Navigating through the different interior design styles is one of the first things I do when meeting new clients. Sure, many of them come to me wanting a Scandinavian look, but they are usually surprised to find out that while there are checklists out there of what a Nordic interior is, it isn’t that simple in real life…
This article is part of a new series called ‘Find Your Style‘, in which I am addressing some guiding principles, nuances, and challenges to take the guesswork out of designing your home.
Let’s start with a description of 10 popular style and their particularities. To truly understand what you love and gravitate towards, as well as to clarify your vision and goals for your home, this crash course in interior design styles is a necessary first step. So let’s dive in!
P.S. I am not discussing Scandinavian interior design just yet – I am keeping this for the next article in this series, along with inspiration on how to mix the Nordic style with the ones presented below.
P.P.S. Note that I specifically searched for pictures that would exemplify each style the best way possible, in a pure, straightforward expression. Some visuals below might even hurt your eyes (you’ve been warned!) while others might make your heart sing.
A Traditional style is all about ornate interiors rooted in heritage and inspired by regal homes from hundreds of years ago, especially during the Queen Anne era. They are characterized by formality and symmetry, with traditional shapes and forms. Typically, the furniture will have intricate designs, with curved cabriole legs, pad feet, and embellishment carvings, and will be made of walnut, cherry or maple wood. Traditional interiors are decorated with lots of antiques and heirlooms. Floral, plaids and paisley patterns can be found on drapes, pillow or rugs. Bronze and iron are the metallics of choice, and they complement perfectly the earthy color palette of beige, brown and cream. It is a warm, comforting, calm and predictable style.
Here’s a style with freedom of expression that favors personal taste above design principles. Bohemian is a playful, carefree, casual and lived in look, with an exotic and/or beachy vibe. It is also described as a layered style, as it uses a mix-and-match of numerous decorative accents collected over time, such as plants (the more, the better), handmade items, wall hanging, vintage finds, and travel souvenirs. The boho style embraces a global vibe, and borrows elements from design styles in various cultures: tribal patterns, thick Berber or Persian rugs, floor pillows, beaded embellishments, etc. Natural fibers and materials like wood, linen, jute, burlap, caning, rattan and bamboo are prominent, and they are typically combined with gold, silver and jewel tones* like emerald, purple, ruby and yellow. A key element for a successful boho look is layers upon layers of textures. It is a style that invites you to hang out, get cozy, and “chill”.
*We’ve seen a lot of boho interiors with a warm, earthy palette and lots of white in recent years; that’s what happens when you mix two styles together (more on that later). Can you guess which one?
Inspired by a rural lifestyle, farmhouse interiors are rustic, inviting and comfortable, with lots of character and charm. They have a hint of traditional but without the formality. Materials like reclaimed wood, wrought iron and leather are a must, and this style calls for barn doors, butcher blocks countertop, apron front sinks, shiplap, and utilitarian fixtures. Plaid is the pattern of choice. Typically, a farmhouse interior features a mix of antiques, flea market finds, accessories with upcycled pieces, vintage boxes and signage, Edison lightbulbs, etc. You can make the look more modern with crisp white walls, simpler lines, and newer pieces, especially with lighting.
This style evokes luxury, opulence and glamour. Everything should be eye-catching, and refinement is favored over comfort and even practicality. A glam interior can be bold and a little over the top, with sparkly accessories, mirrored surfaces, and tactile, sumptuous surfaces. Sequins, crystal, acrylic, glass and glittering metallics are combined with rich textiles like suede, velvet, faux-fur, satin and silk, as well as buttery soft leather and marble. You will often see unusual forms, exotic materials, bold wallpaper, and lots of statement pieces. Soft pastel hues create a glam interior with traditional elegance, while jewel-toned colors provide a more dramatic look.
