What are the main interior decorating styles?

Designer, blogger and author Holly Becker has this to say about designing interiors according to a person’s unique personality:

“I have a confession to make: I do not believe in interior design by prescription. I believe in spaces that reflect the unique individuals dwelling within – their personality and their need for comfort, inspiration, restoration and embrace.”

She adds:

“The challenge for many is to find the language to translate who they are as people into the form and function of their physical space. Interior design and decorating are often an unfamiliar medium, which is why we need visual tools and a means of “cracking our own code” to help us communicate what it is that truly inspires us.”

Finding a style that resonates with you

Design styles cannot be neatly categorised, as they’re interwoven and ever evolving, but rudimentary categories can help us to find our footing, because once you’ve pinpointed which style or styles appeal to you the most, you can then figure out how to go about decorating your home.

Here are some – just some, mind you! – of the interior decorating styles most common in the West…


The traditional look is calm, comfortable and cosy. Other adjectives to describe the style would include luxurious, elegant and decorative. Traditional interiors can be somewhat predictable, but then the traditional look, as the name suggests, is not about surprises.

Here are some elements common to the traditional room: white, beige or cream walls; plush carpets; overstuffed couches with plump cushions; Chippendale or Queen Anne furniture; big beds with large fabric headboards; thick, luxurious curtains; rich wood, muted tones, curved lines and chintz; chandeliers and similarly elegant lighting; and large mirrors and picture frames, often in gold.

A traditional living room, as shown on homebunch.com.


For classical interiors, think of the Romans and Greeks. They were big into symmetry, order, balance. Hence classical interiors tend to be restful, embracing a muted or natural colour palette. Fabrics are generally elegant, but not ornate or overly showy, while floors tend to use natural materials such as wood, stone or marble. There shouldn’t be anything shiny in a classical interior, and fabrics are commonly cotton, velvet or canvas. 

The walls and ceiling embrace classical lines and embellishments, such as cornices and monochromatic stripes, panelling and columns.

A common element to classical rooms is the use of a focal point, such as a fireplace. Furniture will be arranged symmetrically around that feature to create a sense of balance and poise.


Modern tends to be characterised by clean straight lines, square edges, the use of metal, faux wood and other modern materials, bold patterns and accent colours, and smooth surfaces. It offers rooms a simple, uncluttered look.

Nowadays homeowners tend to mix the modern style with other styles, which is recommended, as the modern look can sometimes come off as impersonal. It’s the look embraced by many businesses in their office décor and waiting rooms.

Modern Victorian

As per our blog post Home décor idea: Modern Victorian a little while back, Modern Victorian is a hybrid style that dilutes Victorian-era elements – which tend to be dark, heavy and very embellished – with modern ones that help to lighten a room and make its look more palatable to modern tastes.

Often an already Victorian room, with its heavy furniture, brocade, ornate cornices and high ceilings, will be given a fresh lease on life by having light and vibrant colours thrown in, voile curtains added to replace heavy fabric ones, and modern accessories such as minimalist lamps and vases added to tone things down.  


The Scandinavians are at the forefront of interior design at the moment, and they excel at minimalist interiors, tending to prefer the pared down lifestyle. Begun in the 1980s in London and New York, minimalist interiors tend to contain little furniture in relation to their size – big open spaces are key. Colours tend to be cool, and lighting a mix of natural and white or blue.

Having clever storage spaces is important to achieving a minimalist look, as only essentials should be on display. In a world saturated with consumerism and abundance, minimalism is a popular choice with those wishing to simplify their lives and live more mindfully.

This minimalist work station is showcased on theultralinx.com.


Another style where we can learn a great deal from the Scandinavians is eclecticism.

An up-and-coming style, it embraces the mix or fusion of various different styles.  It is often characterised by bright and varied colours, though can just as easily have a neutral or muted palette and find its variety through interesting textures, patterns and prints, and/or in the varying vintage of its furniture and accessories.

Put another way, eclecticism is about juxtaposition: think Victorian wainscoting with an art deco painting above it, a vintage chest of drawers painted hot pink, and industrial overhead lighting combined with a Persian rug.

The eclectic room aims to be a stylish break from the norm. It is a ‘happy’ embrace of personal affinities and enjoys the pairing together of pieces that would not normally be considered compatible.


The urban style is aspirational, and aims to reflect the trendy, up-and-coming lifestyle of city-dwellers. You will often find such homes in revitalised downtown areas. Studio apartments are a common setting for the urban style, and because of this you will often find clever storage solutions, and open-plan spaces.

The urban style rejects the cosier elements associated with suburban homes, and incorporates objects or items more commonly associated with industrial settings, such as exposed pipes and beams, concrete flooring, and metal sidings.


Vintage involves the use of aged and antique goods, which nowadays are fashionably called “pre-owned” or – and this is somewhat twee – “pre-loved” items. Their age is supposed to show, being part of the charm. In fact, the word ‘charm’ is possibly the best word to describe this style.

In a vintage home you might find outdated furniture like armoires, cheval mirrors and roll top desks, toile couches, faded Persian carpets, Dutch plates, and a collection of old food tins. Those with a love of history tend to appreciate the ‘story’ of each item.

Unless done very well, a completely vintage room can feel sadly worn, even somewhat dirty. Vintage is often done best when antique items are carefully chosen, restored if need be, and incorporated in conjunction with the new, which offer a nice counterpoint to the historicity of the older pieces. 

Shabby chic

Shabby chic is a popular offshoot of vintage, where furniture and accessories are chosen for their old age – or are distressed to achieve the appearance of old age – but contain an element of understated class.

Craft markets and second-hand stores throughout South Africa offer much in the way of such items, as it is fast growing in popularity. Vintage mason jars, vases and doorknobs are particularly in currency, with faux articles showing up in shops everywhere. 

Country / cottage

The country or cottage look is about comfort. You tend to find hearty and bulky furniture, natural fabrics, floral prints, earthy textures, wood, rough finishes, and lots of natural lighting. Country rooms can sometimes be somewhat crowded or cluttered, but the aim is that it feel cosy and inviting.

Depending on the country you’re in, the look will have its own twist. An American country interior, for instance, may well contain stripes, which you won’t often find in a French or English country home.

A fireplace is almost mandatory.

A country living room snapshot as shared on frenchcountrycottage.net.

Other well-known styles not so popular or common in the average South African home are the old styles of Rococo, French, Victorian and Georgian, as well as art deco and retro. 

With all that under our belts, we’ll follow this blog post up with some posts that explore specific styles in more detail, and show you how to go about achieving those looks for you home. We’re excited, and hope you are too!

So the big question is … which style appeals to you the most? We’d love to hear your feedback.

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