Our Love of Nostalgic Interiors Has Reached a New Level, According to This Study

What happened when four people decided to live in the past.
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woman outside of gray house
Photography by Vivian Johnson

Having a house with a Calacatta Viola marble island or a zellige tile shower would be pretty cool, but sometimes all we want is a rustic-chic kitchen with rooster-themed art and a staircase swathed in beige carpeting. What we’re trying to say is, sometimes we just want to live in the house we grew up in. And we’re not alone. A new Zillow survey found that 44 percent of Americans would buy their childhood home if cost were not an issue. That number is even higher (closer to two-thirds) among those born in the 1980s. 

It’s easy to get lost in the nostalgia until you realize a comparable home today would be out of reach. Only half of respondents said they could actually afford to buy their childhood home at today’s prices. But that hard truth only fuels people’s daydreaming. “They may associate positive memories with their childhood home, having lived there without the burdens of rent, mortgage payments, maintenance, insurance, or other housing hurdles,” says Manny Garcia, a senior population scientist at Zillow. 

Despite some of these obstacles, a handful of homeowners have been able to make it happen. Often buying directly from their parents, they’ve found ways to leave their own stamp on their childhood home while keeping the past alive. Here’s what they learned when they returned.

Make More Room to Gather

kids at dining bench
A photo from the Fang family archives, showing the kitchen before its most recent renovation | Courtesy of Etienne Fang.

When interior designer Etienne Fang bought her parents’ 1923 home, she made opening up the layout priority number one. In some spots, it was as simple as getting rid of unnecessary walls, like the one dividing the kitchen and dining area. Her architects cleverly added built-in window-seat benches that double as storage. They also repositioned the dining table to one side of the room to carve out a comfortable place for the family of four (plus grandparents).

family at a table
Photography by Vivian Johnson

Then Fang moved onto updates that had been on her to-do list for way too long. “I remember drawing sketches of my dream home as a teen, complete with a window seat and my own bathroom,” she recalls. 

Open the Door to Out-of-Towners

Growing up, Hugo Guest’s home in the Devon, England, countryside had always been part bed-and-breakfast. But when the chef decided to rent it from his parents and scale it to a larger hotel, now called Glebe House, he was nervous about making some of the necessary renovations. “It was so intense, suddenly seeing wallpaper that’s been there for 40 years being ripped down,” he recalls. But it was surprisingly his brothers who gave the ultimate stamp of approval on the changes. “They said, ‘This feels like home.’ That was the biggest compliment,” he shares. 

Honor the Architecture

Sara Charlesworth, a content creator in Salt Lake City, promised her in-laws she and her husband would keep the character of their Utah home intact once they took it off their hands. Charlesworth harkened back to the building’s 1913 roots with painted harlequin check floors in the kitchen, a skirted pedestal sink, and loads of picture-rail molding.

Bring Retro Details Up to Speed

grid tile backsplash
Photography by Studio Lithe

The circa-1926 blue and white tile in this Pittsburgh home was a serious blast from the past. Studio Lithe’s client, who grew up in the house, initially wanted to rip it all out, but after seeing a few renderings of how the old tile could fit in the new space, they decided to work around it. Plus buying the same amount of tile of the same quality today would cost a small fortune. Saving this relic from the past saved their budget.

Lydia Geisel Avatar

Lydia Geisel

Home Editor

Lydia Geisel has been on the editorial team at Domino since 2017. Today, she writes and edits home and renovation stories, including house tours, before and afters, and DIYs, and leads our design news coverage. She lives in New York City.