When couples move in together, they often struggle with how to combine their design styles. We often have couples asking about how to merge their different styles into one look or what to do when each partner wants something totally different out of their space. So much of this comes down to favoring different styles. And one of the most common style combination struggles is when one partner loves modern design and the other is more of a traditionalist.
Mixing traditional and contemporary design elements can be quite a challenge since they’re on opposite ends of the design spectrum. Not only are the lines and shapes present in modern and traditional spaces quite different—but the sheer amount of stuff in a traditional vs modern space tends to be quite opposite. While not always the case, modern spaces tend to have a more pared-back, minimalist bent, whereas traditional spaces lean more maximalist, with more going on visually.
But with design, as in love, opposites attract. And you can create quite a beautiful, comfortable home by combining traditional and modern design sensibilities. Since this is a combination we see often among Modsy customers, we want to outline some tips on how to combine modern and traditional furniture pieces. But before we get to the couples’ design tips, let’s define our terms.
Traditional Interior Design
Traditional design often refers to older Americana styles of Colonial and Craftsman. But, as Traditional design ideas rise in popularity, designers are also pulling inspiration from British design. (Think: English manor house or countryside cottage.)
Traditional spaces tend to feature dark wood furnishings. Craftsman and Colonial furnishings have minimal ornamentation, while Victorian-era furniture pieces lean a bit more ornate and detailed. Patterned and leather upholstery are both common in traditional style, as are wallpapered walls, slipcovered sofas, and finishing details like wainscotting and crown molding. In terms of color schemes, a blue and white palette is a classic traditional look. But for those who lean more toward the British take on traditional, saturated, earthy colors are common. Brass is the most common metal finish you’ll find in a traditional space, due to its beautiful patina that takes on an antique vibe.
Traditional design, as a whole, is an understated, less formal style that tends to focus on comfort and livability.
Modern Interior Design
When people talk about preferring a modern aesthetic, they’re often (though not always) referring to Mid-Century Modern. So, for our purposes today, we’ll define Mid-Century Modern design ideas. This style is inspired by mid-20th-century design and combines natural wood with bold colors. Furniture has clean lines and organic shapes with minimal ornament beyond the shape of the piece itself. It also tends to have tapered edges and rounded edges without any hard angles.
Colors in these spaces tend to be bold, with primary and secondary colors used most often. Think: teal, red, orange, yellow, and green. Graphic, geometric patterns are also common in these spaces. Wood tones tend to be lighter—either a Scandinavian blonde finish or an acorn or teak coloring. Though, a dark walnut finish isn’t out of the question! When it comes to metal, chrome is the most common finish you’ll find in a mid-century space, though brass and black metal are also used. For upholstery, leather, tweed, and vinyl are all common fabrics used on furniture.
Overall, Mid-Century interiors are comfortable and focus on relaxation and conversation.
Blending Modern and Traditional Design Elements
This is a good time to think about the five “spectrums of style” that we unpacked in our Interior Design & You seminar this fall. During our session on discovering your personal style, we talked about the style spectrums of old and new, as well as formal and casual. When you look at the “pure” versions of these styles, they probably feel drastically different. But a home that blends traditional and modern furniture styles exists somewhere in the middle of both of these spectrums. Watch the seminar to learn more!
And there are a couple specific areas where they overlap, which is a great starting point for couples looking to combine these two styles. Most notably, relaxed comfort is a priority in both of these styles. So, as a couple, you can both feel confident that you can create a home that’s really livable, feels comfortable, and is a space where you can relax and unwind.
But that’s not all! Read on for our top tips on how to combine modern and traditional furniture and design elements into one space!
Read Next: A lot can happen when combining styles. Learn about when to break the style rules.
1. Go Modern in Your Base Furniture
When mixing interior design styles, one style is always going to be slightly more dominant. When it comes to traditional and modern furniture styles, modern is easier to have as a base because of its cleaner lines. And, since traditional pieces tend to have a bit more personality, they’re easier to sprinkle in as accents. In this space, you can see we went for modern shapes in the sofa, accent chairs, and coffee table. However, the accent pieces—like the side table and the rug—are much more traditional. This mixing of forms gives a very dynamic look to your space. The traditional pedestal side table next to the sleek sofa and coffee table creates balance and focus in this space.
Just remember—you don’t want to mix anything ultra-modern with something super traditional. (Like a super mod egg chair with an antique, spindle side table!) Your space will feel more balanced if you keep elements “middle of the road” without jumping too deep into either style.
2. Turn the Dial More Traditional with Your Accents
The accent pieces you choose in your space can totally shift the vibe, pushing the overall look more modern or traditional. Consider this especially when picking out a rug, artwork, and tabletop decor. In this bedroom, opting for botanical-inspired prints feels more traditional, while abstract art leans more modern and eclectic. You could also go for a more traditional art piece, but lean it on a shelf instead of hanging in on a wall, or hang a print in poster hangers instead of a full-frame. Either approach will give a traditional subject a more modern spin.
