What is dark academia decor? The beautifully bookish trend, explained

If you like gothic decor and plenty of books, you’re going to love dark academia

A dark living room with a green couch, candles, and books
(Image credit: @witch_haas)

Dark academia decor is a popular design trend that always seems to emerge around fall. It’s filled with characterful touches that are cozy and charming, with a gothic touch that gives it a really sophisticated edge.

I’m a huge fan of this trend, and have seen it emerge in the past few years as a real staple of the cooler seasons. This is because it’s really easy to bring into the home, is super versatile, and it looks effortlessly sophisticated.

If you’ve seen dark decorating ideas and dark academia all over your Insta feed and are wondering what it’s about, I’m here for you. I’ve spoken to experts to find out about the history of the trend, its style hallmarks, and how you can get the look at home.

Dark academia interior design, explained

For those who love dark cottagecore but also love a cozy library, this trend is the one for you. Here’s everything you need to know about it. 

What is dark academia?

First of all, let’s break down the basics. “Dark academia decor is a trendy interior design style inspired by the intellectual and nostalgic ambiance of academic settings in literature and film,” explains Alice Moszczynski, interior designer at Planner5D. “It blends traditional and vintage elements with a moody, scholarly atmosphere.” 

A picture of Alice Moszczynski against a brick background
Alice Moszczynski

Alice Moszczynski is an interior designer at Planner 5D, which focuses on creating impactful, sustainable interiors for community organizations, prioritizing responsible design. With a diverse background, including a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and experience at renowned NY firms, she brings a wealth of inspiration to her work.

Where did dark academia come from?

While it may seem like the trend has come out of nowhere, it actually goes way back. “The term dark academia was first coined by author Donna Tartt in her novel The Secret History,” says Ricky Allen, interior designer and director of Ever Wallpaper.  

A picture of Ricky Allen in a suit
Ricky Allen

Ricky Allen is the Interior Designer and Director of Ever Wallpaper. It sells high-quality wallpapers and murals, using non-toxic, odorless, and environmentally friendly materials.

Moszczynski adds that the trend's origins can be traced back to 19th and 20th-century literature like The Secret History and Brideshead Revisited, which romanticize prestigious universities. “In recent years it has gained popularity on social media, with enthusiasts sharing their passion for this aesthetic.” Websites like Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram have all been responsible for its recent revival. 

What are the dark academia style hallmarks?

There are a few key colors and textures that make up the trend’s signature style. “Features of dark academia decor include a rich color palette with deep greens, browns, burgundy, and navy, vintage furniture like leather armchairs and wooden bookshelves, and an abundance of books and scholarly decor,” says Jade Lafleche, interior design consultant at CLV Group. “Textiles like velvet and wool, candles, low lighting, and indoor plants also contribute to the look.” 

A black and white picture of Jade Lafleche
Jade Lafleche

Jade Lafleche is an interior design consultant at the CLV Group, an industry-leading apartment developer dedicated to creating communities and place-making. Jade is professionally trained in design and holds a Bachelor of Interior Design from Algonquin College.

How to decorate with dark academia

Want to bring the dark academia look into your rental? Allen has a few ideas. “To avoid damaging your walls, opt for removable wallpaper or contact paper to create an accent wall with a dark academia-inspired pattern,” he says. Incorporating vintage pieces is also an easy way to do this. “You can add character and charm to your space by incorporating antique books, old maps, and vintage frames.” 

Don’t forget about textural elements, either. “Velvet, leather, and tweed are great choices for achieving the dark academic look. Use them in your throw pillows, curtains, or statement pieces.”

Lafleche also says that you can’t forget about the biggest element of the trend: Books. “In the living room, a large floor-to-ceiling dark wood bookcase or built-in will quickly transform the space,” she says. 

However, this can be more costly and unfeasible for many smaller spaces. “If you already have shelving, a fun DIY project is to add paint and wood stain to create a darker finish. Then, take some old books to fill your shelving.” Raid your local Goodwill or secondhand bookstore to find some really unique pieces.

Get the dark academia look with these six buys 

Make your small living room cozy yet mysterious with these buys that are suitable for renters.

The prices below were correct at the time of publishing this article.

Now that you’ve learned all about dark academia, you might be wondering what other darker decor trends are out there. Witchcore also plays with mysterious elements, mixed with a sprinkle of magic.

Eve Smallman
Content Editor

Hi there! I’m a content editor at Real Homes. I've been a lifestyle journalist for over five years, previously working as an editor across regional magazines. Before this, I graduated from Nottingham Trent University a degree in journalism, along with an NCTJ gold diploma. I love running, decorating my rented Victorian home, and discovering new cheeses. For Real Homes, I specialize in interior design, trends and finding the best viral buys.