Design Styles Defined: Your Guide to Transitional Interiors

Christyanne Wheeler
Jan 27, 2022 8:30:00 AM

Are you getting ready to revamp your interiors or tackle a major home remodeling project? Do you wish you could transform a mishmash of décor styles into a more cohesive space? We’ve got you covered. In our most recent blog series, we’ve been exploring the quintessential elements and standout features that define some of the most popular and enduring interior design styles. 

Transitional living space featuring large sectional seating, a wood trimmed fireplace, a candelabra chandelier in a neutral palette.

After exploring the comfortable conviviality of Scandinavian interiors, the pretty practicality of modern farmhouse décor, the put-together familiarity of traditional spaces, and the playful simplicity of contemporary aesthetics, we’re ready to consider a whole new look: transitional design.

Transitional Interior Design 101

For the average American, two interior design styles have always trended at the very top of the personal preference list: traditional and modern. It was only a matter of time before a new hybrid style — one that thoughtfully blends traditional décor and modern aesthetics — would emerge as a fresh stand-alone favorite.  

Over the past decade or so, that’s exactly what’s happened: a new fusion of traditional and modern/contemporary interior styles has decidedly arrived in the form of transitional design.  

Transitional design is all about establishing equilibrium and symmetry between traditional elements and modern features. Essentially, it’s about striking the perfect balance between masculine and feminine design details to create interiors that feel timeless, harmonious, familiar, warm, and fully “in the moment.” 

Transitional décor has a versatile, approachable aesthetic that make it easy to incorporate pieces you already own — to join classic and current — in fresh and interesting ways. With so many potential style combinations, every transitionally inspired space is truly unique.    

Elements of Transitional Design

If you like the idea of creating “lighter” traditional interiors or “warmer” modern spaces, then the transitional design approach may be perfect for your home. 

Done well, transitional spaces feel smart, coordinated, elegant and updated; done poorly, they can feel impersonal, overwrought, and trendy. But how to create perfect transitional interiors when the style itself offers much latitude? 

Here are five basic concepts of transitional design: 

1. Neutral color scheme 

A harmonious neutral color palette is central to many interior styles on the design spectrum, from traditional to modern. This recurring feature is especially important in transitional design because it brings a sense of cohesion in the unification of two styles that are, at face value, quite different from one another. 

Soothing elemental hues like white, cream, taupe, tan, sage, and light grey — along with darker shades of brown, grey, and black for dimension and depth — evoke a calm and serene atmosphere and set the perfect scene for a well-coordinated transitional space.   

And remember, a serene neutral palette doesn’t have to be basic or boring: you can “go tonal” and introduce an array of four to five tones of the same color, or you can opt to “go dramatic” with darker, moodier hues that fall within the same, consistent range.  

2. Textural and tonal fabrics

In transitional interiors, contrast is heightened through texture and tone. To some degree, this can be achieved through accent walls and well-chosen furnishings and accessories; to a much greater degree, it’s realized in the form of a coordinated and complementary selection of textiles.   

In addition to making interiors feel warmer and more comfortable, textiles — think upholstery, throw pillows, area rugs, bedding, window treatments, and even carpeting — provide the perfect opportunity to broaden and vary the tonal story and textural appeal of any space. 

As long as the end result feels congruous, anything goes. From leather, linen, and wool to silk, velvet, and chenille, the sky’s the limit when it comes to creating an assorted palette of textural fabrics (smooth, soft, plush, knobby, or woven) in a transitional space. 

Basement fireplace seating space with textured rock wall, leather chairs and a rich stained wood  ceiling.

3. Well-balanced furnishings

Whether a particular piece skews toward a more modern aesthetic or a more traditional one, transitional style embraces bold, statement-making furnishings with classic, well-proportioned silhouettes. It also embraces simplicity, neutrality, sophistication, and comfort — always.  

With a nuanced, coordinated color palette, pieces that have strong lines and masculine details can provide the perfect counterpoint to furnishings with softer silhouettes and feminine attributes. In a well-curated transitional home, individual pieces stand on their own just as well as they come together.  

To keep the mix feeling balanced and coordinated, choose unfussy anchor pieces with clean, simple lines. Add curvier pieces, abstract accessories, and organic elements to keep it interesting and unexpected — and to keep the eye moving. 

4. Order and symmetry 

More than anything else, transitional design is about striking the perfect balance between the yin-and-yang dualities that inform it — traditional and modern; old and new; masculine and feminine; boldness and restraint; comfort and minimalism. 

Symmetry is yet another design element that helps transitional style achieve its harmonious, balanced tone. While it may not be as pronounced as it is in traditional spaces, transitional style still loves to embrace well-placed pairs like matching table lamps on either side of the bed, twin armchairs opposite the sofa, or a pair of built-ins on either side of the fireplace.  

Symmetry doesn’t only come in pairs, however; visual order can also arrive in a perfectly spaced grid of framed artwork, an artfully displayed collection of vintage vases, or any other thoughtfully arranged vignette.  

5. Bold and inspired details

Transitional design can infuse your interiors with sophistication, familiarity, and comfort, but no transitional interior is complete without a little inspiration — after all, it’s the bold, original, quirky, and playful details that have the power to elevate an ordinary space and turn it into an extraordinary one. 

Achieving the beautifully orchestrated, irresistibly layered mix that’s central to transitional design means including unique details that are in sync with the other elements in your space and expressive of your personality and taste. Think expressive artwork, sculptural light fixtures, and statement-making accent chairs.  

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