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Deleting the 90s

Designers Offer Remedies for Decade’s Frilly, Bulky Patterns and Aesthetics

By Brian Sodoma

Maybe it was the sluggish, but heavy, grunge rock music that ushered in some of the inflated and edgy influences in the architectural and interior design of the 1990s. Throw in a presidential affair scandal, dial-up modems, a juicy OJ trial, a dot-com boom (and eventual bust) and the 90s gave us much to remember – and forget.

In the world of interiors, that busy world was reflected in busy design. There were doorway arches, bulky couches, exaggerated window coverings, Tuscan accents, pot shelves, unneeded partitions and strange angular walls everywhere. The design inside one’s home seemed just as subdivided as the lots of a suburban neighborhood.

The aughts ushered in a more sleek, contemporary design that appears to be here to stay. In fact, today’s interior design is becoming increasingly more antithetic to what was happening in the 90s. Where there were many colors, there is now one – neutral, but gray instead of yellow or beige – and everything strives towards simple, linear, and clean in today’s tech-led design world.

“We have been called in on many ‘updates’ recently, as many of the homes in Vegas are reaching that crucial point where they feel dated,” says Jill Abelman, principal designer with Las Vegas interior design firm, Inside Style.

Abelman, along with other designers, weighed in on how best to work with, or eliminate, 90s design features for either a home refresh or a curb appeal boost when selling your home.

Tackling busy, partitioned, floorplans

Pot shelves, partition walls, and half walls were a mainstay of 90s design, says Ken Wolfson, principal of Ken Wolfson Design in Las Vegas, but today many are being eliminated to create more space.

“I’ve started to call it ‘pot shelf hell,’” Wolfson says, “and every 90s house has these extra walls, forty-fives, nineties [angles] and the interesting thing is that there’s no real purpose for it…About 100 percent of my remodels involve deleting these elements of 90s design.”

Adds Abelman: “Taking out archways in doorways and filling in niches…goes a long way to modernize as well.”

Eliminating the excessive partitioning is more of a psychological battle, Wolfson explains, as the work isn’t as involved as many customers first think. In fact, the majority of these walls are not load bearing, so removing them is quite easy to do, and it’s well worth it to see just how much spaces was wasted in your home.

“Today, it’s more minimalistic, if you have a 10-foot ceiling you don’t need to break it up with pot shelves,” he adds.

Simplifying busy bathrooms

The partitioning theme continued into 1990s bathrooms. Wolfson found, in one Green Valley remodel he recently completed, that a master bathroom, which had 15 by 30 feet of space, was hampered by angular walls partitioning off the shower and other areas. And the massive platforms built to house the bathtubs were also taking up too much space.

“You had this wrapped stage with a Jacuzzi tub that was eating up 15 to 17 percent of the space. We end up taking those stages out all the time,” he notes.

Wolfson and Abelman replace those bulky platforms with free-standing tubs. “It looks much more modern and frees up quite a bit of floor space,” Abelman adds.

With the design trend towards open spaces and great rooms in today’s homes, Wolfson takes matters a step further in bathrooms, if the budget allows. He will even eliminate windows on exterior walls, usually placed above a bathtub, in order to bring in more space to, say, expand the size of a shower.

“A lot of people will prefer a larger shower and even have no tub…A lot of times a window will get in the way of creating a shower someone wants. I’ll tell them let’s remove the window for a bigger shower and they like the idea,” he adds.

Eliminating transitions

One of the other trends in the 90s was to use multiple materials in a room or space. For example, a large living room might have tile and wood flooring, or carpet. Today’s design trends are all about uniformity and fewer breaks in the types of materials and colors.

Abelman recently completed a remodel where she matched the flooring to an existing light-colored stone fireplace. The room had tile and wood flooring, offering a sharp contrast to that fireplace. So the designer replaced the floors with a travertine tile, whose color flowed in with the stone fireplace, and she also replaced bulky window accents with ones that had a modern, crisp look.

“The fewer transitions the better when it comes to flooring and vertical surfaces, in our opinion,” Abelman adds. “And remember the days of carpet insets? Those days are also gone. We recommend tile or stone throughout, with area rugs instead.”

Light colors, new counters, in the kitchen

In kitchens, Abelman likes to lighten up colors as much as possible, and light-colored counters (especially if you’re replacing ceramic tiles with thick grout lines from the 1990s) are a great way to do it. She likes light-colored quartz or granite. “The maintenance of the new quartz countertops is much easier without all those pesky grout lines,” she adds.

Wolfson also says that the size and color of kitchen and bathroom cabinets have changed tremendously. Most of the cabinets in the 90s were only 30 inches tall, whereas today’s cabinets are generally 42 inches tall. While there was often plenty of ceiling space to go with a taller cabinet, Wolfson said, smaller cabinets allowed for spaces above the cabinets to put items like the faux plants you might also find on top of pot shelves. Today, he finds his clients replacing those smaller cabinets with taller ones and utilizing the higher sections for storage.

Getting it done on a budget

If ripping out partition walls and old cabinets isn’t in the budget, designers say there are still some simple, less-expensive, changes that can give your 90s home an updated look and feel.

First off, those small oak-colored cabinets (a popular 90s color) can be repainted a gray or dark color, depending on the color of the counter. Wolfson recommends using a professional to apply the paint. If you have old tile counters, prioritize replacing them with affordable granite or quartz over other projects. Quartz offers more of a solid color options, which is preferred, and granite, while still popular, has a busier, more traditional, look because it has more colors in it.

Covering the old, chalky, white paint of the 90s with a fresh gray eggshell color can work wonders, too. “It ends up making the house look very sophisticated,” Wolfson says.

In kitchens and bathrooms, changing out faucets for more modern fixtures is also an inexpensive update, adds Austrie Messer, junior designer with Lisa Escobar Design, in Las Vegas. She also recommends replacing old, rounded, gold-colored door knobs, and making sure all kitchen appliances are stainless steel or black stainless. Affordable stainless-steel appliance packages can be found at most big-box home improvement stores or online.

For flooring, Wolfson suggests replacing those 90s ceramic tiles which have ¼ inch grout lines with the increasingly popular vinyl laminate flooring, which is 100 percent waterproof and can be used in wet areas like kitchens. It is, in most cases, less expensive than tile.

If you do opt for tile, the bigger the better, Wolfson says. He has even found some tiles as large as 24 inches by 48 inches in size. At the same time, grout lines have gotten smaller — 1/16 inch lines are preferred, but 1/8 inch can work well, too. Expect to pay more, however, for 1/16 inch lines, as there is little room for error when laying the tile with grout lines that thin. “The smaller the grout line, the more precise it has to be,” he added, “and the more expensive the job will be…1/8 inch grout lines are more affordable.”

And in vanities, replacing old Hollywood bulbs with LED bulbs or modern light fixtures is “a super easy fix,” Abelman adds.

“You don’t have to be a millionaire to delete the 90s,” Wolfson offers. “Start by emphasizing a monochrome paint palette and update the counters…you don’t have to start demo-ing walls and it can still look really good.”

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