Architecture & Design

12 Design Trends to Try in 2020

Local pros weigh in on the looks you can expect to see a lot more of this year — and how to make them work in your home.


As with fashion and hairstyles, design trends come and go. Warm metals replace cool ones — then, when we all get too warm, silvery finishes work their way back in; darker woods eclipse blonds, and then those sandy tones come around again. Some trends might seem capricious (gone with pink, in with blush!), while others — especially in Maine’s natural-resource-rich, and, at the moment, pricey, building environment — are signs of practical progress. The trick to navigating the ins and outs? Choosing what you love and balancing trendy with timeless, so that, in five years, everyone who walks into your home thinks “beautiful”— not “2020.” Here’s what we — and the pros — are loving right now.

2020 Design Trends: decorative plywood
Photographed by Erin Little; designed and built by Barrett Made

Plywood Uncovered

With construction costs skyrocketing, pros are looking for creative ways to stick to a budget without compromising aesthetics. Enter decorative plywood as a way to achieve the warmth of wood without the price tag. “This is not about cheap,” architect David Morris, of Portland’s Caleb Johnson Studio, says. “This is a material that has beauty and integrity, but is cost-effective” — and, increasingly, eco-friendly if you opt for a brand like low-VOC, formaldehyde-free PureBond from Columbia Forest Products. Expect to see more finish plywood standing in for drywall and gracing cabinets, bookshelves, and even floors, says architect Matthew Ahlberg, of Portland’s Barrett Made, who recently designed a Cape Elizabeth home (above) with 4-by-8-foot birch plywood sheets on all the interior walls.

2020 Design Trends: colors that pop
Photographed by Jeff Roberts; designed by Nicola's Home

Color Pops

Dashes of color attract the eye and energize a space. Along with blush tones (opposite), Nicola Manganello, of Yarmouth’s Nicola’s Home, has been reaching for chartreuse in rugs, pillows, and art. “It’s showing up in fashion too — it’s like the ’90s all over again,” she says. Other shades the Pantone Color Institute forecasts will be hot this year: Color of the Year Classic Blue, as well as saffron, scarlet, aqua, orange, and grape. In kitchens, painting cabinetry (or just an island) a version of Classic Blue or saffron is “an economical update that brings personality without being permanent,” Katie Judkins, of Portland’s Heidi Lachapelle Interiors, says.

TIP: Bring in large-foliage houseplants, like birds of paradise, orchid cactus, and Monstera, for another bold color moment, Emily Mattei, of Yarmouth’s e4 Interior Design, says.

2020 Design Trends: tilt-turn windows
Photographed by Sandy Agrafiotis

Tilt-Turn Windows

Reportedly 10 to 30 times more airtight than standard double-hungs, European-style, tilt-turn windows pop open from the top, for moderate ventilation, or swing open like a door, via a single handle — a marriage of efficiency and functionality contractor Ben Hemberger, of Brunswick’s Benjamin & Company, says his clients are clamoring for. With minimal framing, tilt-turns maximize views and are a clear fit for contemporary homes, but you’ll find divided panes germane to Colonials too. Expect to pay twice as much for a triple-glazed tilt-turn than an average double-hung and enjoy lower energy bills later. 70mm series 72-by-68-inch window.

2020 Design Trend: sustainable siding
Photographed by Erin Little; designed by Briburn; built by Vindle Builders

Sustainable Siding

Natural siding is all the rage on new Maine homes, driven by a demand for low-maintenance local woods — especially as import tariffs impact pricing. Beyond classic Eastern white cedar — which is naturally rot- and pest-resistant and, unlike painted-wood and composite products, weathers nicely without ever having to be refinished — pros are speccing thermally treated “green lumber,” like Cambia from New Hampshire’s Northland Forest Products, for even more impressive durability. Hemberger and architect Harry Hepburn, of Portland’s Briburn, have also been mixing multiple woods on a home, such as vertical planks reminiscent of antique barns and cedar shingles common to coastal dwellings, a look Hepburn calls “regional modernism.”

2020 Design Trends: Blush everything

Blush All Over

“Earthy, rosy blush tones are very strong right now,” Manganello says — and have been since beige-y to salmon Millennial Pink shades came on the scene in 2016. This year, the design world is coalescing around soft, decidedly blush versions like First Light, Benjamin Moore’s 2020 color of the year; Valspar also included three blushes among its 2020 trending colors. “I’ve been using it as more of a neutral — on a sofa, millwork, or a vanity,” Jenny Morrison, of Morrison Design House in Windham, says. “I like that it has less of that feminine feeling.” Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams Sloane sofa, $1,795.

TIP: Pair blush pieces with creamy — versus crisp-white — accents and walls, which appeal to the softness in the shade, Jenny Morrison says.

