You’ve heard that opposites attract, right? Well, it’s just as true in style as in love! We get asked how to combine modern and traditional furniture all the time. So many people want to know how to merge these two styles without their space looking jumbled and confused. Other people wonder if it’s even possible for these two styles to co-exist!
So, can you mix modern and traditional styles? Absolutely. And there’s not one right way to do it. Unlike more “pure” styles like mid-century modern or bohemian, modern traditional decor can take on many different looks and be done in so many ways. Of course, endless possibilities can feel overwhelming. So, today we’re sharing 15 tips on how to bring a modern traditional home to life! Find the looks you love below and use the tips to bring modern traditional style into your space!
1. Go for a Traditional Layout
Symmetrical layouts are a huge part of traditional decor. Embracing this design principle in your room’s design can give your space a traditional feel, even if the furniture is not super classic. In this space, the furniture leans more contemporary, with hints of traditional design elements balanced by sleek forms. However, the symmetrical layout gives the room a formal air and feels very traditional. This is a simple, sneaky way to merge modern and traditional design.
You could also do the opposite and arrange traditional furniture in an asymmetrical layout!
2. Remix Traditional Forms
Look for furniture that has traditional silhouettes or classic-inspired shapes but that have been remixed in a fresh and modern way, with clean, sleek lines. Pieces wrought-iron beds are a staple of classic design. But if you want to blend modern and traditional decor, you can take the idea of a classic piece and give it a modern facelift by removing ornate details and going for a cleaner silhouette. The bed pictured here was brought to life in a more contemporary, streamlined form—making it feel both modern and traditional at the same time.
3. Layer Traditional Furniture Over a Modern Rug
A great way to create a modern traditional living room or bedroom? Choosing more traditional furniture forms, but layering a modern rug beneath. In this bedroom, we paired a bold, geometric rug (that feels decidedly modern) with a traditional four-poster bed. The combination works because the other decor in the room is relatively simple, letting these two statement pieces do the talking.
4. Ground Mod Furniture With a Vintage Rug
On the other hand, you could also start with modern furniture, paired with a vintage-inspired rug! (The approach you take simply depends on if you’re more drawn to modern or traditional furniture forms.) Vintage patterns, like what you see on the rug above, makes a big statement in a room—helping set the tone of the whole space and balancing out the contemporary furniture.
5. Insert Traditional Staples
There are certain pieces of furniture that are touchstones of traditional design—slipcovered sofas and wingback chairs being two staples. Integrating iconic pieces like these in an otherwise modern space is a perfect way to bridge the gap between old and new, traditional and modern.
In this living room, a slipcovered sofa and wingback chair are the foundational pieces, but everything else—from the wall color to the clean lines of the other furniture pieces—leans modern. You can modernize even further by opting for traditional pieces with a more streamlined, less ornate shape. (Like we mentioned in our second tip, above!) Here, both traditional pieces have cleaner lines, making them feel both modern and traditional at the same time.
6. Bridge the Divide With Natural Materials
Modern design can feel very futuristic. In a modern space, you’ll see a lot of manufactured materials, like tubular steel, plastics, and plywood, which were born out of the Industrial Age. In contrast, traditional design is much older and uses more natural and hand-crafted materials like wood and leather. That may make the divide between modern and traditional styles feel wide—but the use of woven natural materials can help bridge the gap! Soft, woven materials like jute, sisal, seagrass, or cane add texture and create a neutral backdrop that helps modern and traditional pieces coexist. Think of these materials as the glue that holds these two disparate styles together!
7. Apply Traditional Materials to Modern Forms
Like we just mentioned, traditional interior design uses more natural materials—like wood, wool, leather, and cloth—than modern design. So, a fun way to blend modern and traditional design styles is to look for pieces that use traditional materials but in very modern forms.
