Cafés, offices and apartments looking the same? We have Pinterest and Instagram to blame

April 30, 2019.

Written by: Damjan Geber

A craft brewery in Brooklyn looks the same as its counterpart in Berlin, Zagreb or Singapore. Every café has a grandma-chic armchair and vintage rug, and recently almost all apartments follow the industrial loft aesthetic. Whos to blame? Instant designers Pinterest and Instagram.

The digital era has influenced almost every aspect of our lives so quickly and intensely that many of us didn’t even notice until the damage had already been done . Maybe the best analogy — as grotesque as it may seem — is that of a frog sitting in slowly heated water. (I’ll abstain from going into the gory details.) Now, smartphone applications, the availability of information, our tendency to share photos of everything, social networking, and so on have gradually created an instant society.

Without diving into a deeper philosophical discussion of how this impacts the sociological development of new generations, I will share what I encounter every day as an architect who specializes in creating unique physical experiences of space.

From picture books to social networks

Creating a unique physical or spatial experience is not easy. Whether it’s the design of the apartment we live in, choosing which café to go to or deciding whether to buy a jacket in a store or with two clicks on our mobile phone, this decision — be it subconsciously or consciously — is largely influenced by spatial experience. We base our understanding of what makes a space beautiful or comfortable on previous experiences and comparison to references we’ve seen somewhere. Before the explosion of online references, we sourced information about home decor from interior design TV shows, printed magazines, or once very popular books with unoriginal titles such as “The Word’s Top 100 Interiors” or “The World’s Top 100 New Interiors – Japan”. It was these books (that were actually picture books full of photos of interiors in no particular order) that set the foundation for what was further developed through Pinterest or Instagram.

At the same time, unlike the interior designers and architects of the past, the designers and architects of today have almost unlimited opportunities for introducing their work to a very wide audience through various media. Sharing their work on social networks, blogs, online design platforms, niche websites — or simply uploading images to the web using the keywords someone might use to find “vintage tiles green kitchen” inspiration — may open the door to future opportunities. The accessibility of online resources that are always seeking fresh, high quality visual content enables anyone to pitch their project and become an online star within days and, if they play their cards right, start a successful business.

The instant fame of instant designers

Photo source: Shutterstock

However, often this recognition is only instantaneous, resulting in a deluge of designers whose projects we scroll through daily on Pinterest and Instagram. You get the impression that anyone who can pair a pillow with a curtain is an interior designer and that it’s an easy job, a hobby even. The essential difference between these Insta-cute spaces and truly high quality interiors is the unique spatial experience, architectural integrity , and improved user experience that a well designed interior provides.

In this case, the “user” might be a family that moves into a home that not only meets their aesthetic preferences, but more importantly, is perfectly suited to their present and future needs. The user might also be a customer who enters a store, a guest at a restaurant, or the employee of a new office. Our experience of the space we are in corresponds to a variety of factors that must be thoroughly researched and defined before the first step in design is taken; otherwise, everything is reduced to the choice of fabrics, hardwood floors, and the color of the walls. This is the final stage, the decoration, the variable  part of the entire endeavor, and certainly not the key to good interior.

I’m not saying that this part is less important — on the contrary, it can be very photogenic and significantly impacts the number of “likes” — but the people who use the space daily must also feel comfortable in it after all the online praise fades.

One of the key tools that has enabled such a vast number of designers who more or less successfully update interiors is the availability of an unlimited number of examples. Pinterest design has become practically mainstream, and Instagrammabilityis imperative. At Brigada, almost every client we have worked with in recent years has sent us a Pinterest board to convey their “wants.” This is not bad per se, since it provides quick insight into the aesthetics of our client. If, however, it serves as a collage of desires that we are expected to translate into the project literally, then we have a problem.


This might be anywhere

Photo source: Shutterstock

Interior design trends have always existed, and they generally relate to the zeitgeist and the society they originate in. The globalization of information has led to the real-time globalization of styles, but the speed with which information about new interiors is spreading has led to a superficial experience of them. Ideas are usually copied before the creative concept is truly understood and reinterpreted in accordance with the environment, local tradition, or spirit of a place.  That is why more and more interiors look as if they are part of a global franchise that is in no way connected to the location it is in. A craft brewery in Brooklyn looks the same as its counterpart in Berlin, Zagreb or Singapore; every café has a grandma-chic armchair and vintage rug, and recently almost all apartments follow the industrial loft aesthetic whether they are located in an old factory, an Art Nouveau building or socialist high rise. On one hand, this enables us to feel at home anywhere in the world, but it simultaneously erases the authenticity of our experience of a place and transforms the world into a collage of franchise interiors.