This style is exemplified by a loft in a converted warehouse or factory in an urban environment – Think open plan, large metal windows, brick walls, exposed pipes, beams and air ducts, and with concrete, unfinished wood, steel and leather elements. Utilitarian lighting in black or distressed metal and vintage furniture are combined with modern elements, creating a considered and layered look where the old meets the new. Straight lines and square shapes contribute to the style, which is typically described as more masculine. A neutral palette brings softness, while a few unexpected touches like a colorful artwork add personality.
The name says it all – This style is inspired by seaside (or lakefront) retreats with a casual, beachy atmosphere. Nature is brought inside, with light and white-washed wood, and furnishings in a palette of creams, pale browns, blues, and greens, against a crisp white backdrop. The usual decorative accents include seashells, ropes, sea glass, maps, and other nautical-inspired accents. You’ll find mostly natural upholstery like linen, as well as seagrass, wicker, and stripe patterns. The look is fresh, bright and airy.
7. Mid-century modern
While it originates from the Bauhaus movement in Germany, MCM is an American design movement from the ‘50s and ‘60s popularize by European immigrants, and the term is now broadly used around the world to describe the style. A driving force behind it was the newly available technologies and materials after the war, making it easier to produce furniture and accessories in plastic, vinyl and plywood, with thinner frames and new shapes. Several pieces designed in this period have stood the test of time, thanks to a focus on function, simple and clean lines, and purposeful details. In MCM interiors, you will see lots of warm wood, minimalist silhouettes, geometrical shapes, and natural fibers. The palette consists mostly of white and colors like pewter grey, red, golden yellow, ochre, tangerine, teal blue, aqua, and wasabi green. The style is also characterized by a strong emphasis on lighting, as well as vintage decorative pieces while remaining uncluttered and minimal.
Modern is a broad term that is often misused and thrown around a lot to describe interiors, but it actually takes its roots from the distinctive architectural style from the early 1900s to the 1950s. It is similar to MCM because the emphasis is on function, simple lines, and the look is uncluttered, minimal and without fluff. But it is seen as less lively than MCM, with bulkier furniture with square shapes and forms, and typically with little curves in sight. The color palette also has more earthy, monochromatic tendencies -mostly black with whites, creams, beiges and greys- and with the occasional splash of colors, especially yellow, red and blue. An absence of decorative elements characterizes the modern style, but we will see a good amount of materials like metal, wood and leather are mostly used, with reflective surfaces such as chrome and glass.
A minimalist-designed space, just like the modern style, has very clean lines and an uncluttered look with little decorative objects. It follows the mantra that ‘less is more’. Quality rules over quantity, and each piece is selected to serve a purpose. It does not rely on trends and doesn’t require a specific type/shape of furniture like other styles -although unnecessary adornments are a no-go- because it is first and foremost a state of mind, a way of life. Negative space is embraced, and where some see an “empty” room, others revel in its serenity. The simplicity is carried through the color palette, which is usually pared down and monochromatic. A minimalist style also makes any space look bigger, but making the space look warm and inviting is a challenge; complimenting textures is often the key.
Although it shares a lot of similarities to the modern style, this one is more fluid because since the term refers to the ‘now’, it is constantly evolving. You will find the aesthetic to be minimal, with a mix of straight lines, some geometric patterns, and natural materials like glass, stone and wood, but also more curves, distinctive sculptural pieces, and purer colors for a fresh look and feel. Black and white are often used to create stronger contrasts, while a modern style has an earthy, layered palette. There is also a strong emphasis on functionality, but comfort and sophistication are also important. Contemporary interiors are often open, clean, and bright.
This list shows a range of avenues you can take when styling your home, but it is by no means exhaustive. There are many more out there, some with blurred boundaries and even sub-styles – Shabby chic, Hollywood Regency, British colonial, Tuscan, Victorian, and romantic, among others.
See this article as a simple self-reflection exercise to help you better understand what you like, and to identify a few principles that can guide you when narrowing down your own interior design style.
Did you enjoy this article? Come and tell me in the community, and share which style you think you gravitate towards to the most. If you have any questions regarding this topic, do not hesitate to ask here.
Photo: Farrow & Ball