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Merging Styles: How to Combine Traditional and Modern Furniture

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

combine modern and traditional furniture | mixing furniture styles

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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.

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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…)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Need help combining two styles in your room design?

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My Modsy Story: Creating a Joyful Space With Modern Style

Lindsay and her husband had a bold vision for their new family home. They just didn’t have the design skills to bring that vision to life on their own—so they decided to give virtual interior design a try.

 

Homeowner: Lindsay B., Stay-at-home mom

Spaces: Living-Dining Room

My Style: Modern

The Backstory

Lindsay and her family were excited to move into a new house and fill it with joyful memories and decor. But they were a bit overwhelmed at the thought of filling the space.

“When my husband and I moved into our dream house, we were so excited to make it our home. We knew we wanted our living-dining room to be a comfortable yet stylish hangout for us and the kids. We both imaged a space full of high-contrast color, with clean mid-century-modern lines, and a dash of stylish whimsy. But besides an heirloom dining room set, we were furnishing the space from scratch.”

“We both imaged a space full of high-contrast color, with clean mid-century-modern lines, and a dash of stylish whimsy.”

The Design Dilemma

They knew that they wanted to go bold with their design—but they struggled to find a cohesive look for their space.

“We both love bold colors and unique mid-century-modern pieces, but we are clueless about layout and struggle to make things feel cohesive. I was worried that if we were left to our own devices, our home would end up looking more like a college dorm room than the curated space we envisioned—which is something we’ve run into before. We needed help making our house the home I knew it could be. I’d heard about Modsy, so we decided to give the service a try.”

“We both love bold colors and unique mid-century-modern pieces, but we are clueless about layout and struggle to make things feel cohesive.”

Designer Insights:

“Lindsay’s biggest challenge for the space was creating something that felt really fun while still being refined.” –Cassie, Lindsay’s Modsy Designer

The Modsy Moment

Working with their designer, they got a playful color scheme tempered by tasteful mid-century-modern-inspired decor.

“We were completely awestruck when we saw our 3D design for the first time—so much so that our jaws dropped. Our Modsy designer, Cassie, understood what we wanted for the space even more than we did. She gathered a few of our stray thoughts and turned them into a magazine-worthy functional living space that felt so cohesive.

“We were completely awestruck when we saw our 3D design for the first time—so much so that our jaws dropped.”

“The furniture she selected went perfectly with our heirloom dining set and the colors she chose truly brought the space to life. The living room area included the most spectacular rug; I have never seen a better rug in my life! It was a magical moment to see the potential my raw space had. And that potential even included a pink accent wall!”

Designer Insights:

“I wanted to capture Lindsay’s joyfulness in her designs, so I chose unexpected wall color pairings (pale pink in the living area and rich forest green in the dining area) and then I grounded these colors by tying them into the decor. I kept the furniture classic but added in eclectic pillows, rugs, artwork, and accessories.” –Cassie, Lindsay’s Modsy Designer

The Real Results

Now that their home is coming together IRL, they have a design that lives up to their expectations for the space and provides a joyful feeling for their family.

“Before using Modsy, we thought our space had a lot of promise and design potential, but we didn’t know how to deliver on that promise on our own. As more and more items arrive from Modsy and our virtual design becomes a reality, I can feel our home radiate happiness—something I had not planned on. This colorful and chic space is beloved by our entire family. Even the dog seems happier in it!”

“As more and more items arrive from Modsy and our virtual design becomes a reality, I can feel our home radiate happiness.”

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Setting The Tone: Organic Modernism In Color

Last fall, we introduced you to our take on the Organic Modernism design trend. And, since it was one of our all-time most-loved home tours, we wanted to revisit this style—but this time in color! Our first home tour was all about the neutrals. And, while it created some beautiful and serene rooms, we wanted to give another take of this style for those who want some color in their interior. After all, color is one of the most powerful tools in your interior design toolkit!

modern interior designWhat is organic modern interior design?

But before we dive in, let’s do a quick refresher. Organic modernism is a combination of mid-century modern design alongside organic elements (hence the name). The organic bit shows up in both the forms and materials; this style has a heavy emphasis on bringing the natural world inside and uses soft and organic materials. With that, it’s an interior design style that emphasizes livability, as it organically integrates into your lifestyle.

Some of the key elements of this modern design style include a limited color palette, the use of natural textures, and lots of organic shapes—from geometric to curved and abstract forms. Furniture and decor are no-frills and have very little ornamentation. Organic modernism also takes a minimal approach to styling. In other words, embrace the negative space!

How do I use color in organic modern interior design?

Organic modernism really is a great style to play with color. For our organic modernism in color home tour, we’re playing with two takes on color—warm neutrals and cool blues. The strength of the style is that you can flex it up or down depending on what you like! And you can use color to make a style statement. Just think about it: a room’s color can completely change the vibe of a space. How different would a room feel if it had white walls vs. red? Or blue furniture vs. terracotta pieces? Color is the perfect way to set the tone you want for your space.

