If moody colors, cozy blankets, plenty of candles, Greek statuettes, and well-loved bookshelves are your thing, you might just love dark academia. Like cottagecore or goblincore (yes, this is very much a thing!), the aesthetic known as dark academia has found its way into our lives and homes. If you're intrigued, here's what you should know ...
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What is dark academia?
Dark academia is an aesthetic that "revolves around classic literature, the pursuit of self-discovery, and a general passion for knowledge and learning," according to Aesthetics Wiki. Likely born on Tumblr in the mid-2000s, this aesthetic embraces Greek myths, the esoteric, and the darker side of learning and literature (think murder mysteries, secret societies, cults, and the supernatural). Even The New York Times explored the aesthetic, saying its most recent surge in popularity was due to the uptick in people learning from home as the pandemic kept people out of schools.
Dark academia enthusiasts daydream about reading dog-eared books by candlelight, wearing scholarly tweed jackets, adorning mantelpieces with candelabras and skulls, and turning their space into a place of learning and curiosity. Similar aesthetics include light academia (less murder, more airy, sunlit rooms) and romantic academia (more flower petals pressed into books and love poetry), among others. The common thread? The pursuit of knowledge and a beautiful space that inspires curiosity, coziness, and a love for the natural world.
Like any cultural aesthetic, dark academia offers people the chance to explore both hobbies — reading, writing poetry, studying — and visuals: decorating your desk with wilted flowers or filling your reading nook with dark wool fabrics, vintage finds, and classic art replicas. But it's not just for students; because this aesthetic focuses on learning (in a cozy environment!), anyone can embrace it. It's also considered an LGBTQIA-friendly aesthetic, with emphasis on gender-neutrality and beloved dark academic books and movies featuring LGBTQIA characters.
Criticism of dark academia:
Critics of dark academia have said that it lacks inclusivity. Due to its obsession with the scholarly — peruse the #darkacademia hashtag and you'll see plenty of photos of Cambridge and Oxford — it neglects those who can't (or don't want to) access formal education. It's often heavily Eurocentric, making it less inclusive to BIPOC who may want to explore the aesthetic.
More so, the dark academia aesthetic romanticizes both over-working and the depressed or struggling artist (cue images of the sad poet writing all night), which isn't, well, very mental-health-friendly — especially to impressionable younger folks. In short, it can be elitist and out of touch, even if its core ideas are positive ones (the learning, not murder).
Designing a dark academia-inspired home:
Curating a space that evokes the tenets of dark academia doesn't require an overall home reno — don't worry. Rather, you'll want to focus on filling your space with small details that evoke a mood. The general vibe? Cozy, dark, and literary — with a heavy dose of the natural world. Luckily, your interpretation of the trend is what matters, so go with what inspires you to learn, be creative, explore, and feel hygge at home. And don't forget to throw on a dark academia playlist while redecorating your space.
1. Play with color and texture.
Dark academia certainly embraces shadowy narratives — think secret society legends and vampire novels — but it's more than that. It's about gazing within to seek wisdom and knowledge. Take inspiration from images of rainy, autumnal college campuses, spooky old libraries, and collegiate lounges where poets might write or read. These spaces are filled with mahogany and earth tones, rich deep reds, and olive greens. Chiaroscuro, the balancing act of light and dark as seen in art, is also welcome in dark academia.
Fill your space with warm nutmeg-colored blankets, embroidered lace pillowcases thrown atop a plaid duvet or throw blanket (plaid and argyle are both beloved for their nostalgic academic qualities), and saffron-colored curtains.
Dark academia decor allows you to also play with textures, so don't be shy. Enthusiasts love natural fibers like linen and 100% cotton, but velvet and velveteen certainly make an appearance.
2. Embrace the artistic.
Take one look at a dark academia mood board and you'll see plenty of vintage and classic art prints alongside Greek statues and statuettes. With its focus on history, dark academia is all about embracing the ancient world, so adorn your desktops, mantelpieces, and bookshelves with mini Greek busts or use a larger one as a grand centerpiece.
As Wiki Aesthetics explains, art embraced by dark academia lovers tends to revolve around the "Renaissance, Baroque, Dutch Golden Age, Neoclassical, Academic, Romantic, Aesthetic and Pre-Raphaelite periods" and "architecture, landscapes, anatomical studies, vanitas, Christian and Classical mythology." You can easily pick up prints and posters of dark academia art and arrange them in mixed golden frames (a major dark academia vibe!).
3. Invoke the past with lots of candles.
This is one aesthetic that screams the more candles, the better. Enthusiasts love to read and write in journals by candlelight, and adorn their spaces with a smattering of assorted candles — a nod to the days of yore. When in doubt, top your dining table or mantlepiece with a large ornate candleholder, or sprinkle numerous pillar candles atop your shelves. Just don't light your house on fire!
4. Embrace the pastoral.
A lot of dark academia crosses over into cottagecore territory, and at the center of that Venn diagram is the pastoral. Take inspiration from the luscious green English meadows many dark academia books and films feature, and fill your space with plants and vines. Go for real plants (which you should dot around your space) when you can, but don't be afraid to wrap a faux vine around your bookshelf or headboard.
5. Invest in the literary.
Perhaps there is nothing more dark academia than books themselves. Call on the very essence of this aesthetic by devoting space to literary charm. Create a reading nook, invest in a good bookshelf (or rustic floating shelves) and cover your space in books, books, books.
While dark academia enthusiasts often daydream about old, leather-bound books, this may not be financially realistic for you. If you would like to find older books to evoke the mood, thrifting is a great option, as is buying books in bulk. You can pick up vintage, color-coordinated book bundles on Etsy, or you can even DIY your own "old book" covers, a suggestion from history buff vlogger Karolina Żebrowska.