Something that comes up pretty frequently in chats over design is the never ending evolution of interior design styles. Lots of us struggle to sort through all the hype and understand how we can apply the styles we like in our homes. Whether you are looking to define it, refine it or redesign it, most of us can’t resist finding out where we fall on the design spectrum.
Figuring out your design style and developing your style’s own direction can definitely be overwhelming. Especially since there are now literally dozens of catchy new design style off-shoots that have popped up in the last few years. I see them splashed all over home magazine covers at the grocery store every week. It can be tricky because there is so much overlap and criss-crossing that happens, the options seem limitless.
To simplify things a bit, I have put together a list of 5 distinct design styles that I see on a recurring basis. Keep in mind that these are broad groupings, but will get you narrowing in on a particular style. From there it becomes a lot easier to make more personalized style choices.
Although they are two different styles, modern and contemporary are very similar to each other and frequently used interchangeably. True modern style is rooted in a minimalist ideal, strictly adhering to the streamlined furniture and architecture from the original design concept from the 1930s.
What we tend to see more commonly now is considered contemporary. It is a little more current and fluid, includes more curved lines and offers more flexibility in the design.
Both styles are described as clean and sleek, without a lot of clutter or accessories. They have crisp lines, a simple colour palette and use materials that include metal, glass and steel. Contemporary design favours solid colours, mainly muted neutrals with splashes of bold colours in the furniture and accessories. It integrates graphic elements in artwork or as accents. Furniture is sleek, slightly lower to the ground and often has metal frames or straight legs. There is an emphasis on the basic shape and forms of things as a part of its aesthetic appeal.
Contemporary living room. Photo by Brandon Barre
This living room shows off many contemporary elements with its crisp lines, low furniture, metal legs and bold red accents.
New twist: Add an industrial feel to create warmth and visual appeal in a modern space.
Contemporary living room with a touch of industrial warmth.
Traditional design includes classic details, plush furnishings and an abundance of accessories. Overall these homes have rich colour palettes, a variety of textures and curved lines. They embrace more elaborate, ornate details in the furnishings and fabrics and include a variety of patterns and textures that are meticulously coordinated.
There’s a depth in traditional designs achieved through the layering of elegant and more formal details. The formality is highlighted by decorative rugs, plush upholstery and significant draperies or window coverings. Furniture pieces are often more elaborate and often include winged back chairs and claw footed tables. While the rooms’ backdrop is often pale and simple, rich colours and profiles bring a sense of classical luxury into the space. These interiors can be enhanced with warm bronze or gold accents.
New twist: “New” traditional adds a slightly different flare by using softer colours, more graphic patterns or painting pieces unexpected colours.
Transitional is a very popular style and can lead homeowners towards some very unique and interesting designs. It is characterized by simplicity and a timeless feel, borrowing from both traditional and modern design. It gives a sense of balance, creating a space that’s not quite formal without necessarily being casual.
Transitional design has a rather neural colour palette and uses texture and composition more than colour to define the space. Neutral, quiet colours such as vanilla, grey and beige are at home in transitional style. White is also a timeless colour selection. It creates a calm and relaxed setting that feels both stylish and sleek, while still feeling warm and inviting. A transitional design may include modern materials like steel and glass, but combine them with plush furnishings with cleaner lines to finish off the look.
New twist: Add a touch of rustic to give greater depth to your transitional design. This could be leather, wood, seagrass or cork
Eclectic style can be a challenging styles to pull off. It borrows elements from several other design styles and can give your space a sense of imagination with unexpected contrasts. Eclectic style offers a lot of variation and layering, creating a rhythm that animates the interior without being overwhelming.
The key to this style is that it is not just about throwing together everything and anything. It relies heavily on the basic building blocks of design such as colour, pattern and texture to make the space look cohesive. Fabric and texture play an important part in the aesthetic, striking harmony through a variety of tones, composition and balance. When done well, eclectic style can be a comfortable mix of old and new that immediately makes visitors feel at home.
New twist: Mixing metal finishes.
This look is becoming really popular with its light and breezy feel and beach inspired accessories. Fresh, relaxed and versatile, you’ll often see a blend of blues, aqua, white, tan and cream mixed with white or grey washed wood that mimics driftwood. This style takes organic inspiration to new heights incorporating natural elements and materials like sisal rugs, seagrass wall coverings and gold accents.
Let me know what your favourite design style is in the comments below.
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