The world of home design is a crowded one. There are so many different themes, styles, and design principles to choose from, and it can be overwhelming to even begin navigating them all. Fear not, dear reader – if you want to discover your own personal style and design your home around it, you’ve come to the right place!
Here on Bougie on a Budget with Emily Sinclair (that’s me!), I’ll be posting a series of blogs about different home design styles and how to cultivate them in your own home. Later on I’ll dive into clothing and personal styles as well, and sometimes these areas intersect. Today we’re going to learn about the Boho – or Bohemian – design style as it pertains to home design.
As always, my focus will be on both budget-friendly solutions and quality, whether it’s through good buying practices, choosing the right materials and fabrics, or arranging your space in a self-care-optimal way. Let’s dive in!
What Does “Boho Style” Mean, Anyway?
The Bohemian style (or aesthetic, if you want to be 100% accurate) dates back to the early-to-mid 1800s, and the term has its roots in the French word for the nomadic Romani people of Europe and the Mediterranean. The Romani are a traditionally mobile people who, by popular conception, lived unconventional lifestyles as they roamed from place to place.
The romanticization of the Romani lifestyle grew over time, and despite heavy racism in many areas, they were perceived as artistic, unattached, and exotic by many of the communities they occupied.
It was this romanticized view of the “wanderer” lifestyle that eventually gave rise to the Boho Style we see today. Over time the principles of artistic freedom, eclecticism, and individualism became highly celebrated in artistic circles, and the style began to solidify. Now it is an aesthetic associated with the more free-wheeling, eternally young attitude of “hippies.”
The style is defined by four core principles:
- It is eclectic, taking elements from many different styles and cultures,
- It is unconventional, often making use of unusual or unexpected pieces and layouts,
- It is artistic, celebrating various creative expressions via its designs,
- And it is creative, by nature requiring the designer to bring in elements of the personal, the unique, and the “indie” (independent, specifically of major societal/capitalist influences).
All of these principles can be seen in the unique layouts, color schemes, furniture choices, and overall appeal of Boho living spaces. Boho style is extremely versatile, coming in as many forms as there are designers thanks to its emphasis on spontaneity and independence.
Still, there are some commonalities to the style. Boho design has to be a certain way to be “Boho” after all, and the general aim is to create a space that looks beautiful. In short, it can’t be a mere mishmash of items and schemes that don’t work well together from a visual standpoint.
So, to summarize, the Boho or Bohemian style is an eclectic one that traces its roots back to popular perceptions of the Romani people. It is an aesthetic that exemplifies the unusual, the artistic, and the indie, with an emphasis on unexpected unity and unconventional visual appeal. That being said, there’s more than one way to be Boho – which brings me to our next section.
A Boho Style For Every Taste – Boho Rustic, Chic, and More!
One of the reasons Boho home design can take on so many highly individual forms is its many sub-categories. Each category takes the traditional Boho principles and combines them with those of other styles, such as those mentioned in the title of this post. Since Bohemian design is so versatile, it would take a book to explore them all.
I’ll try to give an overview of the major sub-categories here, but you should explore others via Pinterest or fellow blogs like mine!
Boho Rustic – Where Artists And Lumberjacks Align
The Boho Rustic style is, in a word, cozy. This sub-category of the larger Boho style movement focuses on natural elements such as exposed wood, stone, and un-processed fabrics.
Boho Rustic layouts tend to be arranged in a way that enhances the feeling of closeness. Furniture isn’t heavily spaced, and large, bulkier pieces are often nestled in with smaller wooden ones to create a natural contrast. Materials such as fur, linen, leather, and copper are commonly added to the base elements and add a touch of artistry to the otherwise masculine wood and stone foundations.
Unlike the Traditional Rustic or Farmhouse Rustic styles, Boho Rustic design embraces the “tasteful messiness” that Bohemianism is known for. Draped blankets, mismatched art or furniture, and homemade or hand-crafted pieces are characteristic of this style. Examples of the latter could include a copper bowl full of fragrant pine-cones, or an arranged jar of birchwood branches.
Boho Rustic designs often bring in some of the elements traditionally associated with a cabin or “cottage-core” aesthetic, such as bundles of herbs, exposed beams, and antlers. Soft, faded fabrics and warm colors are also commonly used to bring this style together, and the end product is a soft, natural, and rather snug space that is as creative as it is welcoming.
Boho Chic – Artistic And Feminine
The Boho Chic style is one of my favorites, as it combines a certain level of elegance to a creative, otherwise “jumbled” aesthetic and melds the two concepts seamlessly.
