While prescribing to a particular style is not necessary, knowing and understanding the elements of the most popular aesthetic can help lay your own design groundwork. Perhaps you’re new to the design world or just on the search for a style to call your own—either way, studying popular design styles is a great jump-start for inspiration.
Online design firm Decorist says the top five most requested styles are, in order of popularity (drumroll, please): traditional, modern, transitional, eclectic, and mid-century modern. We asked five interior designers to describe each style and explain how to incorporate the classic look (either lightly or full-on) into your home. This class is in session, students, so please open your books to page 101 in popular design styles.
Decorist’s most requested style is more complex than you might expect. “I think traditional style has many interpretations,” says Decorist celebrity designer Charlotte Lucas. “To me, traditional style is about designing with classic pieces and design elements.” But traditional style today doesn’t have to feel like your grandmother’s house, says Lucas. It tends to incorporate timeless and classic elements, but it can also be personalized according to who’s living in the space.
Traditionalist Made Easy
If you prescribe to traditional design, you might like some classic antique or antique-inspired pieces, like Louis XVI chairs, marble-top French commodes, mahogany dining tables, and gilt mirrors. Lucas says to not overlook small details on furniture, like passementeries, fringes, and tiebacks. And a fun, printed Oushak rug can add a lot of warmth and personality to a room.
“Modern as a style is usually about clean lines, thoughtful details, and a focus on sleek, honest materials—think beautifully veined marble, refined metals, and glass,” says Dan Mazzarini, principal of BHDM Design. Modern is actually pretty timeless, says Mazzarini. The style should be able to sit in a space today just as beautifully and relevantly as it did when it was first designed.
Modernism Made Easy
For furnishings, there are lots of classics that fit the bill, from Knoll to the classic Barcelona coffee table. “There are also many contemporary pieces that check the ‘modern’ boxes—BDDW, Ferm, and showrooms like Fair by Brad Ford all carry great pieces with honesty and a more contemporary twist,” says Mazzarini.
Somewhere in between modern and traditional elements lies transitional design. The mish-mash design style is meant to make a space feel approachable, finding the sweet spot between stark minimalism and kitschy traditional design. “Transitional design should feel not only welcoming but also clean, current, and fresh,” says Shea McGee, founder of Studio McGee.
Transitional Made Easy
If you’re wanting to incorporate transitional design into your home, don’t worry about matchy-matchy elements. If your home is more minimalist, warm your space up with wood, textiles, and layers. If you’re starting from a more formal traditional home, use clean-lined pieces and streamlined silhouettes to break up the formality.
Natural materials and sleek elements make an easy transitional piece, like a Hans J Wegner Wishbone chair or a Pierre Jeanneret chair. “Mixing metal and glass in a streamlined and clean way also brings in a transitional feel,” says McGee. Think of quick swaps, like a simple globe pendant or sleek desk, as an easy starting place.
“Anything goes, as long as everything means something to you,” says Decorist celebrity designer Max Humphrey. Eclectic design is mostly personal, so it’s really up to the homeowner to define it. While naturally there are fewer rules with eclectic than other styles, there are tips to follow to make it look its best. “I define an eclectic room by each individual piece of furniture, lighting, art, and accessories standing on its own,” says Humphrey. “I think a great room is full of stuff collected over time and is a mix of high-end and low-end, new and vintage, and a mix of styles.”
Eclectic Made Easy
Woods do not have to match, nor do metal finishes, and patterns can be mixed with abandonment—go wild! “The type of pieces that fit into an eclectic style is something like a Chinese coffee table mixed with a cleaned-lined mid-century-modern sofa and vintage lamps that were hand-me-downs from your grandma,” says Humphrey.
This beloved style comes in as number five on Decorist’s popular list. The style is widely referenced, but it has a pretty strict classification. Mid-century modern has roots in earlier styles, like Germany’s Bauhaus movement, and was also largely influenced by minimalist Scandinavian design. Furniture and architecture for mid-century are usually designed with form first of mind, and then function—but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. “There’s also a playfulness in the furniture and graphic design of that time that’s hard to resist,” interior designer Jessica Hansen previously told us.
Mid-Century Modern Made Easy
This classic style has stood the test of time due to its sleek minimalism with pops of cleverness. Some of its most interesting pieces toe the line between classic elements with nontraditional materials, like plastic, fiberglass, vinyl, Lucite, and plywood details. Look for classic pieces, like the iconic Poul Henningsen PH5 Pendant Lamp, Isamu Noguchi Akari Table Lamp, and Eames Lounge Chair.
Keep studying the classics:
Don’t Know Your Interior Design Style? Ask Yourself These 9 Questions
Sure, Art Deco Is Nice, But Have You Heard of Art Nouveau?
And Suddenly, Tobia Scarpa Sofas Were Everywhere