“Clean girl aesthetic” is the latest TikTok trend to make the jump from fashion to interiors.
n beauty, the look is inspired by off-duty models (moisturised and fluffy-browed with pinned back hair). Ironically, it can take hours of preparation and a lot of make-up to achieve this “no-makeup” look.
In interiors, the aesthetic includes lots of white with a few simple accents in black or natural wood and absolutely no clutter.
So far, so lovely. But there’s a problem. The clean girl aesthetic has been widely accused of cultural appropriation. The issues are with the fashion and beauty origins of the look, rather than design, but they’re sufficiently serious for the interiors community to drop the hashtag.
“I would avoid associating myself with that particular phrasing,” says Siobhan McAuley, former model and influencer. “But I want to open up the discussion.” She’s in a good place to comment: born in Zimbabwe with Irish, French and Sri Lankan heritage, McAuley now lives in Co Meath.
“Girls and women of colour have been going without makeup for generations and nobody thought it was beautiful or inspiring. We wore our hair pinned back because curly hair wasn’t acceptable to white society. Then some Caucasian person imitates the look, posts it on TikTok, and suddenly it’s a trend.” She prefers to call it the No Makeup Aesthetic.
So how to rename the interiors version? I’d settle for Modern Minimal. As a look, it’s pared back and super-tidy, but less severe than traditional minimalism. It’s also more expressive, because you can adapt it by calibrating the accents.
Natural wood and rattan give it a Scandi vibe. For an industrial edge, do something similar with exposed brick and raw metal. McAuley’s own home, in a predominantly white and off-white palette with accents of black and gold, is an example of the Modern Minimal aesthetic with an equatorial flavour.
“Our home is nothing to do with a trend,” she says. “It’s inspired by luxury homes in Africa and Asia, where the interiors are white because of the heat. My husband is from Zimbabwe, where I was also born. We live so far from our place of birth that was always our goal for our home to echo that interiors style.”
In Africa, she explains, a white interior helps to keep the house cool. In Ireland, it helps to capture as much of the low winter light as possible. The use of very dark wood to contrast and frame the whiteness in the interior is typical of African décor, but the brushed brass accents are an Asian thing.
“Gold is a sign of luxury in Asia,” she says. “That’s where the palette comes from.” The challenge is maintenance. Keeping white sofas white in a family with two young children is quite the undertaking. Her secret weapon is a Dyson Purifier Autoreact (from €550).
“It captures and traps dust automatically before it settles, which is the main reason white furniture gets spoiled.”
Interior designer Aoife Tobin of Style so Simple comes from Kerry, lives in Belfast and undertakes projects all over the country. From her perspective, the key to achieving a modern minimal look in a cold climate is to have plenty of texture, softening it with natural wood and tactile textiles. Otherwise the look can appear luxurious but cold, in the manner of the Kardashians.
For the recent Ideal Home Show, Tobin designed a room for DFS around the concept of serenity. The pivotal piece of furniture was a four-seater Extravagance sofa from DFS (from €2,729) in a textured fabric that resembled linen, with a lattice of leather on the arms.
“It’s not too much colour but a good balance of materials and textures,” she says. The floor was pale oak in a chevron pattern from Grain and Groove (€86 per square metre).
“It was so nice that it didn’t need a rug. And I’m normally very strict about rugs!” Grain and Groove also made up a built-in wall unit to her design, with closed storage below and open storage above. “You put the heavy things on the bottom shelf and get progressively lighter as you go up. I find that’s a good rule of thumb.” It’s painted in Slate from the Dulux Heritage collection.
In a recent project, Tobin used a softened version of Modern Minimal aesthetic. “My client wanted a white kitchen, but an all-white interior can look clinical.” Instead, she painted the kitchen units in a pale greenish blue, with the cupboard interiors in natural wood. “The paint is Mid Kelp from the Dulux Signature Collection. It’s designed for Irish weather so when the room is darker it still looks warm.”
In the dining area, she combined a white marble dining table with pale wood chair and a Roman blind that looks like linen.
“It’s about playing with colours and textures within the space to create a balance of warm and cool,” she explains. “I like a pared-back look, but I still want it to feel like you could put your feet up on the sofa.” Consultations with Aoife Tobin start at €299 for a two-hour online session.
Lorraine Keane, broadcaster and business woman, has renovated four houses (one of them twice). When circumstances stood in the way of her buying a fifth fixer-upper, she simply gave her existing home another round of renovations. “For me, it’s always been a hobby,” she says. Her home was large enough but, with children becoming teenagers, it needed more bathrooms.
“I want it to look like a home rather than a museum. And I wanted a bathroom that could be tidy at all times.” She turned to Richard Sloan of Sonas Bathrooms.
“They kind of hand-hold you all the way through, so you know you’re not going to make an expensive and time consuming mistake. On his advice I even got into a couple of baths in their showroom to see if they were a good fit. I’d never have done that on my own!”
The result is a leafy version of the Modern Minimal aesthetic. “I’d have gone for a marble floor as well only it would have been lethal,” she says. “The grey tiles are non-slip.” The freestanding bath (€1,595) and twin sinks (€495 each) are oval, with brassware in brushed gold. Her teenagers now have their own ensuites.
“The girls have mirrors with built-in speakers so they can play music when they’re in the bathroom. Now they spend even more time in there!”
See stylesosimple.com, dfs.ie, dyson.ie, sonasbathrooms.com. See also @they.wanderlust and @lorrainekeaneofficial
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