Decorating your home can be tricky, especially if you like the look and feel of contrasting decor. Transitional style can help you mix modern and traditional interior design, creating an aesthetic that brings together past and present to build the perfect home. The transitional interior design style is a type of contemporary decor that combines straight lines with curves, masculine and feminine features, and an old-world classic look with chrome and glass to create a stylish and comfortable home. If you’re looking to upgrade your living space, there are many ways to design a transitional style home.
To inspire you with ideas, we’ve compiled a complete guide to transitional decor that will help you understand this versatile design style. Whether you want to change the furniture, color scheme, decorative pieces, floors or lighting fixtures in your living room, bedroom or kitchen, we’ll show you how to combine traditional and contemporary designs for a refined and trendy yet casual and comfortable interior.
What Is Transitional Style?
Transitional style is the blending of traditional and modern design. Transitional interior design combines classic and contemporary architecture, styling, layout, furniture, finishes, lighting, and decorative features in a space to create a timeless look. Fundamentally, transitional decor pulls from the best of both aesthetics to form a cohesive concept that is equal parts old and new.
Traditional vs. Modern
Traditional design draws inspiration from furniture and decor styles that were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Traditional furniture and decorative items are usually made from natural materials as many of them were made in an era before furniture could be mass-produced.
Because traditional furniture was usually handmade, it often featured intricate details. Some examples of traditional furniture include claw-foot tables and wingback chairs. A traditional room may also feature carved moldings and intricately detailed woodwork as decorative accents, as well as framed art and elegantly upscale textiles. The overall effect is rich and high-end, while still being extremely comfortable and functional.
While modern interior design also started in the 19th century, it is in many ways the complete antithesis to the traditional way of doing things. Where traditional furniture and architectural details can be ornate, modern furniture and architecture are all about sleek, straight lines.
While the traditional style primarily uses natural materials, many modern furniture items are crafted from man-made materials. Fundamentally, modern decor is minimalist in nature while a traditional interior is often intentionally maximalist.
These two interior design styles don’t share very many characteristics, so they might not seem compatible and cohesive. However, transitional design manages to bring together these two disparate forms in innovative ways.
Transitional Interior Design History
While traditional and modern interior decor have been around for centuries, it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that they came together in the transitional style. In the 1940s and 1950s, many people began to embrace modern architecture which often featured clean lines, geometric shapes, open floor plans, and lots of metal and glass.
But not everyone was enthused by the starkness of modern architecture. Even people who appreciated contemporary features and elements began to long for the comfort and personal details of a classic aesthetic.
Transitional design came about as a direct response to the ubiquity of modern decorative elements by introducing classic styling into contemporary spaces. Over time, classic decor with a modern twist evolved into this distinctive new look.
The color palette of a transitional home is one place where traditional and modern decor find common ground. In traditional style, walls are typically painted in neutral tones but textiles like curtains, pillows, and rugs are frequently done in rich jewel tones. Neutral colors contribute a stately and classically refined look to transitional interiors.
With modern decor, walls can be white, grey, black or a neutral shade that would also be at home in a traditional room. In contemporary decorating, art pieces or textiles can bring in bright pops of color to deliberately contrast with the stark walls.
Unsurprisingly, a transitional room will usually be painted in neutral tones such as white, tan, beige, gray, or sand colors. More adventurous proponents of this form of design may bring in bold colors like charcoal, black, and navy for an added layer of sophistication.
No matter what neutral background color you pick, you’ll be able to introduce bold and vibrant colors by way of decorative objects like art, textiles, pillows, and unique furniture pieces. These colorful accessories and decorations are necessary to creating the right transitional style aesthetic.
Traditional and modern designs have very different philosophies when it comes to decorative items. A traditional space might feature lots of interesting pieces, while a more modern space will be sleek and uncluttered, reflecting a minimalist approach. A transitional decorating style follows the modern sensibility more closely, insofar as minimalism is concerned.
When it comes to decorative materials, transitional design pulls inspiration from both of its parent styles. Wood, rattan, and textiles made from natural fabrics are drawn from traditional decor, while materials like steel, glass, and lacquer are all nods to contemporary concepts.
Some interior designers think of traditional design as feminine and view modern style as a more masculine art form. Designers tend to turn to transitional decor when decorating a home shared by a man and woman because it fuses so-called masculine and feminine qualities.
Transitional pieces of furniture retain the comfort level and curved lines of traditional pieces but tend to do away with the decorative elements like claw feet and scrolled woodwork that are common to the style. The streamlining of these details pay homage to the sleek, understated lines of modern furniture.
Upholstered furniture might be overstuffed with goose down and wrapped in neutral, natural fabrics before being accented with colorful decorative pillows. Meanwhile, wooden furniture might be treated with a glossy lacquer or left natural depending on your taste. Transitional pieces tend to be large in size and therefore anchor a room.
