Paige Minear gets a kick out of frills.
At the Atlanta style blogger’s home, a ruffled skirt with a green bow print graces a bedroom vanity. In the family room is a chintz ottoman with a frill along the bottom; corrugated cushions rest on the armchairs.
“I think ruffles just add that edge,” said Ms. Minear, 52. “That little bit of whimsy.”
You could call it a comeback: ruffles and their close cousin chintz — the often brightly colored floral fabric with a glossy finish — are making a comeback, in part rebelling against the minimalist aesthetic that has dominated interior design for so long.
Anna Marcum, an architectural historian and conservation expert in Brooklyn, laments the recent “grey wash” of interiors associated with modern, minimalist decor. “There’s nothing about this kind of monochromatic gray that brings joy to people in a way,” she said. “There is much more fun and interest to be found in a more maximal interior.”
Those looking for that much fun and interest need look no further than the ruffled cushions from the revived brand Shabby Chic and the frilly linen napkins from British interior label Amuse La Bouche. Ditto the shower curtains at Perigold and duvet covers at Serena & Lily.
Where there’s a ruffle, there’s probably Chintz.
The sight of a chintz-covered room with ruffles can evoke flashbacks to the excesses of the ’80s. Whether it was the high-end maximalist approach of designer Mario Buatta, aka the ‘Prince of Chintz’, or the cozy cottage style of Laura Ashley, ruffles played a starring role in the English country-inspired aesthetic of that time.
In the ’80s, “everything was cropped, and the ruffle was a form of cropping,” said Susan Crater, the president of Sister Parish Design, a New York-based wallpaper and fabric company. Mrs. Parish, Mrs. Crater’s grandmother, started decorating during the Depression and had high-ranking clients in the 1970s and 1980s. She was known to take, say, a rose and peony chintz fabric and use it to make both curtains and chair covers for the same room. Ruffles were often thrown into the mix.
Eliza Harris, the creative director of Sister Parish Design (and Ms. Parish’s great-granddaughter) said, “If you add a ruffle to a curtain panel or a ruffle to a bed skirt, you can take the fabric apart and use whatever you like and adjust it in a way that is interesting.”
For Mrs Harris, chintz, which originated in India as a hand-painted fabric and became popular in England during the Victorian era when it was mass-produced, represents the ‘anti-trend’. “It’s something just tried and true,” she said. Whenever she sees patterns from a traditional brand like Colefax and Fowler, “I immediately feel comfortable and at ease.”
How ruffles found their way to America
When Mrs. Marcum thinks of ruffles, she draws on the French Rococo period that began roughly in the early 1700s and lasted through the 1770s. Ruffles didn’t necessarily adorn the draperies and shams of the time, but the era was known for its use of natural elements such as flowers and shells in bright, decorative ways and the dresses of the time showed ruffles. (See: A Marie Antoinette).
The English country style was influenced by French Rococo, Ms Marcum said, and the English aesthetic has inspired much of the ruffled decor in the United States. “I think the English country style takes it to a more accessible, natural level,” said Ms Marcum. “It makes it a lot more romantic.”
Ruffles were most popular in the United States during the Gilded Age and 1980s, Ms Marcum said, and the common thread running through these time periods is the wider wealth gap associated with both eras.
“It’s interesting to see how this excess spoke to them,” Ms Marcum said, referring to upper-middle-class American consumers. “But it was also when excess was in some ways more easily accessible to the general population. For example, in the Victorian era, people could order chenille and ruffled drapery from catalogs.
‘A kind of shock’
Ruffles beat even the once unwilling ruffles. Nina Long, an interior designer in Atlanta, grew up with a Laura Ashley bedroom. “I had the matching wallpaper and the curtains and the bed skirt had ruffles on it.” Like so many others, she shunned those bed skirts for a while, but “now I love them again.”
Today, Ms. Long and her design partner, Don Easterling, discovered that the 30-year-old children of their longtime clients are asking for the traditional style they grew up with.
“They want the ruffles. They want some mahogany pieces in there. They want the antique art,” said Mrs. Long. “At one point that came as a shock to me, and now I’m kind of used to it. I like the style myself, so it was nice to be able to do that for other people.”
While nostalgia can be a factor for many, some have more recently become fans of fringe.
Keila Tirado-Leist, 37, did not grow up in a chintz-soaked household. Instead, she spent her childhood in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the aesthetics of her home mirrored the environment.
Mrs. Tirado-Leist now lives outside Milwaukee on a five-acre farm. Her home is colonial style and its historic character inspired Mrs. Tirado-Leist, who owns a natural paints business, to lean into a traditional style of decor. Pandemic-related delays made it difficult to find new furniture, leading her to estate sales and vintage stores.
“There were lots of flowers and chintz ottomans or couches and cushions, and I think it’s a nice way to add color and softness to a room,” said Ms. Tirado-Leist. The centerpiece of her home’s library is a chintzy pouf with a pink, cream and green print full of a ruffle along the bottom.
“I don’t see a lot of people like me styling houses this way because it’s kind of considered old Americana,” she said. She felt it was important to incorporate her heritage into her décor by using cheerful yellows, golds and greens.
Like the style itself, the popularity of ruffles has surged through the decades. But for the likes of Andrea Bernstein, the founder of Linen Salvage et Cie in Los Angeles, they are a fixture. Ms. Bernstein has long had an affinity for soft, romantic style and makes products such as the silk velvet frayed square pillow and silk velvet ruffles.
“I think, like any trend, it will eventually go away,” Ms Bernstein said. “And we’ll still make bedding with ruffles.”