It can seem impossible to try and find your design style. It seems like anything and everything is acceptable now, but that doesn’t make every design look great in any home. Sure, one design style may look great in your friend’s house, but does it suit your lifestyle? How do you know if that piece of furniture will even go with your other pieces at home that you already love? The first step is to find your personal design style. A great place to start is by exploring some of the most popular interior design styles.
After that, you can move on to reading more about design theory!
The Top Design Styles
Most styles fit under a few main categories. Here’s where you can find out more about them and discover which ones resonate with you. Yes, you can lean towards more than one style! In fact, the majority of people are a mix of styles. By combining your favourite styles, you can find your best design style mix. Try to limit yourself to three styles though to keep from feeling chaotic. I will address how you can blend your favourite design styles together at the end of this post. I highly recommend having a pen and paper handy to jot down any features that stand out to you and the design styles that you’re drawn to.
Mid Century Modern
This was the epitome of interior design in North America. In MCM, architecture is a key player and heavily influences the structure of furniture. The main characteristics of mid-century modern are clean, straight lines. And white. White was a very prominent feature in homes, even in the wood tones. The wood used in mid-century modern tends to be pale, blonde woods with a minimal grain (think pine over oak). This ensures that the furniture structure speaks for itself and not having color or grain patterns distract from it.
Mid Century homes are open, spacious, and structured. There is an emphasis on the use of large windows and glass to make the building seem light and open to the outdoors. A lot of times the beams of a ceiling may be exposed or there are openings above the walls to make the room appear even more open.
Structural, Functional, Economical
During this time, man-made materials were being discovered, and their limits tested. Designers wanted to see just what they could do with this new material at their disposal. Mid Century Modern was the period of introduction to plastic furniture. Plastic could be formed into different shapes and sizes to make functional, and economical products. Guests no longer had to sit on uncomfortably hard, wooden chairs since plastic chairs were molded to better fit the human figure. They are versatile; providing you with as much seating as required at any time, and then stacking to save space.
Furniture often served more than one function to be versatile. You don’t want a lot of heavy furniture making your space look cluttered. Everything is designed to be cohesive and keep your eye carrying around the room in a pleasing manner.
Contemporary Design Style
Contemporary is the feminine version of Mid Century Modern. It’s a little softer, a little sleeker. The polished and gleaming finishes of synthetic materials are more of a household staple. Furniture design incorporates smooth glass and clear resin. Metals are used for decorative pieces such as bookends, candy dishes, and sculpted paperweights.
In this style, the harsh, structured lines give way to the softer curves of Contemporary. Lines and forms are still important features, but they are not as formal, instead designed to be more inviting. Think rounded corners on walls, instead of the sharp edge. Flowing drapery on windows instead of bare glass. Seating is even more comfortable with soft, curvy sofas instead of masculine and rigidity armchairs. Even though it is comfortable, Contemporary furniture is designed to stand out instead of blending in.
Soft, Inviting, Accents
Color schemes are a mix of neutral tones, soft and inviting, combined with bold hues to break up the melancholy. An example would be a bright red feature wall in a room of beige. Patterns are also big and bold. They proudly wrap large furniture instead of being exclusively for throw pillows. Flooring leans towards the dark side; ebony-stained hardwoods that shine, contrast with plush carpets, and rough slate tiles. Having a floor that’s darker than your walls helps to keep your space grounded too.
If inviting is the key to Contemporary design then a Traditional design is comforting, like a warm embrace. It can be casual or lean towards formal. Homes are designed with specific rooms and partitioned off instead of being wide open. There is a stronger sense of privacy this way. Considering this was the style of home that many large families had, a need for privacy can be understood.
The decor is rich and interesting, with mixes of prints and patterns in the same space. Florals are a very prominent design feature, especially small repeating flowers. They can be incorporated into fabrics, pillows, wallpaper, and art. Sentimental pieces are loving displayed in every room, often to the point of looking cluttered. There’s usually an underlying theme to a room or a repetitive print. And the use of symmetry accompanies the repetition.