Investing in the construction of a new bar, store or hotel by copying aesthetic trends offers some level of certainty that the concept will yield success as it has had in hundreds of other locations. But what happens when this trend gives way to yet another new instant global trend? Will the investment pay off in such a short time, or are we perhaps too late in catching up to the trends, since someone somewhere dared to be original, only to have influencers recognize it in search of their own originality and in the blink of an eye create a completely new global story? Current global trends develop faster than ever before, and they die out just as quickly. Those who recognize the wave in time and ride it fast enough will undoubtedly succeed, but those who are a bit too late risk both their return on investment and being outdated even before the grand opening. Originality is risky, but if it is based on adequate preparation, analysis, unique insight and a strong, authentic concept, the chances of long-term success are very high.

Here’s what this looks like in reality, in key categories of interiors.


Photo source: Shutterstock

Pinterest-inspired design is most present in this typology. We all dream of the perfect apartment or house from the moment we decide to move away from our parents  and start researching the real-estate market. We see examples of lovely interiors daily, and we quickly form our dream style, mainly influenced by a mainstream style that dominates the online platforms. This is currently the industrial loft or vintage style, which has a strong appeal without a doubt, but which is, perhaps more than any other style, confined by spatial limitations and the past of the cities it originated from. Old warehouses or factory halls that were once transformed into cheap interiors for artists have in time become cool mainstream apartments while holding onto some of the core elements, such as visible brick, industrial lighting, piping, concrete floors etc. These are truly large and spacious apartments with enough room for all the elements,  kitchen islands, large glass walls and the like. Once these elements are removed from the whole and become photo details patchworked into 50m2 apartments, it is very hard to envisage the end result.

The basic difference between a well-designed living space and an aesthetically decorated space is the experience. The mistake we often see in the interior design of apartments is the owner’s desire to directly translate details gathered online into their new apartment without understanding the context or the final atmosphere they are creating. Apartments are intimate spaces that should ideally be adapted to the needs and lifestyle — both present and future — of the family that inhabits them.  Apartments arent designed in order to end up on lifestyle portals or to attract praise from our friends through our Instagram posts; the fascination lasts until you refresh the page and see some other lovely interior. What remains after instant glory is a space we have to live with, where we have to feel comfortable, which doesn’t create unnecessary frustrations because we’ve already compromised too much by forcing Pinterest details.

A kitchen island is something most people dream of having in their apartment, but any apartment under 120m2 simply cannot accommodate it without sacrificing another element. Epoxy floors in the bathroom look great in photos, but once you have to clean them twice a day because each drop of water or speck of dust shows, all the praise from your friends and family will soon fade. The same goes for open brick walls, vintage bulbs that provide insufficient light, designer couches that become cat nail sharpeners, walk-in closets that ate up too much space and now there’s no room for a baby c …

Apartments have to be beautiful and comfortable, for decades even; they have to adapt to our habits and future family dynamics – not the other way around. If there , we have made a mistake and well keep cursing the day we allowed Instagram to defeat reason.


Photo source: Shutterstock

Ever since Starbucks popularized the new approach to drinking coffee, it is almost impossible to find a coffee shop without several armchairs, a vintage rug, wooden coating  or a raw wall with minimal decorations, and a large coffee machine at the forefront. The same thing happened to the global popularization of craft beer and breweries that have inundated cities around the world. There’s an unwritten rule that they all have to boast brick, an iron construction with unfinished wooden tables, vintage bulbs, copper detailing, terrace lamps etc. One way or another, each of them fits into this aesthetic wherever they are, and we can see what it is about at first glance and go about sampling local craft beers.

The styles are so similar and clearly connected to the core business that we actually like to see recognizable aesthetics in distant countries: this enables us to walk in without fear, make ourselves at home, and create an Instagram post that will surely yield a satisfactory like count.

Being unique in the design of such spaces is challenging since it requires a truly detailed market analysis to identify aesthetics that would create both originality and a successful concept. Once you

A recent trend in designing bars and cafés is the desire for Instagrammableinteriors or segments of interior. This implies creating an aesthetic that is so aligned with online aesthetic trends that everyone will want to take a photo of it and share it on social networks, thus creating free advertising content.

The riskiness of this approach to design is probably clear to everyone or should be clear prior to a final decision. In recent years, pastel pink has dominated the social networks and anything this hue has guaranteed instant success and share-ability. Several indoor palm trees in front of rain forest-themed wallpaper backdrops to a pink table with chairs created the perfect scenery for any influencer post.  Unfortunately, in their daily quest for original spaces, influencers will soon use up the space and all of its “Istagrammability” will become obsolete and redundant. This approach to interior design implies frequent changes to motives, wall colors, and furniture in order to stay current, which also means considerable expenses.

Therefore, if you seek free promotion on social networks, it requires active effort and consistent curating in line with current trends practically in real time. This means that there is no free advertising, there are just different channels through which you pay for it.