As with most Chic styles, Boho Chic brings together warm-to-neutral pastels, brightness, and a soft-sharp edge contrast to create a warm yet understated aesthetic that’s especially popular with the more feminine crowd. There’s a bit of subtlety required to successfully attain this style – one has to balance out the Boho emphasis on indie, haphazard elements with the neat, fairly structured Chic style.
When done successfully the result is a fundamentally neutral space brought to life by bursts of color and texture. In my experience these spaces have a relatively “plain” array of foundational pieces (often using natural fabric textures in lighter color schemes), but become truly Boho through the addition of colorful art, plants, and decor.
In some ways this style can be compared to the Farmhouse Chic aesthetic, but the Boho variation tends to be less contained and “softer” overall. Embroidered pillows in pastel shades, colorful woven rugs, textured paintings, and potted plants are all mainstays for this style, and it tends to show a bit less variation than the Boho Rustic or True Boho sub-styles.
The end result of a Boho Chic design is a space that is at once frayed yet elegant, with creativity overlaid against a soft, neutral background that highlights any of the more colorful elements to great effect.
True Boho Style – Ecstatic With A Dash Of Flair
“True” Boho Style is not for the type As of this world. As a rule, the foundational Boho style is a collection of mismatches, with textures, colors, and materials colliding in colorful – and sometimes chaotic – array. It is a style that defines itself by rejecting established principles of style.
I would venture to say that the True Boho space is always organic. It doesn’t appear all at once after careful planning, but instead tends to be a more or less “natural” design that grows into itself over time. As the Bohemian collects, scavenges, and DIYs their way through life, the Boho Style becomes the predictably unpredictable result.
This aesthetic throws together bright and dark colors, antiques and thrift-store finds, tapestries and plants, and any other elements that combine the eclectic with the creative. These spaces tend to be cozy and fun, with many layers to their design that leave visitors delighted. Occupying a True Boho space is an adventure.
This isn’t so much a sub-style as it is the baseline for all other Boho Style layouts. It is the loudest, purest, most indie form of the Boho expression, and that makes it very difficult to describe. Suffice it to say – when you see it, you’ll know it. True Boho Style is rather hard to miss!
Achieving The Boho Style, Bougie-On-A-Budget-Style!
The sub-style descriptions above are by no means exhaustive, so again – please explore all of the amazing Boho possibilities independently, too! Still, by now I hope you have a basic understanding of the overall Boho Style and its many iterations. Remember: the keywords here are eclectic, creative, indie, and artistic.
Luckily, bringing those principles together isn’t too challenging. The Boho Style in general lends itself to the budget-savvy designer, even in the more upscale Boho Chic variation. Thanks to its emphasis on thrifty, up-cycle-esque elements and the true indie spirit, you can easily bring about a Boho space without buying a single item of firsthand furniture.
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to creating a Boho Style living space. If I had to make rules, however, they would be the following:
- Buy secondhand as much as possible;
- Buy all-natural as much as possible (natural wood, natural fabrics, etc);
- Mix-and-match multiple colors, styles, patterns, and textures (within reasonable aesthetic parameters, of course);
- Focus on the use of art and layout to “bring together” your space, rather than furniture style specifically;
- Get creative (!!!) and don’t over-plan the space ahead of time;
- When you do plan, make your ideas broad (like basic color schemes, pieces to use as centering elements, etc);
- Use real-life picture references to get ideas, rather than catalogs;
- Use shops/sites that feature the handmade, the up-cycled, and the artisan (like Etsy, for example);
- Keep your style cozy, relaxed, and intimate as much as possible (avoid too much open space, or too many true-neutral pieces);
- Pick a basic sub-style or stick with True Boho to avoid clashing layouts.
These “ten commandments” of the Boho Style are my own guidelines, and hopefully you find them useful. In general your goal with Boho design is to avoid buying too many ready-made pieces (such as those made by the “fast furniture” industry fueling Wayfair, Ikea, or Amazon, no offense to those companies), and to seek out unique, authentic elements that convey a comfortable yet put-together aesthetic.
When it comes to Bohemian Style homes, having a basic design or idea in mind is more than enough to get you started. The rest of the process is up to you – some people prefer to put their space together slowly and hunt stores for their pieces, while others like to have more structure and fill in the remaining spaces to achieve that final thrown-together look.
If you’re an artistic, vintage-inspired, and indie-at-heart person, the Boho style is likely perfect for you. Bohemians are the free spirits of the world, the wanderers who like to make everything they touch into a work of creative expression.
And remember: the most important part of crafting a Boho Style is to have fun!