Comforting, Rich, Repeating
Metals are dark such as black iron, or antique bronze finishes. Colors tend to be soft pastels to give off the feeling of comfort. Woods are used prominently and are either stained dark or kept to their natural color. Wood floors are a popular point of this style for their warmth and character. Scratches and dents are character marks.
Industrial style is all about the architecture. It’s a careful balance of exposed materials and the comforts of home. It is inspired by city living and the need to convert old buildings into lofts and apartments. The key to a well designed industrial space is to make it not feel too cold and uninviting.
Homes are typically a wide-open loft style. There may be exposed support columns, but there is no defined space between kitchens, living rooms, entrances, and sometimes even the bedroom. Ceilings are usually high or made to appear higher than normal. Hard surfaces are desired, with floors being left as smooth concrete, and walls kept pretty bare to show off any exposed building materials.
Exposed, Open, Masculine
Exposed materials are a prominent feature of the Industrial design. This includes exposed brick, ventilation, beams, and concrete. The bones of a space, if you will. A great way to get this look is to keep a ceiling open instead of closing it up to hide the ventilation and wiring. Painting the ceiling black, including all the pipes and wires, will make the room feel taller. Everything, including shadows, blends together so your eye glosses over it, while still having it all exposed for the industrial look. Match this with white or light grey painted walls for more contrast.
Metal is used regularly for furniture and fixtures. Don’t be afraid to combine different metals for more interest. There is no rule book saying all the metals in your room must be either brass, or chrome, or copper. Mix it up! Try using a bold copper light fixture in the kitchen, paired with bronze chair legs, and pewter cabinet pulls. I do like to cap my combinations at 3 types though to one room to avoid looking cluttered. This applies to woods too.
Rustic design covers everything from cabin style to shabby chic. This is where a lot of mixed styles tend to flourish. Rustic design is characterized by rough, worn, and vintage looks. It relies heavily on nature for inspiration. Wood is used a lot and in various ways.
Woods are grainy with exposed knots. The stains tend to be warm tones and in the mid-dark range. Wood furniture is either second-hand or made to look it using a type of finish called distressing. Pallet boards are very typical of Rustic design, along with using shiplap and barn board. Patterns and prints tend to be done on a large-scale. Since it gets its influences from nature, use plants and flowers as a way to bring the outdoors in.
Muted, Warm, Aged
This is the style that embraces history and where vintage pieces can shine. Rustic design loves pieces that show their age. Metals can be tarnished, woods rough and distressed, and furniture can look well-loved. The important part is that the structure of these pieces is still secure and strong for use.
There is minimal pattern (unless you’re going for the Canadian style, then plaid is a must), and more of a preference to muted tones. Colors should be inspired by nature, and try to blend with the outdoors. Whites, beige, and greige (gray-beige) are the prominent colors. When using accent colors, try to keep them soft, and just hint at color. Throw blankets, pillows, and wall art are great ways to add some color. Fabrics tend to be natural fibers, such as linens, cotton, and wool. Faux-fur area rugs can really pull a room together, and add warmth to the aged wood floors.
The Mother of modern design. Scandinavian design heavily influenced Mid Century Modern, which is the basis of most North American design styles. It’s minimal, it’s structural, it’s functional.
The minimal look is the highlighting feature of the Scandinavian style. There are no frills, but it can look stark if not done right. When going for a Scandinavian style, you want to blend the minimalism with cozy textures to break up the blah. Knit blankets, faux-fur throw rugs, and woven baskets are great ways to break up the bare woods, smooth tabletops, and simple designs.
Minimal, Light, Functional
Scandinavian furniture is designed to serve more than one purpose. It can be inexpensive (Ikea), or high-end (European). The goal is to fit the same amount of functioning furniture into small apartments. But you don’t want the rooms to look heavy or cluttered. This is where negative space is used intentionally in products, so it appears lighter and open. Some examples of this are wall mounted end tables with open space beneath, wire-frame chairs, open back bookcases, and platform beds.
Everything tends to be mostly white and grey tones. Accent colors can be used in small amounts, such as a decorative chair or colored pillows. Metals shouldn’t look heavy either so pass over black and antique bronze finishes in favor of chrome and gold tones. You want the overall look to be light and airy. Minimal is still the desired style.
