The history of interiors is best told in terms of the design styles which have dominated. From the influential cabriole legs and fauteuil chairs of 17th century French design to the shallow button tufting and iconic pieces of Mid-century modern furniture, the many faces of interior design are diverse and fascinating.
What constitutes a country sofa? How does traditional differ from classical? Which accessories are most at home in a decidedly Hollywood Regency interior? Starting with LuxDeco’s trademark style – transitional – here is the rundown of what you need to know about the world’s most popular interior design styles.
Transitional style is best described as updated classic (like this sophisticated office space by Katharine Pooley). It combines traditional elegance and character with contemporary updates in the form of accessories, cleaner lines and current textiles. Traditional features include the use of button-tufting, nailhead trim and existing architectural features such as fireplaces and cornicing. Finishes are always flawless – rugs are silken, fabrics are plush and woods are rich – and sophisticated lines pervade the style’s furniture designs. Tuxedo sofas, upholstered ottoman coffee tables and elegant console tables are favoured furniture choices. Curated accessories such as abstract artwork, art glass and unique objets provide a desirably layered look.
Image Credit: Corbin & King
Art Deco Interiors
Art Deco is an iconic early twentieth century style of French origin which pervaded most of the decorative arts of the 1910s to the 1930s. Key Art Deco indicators are stylised sunburst and graduated step motifs; a fascination with African, Russian and, most importantly, Egyptian cultures; and exotic materials such as macassar ebony and zebrano woods, lapis lazuli and jade stone and shagreen. The style was heavily inspired by the Industrial Revolution so metal was also incorporated into furniture design. Forms were curved or angular and the most recognisable colour palette was black, white and gold.
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Image Credit: Spinocchia Freund
Recognised by its use of heavy timbers, animal hides and generously proportioned furniture, chalet style is the almost universal interior design choice for mountain chalets and lakeside lodges. It suitably balances the natural characteristics of its locales by incorporating appropriate natural materials and colour palettes. Exposed beams, timber-clad walls and stone elements characterise the style’s context. Typical chalet furniture often incorporates natural elements. Dining tabletops rest on raw wood bases and side tables of petrified wood are popular. Cast iron or antler chandeliers are the most traditional lighting choices.
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Image Credit: Thomas Pheasant
Classical interiors reference classical civilisations (predominantly Greek and Roman), antiquity and the classical tradition. Popular during the Renaissance and then again in a revival form in the 18th and 19th centuries, the style is inherently sophisticated. Columns and other classical architectural elements are key in the style’s interior and exterior architecture as well as furniture designs. The klismos chair – a bowed back open occasional chair with saber legs – is the most enduring classical furniture piece. Other prominent motifs include laurel wreaths, urns, busts and dentil mouldings.
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Image Credit: Staffan Tollgard/Photo: Richard Gooding
Contemporary style is the interior design aesthetic which is presently popular at any given time. The current look is best described as luxury modern. Furniture lines are clean and uncomplicated but finishes are integral, innovative and luxurious, creating a nonchalant and stylish dialogue. Sofas and armchairs well-designed but comfortable, being upholstered in lustrous velvets and chenilles. Coffee tables and casegoods are understated and simplified or monolithic and sculptural. Installation lighting is an important element of a room’s overall design as is specialist wall cladding and flooring.
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Country interior style usually denotes provincial European style (particularly English or French). Loose-covered upholstery in linen and chintzy patterns such as florals and tartan is the style’s trademark as well as upholstered fauteuils which are usually whitewashed or painted for a more relaxed feel. Other wooden furniture is also limed or distressed and antique furniture or accessories are common. Modern incarnations of the style include stylised florals, squared off silhouettes and less traditional colour palettes, including the use of greyed woods and neutrals over quintessentially country pastels.
The industrial interior style is a popular look for lofts and warehouses thanks to its stylishly undone aesthetic. Open-plan is the main configuration and high ceilings define some of the most eye-catching spaces. Aged or antiqued finishes, metals and raw textures such as brick and stone are common, resulting in a naturally casual look. Furniture silhouettes are pared back and either barely-there or monolithic in size and shape.
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Image Credit: Jean-Louis Deniot
French interior style is one of the most influential in the history of decorative arts. Typified by the decorative styles of the Louis XIV, XV and XVI eras (approximately the late 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries), the style is highly respected for its finely crafted furniture, intricate carvings and opulent gilding. Archetypal Rococo asymmetry, bombe silhouettes and Neoclassical elements such as Roman gods, lyres, urns and winged lions are quintessentially French. Decorative show wood frames feature prominently as do cabriole or fluted legs, which have remained a staple of elegant furniture design.
Image Credit: Olive Interiors
Hollywood Regency Interiors
Hollywood Regency is a high-glamour interior design style which originated and was most popular in California since the mid-twentieth century. The design is inspired predominantly by the glamorous residences of the cinema’s Golden Era movie stars. High-contrast colour combinations – hot pink and kelly green, black and white, turquoise and lemon yellow – are one of the style’s most notable features. Grand chandeliers, high gloss black or mirrored casegoods and skirted boudoir upholstery are main characteristics of the style. Rococo remained an influential inspiration and Chinoiserie elements such as bamboo frame metal furniture and mirrors were also used.
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Image Credit: B.A. Torrey
Mid-century Modern Interiors
Mid-century Modern is a notably American style which was popularised by the designs of Florence Knoll, Vladimir Kagan and Milo Baughman. The Modern and Scandinavian movements were particularly influential with iconic furniture pieces (particularly chairs, such as the Eames lounger, the Egg chair and the womb chair) constituting a big part of the Mid-century aesthetic story. Show wood frame furniture was popular as was the use of textiles in colourful shades. Woods such as rosewood, teak and walnut were used regularly and canary and mustard yellow, carnation and flamingo pink, chartreuse, pale turquoise and avocado are a quintessential Mid-century colourways.
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Image Credit: Guillaume Alan
A twentieth century style known for simple forms, clean lines and uncomplicated finishes, Minimalism considers the importance of negative space as much as positive space. Accessorising is consciously sparse and sculptural pieces take precedence over ornamental designs. Built-in storage, behind seamless doors, and careful furniture arrangements create a cool, composed vibe. Typically sans colour and pattern, texture plays a key role in minimalist interiors.
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Scandinavian style is underpinned by three main focuses – easy living, functionality and a penchant for all things natural. Woods (usually pale to medium and typically ashy) are the most universal element of Scandinavian interiors, used in conjunction with whitewashed walls and breezy furniture arrangements. Seating is slim-lined in comparison to other styles with full upholstery usually being limited to sofas. Armchairs tend to be partially upholstered, wooden or wireframe and stools and benches are common. Occasional furniture is also wooden, low-profile and very straightforward with little ornamentation or decorative woodwork.
Image Credit: Maurizio Pellizzoni
Traditional design is best represented by quintessential English furniture design and, in particular, the country’s impressive manufacturing history. Handsome, rich and inherently formal are the style’s underpinning elements and important pieces, such as the button-tufted Chesterfield sofa or wingback chair, characterise its penchant for well-constructed, robust designs. Large casegood pieces often incorporate prominent cornicing, seemingly inspired by architectural mouldings, and upholstery is most commonly rendered in supple dark leathers (although designs are often modernised with neutral fabrics).