Ready to see how color can be applied to organic modern design? Keep reading to explore two different ways to get the look—in color—in rooms throughout your home.


The Entryway

This simple, uncluttered entryway interior design creates the perfect first impression for any organic modern home. The simple layout and clean lines make use of negative space while creating some serious visual impact.

The Warm Neutral Version

The Palette: The terracotta wall sets the color tone of this design. Shades of earthy reds and clays are the perfect saturated, warm neutrals for an organic modern entryway. And a mix of natural materials—from the console to the decor items on the shelves—add to the warm, organic color scheme.

The Vibe: The combination of the wall color, the chair, and the console, create some serious desert southwest vibes in this entryway design. The result? A space that feels warm and inviting—the perfect vibe to set the tone as you welcome people into your home! There’s a casual air to this set-up, which creates a sense of effortless ease.

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Cool Blue Version

The Palette: The palette for this entryway is all about those cool, saturated blues. The blue wall really makes the mirror frame and chair pop. And the combination of light, natural wood against blues is always a good idea for creating a beautiful contrast in a modern style design.

The Vibe: The color palette gives this design a more curated, polished vibe. While it’s less relaxing and inviting than the warm neutral entryway, it has a more elevated vibe for those who want to add a little sophistication to their organic modern interior.

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The Living Room

This living room has all the soft lines and natural materials you would expect from organic modernism. We love the mix of shapes and forms in this modern space—from the clean-lined sofa and bar cabinet to the curved chair and overstuffed pouf. With these modern furniture pieces and their emphasis on geometry and forms, you’ll also notice a very casual approach to layout. This living room chooses comfort and livability over symmetry and formality. A mix of light wood tones and texture throughout help drive home this modern interior design style.

The Warm Neutral Version

The Palette: This take on the living room design features earthy neutrals and warm tones. You might not think to make your sofa the singular pop of color in an organic modern home, but the combo of the sofa and the saturated wall color give this space a bold look that’s also not overly colorful.

The Vibe: The warm and saturated neutrals in this living room give it a very relaxed and serene vibe. It’s a design style that’s very grounded and mature. The warm undertones make this space feel very cozy—creating an inviting, comfortable space.

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Cool Blue Version

The Palette: This living room take is all about the saturated blues. You’ll notice we used a spectrum of blue tones layered throughout—from light sky blues to shades of dark navy.

The Vibe: This living room look is bold, yet—as blues tend to do—it still feels calm. In fact, the combination of the blues with the natural textures and wood tones in the modern furniture give a slight coastal vibe to this space. Between the two living room color schemes, this one definitely has the cooler vibe.

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modern interior designThe Dining Room

Organic modernism is all about varied textures and a mix of materials. So, in these dining room designs, we used a mix of wood, jute, metal, and ceramic textures in the various furniture and decor pieces. We also kept the design very minimal—just a table, chairs, a shelf, and a stunning pendant light—while leaning into the curved, organic forms that this modern interior design style loves.

modern interior design

The Warm Neutral Version

The Palette: This dining room design is all about the earthy neutrals with warm undertones. We warmed this space up with a coat of olive green paint, that almost has “dirty” undertones. But don’t be scared by a little dirt—this gives the green a dose of warmth that cozies up with modern interior. We combined the green walls with warm woods and natural materials, like this jute rug.

The Vibe: If you’re looking for a relaxed, casual dining room design, this is it. If you dig into color psychology, you’ll find that the color green is proven to have a calming psychological effect. And this dining room certainly delivers with its serene and calming vibes. It feels steeped in nature, with the wood tones and this particular shade of green giving an organic warmth to modern design. The black metal accents are also warmed up by this color palette and provide an interesting contrast to the earthier interior design elements.

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Cool Blue Version

The Palette: This dining room embodies the color palette you’d find outside on a foggy day at the beach, which we love. The white fireplace and light fixture pop against the varying shades of cool, saturated blues—leaving you with a cool, moody dining room.

The Vibe: As opposed to the warmth created by the green walls in the previous design, the mix of blues cools down this take on the space. The combination of the metal elements and blues together compound the cool, curated feel of this modern interior. The color palette definitely makes this design feel less cozy—but the tradeoff is that it’s a very stylish and more refined take on this design.

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The Bedroom

Geometric and curved forms set the tone in this organic modern bedroom—as seen in the clean lines and curves of the headboard and the soft, sloping arms of the chair. And a mix of materials—from wood and leather to velvet, wool, metal, and ceramics—keep this bedroom design feeling dynamic and textural despite its minimal modern style.

modern interior designThe Warm Neutral Version

The Palette: This modern bedroom takes on more of a fall color palette, with autumnal shades of warm earth tones. While we kept the palette of the furniture to oranges and browns, it would be easy to turn up the dial by introducing more autumnal hues, like brick reds and deep yellows.

