Interior Design Style Guide: Bohemian

Published on
February 22, 2023
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Anyone who’s ever entered an Anthropologie store (or glanced through their catalog) knows what bohemian interior design looks like. At its core bohemian design (or boho chic) is all about rule breaking, following your spirit, and embracing the controlled chaos that is life. That’s something we can all appreciate.

But how can a chaotic design scheme look put together? Is there such a thing as too much fringe? And is Bohemia even a real place?

The Look

With bohemian interior styles, fun is paramount. The style embraces the creative and eccentric free spirit within all of us. The design is often a bit unusual, with no two rooms ever completely alike. It’s reminiscent of carefree travelers, whimsical actors, and non-conforming writers. Pieces and decor are pulled from areas all around the world, evoking a cosmopolitan air.

Bohemian materials typically exude a more natural look. Think burlap, sisal, fringe, crochet and macramé. Luxurious fabrics like silk and chenille are also common. Vintage or second-hand furniture items that tell a story are preferred over something brand new. Traditional boho color schemes are deep and bold like an exotic jungle. Think jewel toned greens and purples, warm earthy browns and oranges, and pops of metallics or bright blues. Modern boho, however, tends to incorporate more pastel shades. In both versions white space is used sparingly.

Bohemian interior design is rebellion incarnate, and definitely not for the OCD-minded. All your household knick-knacks and travel souvenirs should be displaced front and center. Clutter is welcomed. And if you add a touch of magic, all the better.

The History

Despite the contemporary association with fun and whimsy, the history of bohemian interior design is a bit more grunge.

The term Bohémien was a French word used to describe the Romani or “gypsy” population of medieval France. The term was inaccurate, however. Perhaps the medieval French people assumed Romani travelled from Bohemia (which was then a kingdom of the Holy Roman Empire and now a region in the Czech Republic). Whatever the origin of the term, Bohémien stuck and it soon became associated with Romani stereotypes: poverty, crime, rebellion, and antisocial behavior.

By the 19th century the poverty-stricken Romani communities were romanticized as carefree vagabonds. This (inaccurate) image of the Romani lifestyle captured the imagination of young artists who were now living in the lower-class and lower rent neighborhoods of former Romani ghettos. Throughout the 1800s poor Parisian artists crystallized Bohemian style as a means of “suffering for one’s art.”  It was all about transforming the messy and the unusual into something beautiful. And that ethos has lived on through the 20th century into the 21st.

As the style travelled through space and time, Bohemian design took on a wider range of aesthetics based on the different countries and movements of its artists--from the Beatniks of the 1950s to the hippies of the 1960s, to the disco jammers of the 1970s, to the hipsters of today. Each designer and generation keeps adding their own unique flavor to the style. Now it encompasses folk and mythological motifs from around the world. And the boho style continues to evoke feelings of wanderlust, joy, and the freedom to just be yourself. No wonder boho chic is still popular over 200 years later.

Quick DIY Tips

The only real rule of bohemian interior design is to let your creative juices flow. Feel free to mix colors and textures that wouldn’t normally go together. Decorate with bold suzani fabrics and fluffy pampas grass in a vase. Weave your own macramé creation and check out the local flea market for interesting finds.

For a cozy “sit and stay awhile” feel, layer pillows and throw rugs. Bed canopies are boho staples. As are comfy poufs and plush couches. Construct a pillow fort or play tent for some unconventional lounging areas. And decorate with ample lamps, lanterns and candles. Embrace nature by adding ferns and hanging plants. Peace lilies and succulents are easy house plants. But you could always opt for faux foliage or forest wallpaper. And don’t forget to showcase any prized handmade items, family heirlooms, or travel souvenirs like vintage bottles, eclectic tapestries, or charming knick-knacks.

Again, the perfect bohemian design is one that makes you happy. Keep the aesthetic casual if that’s what you like. Or, if that’s not your jam, zhuzh it up with some glamorous accessories. Hang a beaded chandelier or chunky mirror, swap out the homey decor for some gold ceramic vases, or choose monochromatic patterns for a more modern feel.  

When in doubt crank up the incense, grab a paint brush, and pretend it’s Summer 1969.

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