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  • Kate

There's no such thing as "dated design" ... just BAD design.

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

Blogger Kate Arends recently posted on her Instagram @witanddelight_ the below post, stating that she won't be using "dated" to describe her house. I would like to go a step further by saying we should

never use the term "dated" to describe home design. This linguistic shift will result in better, more environmentally-friendly home design.


Alternatives to "dated" or "out-of-style" to describe homes:

  • Hard to Clean

  • Mismatched

  • Broken

  • Uneven

  • Over-saturated in the market and lacks an element of joy

  • Style X (Colonial, Western Bungalow, Midcentury Split-Level, etc)


In Kate Arends house, the wood paneling may not be what's gracing the covers of Architectural Digest or Better Home and Gardens in 2021 - the year of "warm minimalism" and white plaster. However, just because a room or house isn't on the cover of magazines doesn't mean the design is bad. From the Instagram post, I believe Arends goal in the language shift of removing "dated" is for the following reasons:

  • Saving Money - Ripping out functional design elements is a waste of money when you could do other things like pay for a new trip, save for a college fund, or fix something non-functional. Thus, when you consider a design element as "historical" as opposed to "dated," you will be less likely to hate the element and more likely to keep it, saving money.

  • Saving the Environment - Renovations create a lot of waste, especially wood waste. Wood is often older with a tighter grain in "dated" homes. Thus, not only are you throwing away money but old growth wood which now loses its strength by being demolished is probably going to the trash unless you know someone who can salvage it. By making the linguistic shift, you can appreciate the sustainability factor of a design element, such as keeping old growth wood paneling.

  • Encouraging Creativity - By being constrained with certain house elements, this forces the designer create a new, unique design that isn't a copy-paste job of a magazine cover. Uniqueness of home design can be both fun and result in a better design.

I would also like to add these reasons:

  • Forces Analysis of Functionality - Once all the elements of a home are broken into their respective styles and functionality, the design is improved as you're looking at both aesthetics and function, not just aesthetics. If we use blanket terms to describe home elements, we'll never dig deep into what we like and dislike. "Dated" is a shallow term, while describing something as "darkening the room" or "hard to clean" offer better analysis of the design problems that need to be addressed.

  • Less Buyers Remorse when Contemporary Styles Change - Popular styles are ever-changing, look at how many magazines and companies pick a yearly cover to just see the wide variety of what's "popular." By using language that better defines one's feelings, you're less likely to have buyers remorse because you simply bought something because it's popular, not because you actually like that design element.

  • Leads to Appreciation of Design History - If we simply dismiss something for being "dated," we can then avoid any deeper dive into why something was designed in that manner and what brought people to that decision. If we use correct design terms, such as Colonial or Gothic Revival, the understanding of a home's design is better understood and thus better reflected in a new design.

It feels a little weird to comment on someone else's house, but social media is a discussion even if it's a discussion of people writing message to each other who never see them. The above photo is another picture of Kate Arend's kitchen. While she's keeping the wood paneling, she is removing the tile countertop, not because "it's dated" but because "it's hard to clean." I agree with this, as it fits this new linguistic shift.

The analysis:

  • Saving Money - Would save money to keep the countertops, but they take a lot of product to clean and grout requires touch-ups, so you're not saving that much money by keeping them. Plus, if want to replace the kitchen sink, will have to remove them anyways

  • Saving the Environment - Ceramic tile is not a resource in jeopardy (clay is pretty common)

  • Encouraging Creativity - Yes, by keeping it, would have to find a way to design around it

  • Forces Analysis of Functionality - Not functional as hard to clean

  • Less Buyers Remorse when Contemporary Styles Change - Tile is mildly in style with the resurgence of 80s modern in this decade. The Spruce posted an article in June 2020 of "hot tile countertops" (link).

  • Leads to Appreciation of Design History - Stone has always been used as a countertop in kitchens, think of old fire hearths, but stone and ceramic tile became popular as countertops in the 1980s. When people were adding lots of color and pattern to their kitchens, ceramic tile offered a cheap option that didn't look like Formica or laminate, which was over-saturated in the market from the 1960s.

The conclusion:

  • Grout lines and porous stone stain easily, are hard to clean, and easily grow bacteria.

  • Tile countertops have always been and will always be BAD DESIGN.

As nice as this below kitchen looks in a kitchen, that grout would be awful to clean and traps bacteria.

How have I applied this to my house? It took me a full year to love my house as it was a shock to move from a 1980s adobe to a midcentury ranch. There's no mudroom, no separate laundry room, and the bathrooms are small. Additionally, the roofline is a variation of a Hawaiian Hip which I initially HATED.

This linguistic shift away from "dated" towards "historical versus bad design" has helped me understand what doesn't work on my house. I initially wanted to enlarge the bathrooms, add a mudroom, and make the roofline a more standard gabled roof. But all of this was me fighting against the historical choices of the house. By understanding the roofline is a unique historical element and that a mudroom addition wouldn't be financially feasible, I've come to love my home and enjoy the functional elements. I'm even proud of the weird roofline after reading about it's history (it supposedly helps decrease my electricity bill).

What I have changed, is bad design. Bad design includes (1) cheap carpet that is stained and worn, (2) popcorn ceilings that are cheap and falling apart, and (3) doors that hit each other when opened (turned that into open shelving and pocket doors).

I'll never say my house is perfect for the plain fact that I can't install a soaker tub in the owner bathroom (for both structural and financial reasons) so I've just added that to the list of things I want in the next house, but right now, I'm happy. If someone ever called my roofline, small bathrooms, or lack of a mudroom "dated" ... they better be ready for a lecture. It's not dated, it's a historic, functional mid-century!


Language Shifts Change Emotions. There's been a lot of scholarly articles on how shifting language can result in a cognitive shift. Often this is focused on forms of therapy, but all of these same principles can be applied to how we see, interact with, and design our homes. By changing language from "out of style" or "dated" to more precise alternatives, our language shift can change the emotions we have about the places we work and live in. It worked for me in accepting elements of my house that are functional but not featured on the cover of magazines.

If you've tried shifting your language away from the word "dated," have you seen a difference in your emotions or thoughts about your home?


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