The Vibe: The color palette of this bedroom inspires calm but still feels energized. It also creates a bit of a laid back 70s vibe, which makes for a warm and inviting space. And the pops of vibrant orange add a cheery vibe to the room.

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Cool Blue Version

The Palette: This bedroom offers a different take on a cool blue palette. Instead of a saturated blue wall, we went with a cool shade of grey but punctuated the space with pops of cool blues in the rug, pillows, and decor. This makes the warmth of the furniture and natural materials—like the wood dresser and leather bed frame—become the focal point of this interior design.

The Vibe: This bedroom interior has a more sophisticated and subtle approach. The blues and greys create a serene, modern design with some seriously calming vibes. This soothing color combo, along with the patterns and textures throughout the space, makes this bedroom feel very zen.

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The Home Office

In an organic modern home office, you can keep the design very simple. But just remember: simple doesn’t mean boring. In fact, this office is anything but, with its arched bookcase and the ultra-modern legs of that desk! These furniture elements add up to some unexpected geometry, which we love. This room is a perfect example of keeping your interior design minimal by using materials as ornamentation.

The Warm Neutral Version

The Palette: Earthy green walls paired with a mossy velvet desk chair create a color palette of warm neutrals. The key to mixing two shades of green? Choosing shades that have the same warm, brown undertones. But the warmth isn’t just coming from the greens—it’s also found in the natural textures and materials throughout the space, as well as the pops of brass accenting the furniture.

The Vibe: The organic combination of greens and wood tones creates a soothing and cozy vibe—almost giving you the sense of being cocooned by nature! The result is an inviting and warm office that’s a perfect space to get in the zone.

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Cool Blue Version

The Palette: Choosing a blue with grey undertones adds a cooling effect to this chic home office. But pops of warmth from the wood elements and brass accents add contrast and keep this modern design from feeling cold.

The Vibe: No need to search for the perfect backdrop for your next video call when you have an office like this. With this sleek, polished office as a backdrop, you’ll be ready to tackle even the most daunting of meetings. And, while it’s certainly sophisticated, it still has a soothing atmosphere for days when things get stressful.

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Try Organic Modern Interior Design in Your Home

If you want to bring modern organic interior design into your home but aren’t sure where to start, check out our Interior Design 101 page where we’ll walk you through what it looks like to work with a Modsy designer!

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Style Spotlight: Mod Visionary

Style Spotlight: Mod Visionary

 

Do you dig a retro look almost as much as you crave a clean space? Do sleek forms and modern styling set your heart aflutter? If so, then chances are your style is what Modsy calls “Mod Visionary.”

The Mod Visionary look combines Mid-Century Modern forms with minimalist styling and colors. Our most popular style, browse through some of our favorite customer spaces to see if Mod Visionary is the look for you!

Big Space / Small Space:

No matter how many square feet you have to work with, our Mod Visionary collection is poised to work anywhere. Ripe with open-base pieces, this collection is full of furniture perched atop tapered legs to ensure an open and airy feeling in any room.

 

This small living room looks full and functional without feeling stuffed. The elevated sofa and coffee table create the illusion of weightlessness while also visually balancing the two dense side tables.

 

This open living room/dining room feels equally full and thought-out. To fill up the larger space, we opted for the sectional version of the mid-century styled sofa, a dynamic piece that comes in a variety of sizes and shapes to suit any interior.

 

This customer’s space also features our Mod Visionary collection, but it takes on a whole new function as a dining room. The open space accommodates a storage piece and an expandable dining table. Pro tip: place your extra dining chairs on either side of the credenza to avoid over-crowding your dining table.

 

A much smaller space, this dining room lives in close proximity to the living room. To work within such a small footprint, we swapped a glass-top dining table to visually open up the space and create an uncluttered look. No space for a credenza? A petite bar cart provides just the right amount of storage for a small space.

In the Zone:

Two spaces are better than one, and our Mod visionary collection is ready to tackle them all. This customer’s open floor plan was in need of some zoning to create two distinct areas. Turning the sofa away from the dining area helped visually divide the room, while still keeping the visual harmony of the space in tact.

First Impressions:

Have an entryway in need of a spruce? Mod Visionary has you covered. This customer had a lot of wall space to work with, so we ramped up the storage with a dining room credenza. We also love the play between the geometry of the doors and credenza. Yes way, entryway!

Architecturally Accommodating:

What really makes this style such a crowd pleaser, is its ability to work in a variety of environments. You don’t have to own a modern, all-white everything kind of home to enjoy Mod Visionary decor. A style that agrees with all kinds of homes, Mod Visionary works in contemporary estates to Southwestern bungalows, and it even looks right at home amongst high ceilings and Victorian cornices.

 

 

 

 

Want more Mod Visionary? See how it looks in your own space and get started today!