Mixing contemporary and traditional for the best look

Spaces that are decorated with purely modern furniture and accessories are often characterless, even harsh. Think of an American pizzeria from the 50s – all smooth, shiny surfaces, solid blocks of colour or checked patterns, sharp angles, and plastic and metal. No thank you!

There’s nothing subtle, gentle, detailed, surprising or interesting about such overly modern spaces.

Older and more ornate styles – such as Japanese, French, Victorian and Edwardian – incorporate fluid lines, texture, detailed fabrics or patterns, intricacy, and opulence. The rooms of preserved English and French palaces and stately manors are of course overwhelmingly ‘busy’ to modern tastes, but were you to temper or mix those styles with the modern, you would achieve an entirely new look.

Frequently the most interesting and attractive rooms of today take the best of contrasting styles and combine them into a unique and satisfying fusion.

Mix it up

Stylist Peter Frank says, "It all comes down to contrasts: Mix hard with soft, square with round, blocky with leggy." The concept is spot on, and goes for overall style as well: mix different styles for the best result, and one great option is blending the contemporary with the traditional.

Making the same point in another way, Vicente Wolf says, "People get into trouble when they do too much of one thing." Bear this in mind when designing or decorating your home.

But we won’t leave it there – here are some more specific guidelines on how to successfully mix the styles...

Finding the right ratio

With interior design and decorating you want to create harmony and balance, don’t let that lead you into thinking that you want a 50:50 ratio of old and new. When this happens the room looks muddled and ‘undesigned’.

What you want to do is choose a dominant style and then introduce the opposing style in a few places, through the odd piece of furniture and/or carefully chosen accessories. A ratio of 80:20 is a good rule of thumb.

Transitional pieces

It can also be effective to introduce ‘halfway’ or intermediate pieces, which incorporate both styles. If you have a modern space but want to introduce an inherited antique chair, for example, you could transition the chair by painting the wood a bright modern colour, such as purple or red. Alternatively, if you have a very modern settee that you want to fit into a mostly vintage room, you could reupholster it with brocade or some other detailed fabric.

Concepts are often made most plain through examples. Let’s do some ‘case studies’ to see the principle of mixing contemporary with traditional in action.

Case study 1

Image via knightmovesblog.blogspot.com

Here we have a predominantly traditional style, with modern touches. The sofa, with its little legs and studs, the Persian rug, the dark wood table, and the lampstand with its rich design are all classic choices. The cornice adds a further classical touch.

Contrasting with these design choices are the bold, geometric patterns on the cushions and throw, and the simple lampshade.

The pictures on the wall serve as crossover elements, as old drawings are displayed in modern frames.

An aside: You always want to avoid clutter. Choose your pieces carefully, as in this room.

Case study 2

Image via Houzz

This room is mostly modern: the lucite coffee table, the wall panel, the lamps, the space-age suitcases, the yellow vase, and the bold carpet, among other things. But we also have a few throwback elements: the French-style settee adds a delightful contrasting element to the room, introducing softer lines and some old-world glamour to a potentially austere space.

There are also a few transitional touches, such as the wingback with its modern geometric print, the monochromatic but delicate and textured orange bowl, and the ornate picture frames, which are modernised by being displayed empty of pictures.

More transitional rooms…

This bathroom is predominantly modern, but the Elizabethan taps, floral towels, painting, and candlestick add softer lines and interest.

So much could be said about this classy mixed-style room, but note especially the gorgeous cornice and how it helps to connect the modern and the classical. This cornice is very similar to our Roman and Tuscan cornices.

Image via ligthandscales.com

This is clearly a very modern space, but the delicate chandelier lamp adds delightful contrast.

If you’re thinking of designing or redecorating a room, we encourage you to bear in mind our DAS products, as cornices, ceiling roses and ceiling tiles can frequently add the detailed or textured touch that will ameliorate an overly slick room. Alternatively, if you want to tone down a traditional space, our smooth, more streamlined products could offer a modern touch.


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