With rugs, a lighter, vintage-inspired rug will feel more traditional, while a bold geometric rug will feel more modern. And a vibrant Turkish or Oriental-style rug is a perfect way to combine these two styles since this type of rug is found in very traditional and even classic homes, but it’s also popular in Mid-Century and Modern Rustic spaces.
Layering rugs is also a great way to add a more modern and casual aesthetic to a living room or bedroom. Try a neutral woven rug as your base, with a slightly smaller patterned rectangular rug on top. This will add depth and a more modern feel to your space. You can also layer by hiding rugs, which can add an organic shape to a more traditional space. (Keep scrolling for a perfect visual example of this…)
3. Opt for Modern Twists on Traditional Silhouettes
However, if you want to take a traditional-first approach (rather than modern being the dominant style) find base furniture with traditional silhouettes—but with a modern twist. A modern finish is a great way to achieve this balance because what determines the style of a piece of furniture is not just the shape, but also the finish.
Take this headboard for example. It’s tall and tufted, which gives it a more traditional vibe. But its pared-back form and cool grey upholstery give it a more modern perspective. The same approach could be taken in a living room, with sofas or accent furniture. A traditional roll-arm sofa can feel updated and modern with a contemporary upholstery. And a spindle-leg coffee table in a sleek finish, like a matte black wood, accessorized with modern accents and objects will give your set-up a more contemporary vibe.
4. Use Color to Set the Tone
Traditional spaces—especially those that lean toward that adorned British style—feature more warm and saturated color palettes. Meanwhile, modern color palettes are inherently more monochromatic and on the “cool” color spectrum. When combining these two styles, there are two approaches you can take with color, both of which will help set the tone for this blended style.
Pairing a modern, neutral color scheme with traditional furniture pieces is one way to go. This lets the rich wood tones and ornamentation of traditional furniture do the talking in the space. However, pairing a warm and saturated color palette with modern-lined, neutral furniture is another way to blend these styles into one space. In the room above, we went for the latter; the dark wall is a classic, saturated green—but the white brick and lighter wood tones of the modern bookcases create contrast and establish a more updated look.
5. Mix Materials and Finishes
Mixing materials is another great way to blend traditional and contemporary styles together. In this space, the use of a chandelier is a more traditional move, but the minimalist style in a black metal finish adds a modern touch. Additionally, the mix of the brass mirror, seagrass bench, and hide rug adds a more eclectic and modern feel to the space, while still using more traditional materials and finishes. Warm, worn leather is a more classic material—but the form of the chair, with its clean lines and tapered legs, gives it a more modern vibe. Textural fabrics like tweed can happily be used to tie together both styles as well.
And think about wood tones as well. While Mid-Century furniture styles don’t tend to feature lighter wood tones, we mentioned that a dark walnut finish is sometimes used in these spaces—and walnut is a common finish in traditional spaces. However, mixing wood tones is a great way to bring in the heart of both styles! You can also mix darker woods (more traditional) with shiny metals (a total mid-century modern move) for a fun material combo.
6. Balance Out Traditional Architecture
In a home with traditional design elements, be sure to highlight any architectural details—from fireplaces and crown molding to wainscotting or chair rails. But don’t be afraid to give them a modern twist! Paint your wainscotting a bold, saturated color rather than a more traditional neutral tone. If your space has detailed trim and molding, consider going for the same color on your trim and your wall—a very modern move. Or take a brick fireplace into the modern world with a whitewash or by painting the brick black for a more modern vibe!
But you could also leave these traditional architectural details more “intact” and simply balance them out with modern foundations through your furniture styles and the layout of the space. Matching, classically shaped sofas facing each other opposite a brick fireplace would feel very traditional indeed. But opting for a more eclectic mix of comfortable furniture and a more conversational layout will balance the traditional architecture and make the whole space feel more relaxed. Curtains flanking all the windows is a very traditional move—but using solid, dark drapery is bold and modern.
7. Embrace (or Play With) Symmetry
Similar to your choices in decorative accents, symmetry in your layout and styling is a way to turn the dial-up or down, depending on if you want to focus a little more on modern or traditional. As a design principle, symmetry is a more traditional move. But the way you style symmetry within a space will make it lean more formal or casual. For example, you could also opt for modern furniture in a formal layout, or play with expectations within a formal layout. For example, the bedroom above features a sense of symmetry, but the mismatched nightstands and sleek furniture give the space a more modern appeal.
Needless to say, there are a ton of ways you can combine modern and traditional design styles into one space. And if you need some help, our expert Modsy designers are pros at combining interior design styles.
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