Cozy, homey, and welcoming. That pretty much sums up the traditional design style. It’s a style that’s neither fussy nor oversimplified. It sits (quite comfortably) somewhere in the middle. Rooms appear pleasant and pulled together, like everything belongs. You’re welcome to put your feet up, but you don’t want to leave a glass sitting out on the coffee table too long (especially if it is not resting on a coaster). Traditional design is nothing if not orderly. It’s a timeless style that’s not tied to one particular period and is open to a bit of interpretation, with many ways to keep it feeling fresh. In short, it’s the epitome of easy elegance. Here’s how to decorate in a traditional design style.
Warm up to wood.
Traditional design features an abundance of upholstered wood furnishings, usually in darker tones like oak and walnut. Most furniture pieces have a mix of straight and curved lines with handmade details, whether that’s an ornate drawer pull or a hand-carved rosette. Architectural details such as coffered ceilings and wood panels are right at home in traditional design. If you don’t have one already, a four-poster bed is the ultimate traditional design statement.
Curate accent pieces.
While not as minimalistic as modern design, traditional design exercises restraint when it comes to the number of decorative accents displayed. Traditional rooms feel organized, like everything has a place and everything is right where it should be. Rather than load rooms with a plethora of accents, traditional design curates select statement pieces worthy of display. Glass, silver, and ceramic accents are common, as is anything in the shape of a classic urn. Collections are curated before they’re displayed, whether it’s a set of dishes that’s been handed down for generations or a quirky set of salt and pepper shakers you’ve recently begun collecting.
Make your dining room a big deal.
Traditional design enthusiasts love to entertain, so the dining room is as much the heart of the home as the kitchen. As a result, traditional design dedicates real space to the dining room, so that it feels separate from the rest of the house — even if it’s furniture and not walls distinguishing the spaces. Chandeliers and crown molding draw the eyes upward, and patterned rugs in deep shades and floral patterns are usually placed underneath the dining table. Made of wood, the dining table and chairs are usually part of a matched set. Tables tend to be set with fabric placemats and napkins or tablecloths, even when not in use. Look for a complimentary china cabinet, buffet, or sideboard — the perfect place to house a collection of gold-trimmed or floral-patterned dishware.
Stick to a classic color palette.
When it’s traditional design you’re after, gravitate toward timeless colors in myriad shades instead of bright, bold, “look at me” hues. (Think neutrals and anything that feels natural and organic, like deep browns, crimsons, greens, and blues.) Upholstered furniture in rich, creamy tones are a hallmark of traditional design. Color palettes can vary depending on whether you prefer a coastal influence (blue and white) or something more European (bronze, gold, and copper). Strive for a mix of light colors on walls and darker, deeper shades for pillows, curtains and accent fabrics. Let a base of neutral tones with rich accents guide your design.
Play with prints.
Rich fabrics such as velvet, silk, and damask mixed with crisp linens and sturdy cottons are mainstays of traditional home design. And while other home design styles look to prints as accents, rooms done in a traditional home design often start with an accent print such as paisley or floral then go from there. Look for prints in a mix of deep and light colors, and don’t be afraid to mix and match upholstery, window coverings, rugs, and cozy throws to create depth and introduce texture. Patterned wallpaper and grasscloth walls are also perfectly at home in traditional design.
Ana Connery is former content director of Parenting, Babytalk, Pregnancy Planner and Conceive magazines as well as parenting.com.
While editor in chief of Florida Travel & Life magazine from 2006-2009, she covered the state’s real estate and home design market as well as travel destinations.
She’s held senior editorial positions at some of the country’s most celebrated magazines, including Latina, Fitness and Cooking Light, where she oversaw the brand’s “FitHouse” show home.
Ana’s expertise is frequently sought after for appearances on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and CNN. She has interviewed the country’s top experts in a variety of fields, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and First Lady Michelle Obama.