Work spaces

Google and Facebook offices have changed the notion of work space, and this has become so well accepted that the style of offices with colorful play rooms or phone booths are called “Google offices”. If we compare the old typology of boring offices with rows of rooms, white desks, and meeting rooms, these dynamic, multi-colored open-space offices definitely look like dream office spaces. We’ve all dreamed of a great garden  in the middle of our office, where we’d walk or rest on swings, play pool or table tennis on our breaks, and finally enjoy some down time playing PlayStation with our colleagues after hours.  However, the reality of the work space is quite different. All the fun details are just good PR created by large companies to attract young talents, whereas in real life the main focus is still work and productivity.

It's nice to be able to work somewhere else other than a boring desk, rest in another location or have lunch at the park, but most of the work day is still dedicated to computer work and other tasks. In practice, lounge areas are used much less than it may seem in online posts, which portray office work as constant games  of table tennis and working on bean bags. After a long period of pushing for open spaces and offering employees all kinds of entertainment, we had to face reality. A standard open space not only fails to boost interaction among employees and productivity but works against it. In-depth analyses have shown that employees use online communication tools much more and that the openness of the space disrupts focus due to constant drive-by remarks of coworkers, which extends the time needed to complete a task.

As in previous examples, companies embarking on office redecoration are often inspired by examples from the online world, which are impeccably polished and make it hard to discern between a staged PR photo and a good concept. Open space is not bad if a thorough analysis proves that it’s an adequate solution for current challenges within the company or improvement of the office culture and processes. Instead of playful lounges and pinball machines, it is necessary to define a layout that will enable the seamless exchange of ideas and an innovative spatial concept that would respond to the needs of new ways of work and interaction. Open space is, in its essence, a space without doors, where everyone can approach everyone else without arranging a meeting, but also a space in which everyone can find enough peace and quiet for focused work.  This is not a hall with a hundred desks and employees wearing headphones, but a developed space in which the teams are grouped within logical yet flexible units, separated by teamwork rooms, individual work areas, presentation rooms, and rooms for quick meetings or conference calls that won’t disturb other coworkers.

The office is not a place that has to be fun because thats how we see Googles offices on Dezeen; it’s a space that has been designed with a clearly defined concept aligned with key company values. Employees have to be enabled  to tackle tasks more quickly and creatively and look for fun in their free time, in the company of their own choice. This might be the karaoke room after work with people from the office, but they alone have to decide on the dynamics that suits them best.  The idea that a bunch of entertaining details in a work space would keep the employees there longer and make them (consciously or subconsciously) work more while being happy is not realistic, and it could be costly — pinball machines and foosball tables don’t come cheap.


The debate about whether online will kill offline has been going on for years now. Everybody seems to believe it’s inevitable, it’s just a matter of time. But is that really so? The statistics have indicated that online shopping has truly been growing year after year and that brick-and-mortar stores around the world have been closing. However, offline sales have been growing in total, which indicates that online sales have currently taken over a bit over 10% of total sales in America and the EU on average (Croatia ranks low in this respect), with a 1% growth in ratio year on year, whereas the shopping malls that have closed basically failed to adapt to trends. The physical realm is far from forgotten, a fact that’s supported by the growing number of online stores are now developing their own brick-and-mortar sales concepts, taking over empty spaces from obsolete brands.

The coexistence of online and offline stores is a reality, and the omnichannel a pproach to user experience is imperative. Online retail offers us limitless information about products and the comfort of shopping from our own home, but the real world allows us to try out products, enrich our experience at the point of sales or simply walk out of the store with the bag without waiting for delivery.  Stores cannot just consists of shelves for displaying items without any user  experience. Most retail chains that have ceased operations failed to recognize this, and it was simply a matter of time before online stores would run over them.

Brick-and-mortar stores in the digital age have to offer a unique experience more than any other type of space. Product sales can take place anywhere, but building customer relations with the brand is strongest in the real world, where they  are not just algorithmic data but people whom we can talk to and connect with. Online doesn’t compete with offline — rather, they must coexist, and one can hardly grow without the other. Information gathered in online stores can impact the concept and design of the offline store, whereas the experience in the offline store can significantly contribute to the growth of online sales.

What is the ROI of your newly decorated space?

Interior design and spatial design, whether it is a public or private space, is not an easy feat. Except for designing for our own apartments (which I wouldn’t recommend to any of my peers, speaking from personal experience), we spend our whole lives creating spaces for other people to live in. Sometimes it’s just the people who commission the design (in case of private apartments and houses), but in many cases you also have to consider unknown users (buyers, guests, employees) that need to be defined and understood thoroughly in the preparatory stages of the project.

All business spaces have to generate results – profit, visitors, work environment quality… Instagram likes and Pinterest pins are at the bottom of the list.