I finally clued in to the Kinfolk movement. This is a design aesthetic that has saturated and influenced interior design and photography for the last 7 years. It’s spare, it’s minimalist. It’s full of lattes with creamy swirls, dreamy young women wearing calico, knit berets and bearded hipsters. If you see one photo of a Kinfolk aesthetic, you’ll know immediately what I’m talking about. More on that in a minute.
But first, its history. Wikipedia:
Kinfolk was created by Nathan Williams, his wife Katie Searle-Williams and their friends Doug and Paige Bischoff in July 2011. Primarily a lifestyle magazine aimed at young professionals, it focuses on home, work, play, food and community through photo essays, recipes, interviews, profiles, personal stories and practical tips. The writers, photographers, designers and chefs who contribute to Kinfolk are drawn from a largely international pool of creative people, often featuring more than 50 individual contributors an issue.
They started the magazine in Portland, OR because it was easy and cheap to do so there. Now spanning several countries, annexes located in Copenhagen Denmark and translated into four languages, Kinfolk would seem to have a large circulation commensurate with their breadth and influence. But no. It currently has a circulation of about 86,000, which seems like a lot but then not so much when comparing to Architectural Digest, of 818,000.
Kinfolk aesthetic seems to inspire heated opinions on both sides. Some love it, some hate it, hence my title. Summer Allen writes in her article Wood, Citrus, Lattes, Feet, Twine, Repeat: The Kinfolk Kinspiracy Code:
Every account cultivating that Kinfolk look seemed to follow a specific formula. Every account had a photo (or several) of the following: A latte with a foam leaf design, a fresh piece or two of citrus, a glimpse of a pair of small feet—often in a well-worn pair of boots—an ice cream cone, weather permitting, some glasses here and there, twine, the occasional fixed-gear bike.
Latte, usually on reclaimed wood but this one on blue tiles:
I like minimalist, vaguely Scandinavian design. In the 1960s when I grew up Scandinavian style and Danish were popular. Despite the neon colored psychedelic fonts and wild flowers you remember from concert posters, there was also a movement toward minimalism.
Kinfolk’s trademark wildflowers artfully arranged to look casual on a spare table here is preceded by House Beautiful’s 1962 kitchen.
A spare table setting in 1961 House Beautiful featuring interesting cutlery (Danish-inspired wood handles) with citrus is decades older than Kinfolk’s arrangements.
From The Art Story
Minimalism emerged in New York in the early 1960s among artists who were self-consciously renouncing recent art they thought had become stale and academic. A wave of new influences and rediscovered styles led younger artists to question conventional boundaries between various media. The new art favored the cool over the “dramatic”: their sculptures were frequently fabricated from industrial materials and emphasized anonymity over the expressive excess of Abstract Expressionism. Painters and sculptors avoided overt symbolism and emotional content, but instead called attention to the materiality of the works. By the end of the 1970s, Minimalism had triumphed in America and Europe through a combination of forces including museum curators, art dealers, and publications, plus new systems of private and government patronage. And members of a new movement, Post-Minimalism, were already challenging its authority and were thus a testament to how important Minimalism itself became.
Where art went, design and photography followed.
Minimalism was preceded by Mid-century modern which was preceded by Bauhaus …Here is a cool guideand description of various design trends of the last century. There is nothing new under the sun.
So what makes Kinfolk so identifiable, so immediately arresting, so opinion-splitting? Why has Kinfolk and its imitators spurred a visual conformity rampant among photographers and bloggers? The IF:Gathering blog ladies’ photos are obviously inspired by Kinfolk. Any blogger older that 20 and younger than 40 tends to the style. Perhaps the negative criticism is a backlash on the conformity and ubiquitousness of the design. Overdone, minimalism can tend to be bland. But with a good eye for composition, isn’t it also beautiful? Kinfolk’s photos are beautiful. And beauty is never overdone, it’s never out of style. Rough wood is beautiful. Flowers are beautiful. Flannel and calico and other fabrics are beautiful. Serenity captured in photography is beautiful.
Perhaps they are a victim of their own success. The Magazine was launched just months after Instagram, and the two are blended into one seamless, long-lasting design trend. Still, the question remains,
Kinfolk is perhaps one of the most divisive magazines on the market right now: while it obviously has a devoted fanbase who love it for its beautiful imagery and dedication to promoting a wholesome, aesthetically pleasing lifestyle, there are others who find it pretentious and smug, outraged that for all its emphasis on living a simple life, the magazine has no problem shilling pricy artisanal goods.
Architectural Digest was founded in 1920, almost 100 years ago. Kinfolk is a mere 6 years old. A bit too soon, methinks, to be mentioning a magazine for the ages. Not to mention Vogue, founded in 1892. Kinfolk has a ways to go. Meanwhile, all those farm food shots and reclaimed wood tablescapes are continuing to charm and delight, and outrage and offend others.
The real question is, have I been influenced by the particular minimalism Kinfolk presents? Or was I already ahead of the curve loving what is obviously beautiful anyway? I looked at my own photos and saw this:
Dinghy, bike, logs, car…
Oh, well, pretty is pretty!
What do you think of the Kinfolk phenomenon movement?