2020 Design Trends: separate spaces
Photographed by Erin Little; designed by Heidi Lachapelle Interiors

Separate Spaces

After years of knocking down walls in the name of open-concept living, some homeowners are remembering the benefits (privacy, noise reduction, the ability to hide a mess in the kitchen while enjoying a meal in the dining room) they provide. “It’s hard to create a really harmonious space when you’re seeing everything in one room,” Lachapelle says. “We’re trying to help clients appreciate the natural divisions.” In older homes, preserving walls is architecturally responsible and in every home, “being able to shut off spaces, for heating purposes, is invaluable,” Judkins, says.

2020 Design Trend: More marble

More Marble

Amid reports of workers developing lung disease from inhaling dust from engineered “quartz” products, natural stone countertops — particularly marble — are having a renaissance. Though it has a rep for being high-maintenance and pricey, Heidi Lachapelle, of Heidi Lachapelle Interiors, feels marble gets a bad rap. “We’re showing our clients the value of the patina it develops over time,” she says. As for price, in part due to the labor involved, quartz actually can be more expensive than Carrara marble: roughly $115–$125 and $90–$110 per square foot, respectively, from Topsham’s Morningstar Stone & Tile. Veinier marbles, like Arabescato Corchia (above), run closer to $117–$154 per square foot.

2020 Design Trend: Scandinavian style
Photographed by Jeff Roberts; designed by Nicola's Home

Scandi Style

With its pale wood tones, simple lines, and airy shapes, the long-trending Scandinavian aesthetic is as at home in Maine as it is in northern Europe. “People in both places react to the weather because it’s so elemental in their lives,” Morrison says, noting how minimal window treatments and furniture profiles allow light to flow through during long winters. A streamlined, contemporary farmhouse look (above) is what Manganello anticipates more of this year. “We’re seeing Scandinavian blended with mid-century style,” she says. “People don’t want things very busy.”

2020 Design Trend: mixed metals

Mixed Metals

One look designers happily said goodbye to last year was brass, brass everywhere. Warm and cozy as it was, “it can be too much, when it all matches, and there’s a lot of it in one space,” Lachapelle says. By contrast, mixing metals in kitchens and baths lends a timeless, pieced-together-over-the-years feeling. For continuity’s sake, Lachapelle suggests a logical approach: say, one metal for faucets, another for lighting, and a third for hardware. “A balance of shiny and matte also works well,” Judkins says. Moss 8″ sconce, $175.; Kohler Purist faucet, $598.43. Edgecliff pulls, $34–$84.

TIP: When choosing kitchen hardware, think big. “Knobs and handles in larger shapes look striking,” and feel great, Emily Mattei says.

2020 Design Trend: counter-height tables
Photographed by Erin Little; designed by Heidi Lachapelle Interiors

Island Alternatives

What’s a big kitchen without an island? More family-friendly, say some designers. That is, if a large wooden table takes its spot. “We spend so much time in our kitchens — it makes sense to have a table everyone can gather around,” says Lachapelle, who recently designed a Cumberland kitchen with a giant vintage French oak table (above). “Bar-style island seating is not as convivial.” Counter-height tables equipped with stools that can be tucked away while prep work is done match the functionality of an island, says Manganello, who’s currently designing such a surface for a client. “If a family wants to sit and have dinner, it needs to be convenient,” she says. “This setup makes that happen more often.”

2020 Design Trends: wicker furnishings

Woven Details

Hand-in-hand with Scandinavian style are wicker furnishings, accessories, and lighting. Natural elements like these “give a feeling of calmness,” Morrison says. “I don’t know if people realize that’s why they want it — my clients would never say ‘get me a pendant that looks like a tree’ — but it brings them happiness.” And as with Scandi furnishings, she notes, pieces that allow light to pass through have special appeal during Maine winters. Headlands pendant, $648.

2020 Design Trend: showy wallpapers
Photographed by Jonathan Reece; designed by Nicola's Home

Dressed-Up Walls

Showy wallpapers will continue, pros predict, but the trend is evolving. Instead of seeing paper limited to powder rooms and statement walls, expect more bold patterns in entire bedrooms, for instance. Beyond wallpaper, “wood walls are still on trend here — and not just shiplap panels,” Mattei says. “We’re looking at new ways of doing it, like an accent wall of painted wood or whitewashed oak panels in a geometric pattern.” Then there are wood veneers on paper, such as the chevron motifs by Ronald Redding Designs, which provide the look of decorative paneling without the labor time, Manganello says.

TIP: To give new walls textural interest without the commitment of paper, consider a plaster finish, such as Portola’s Roman Clay, which has a slightly mottled look reminiscent of older homes, heidi Lachapelle says.