Interior Design

This Catchall Design Style Is the Easiest to Recreate

...and you're probably already incorporating it in your home.

March 23, 2022
Photo by Julia Gartland

People usually fall into one of two camps when it comes to labeling their interior design style. Some find the idea of ascribing to a decor category too prescriptive and prefer to march to the beat of their own drum, while others like the guidance that comes with identifying as someone who likes “farmhouse modern” or “grandmillenial” decor. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. While I think it can be a bit restrictive to look to just one design style as your North Star, I also think it’s an easy way to help contextualize all the options for homeowners who may feel a bit unsure of their personal preferences.

Luckily, there’s a style that falls right into this not-strict-but-not-directionless sweet spot: transitional design. First emerging on the scene in the 1950s as a pendulum-like response to the stark modern era, transitional design has since become an increasingly-popular catch-all term for designers and homeowners that prefer a look that mixes some traditional design elements (think: elegant moldings, classic proportions, and sophisticated furniture silhouettes) with aspects of modern and contemporary design (like added livability, neutral-but-better color palettes, and thoughtful accessories).

Basically, you can think of transitional design as a way to capture the best of both worlds—a room that feels welcoming, with all manner of modern sensibilities, coupled with a space that is classic and timeless. In the most basic sense, nothing is off-limits. Instead, it’s about striking a balance between comfort and sophistication, with an emphasis on what feels good to you—and in your home. The best part? Because transitional design incorporates aspects of modern and contemporary design, it will morph over time, evolving to encompass emerging trends and adjusting to your needs and desires for your home, all while staying rooted in several hallmarks of classic design.

So how does transitional design look exactly? Glad you asked. Most transitional design schemes start with a flexible neutral foundation—something you can layer on top of and help come alive with accessories. Start by painting your walls a calming shade, whether that's a dove grey, creamy white, or mushroomy taupe, then accent that base with furniture that boasts classic shapes (think: oversized club chairs or a roll-arm sofa) and textural interest (like nubby bouclé upholstery or a velvet ottoman).

Points of architectural interest—like built-ins, crown molding, and arched doorways—are also common in transitional design, so highlight those already present in your home, or add your own. From there, feel free to play into any modern or of-the-moment accents you’re feeling, like a subtly patterned rug or the cozy throw you spotted on TikTok. Incorporate meaningful artwork and accessories, as well as a few hits of metal—brass and polished nickel go particularly well with this style. A touch of patina is always welcome in transitional design too, like a gorgeous antique desk you picked up during your last flea market trip or an all-wood coffee table with just the right amount of wear. Finish things off with a few “lived-in” moments, like your favorite coffee table books or beloved lavender candle, and you’ve got all the makings for a cozy, transitional space straight out of a Nancy Meyer’s film.

Chances are, at this point, the elements of transitional design are feeling a bit familiar to you—and that’s for good reason! Many people (whether intentionally or not) often gravitate to transitional design due to its intuitive approach. By utilizing just a few key classic design principles and incorporating modern touches you love, you can easily curate a home that feels purposeful, timeless, and true to you.

What design style does your home implement the most? Would you consider it transitional? Tell us in the comments below!

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