A great way to create a look for your home that is uniquely yours is by mixing design styles. This gives you more freedom and flexibility when decorating your home, and the end result is a curated, collected reflection of your personal taste. While you can’t mix different styles willy-nilly with good results, creating an eclectic look doesn’t have to be difficult if you have a little basic style knowledge and some simple design tips.
Main Design Style Categories
It helps to have a little background on the three general categories that styles typically fall into so that when you see a piece, you recognize the style.
Traditional style is based on historical designs—think fancy silhouettes and plenty of ornamentation. Wood pieces like dining tables, chairs, and bedroom furniture typically have stacked molding and carving. Upholstered pieces like sofas, loveseats, and chairs typically have rolled or set-back arms, button tufting, and are more likely to have a shaped back or wings. Traditional style typically uses more subdued colors, darker wood finishes, and has a formal, elegant feel.
Modern/contemporary style embraces clean lines and minimal ornamentation, creating a look that focuses on function and simple silhouettes without unnecessary details. Tables and bedroom furniture typically have either thin, tapered legs or thick, squared-off legs and may incorporate materials like metal and glass. Upholstered pieces frequently have geometric track arms and thin legs. Modern/contemporary style tends to use more bold colors, lighter wood finishes, and has a fresh, urban, or possibly retro feel.
Transitional Like the name suggests, transitional style is a happy medium between traditional and modern/contemporary style. It has some of the same silhouettes as traditional furniture, but pieces aren’t as ornamented for a less formal, updated look. Dining tables, chairs, and bedroom furniture may have basic molding, and upholstered pieces may have simplified versions of details found on their traditional cousins, like rolled arms. Transitional style tends to use more warm neutral colors and has an inviting, timeless feel.
How to Mix and Match Different Styles
Armed with a sense of what makes up traditional, modern/contemporary, or transitional style, you’re ready to start mixing and matching to create a look that feels artfully pulled together.
1. 80/20 Rule
One simple way to keep your room feeling cohesive is using 80% of one dominant style and sprinkling in 20% of a secondary style. In practice, use the dominant style to guide your decisions about your color palette, larger furniture, and flooring, and your secondary style to choose accessories like accent furniture and wall art. For example, in this living room we use a traditional sofa, loveseat, and chairs with set-back rolled arms and bun feet, but we’ve paired them with more a more contemporary rug, artwork, decor, and tables for contrast.
A solid color scheme is one of the keys to good design and goes a long way towards unifying any room, especially one with a mix of different styles. If you need a starting point, choose colors from a rug or artwork for an easy shortcut to colors that work well together. Another simple way to create a harmonious color palette is to choose furniture and accessories in the same color family, like browns or blues. Whatever your color scheme, repeat the same colors throughout the room to bring your different styles together. Here, we used the blues, oranges, and yellows from the rug in the chairs, accent pillow, vases, and other accessories.
3. Scale and Shape
Another key detail to pay attention to when choosing pieces is their scale and shape. Keeping items in the same scale makes them look like they belong with each other and ensures that they will function together. If you have a sprawling, low-to-the-ground sectional and a tiny cocktail table, the difference in scale will make them look mismatched and may make them uncomfortable to use together. The overall shape of a piece can have a similar effect. If you have a contemporary sofa with a strong geometric look, a cocktail table with a shaped top and curved cabriole legs may look out of place, but a similarly geometric table would work well. For this room, we took a transitional sofa, loveseat, and ottoman with a traditional brown leather application and squared-off arms and paired them with geometric modern/contemporary tables, lamps with geometric bases and shades, and an angular bookshelf.
4. Repeated Elements
Just like color, other design elements can bring your space together. Repeating things like texture, pattern, and material throughout the room makes it feel like your different pieces were chosen intentionally instead of randomly selected. In this room we focused on texture, choosing a sofa, loveseat, and ottoman with a more textured fabric and pairing them with washed wood tables, fuzzy blankets, and woven baskets. We also incorporated hints of metal throughout the room with the tables, the basket that’s holding the blanket, and in the lamps.
5. Commit to a Mood
Think about the overall feel you want to create for your space. If you want a living room that feels warm and inviting, mixing in a very formal sofa or a super-modern mirrored cocktail table would go against that vibe, while a simpler cocktail table with a painted or weathered finish would enhance that feeling. In this room we paired a traditional-leaning brown leather sofa, loveseat, and recliner with a neutral-toned oriental carpet, transitional tables with weathered grey tops, lamps with washed white bases, and simple artwork for a feel that has a little traditional elegance but is overall cozy and lived-in.
When you know the hallmarks of the three basic design styles and how to effectively combine them, it’s easy to create an eclectic space that looks great. Simply follow the 80/20 rule, repeat colors and other design elements throughout the room, pay attention to scale and shape, commit to a mood for your space, then enjoy a home that reflects your unique personal taste.