You know it when you see it—and you see it everywhere these days. Eclectic but not to the point of confusion. Neither minimalist nor maximalist (okay, sometimes rather maximalist). It’s calm, cozy, and inviting. It’s familiar yet fresh.
Like so many things in décor, it started in fashion. “Soft Boho” was a look—is a look, still, quite decidedly—that itself was a comeback of a look that never entirely goes away, even if it’s driven underground from time to time by the changing tastes of couture. It stormed up out of the UK in the early aughts. Kate Moss. Sienna Miller. Mischa Barton. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen took it and ran with it (and ran, and ran, and ran, like their eyeliner). By the end of the decade, Florence and her machine delivered a beautiful, darker strain of it.
But mostly it was Sienna Miller.
Laura Demasi, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald in October of 2002, put it best: “It was gypsy girl meets peasant princess with a hippie edge alright.”
While it was divisive in the pages of the fashion press as it rose to prominence in the first decade of our new century, it had its advocates. As Demasi writes in her piece, “Jane Roarty, fashion director at Harper’s Bazaar, believes the boho look is all about freedom and that is why there will always be people who love it. ‘In my way of thinking, it means borrowing from every area you can find and putting it together in a creative way, connecting pieces, whether they be market finds or vintage finds, with other pieces in your wardrobe,’ she says.”
Likewise, as an interior style it allows the everywoman to creatively express herself in the decoration of her home, connecting and collecting. One-of-a-kind pieces from travels remembered and markets scoured mix with fresh-off-the-factory-floor items.
Today’s soft boho interior is not the ubiquitous fashion concept from the early-aughts draped over a living room. The word bohemian and its shortened version, “boho,” have shifted in meaning over the years, like all words do to some extent or another. Today’s soft boho has more to do with the singer-songwriter hippies of Laurel Canyon in the early seventies than the tragic sylphs and drowned Ophelias of the Pre-Raphaelite Painters, the gothy vamps of early cinema like Theda Bara, the consumptive primadonnas of Paris at the turn of the century, or the ex-pat writers of Morocco in the fifties, or even Marianne Faithfull singing in the sixties near her beau Mick Jagger—all referents of “bohemia.”
It’s about desert tones, blush and sage and grey and brass, Moroccan elements like a pouf or a Marrakech market rug. It’s about rattan and baskets and soft throws and authentic textiles with multiethnic patterns. It’s soft blankets and hard furniture. Do you feel a bullet-point list coming on?
Identifying factors of soft boho decor:
- Earthy colours
- Wooden furniture
- Plants, lots of plants
- Multicultural with emphasis on African, Arabian, and Native American patterns, rugs, pillows, and textiles
- Soft textures contrasted with hard woodsy ones
- Hanging chairs and hammocks
- Throws and blankets galore
- Did we mention pillows?
These achingly gorgeous contemporary rooms featuring Mitzi and Hudson Valley Lighting fixtures demonstrate the sensibility of soft boho now. Combining handmade textures and hard-edged new home products, they create a space to dream, to relax, to collect oneself and start anew. The fashion-savviness of the city-minded early detractor of the boho chic revival has been answered, with cool, gleaming new items that show an awareness of today’s trends mixed with things that are old-fashioned, warm, and authentic.
As we mentioned earlier, there are so many things that tie into the evolution of the bohemian look. So many artistic streams and cultural forces from across the world pour in like tributaries. This is partly why a defining aspect of the look is its worldliness, whether the person behind the scenes is well-traveled or not. (Paul Bowles’s main decorating ingredient seemed to have been suitcases. The rest was books and pillows and plants.) A careful carelessness that is at the same time aesthetically pleasing suggests the carefree freedom we romantically imagine the style-defining hippies, beats, gypsy vagabonds, ex-patriates, and singer-songwriters to have had.