The emerging style of the moment is Bohemian (Boho). It’s influencing vibes are very carefree and colorful. It’s characterized by a love of life, and the organic feel of nature, and individuality. There is a lot that goes on with Boho style. Everything about it is less structured and completely opposite of Scandinavian. Instead of achieving a minimal look, you are trying to fill up every space. The art is in making it look full, rather than messy.
There is a heavy emphasis on contrasting pieces and juxtaposition. White walls are covered in colorful (non-cohesive) art, velvet furniture will have rough woven area rugs beneath it. Macrame plant containers display glossy jars with silky leaved plants. Some key decor pieces are metal hanging lanterns, pouf ottomans, and colorful fabrics. Homemade pieces, and those with global influences are also desired for this look. Homemade pieces are unique and full of personality. Decor pieces should look like they have been gathered from all over the world, then displayed side by side. Even the furniture has an ethnic, homemade look to it.
Vibrant, Artistic, Energetic
In Boho style, anything can go. A single room can contain a mixture of patterns and prints. You can go for high contrast with opposing colors, or add a bit of cohesiveness by having various shades of the same color in different prints. Colors are very vibrant for a more ethnic look, especially in warm tones such as reds, pink, and oranges. Keep the space neutral with white walls and simple flooring, then layer on the colors and textures.
The bohemian design has an abundance of layers. Try layering area rugs upon one another for a tossed and carefree look. Beds are covered in various layers of sheets and blankets. When layering, stick to 3 or 5 different items to avoid overdoing it. Then decide which item will be more prominently displayed on the top layer, and expose an edge of the other 2 layers.
Find Your Design Style Mix
Now that you have read about the most common design styles, it’s time to take a look at what home styles you lean towards. You can cross-reference the characteristics listed above as you set about the next task. A notepad and pen might come in handy for this next part, or you can make notes in your phone or tablet. It’s good to have something to keep going back to.
- Go into a room of your house that you like and don’t mind spending time in. What about it do you like? Is it the shape of the furniture? The wall color? The patterns? Do any of these details fit into one of the categories you just discovered?
- Check your Pinterest boards. Do you see a common theme among the home pins you have saved? It could be a vibe, a color palette, or certain objects (pineapples anyone?).
- Check your closet. Do you notice a color preference in your wardrobe? Does a specific pattern keep popping up? What is your favorite article of clothing and what do you love about it?
- Scope out the homes of your friends. Often times we admire how a friend has put their home together. There’s some good news! You and your friend probably have common interests, seeing as how you are friends after all. Therefore, what you love about her place could be a great insight into finding your own design style preference! Treat her to a coffee and get her to spill the beans on where she shops her awesome finds, if you haven’t already hit up the stores with her.
Blend Your Fav Design Styles
By now you should have some design styles that you feel drawn to. These will help you find your design style. Now, you need to know how to combine them so they look just as good as your Pinterest boards.
Take out that pencil and paper. We’re going to jot down a few things to help you figure out your ideal style combination.
- Jot down the names of the styles that speak to you the most. It could be one, or it could be a few different styles.
- Write down a few points that you like most from each one. Aim for at least 3 of each. Is it the colors you like? The use of natural materials? A certain detail?
- Of those points from above, I want you to narrow it down further. Circle your top 3-5 points overall. What are the elements you love the most, your hands down favorites?
It’s time to run with these now. These winning points are what we are going to focus on in your home. They are the keys to find your design style. You want these to stand out and be the prominent features in your new decor. Once established you can go back to add some extra glitter with a few pointers from the second step. But you don’t want to overwhelm your space.
Find Your Design Style
Congratulations! You have found your design style mix. No more impersonal home to greet you at the end of the day. You have created the guideline of features to look for when styling your space to make it most comfortable for you. Keep this guide in mind when you are shopping for home decor. The reason you wrote down your points is so that you can keep referring to them. Now that you have a clear idea of what styles best suit you, your home will come together much easier. This was the hard part.
The next step is to put your new-found design style to use. To learn more about pulling a room together, check out my post on design theory.
Please share your success and this guide with anyone you know who could use a helping hand to find their design style. If you love this post, then sign up for my email lists.
And tell me in the comments what your personal combination is. I’d love to hear from you!