Everything You Need to Know About This Traditional and Modern Style

With dozens of interior design styles in existence—and new ones entering the zeitgeist everyday—transitional design offers a reprieve among more boxed-in, hard-and-fast decor styles. Often described as a mix between a more traditional style and modern design, the aesthetic blends formal, more ornate elements with relaxed touches to create a space that feels both classic and current. “Transitional design is the palate cleanser of all design styles,” says Jenn Feldman, a Los Angeles–based interior designer and founder of Jenn Feldman Designs, a listee on the AD PRO Directory. To better understand the style, AD spoke with Feldman as well as Directory member Ariel Okin, a New York–based interior designer, about the history and design elements that craft transitional interiors—as well as how to bring this timeless look into your house.

What is transitional design?

As noted, transitional design is generally defined as an interior style that combines modern style with traditional design. “Transitional spaces are defined by a tonal, textural, monochromatic, and minimal aesthetic,” Feldman says. Homes with this look often make use of comfortable, streamlined furniture; neutral color palettes (though pops of color are allowed); and ornate accents. For example, in a transitional home, you might find more linear furniture paired with a few pieces that bring in softer curves—like a circular ottoman. Some of the more embellished parts of traditional decor are there—for example, through an accent light fixture—though they’re more pared down compared to a classic traditional home.

It’s worth noting that designers may interpret the look differently—some may opt for more traditional while others embrace more modern—though the aesthetic could still be described as transitional no matter which way the scale tips.

What does transitional mean in design?

Curved furniture is contrasted by clean lines from the shelves and fireplace in this living room designed by Jenn Feldman.

Curved furniture is contrasted by clean lines from the shelves and fireplace in this living room designed by Jenn Feldman.

Photo: Courtesy of Jenn Feldman

While transitional spaces are often defined as a combination of traditional and modern design, it’s worth noting that the term can also reflect interiors that mix multiple aesthetics. As Feldman explains, “Transitional decor is a way to lean in or layer into other styles, silhouettes, and shapes.” Instead of focusing on a specific set of “rules” that you might find in one specific design aesthetic, transitional style allows you to play around with multiple looks. “​​It’s a foundation aesthetic that allows for growth and change, not committing to one singular point of view,” she adds. For example, you may see some elements of minimalism or midcentury design, and their presence wouldn’t impact the transitional description. As Okin explains, “transitional design has its roots in a traditional aesthetic, but the silhouettes are a little fresher, more updated, and less fussy—cleaner lines and softer palettes.”

What is the difference between transitional and contemporary design?

While transitional and contemporary design can look similar, they are understood as different design aesthetics. As Feldman explains, “contemporary interiors define a moment in time; transitional interiors define space and place that is timeless.” Generally, transitional design combines modern and traditional styles, whereas contemporary homes combine multiple popular styles in an ever-evolving fashion. “From the 1970s forward, contemporary design has continued to grow just as a very current, very on-trend way to define a style that is moving forward,” Erin Sander, an interior designer based in Dallas, told AD earlier this year. “I think what you’ll see is contemporary borrows from so many different styles and combines them all together.”

Transitional design mixes allows for modern silhouettes combine with traditional elements, like in this room designed by Ariel Okin.

Transitional design mixes allows for modern silhouettes combine with traditional elements, like in this room designed by Ariel Okin.

Photo: Donna Dotan, courtesy of Ariel Okin.

Generally, contemporary interiors combine any popular style of a current age, whereas transitional interior design has always been understood as a combination of traditional and modern aesthetics. “Transitional interiors are a bit more warm, layered, and softer than a true contemporary interior,” Okin explains. “Where a contemporary space might use cooler toned metals and palettes, transitional might be a warmer greige palette, unlacquered brass, and nubby neutrals.”

History of transitional design

As a mixture of multiple styles, the history of transitional style is somewhat murky. Traditional design dates back to the 1700s and 1800s, often with roots throughout Europe. As the name implies, the look incorporates more traditional elements, like chandeliers, crown molding, floral arrangements, and ornate rugs—you often wouldn’t find things like neon signs or Pop art in homes in this style. In the middle of the 20th century, a new interior design trend emerged, which embraced a more minimalist style as a reaction against the embellishments of the traditional look. What is now known as a midcentury modern, transitional style began popping up as these two distinct looks merged together. Transitional style can be seen as a best-of-both-worlds scenario, and the spaces generally make use of clean lines, a neutral color palette, and pared-back ornamentation.

Defining elements and characteristics of transitional design

To better understand how to spot transitional design, it’s helpful to understand the elements that make up this popular home decor style. According to Okin, you’ll often find “texture, tone-on-tone neutrals, and lush upholstery that is clean-lined but neither modern nor traditional or fussy,” in transitional spaces.

What are the elements of transitional design?

While not exhaustive, the following elements often come up in transitional room design:

  • Neutral color palettes often made up of whites, creams, tans, and grays

  • Pops of colors through rugs, pillow, or artwork

  • Organic textures with a focus on layering

  • Statement lighting

  • Metallic accents

  • Comfortable, practical furniture that combines curved and straight lines

“Spaces that are transitional are usually defined by repeating elements of color, texture, and shape,” says Feldman. “The feeling of the space is monolithic as a whole, even if details touch on different styles, trends, or patterns.”

Examples of transitional design

For transitional design ideas, consider the following projects from Feldman and Okin.

Transitional kitchen

Transitional kitchens often make use of sleek and streamlined cabinetry, neutral palettes, and an uncluttered atmosphere. Pendant lighting is also common, as well as modern finishes.

A transitional kitchen designed by Jenn Feldman.

A transitional kitchen designed by Jenn Feldman.

Photo: Amy Bartlam, courtesy of Jenn Feldman.

Transitional dining room

Like kitchens, transitional dining rooms make use of clean lines, and texture is often brought in through chair upholstery or table linens.

A transitional dining <a href=room designed by Jenn Feldman.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/PnqkJpHDCSU6T2UOsM1oMA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTEwNTg-/https://media.zenfs.com/en/architectural_digest_422/bc0445352bfed7acbfb98f9e6e1e3f3f”/>

A transitional dining room designed by Jenn Feldman.

Photo: Courtesy of Jenn Feldman.

Transitional living room

Opt for a warm palette and coarser textiles, like rattan or textured rugs, in transitional living rooms.

A transitional living room designed by Ariel Okin.

A transitional living room designed by Ariel Okin.

Photo: Donna Dotan, courtesy of Ariel Okin.

Transitional bedroom

In the bedroom, consider more modern furniture paired with pops or traditional decor—like a chandelier or lamp.

A transitional bedroom designed by Jenn Feldman.

A transitional bedroom designed by Jenn Feldman.

Photo: Amy Bartlam, courtesy of Jenn Feldman.

How to bring transitional design into your home

If this mixed design style sounds intriguing, Okin and Feldman have top-tier design tips to help you bring the transitional look into your home. “A great way to start a transitional space is to think of a strip of paint in a paint book.” Feldman says. “The colors might all be different, but they transition into each other effortlessly and holistically to create a cohesive look and feel.”

To put this into practice, she suggests picking three objects or furniture pieces that you love and look for common connections. For example, you might have a modern sectional that has the same color as a traditional lamp. Perhaps the lamp has another element that ties in with the throw pillows, which might also complement the couch. “As you build the elements in the space, keep that checkpoint in your front view and make sure anything you add fits into that trifecta, and layer in from there,” she adds. Okin suggests bringing in more neutral textiles into a space while embracing layers of tone-on-tone. She also recommends “pops of unlacquered brass, greige, and clean-lined furniture” as useful tools when crafting a transitional look.

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

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