What is Transitional Interior Design?
In a world where fusion is everything, whether it’s fashion or cuisine, interior design is not immune. This meshing of cultures, ideas and styles has become so popular that there’s even a name for it: transitional interior design.
Transitional interior design blends traditional and modern influences through intentional choices for furnishings, colors and tapestries that adorn a space or room. For couples who are at opposite ends of the spectrum about their dream designs or a person who simply can’t hone in on one style, this is the perfect solution.
What does transitional design mean? Essentially, it transcends the gap between traditional and modern by fully embracing both.
This design choice doesn’t need to be adopted throughout an entire home. Trying it out in a small space tests your comfort level before you swap out all your furnishings, drapes and art. Consider this example. The living room in a Victorian home can easily flaunt a transitional design style with an antique sofa true to the era (plush upholstery, rolled arms and a carved-wood back) while also featuring a no-fuss, minimal-décor vibe awash in neutrals with a nod to nature-inspired materials like seagrass and natural hardwoods. When done well, the look is not a late-1800s beach cottage. This is a serene retreat that honors the bones of the historic home while also ushering it into a new era thanks to a “less busy” design.
Transitional Design Style
Hallmark features of transitional interior design include a mix of lines in furnishings, neutral or muted hues, and embracing texture.
Mix of Lines
What’s key to the style is cohesion between furniture. You want the sharp corners and metal or lacquered finishes to pair nicely with curved edges in natural wood or other nature-derived materials. A side table emulating a tree stump might be next to a mirrored nightstand, for example. Or you might find a set of wicker-back barstools channeling mid-century modern design bumping up against a marble-top kitchen island.
Neutral or Muted Colors
No, you’re not putting your house on the market. But there’s a reason why every listing agent in America is telling their clients to stage in a sea of creams, grays, whites and beiges: it calms the mind and allows the eyes to rest, as opposed to darting around the room. Calm is what you want for your home, right?
Neutrals are also a happy medium on the color wheel between traditional interior design and modern design. Dark woods are often associated with traditional design, whether it’s a craftsman cottage or English tudor, and bright primary colors are commonly linked to modern design. Whites fall somewhere between.
Whether it’s pom poms or tassels on a throw pillow or curtains, or richly embroidered quilts, three-dimensional texture is a nod to modern artistry and traditional textiles. This is not limited to accessories. Textures, too, should be incorporated into surfaces, like wood grains in the dining table set or beveled glass on a table top. Texture is a part of farmhouse chic and modern glam: embrace it! Don’t forget about upholstery. Fabrics like velvet, corduroy and brocade are popular choices for transitional design. And back to the example higher up in this story: natural woven materials like bamboo, rattan, wicker and seagrass work quite well, particularly for warm-weather climates or if you want a lighter, breezier aesthetic.
Whether you fawn over pastoral, historic landscapes or eye-popping abstract art, going big with one statement piece will help glue your transitional style together. It’s when you start cluttering a room with glassware, a gallery wall, pottery and other knick-knacks that the room starts to have an identity crisis. Consider hanging the statement piece alone on its own wall for greater impact. When in doubt, turn to the major rule of transitional interior design: neutrals. Many contemporary art pieces employ this palette, as do landscapes.
Transitional Interior Design in Practice
Now that you’re armed with the fundamentals of transitional interior design, let’s put this into practice, using common spaces in a home, apartment or condo as examples.
Maybe your home’s living room already has traditional elements such as a brick fireplace, oddly shaped windows (such as piano windows in a bungalow, arched windows in a Spanish Mission style home or transom, stained-glass ones in a Victorian), or crown molding or a plate wall.
Turning to those neutral hues when selecting paint colors or upholstery shines a brighter light on your home’s unique, historical bones. Often these are most prominent in the living room or adjacent entryway. But at the same time—because there’s always a caveat with good design, right?—folding in some color is necessary to create not only a visually interesting space but to avoid it seeming blah.
Jewel tones are a palette that exists in both traditional and modern décor. If you’re stuck on what is a jewel tone, think about common gemstones like rubies (red), emeralds (green) and sapphires (blue). These colors are deep and bold, but also muted, unlike pastels or primary colors that appear to be straight of an artist’s paint tubes.
Chunky cutting boards, handmade pottery and vases of flowers give a kitchen warmth while embracing transitional interior design. Cabinetry is an area that should not be forgotten. Shaker-style cabinets could sport gold-finish drawer pulls. Floating shelves in a lighter-colored wood are a nice blend of modern and traditional. They exemplify transitional interior design for their modern minimalism and also embrace traditional function as many historic homes lacked today’s extensive cabinetry.
One popular trend right now is hanging an oil portrait in the kitchen or arranging dry goods in Mason jars, a vintage relic that’s now back in vogue. Or, you may find gas-lantern-ish light pendants hanging above the marble-wrapped island. Have fun with different visuals in the kitchen, building out from a space that begins with neutral hues in the flooring, cabinetry and walls.
Fixtures are a fun means to incorporate transitional design into your home. By turning to more than one finish (such as brass) and instead relying upon many (like polished nickel or steel), that’s the look. Don’t be afraid of mixing metals.
Before you start shopping for throw pillows and duvets, or pondering the perfect reading chair, pick a color. That’s going to be the dominant hue for the bedroom. You know by now that neutrals are iconic with transitional design. Is there a neutral color that speaks to you and would inspire you to build a bedroom around it? If not, that’s okay. Just don’t go too bold—like deep violet. A better choice would be plum. You don’t need to replicate your chosen color in various spots around the bedroom. Just use that as a guide, straying only within the color family and turning to neutrals or muted colors whenever it makes sense.
As the perfect solution for a family with different opinions about their favorite décor style, transitional is also a great style to use when you want to switch items out for the seasons. When the weather warms, you can swap the gold-finish cocktail table for a bamboo one, or replace velvet throw-pillow cases with ones sewn from linen fabric. This is a décor style with an extreme amount of flexibility as well as the ability to personalize your spaces to your lifestyle. You might even consider giving your furry friend a dog bed that taps into your new style, covered in pin-striped nautical fabric and next to your vintage sofa.
About Kristine Hansen
Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kristine Hansen also writes about interior design for ArchitecturalDigest.com, Invaluable.com and Milwaukee Magazine. She is the author of Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes from the State’s Best Creameries, which profiles some of the country’s most acclaimed artisan cheesemakers.