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What Is Traditional Design?

You’ve heard the term, right? Transitional design. At first, it might sound like a rest stop between two periods—you know, like the kind of design that you have when you’re transitioning from broke college grad to established professional with a house to prove it.

But in reality, transitional design isn’t temporary or passive at all. Transitional design is a combination of traditional and contemporary elements—a blending of old and new, conservative and creative, subdued and eye catching.



The term can apply to the architectural elements of a space, finishes, materials, and fabrics provided the end result is classic, well designed, and timeless.

Let’s break that down a little more.

If we’re talking color, transitional design relies on understated, subdued colors—a lack of color, even. This ensures a clean, calm overall aesthetic upon which to build. If you’re interested in transitional design, think about light earth tones (beige, sand, tan, or eggshell, for instance) with occasional spots of deeper browns or blues for depth or to enhance a focal point.

Does that mean you can’t have any color in your space? Of course not—it just means that the canvas you start with is neutral enough to add whatever colors you want via accessories, furniture, and finishes.



Transitional design isn’t necessarily a minimalist look, but there is an openness to it that distinguishes it from other design practices. Think elegant and timeless accents—like a gorgeous plant or a piece of art—spotlighted as special, rather than a hodgepodge of accessories crammed on shelves.

Because transitional design builds on neutrals, it relies on textural elements for interest and contrast. Think nubby knitted blankets, smooth chenille, or rich leather. These considerations can apply to furniture, too—think about the fabric of your sofa or chairs, and how the tactile feel of the fabric affects your overall design.

Transitional design can give you the best of both worlds: new finishes and appliances, for example, but in a timelessly designed space that will look fresh and updated for years to come. By avoiding fads (does anyone remember the wallpaper of the 70s?!) and keeping your foundation neutral, you’re allowing room for change in the future, should your design preferences change.

Building from transitional design ultimately means you can easily put your own personality into your space—surprise people with unique furniture designs, choose fun fabrics in bold colors, and spotlight the things that really speak to you, like a collection of guitars mounted on a wall to a sumptuous claw-footed tub. The possibilities are endless if you know what you want and work with someone who knows how to create it.

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