This dining table for example—it features gorgeous wood with live-edge detailing. This kind of wood especially, where you can see the character and graining, is decidedly traditional. But the simplicity of the design and the sleek metal legs feel very modern. The modern elements are then balanced out by the rest of the decor, which leans more elegant and classic.
8. Opt for Antique Forms Rendered in Modern Materials
The inverse approach to the suggestion above? Keeping your forms more traditional and antique-inspired, but giving them an update through the materials with which they’re made. This is a fun way to juxtapose old and new within a single piece of furniture.
In this design, we brought this idea to life through both the sofas and the side tables. Pedestal side tables are a classic move in traditional spaces—but here, instead of wood, these tables are made of brass. (And they have a more modern foot design as well!) And then there are the sofas. They have a classical camelback shape, with a fully visible wooden base and bench seat—all typical elements of antique sofas. But the seaglass velvet upholstery? It’s decidedly modern, bringing these sofas into the 21st century with ease. (And a whole lot of style.)
9. Insert an Iconic Modern Piece
Tulip tables were originally designed by industrial designer and architect Eero Saarinen in the 1950s. And since then, this dining table style has become an iconic symbol of modern design. When creating a modern traditional dining room, we love the idea of pairing an iconic design staple like this with other pieces that feel decidedly traditional, like these cane dining chairs. This is certainly a more eclectic approach to combining these two styles—but we think it’s a fun and bold way to mix eras and styles!
10. Balance Traditional Foundations with Modern Accents
Something that will make a space lean traditional is choosing foundational furniture that has traditional design elements—like weathered wood, turned legs, or molding on cabinets. But we love balancing out these old-school moments with more contemporary and streamlined accents. Here, we started with a large, traditional cabinet and a weathered wood desk but balanced them out with a sleek desk chair and clean, transitional lighting. Keeping the color palette neutral but high contrast is the perfect way to blend transitional and traditional styles for a look that feels truly timeless.
11. Go Modern in Your Core Furniture and Traditional in Your Accents
Some people love the sleek, clean lines of modern furniture—but they still crave moments of traditionally inspired design. If this is the case for you, ground your space in traditional style by laying down an antique or vintage-inspired rug. Since rugs cover so much space, it helps set the tone for a room. You can then layer in pops of traditional accent furniture and decor throughout—say, through a side table, antique painting, or more traditional light fixture. This is also a great approach if you want to decorate with antiques in a modern space.
12. Stick With Minimal Surface Styling
The way to make sure neither modern or traditional moments in a room talk too loudly? Minimal surface styling. (Like we did here, with this nightstand.) By keeping things simple but stylish, you can let the larger pieces in your room sit in the spotlight and set the style tone for the room. However, when using this approach, opt for highly textured elements like a ribbed vase, greenery, or a lamp with detailing for more of a visual impact.
13. Seek Scalloped Designs
There are certain motifs that feel very traditional—and scallops are one of them. So, even small uses of a scalloped form, like the scalloped mirror and side table in this living room, can make a contemporary space feel slightly more traditional. When you pair these visual elements with more modern or contemporary furniture, you get a look that effortlessly mixes the past with the present.
14. Add An Eclectic Touch In Decor
If you prefer traditionally inspired furniture, but want to make sure your room feels like it was designed in the 21st century, add a touch of the eclectic in your decor. Abstract artwork or an eclectic collection of pillows and small decor pieces add a little personality and quirkiness to a traditional space. Just make sure you keep the color palette consistent so the eclectic pieces don’t feel random.
15. Hang a Tapestry (Or Other Traditional-Inspired Art)
Another great way to add some traditional balance to a modern space? Hanging traditional wall art. Tapestries are a favorite way to do this; tapestries are a medium that originates from the middle ages and they add an old-world feel to any space. Bonus points if your tapestry features one of our current favorite trends: botanical motifs. However, if a tapestry feels a little too old-school, you could also go for a more traditional painting or print—say, a landscape painting, a still life featuring a vase of flowers, or an antique-inspired portrait.
Want some help acing the modern traditional decor look?