Overall, the furniture you use should be sophisticated and timeless without sacrificing any comfort. Invest in sturdy, timeless furniture to achieve the right look.
Lighting and Accessories
Traditional lighting tends to be ornate and attention-grabbing – a crystal chandelier would be right at home in a traditional home. Modern lighting on the other hand is typically quite understated and might come in the form of pendant lighting or something similarly unadorned.
Once again, transitional lighting will feature elements from both styles of design. Lighting in this style frequently mimics the large size and intricate shape of traditional light fixtures, but they incorporate more modern finishes like sleek chrome or brushed metal.
When it comes to choosing modern flooring, the sky is the limit. You can select flooring made from a diverse array of materials, including wood, bamboo, stone, laminate, tile, cork, concrete, and more.
Traditional homes are at the opposite end of the spectrum, as floors are almost always made out of hardwood without exception. Traditional hardwood flooring is often made out of birch, cherry, or maple, and are stained a rich, dark brown or a deep red.
Like traditional flooring, transitional floors are generally made out of hardwood. However, it gets a modern facelift courtesy of lighter stains. Transitional flooring is frequently whitewashed or warmed up with a golden, honey-colored stain.
If you’re feeling extra bold, you can lay these hardwood floors down in a chevron or herringbone pattern to add visual interest. You can also utilize tile in the bathroom and kitchen for added modern flair. Hexagonal tiles add a stylish and forward-thinking element to a space.
Traditional homes usually separate their spaces into distinct rooms. They also often feature interesting historical details. Modern homes with their open floor plans and minimalist decoration are at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Once again, transitional style perfectly marries these two competing aesthetics. A home decorated in this manner often keeps the open floor plan but also incorporates interesting architectural details.
These features might include wainscoting, crown molding, a chair rail, or a coffered ceiling. Intricate details like these can have a big impact in an open layout
When it comes to decorating a living room, your existing space will inform your choice of furnishings. If your living room has an open layout and minimal architectural details, you can bring in traditional furniture as a counterbalance.
Some examples of this would be a plush Chesterfield sofa with a wooden frame, large leather club chairs, antique accent tables, and tables with elaborately carved feet and legs. Queen Anne, Chippendale, and Victorian-style furnishings can all bring in those classic elements.
If your space features architectural details like scrolled wood trim or crown molding, your furniture should reflect a modern sensibility to create balance. You should still seek out large, overstuffed, comfortable furniture, but the lines should be clean and sleek instead of curved.
Generally speaking, upholstered furniture should be in neutral colors to blend in with the walls and floors, while accent pieces bring in bold pops of color. A jewel-toned overdyed rug with a subtle pattern can play off of an assortment of bright decorative pillows.
You can also juxtapose abstract art with more classic pieces that incorporate the same colors as the textiles. Don’t be afraid to bring in multiple textures, too. Accents like chrome picture frames, brushed metal light fixtures, and soft faux fur throws can add warmth and character to the space.
When you bring transitional design into the bedroom, the right bed frame can provide an interesting focal point and anchor the design of the rest of the room. If your master bedroom features decorative accents like wainscoting, a sleek wooden bed frame done in a chevron pattern can streamline the space. If your room is already simple and understated, bring in a tufted upholstered headboard in navy, gray, or beige for a more luxe look.
When it comes to bedding, you can choose neutral shades like gray or cream, or bring in vibrant colors like garnet or eggplant, or forest green. Instead of using bedding with a busy pattern, you can choose a solid-colored pintuck or smocked duvet for a fun textural element. Bring in decorative pillows in an assortment of colors and materials to add further layers of interest. If you use any patterns, keep them understated and tone-on-tone.
A more ornate room should feature sleek and simple nightstands. They could be L-shaped end tables with metal legs and a marble top, or sleek chrome cylindrical night tables. If your bedroom lacks architectural details, bring in antique Victorian or Queen Anne nightstands. Whatever route you choose, ensure that your dresser matches the style of these tables. Table lamps for your nightstands should be simple and clean to help offset the ornate tables.
How To Get The Transitional Design Style
- Use neutral colors on the walls like cream, beige, taupe, and gray
- Incorporate bold pops of color through textiles and artwork
- Select natural fabrics with varied textures like linen, corduroy, suede, leather, cotton, and chenille
- Complement neutral walls with hardwood floors that have been whitewashed or stained with warm, light colors
- Furniture should feature simple and classic lines, but still be comfortable, warm and cozy
- Furniture, lighting fixtures, and other decorative elements are often large in scale for comfort while making a fashion statement
- Use a combination of new and antique furniture
- Accessories should be minimal and understated