re putting their spin on traditional design,” says Manhattan-based interior designer Ariel Okin, who interpreted the look in actress Lena Dunham’s West Village rental for Domino’s fall cover. “These spaces are pretty, cozy and evoke a sense of home. The personality of the owners shines through.”

Lena Dunham displays tchotchkes in her West Village pad, which has a wicker headboard and patterned lampshades.
Lena Dunham displays tchotchkes in her West Village pad, which has a wicker headboard and patterned lampshades.Alberto Zanetti/Domino

Inspired by her mother’s romantic, tchotchke-driven approach to decor, Dunham, 33, told Domino she sought out Okin to do the same thing: “Arrange the things I’ve accumulated in an inventive and loving way. … The towels have my initials and the pillows bear embroidery of my cats.”

Sisters Daria and Deanna DeChirico embraced the grandmillennial aesthetic when remodeling the 700-square-foot Sutton Place co-op they bought together. The 32- and 28-year-old siblings from Colts Neck, NJ, who both work in finance, called on Sweeten, a free service that matches homeowners with contractors, to transform an awkwardly laid-out space into an airy two-bedroom with a shared walk-in closet. Designing it themselves, they spent about $150,000 on renovations and decor.

In a style they call “early American,” they jazzed up a storage closet with custom mirrored, latticed French doors, painted the walls hunter green and navy blue, lined rooms with floral wallpaper and curtains, and displayed their grandmother’s classic blue-and-white porcelain Chinoiserie throughout.

“We grew up in a house fully decorated with wallpaper, décor and painted walls,” says Daria. “I love the term grandmillennial. [Deanna and I] act like 90-year-olds in a lot of ways.”

In many ways, experts say, the movement is a response to the pervasiveness of stark minimalism and midcentury-modern furnishings.

“People want design with more soul and personality,” says designer Caroline Pogue, of Greenpoint, who creates layered, vintage residential interiors for members-only clubs, hotels and restaurants including Ludlow House and The Hoxton in Williamsburg. “It’s also fueled by a renewed interest in vintage fashion and an ethos for reusing items.”

When outfitting their one-bedroom apartment inside a historic Harlem brownstone, Stribling realtor Robert Khederian, 29, and his boyfriend John Maher, 29, who works at Sotheby’s, channeled the drawing room of a British country house. Their walls are painted dark green (Benjamin Moore’s Peale Green, to be precise) and adorned with brass candle sconces from a Finger Lakes antique store.

“The green is essential to that feeling,” says Khederian, who also counts 1997’s “Titanic” film as a design touchstone and shares photographs of old houses with his 40,000 Instagram followers @NotEnoughHangers.

The couple’s apartment is dotted with pieces they bought at auction, including an American 19th-century ogee mirror, an English 18th-century mahogany linen press and drop-leaf dining table, as well as decorative items like a silver chafing dish from John Koch Antiques on the Upper West Side and brilliant-cut glass decanters from a secondhand shop in Connecticut.

“You can get furniture of greater quality for the same price you might pay at CB2 or West Elm,” says Khederian, who with Maher spent $5,000 decorating. “There’s a different cadence when you’re buying antiques at auction. Nothing’s guaranteed. It’s based on price and what’s available.”

Michael Diaz-Griffith
Michael Diaz-GriffithMichael Diaz-Griffith

Arts consultant Michael Diaz-Griffith recommends buying what he calls “brown furniture”: 18th- and 19th-century English antiques and American Chippendale and Queen Anne dining tables and chairs, pointing out that steals abound at auction, ranging from watercolors for as little as three for $10 to original 18th-century card tables and secretaries from $200.

Beyond traditional titans Sotheby’s and Christie’s, affordable auction houses include Doyle, Freeman’s, Pook & Pook, Stair Galleries, Skinner and eBay, as well as Doyle’s online offshoot Hayloft, whose warehouse is in The Bronx.

Diaz-Griffith co-founded the New Antiquarians, a group for young antiques enthusiasts, trade professionals and emerging collectors.

Its 500 members — the majority of whom are millennials — participate in panels and other events around the city.

The Murray Hill one-bedroom of Wingham & Co. antiques dealer Andrew Ogletree, 35, and his husband, Travis Long, 30, also serves as a showroom for 18th-century George II walnut armchairs with damask upholstery, an 18th-century mahogany stool with original floral needlepoint and 19th-century giltwood Regency convex mirrors with mounted eagles. Total expenditure: about $10,000.

They’ve punched things up with playful Fornasetti wallpaper with a pattern of leaves and golden keys, as well as a midcentury credenza passed down from Long’s family to avoid feeling like they “live in the French room at the Met,” jokes Long, who works in finance. “You need a ‘clean line’ palette cleanser.”

Similarly, Khederian and Maher’s living room is layered with modern furniture, including a Barcelona chair and a midcentury-inspired sofa with chrome legs, all passed down from Khederian’s family, whereas the DeChirico sisters added a dose of modernity via a hunter green subway tile backsplash in the kitchen.

“People are blending modern and post-modern with traditional,” says Diaz-Griffith of the grandmillennial movement. “You’re free to explore. You can be as nostalgic or as eclectic as you want to be.”

Diaz-Griffith cites a wide array of cultural influences that dovetail with the grandmillennial aesthetic, including neo-preppy maximalist fashion labels like Gucci and Rodarte, as well as contemporary design objects like John Derian’s decoupage plates and Robert Kime’s pleated lampshades. Millennials are also reviving septuagenarian hobbies like knitting, needlepoint and quilting — or, at the very least, the ability to purchase these types of handmade items on Etsy.

Grandmillennial blogger Mary Graf gets to be her old-soul self, decor-wise.
Grandmillennial blogger Mary Graf likes bold stripes and chintz.Kalyn Newberry

Self-proclaimed grandmillennial Mary Graf, 34, a lifestyle blogger in Bluefield, Va., is thrilled that her old-fashioned sensibilities are finally deemed on trend.

“My Pinterest boards have always been filled with bold stripes, buffalo checks and chintz décor,” she says. “My favorite hobbies include embroidery, cooking and decorating.”

“I just have delusions of grandeur,” Khederian quips. “I like formal dinners, dressing up, drinking whiskey out of decanters. I love old houses and old things. It’s more about a grand lifestyle.”

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