The Return of the Ruffle

Paige Minear gets a thrill from frills.

In the style blogger’s Atlanta home, a ruffled skirt with a green bow print adorns a bedroom vanity. In the family room sits a chintz ottoman with a ruffle along the bottom; ruffled throw pillows 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 bright floral fabric with a glossy finish — are returning, partly in rebellion to the minimalist aesthetic that has dominated interior design for so long.

Anna Marcum, an architectural historian and preservationist in Brooklyn, laments the recent “gray-washing” of interiors associated with modern minimalist décor. “There’s nothing about this sort of monochromatic gray that brings people joy, in a sense,” she said. “There’s a lot more joy and interest to be found in a more maximal interior.”

Those in search of such joy and interest need look no further than the ruffled pillows of the revived brand Shabby Chic and the frilly linen napkins of British interior label Amuse La Bouche. Ditto the shower curtains at Perigold and duvet covers at Serena & Lily.

The late designer Mario Buatta, who was considered “the Prince of Chintz,” in a space he designed for Hilary and Wilbur Ross, the former secretary of commerce, on West 57th Street in Manhattan.Credit…Trevor Tondro for The New York Times

Where There’s a Ruffle, There’s Likely Chintz.

The sight of a chintz-covered room with ruffle trappings might evoke flashbacks to the excesses of the ’80s. Whether it was the high-end maximalist approach of designer Mario Buatta, also known as the “Prince of Chintz,” or the cozy cottage-style of Laura Ashley, ruffles played a starring role in the English country-inspired aesthetic of the time.

In the ’80s, “everything was trimmed, and the ruffle was a form of trimming,” said Susan Crater, the president of Sister Parish Design, a wallpaper and fabric company in New York. Ms. Parish, Ms. Crater’s grandmother, began decorating during the Depression and had high society clients in the 1970s and ’80s. She was known to take, say, a rose and peony patterned chintz fabric, and use it to make both curtains and chair coverings for the same room. Ruffles would often get thrown into the mix.

Eliza Harris, the creative director of Sister Parish Design (and Ms. Parish’s great-granddaughter) said, “When you add a ruffle to a curtain panel or a ruffle to a bed skirt, you can pick apart the fabric and use what you want and apply it in a way that’s interesting.”

For Ms. Harris, chintz, which originated in India as a hand-painted fabric and became popular in England during the Victorian era when it became mass-produced, represents the “anti-trend.” “It’s something that’s just tried and true,” she said. Whenever she sees patterns from a traditional brand like Colefax and Fowler, “I feel instantly comfortable and at ease.”

How Ruffles Made Their Way to America

When Ms. Marcum thinks about ruffles, she draws upon the French Rococo period which roughly started in the early 1700s and lasted until the 1770s. Ruffles didn’t necessarily adorn the curtains and shams of the time, but the era was known for using natural elements like flowers and seashells in bright, ornamental ways and the dresses of the time put ruffles on display. (See: One Marie Antoinette).

The English-country style was influenced by French Rococo, said Ms. Marcum, and the English aesthetic has inspired much of the ruffly décor in the United States. “Something that I think that English countryside style does is sort of take it down to a more accessible, natural level,” Ms. Marcum said. “It makes it a lot more romantic.”

Chintz and tasseled curtains that belonged to Mr. Buatta.Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times
A floral garment that also belonged to the late Mr. Buatta.Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Ruffles have been most popular in the United States during the Gilded Age and the 1980s, Ms. Marcum said, and the common thread among these time periods is the heightened wealth gap associated with both eras.

“It’s interesting to see how this excess spoke to them,” said Ms. Marcum, referring to upper-middle class American consumers.But also, it was when excess was in some ways more readily accessible to the general population.” In the Victorian era, for example, people could order chenille and ruffle-trimmed drapery from catalogs.

‘Kind of a Shock’

Ruffles are even winning over the once-ruffle reluctant. 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, she then eschewed those bed skirts for a while, but “now I love them again.”

Today, Ms. Long and her design partner, Don Easterling, have found that the 30-something-year-old children of their longstanding clients are requesting the traditional style that they grew up with.

“They want the ruffles. They want some mahogany pieces mixed in. They want the antique art,” Ms. Long said. “At one point that was kind of a shock for me, and now I’m just kind of used to it. I love the style myself, so it’s been fun to be able to do that for other people.”

While nostalgia may be a factor for many, some are more recently initiated fans of frill.

The primary bedroom in Ms. Tirado-Leist’s home features floral wallpaper and ruffled linens.Credit…Sara Stathas for The New York Times
Ceramic birds adorn a fireplace mantle in Ms. Tirado-Leist’s home.Credit…Sara Stathas for The New York Times

Keila Tirado-Leist, 37, didn’t grow up in a chintz-imbued household. Instead, her childhood was spent in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where her home’s aesthetic reflected the setting.

Ms. Tirado-Leist now lives outside of Milwaukee on a five-acre farm. Her home is colonial-style, and its historic nature inspired Ms. Tirado-Leist, who owns a natural dyeing business, to lean into a traditional style of décor. Pandemic-related delays made it difficult to source new furniture, which led her to estate sales and vintage shops.

“There was a lot of floral and chintz ottomans or couches and pillows, and I feel like it’s a fun way to add color and softness to a room,” Ms. Tirado-Leist said. The centerpiece of her home’s library is a chintzy ottoman with a pink, cream and green print replete with a ruffle along the bottom.

“I don’t see a lot of folks who look like me styling homes like this, because it’s kind of considered old Americana,” she said. She felt that it was important to incorporate her heritage into her décor by using cheery yellows, golds, and greens.

Ms. Tirado-Leist, who grew up in Puerto Rico, said, “I don’t see a lot of folks who look like me styling homes like this, because it’s kind of considered old Americana.”Credit…Sara Stathas for The New York Times

Much like the style itself, the popularity of ruffles undulates through the decades. But for people like Andrea Bernstein, the founder of Linen Salvage et Cie in Los Angeles, they are a permanent fixture. Ms. Bernstein has long had an affinity for a soft, romantic style and creates products like the silk velvet tatter ruffle square pillow and silk velvet ruffle throws.

“I think like any trend probably, eventually, it will go away,” Ms. Bernstein said. “And we will still be making bedding with ruffles.”

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