As we’ve seen in our ongoing blog series exploring popular home décor styles and aesthetics, the design spectrum is wide and varied, running from sleek and playful contemporary style on one end to familiar and welcoming traditional interiors on the other.
Other styles occupy various positions between these two anchoring endpoints: We’ve already covered evocative mid-century modern design, cozy Scandinavian décor, in-demand modern farmhouse style, easy transitional spaces, breezy coastal aesthetics, and bejeweled art deco interiors.
Every home and every interior design style has a story to tell. If you like the idea of telling a room-by-room story that’s as creative, laid back, and unique as you are, bohemian style — or boho — may be the way to go.
Bohemian Interior Design 101
Boho design is a free-spirited approach to interior decorating — a style that fully embraces playful colors, textures, and patterns, embodies individual expression, and encourages “thoughtful maximalism” through the careful curation and layering of multicultural artwork, textiles, and decorative objects.
Inspired by the original bohemians — or the 19th century artists, writers, performers, nomads, and adventurers who believed creativity was more valuable than money — boho style first appeared in Parisian interiors in the 1890s, and quickly caught on throughout central Europe.
The bohemian mindset emerged during a time of civic unrest and social change. Backed by an “outsider” concept of life that merged cultures, ideals, and a staunch refusal to conform to accepted conventions and beauty standards, the boho mentality effectively tossed out all the rules and embraced the unconventional.
As a popular and enduring interior style, boho décor has evolved to become a nonconformist, highly individual, free-spirited, anything-goes approach to design that’s equal parts considered and loosely defined.
Elements of Bohemian Design
When they’re done well, boho interiors exude eye-catching creativity that illuminates a space in a tasteful yet totally unique way. Through the artful layering and mixing of patterns, colors, and furniture styles, it imbues every room it touches with fun, free-spirited vibes.
From a well-packed room bursting with color and pattern to a more toned-down space that exudes global exoticism, there’s nothing cookie-cutter about boho décor. Here are a few tips to help guide the process of achieving a boho look that’s just right for you.
1. Tell your story, expressing yourself visually
Bohemian style is essentially a combination of the unconventional, the imaginative, and the explorer, with the main idea being this: Tell a visual story of where you’ve been and what you love, in a way that’s meaningful to you.
Given that the origin of this design style is rooted in creatives, such as writers and artists who valued self-expression that had no conventional rules, boho design asks you to curate your own style of beauty using your experiences as your muse, and your home as your canvas.
Natural elements are a common theme of boho style — from potted plants, stones, feathers, and nests to rustic stoneware and clay pottery, nature draws the eye and offers a counterpoint of calming energy. Maps, travel artifacts, original artwork, and cherished family heirlooms are other highly personal design elements that often appear in boho interiors.
Get started by creating an inventory of what you’re most passionate about, and find artifacts that exhibit those passions. You don’t need to commit to a single theme, cultural influence, or even concept. Instead, think eclectically.
2. Balance vibrant colors against natural tones
Classic bohemian design tends to use an abundance of color, whereas the more modern take on boho style focuses on neutrals and earth tones. If you opt to infuse your bohemian space with color, don’t be afraid to lean into a bold jewel tone palette.
Gemstone hues such as sapphire, emerald, ruby, and amethyst can serve as inspiration. And when it comes to colorful boho, more is often more — you don’t have to settle on just one or two colors, feel free to include any color that speaks to you and feels right in the space.
But remember: boho style is all about being comfortable, so incorporate some neutral tones in the background to give the eyes a place to rest. You can accomplish this by offsetting every colorful element in your scheme with a neutral one: Place a natural jute rug beneath a smaller, heavily patterned rug, or set vibrant artwork in a wide, earth-tone frame.
When it comes to neutrals and earth tones, boho style embraces the kind of colors you might find hiking through the woods: Leafy greens, dusty terracotta, muddy browns, and overcast grays. Whatever speaks to you is what works.
3. Vintage is (always and forever) the new cool
If the heart of bohemian décor is to be original and unique (and it is), then vintage is what it is all about. Vintage objects and pieces are those rare treasures that can no longer be found in conventional stores; they’re also usually the decorative items that spark the most interesting conversations among dinner guests.
You don’t have to be a world traveler to enjoy vintage pieces — simply begin the search in nearby flea markets, thrift stores, or antique shops. A few well-chosen vintage pieces can tie multiple design elements together to really set the boho mood in a given space; vintage finds are also an excellent means of expressing a home’s individuality.
4. Embrace patterns, textures and layers
Pattern, textures, and layers: All three are hallmark traits of the bohemian design style.
When it comes to rugs, layering (patterns and textures) is the name of the game. You can start with a jute base and pair an intricate Persian on top; you could even add a colorful handwoven cotton rug, layered at an angle, on top of that. Don’t forget to consider plush shag rugs, which exude a quintessential “cozy boho” feel.
Baskets, foot stools, and poofs of all different colors and patterns (often mixed and matched) are staple elements of bohemian style that are just as functional as they are aesthetic.
Get even more creative by mixing furniture materials and tones, pairing blonde woods with dark woods, or setting a rattan chair alongside an iron metal headboard on a cozy daybed.
Macrame, dream catchers, woven wall décor, statement pillows, and hammock seating options are all wonderful avenues to explore as you decide what you want to incorporate to give your room just the right expression of your inimitable personality.
5. Let the sunshine in to be playfully present
Fussy window dressings aren’t very bohemian; instead, opt for bare or minimally adorned windows that let the sunshine in, ushering in that ever-so-basic element of nature — light — that encourages you to be playfully present.
At the end of the day, boho is all about paying attention to what excites your soul. Those are the colors, pieces, and artifacts that personify the bohemian style of home décor by making it exquisitely expressive of exactly who you are.