I read something recently that brought a smile to my face: traditional home décor is back; and in a big way. Yep, think dark woods, four-poster beds, antique sideboards, fabric window treatments, wallpaper, and the like. But why; why now? If you think about it, it’s actually pretty simple to figure out.
Collectively we as a society have been essentially locked in our homes for months on end now. We work at home, school at home, exercise at home, and pretty much do everything at home. Spending so much time in our homes has caused many to redo and redecorate as staring at the same four unpainted walls is wearing on us.
At the same time, we’re in the midst of a growing list of historical events that have basically shaken us to our core. We all feel stressed and uncertain about so much. We have been forced to make major changes and change is always hard. The result? The longing for days gone by and the “good ole days.” Enter traditions and all things traditional.
I’m totally on board as I’ve always loved traditional design and furnishings. And although I like looking at and learning about Mid-Century Modern, French Country, Feng Shui, or the latest design trends, give me elegant and charming over sleek or trendy any day of the week. I’m with designer Erin Gates of Elements of Style in that my design style of choice is updated traditional using a mix of timeless pieces, antiques, and some modern accents thrown in for texture and fun. Practical has my name all over it, whether it be life choices or design picks.
To be sure, I’m no designer by trade and the “new traditional” might not be for everyone or trending everywhere, I’m just here to share what I’ve learned and what I personally prefer.
Katie Laughridge of Tribune News Service recently wrote about the growing interest in traditional design and credits our longing for nostalgia and simpler times as key to its re-emergence. Our brains, she writes, naturally make connections to places, things, and even scents that comfort us and give us a sense of peace. This could be anything from grandma’s hand-me-down dresser to great Uncle Larry’s book collection. These have a way of tying us to the past; a past we are longing for like perhaps never before.
Still, as with anything, don’t go crazy or overboard with your dark wood choices and toile wallpaper. You might want formal, but make it fun. You might want grandma’s drop-leaf table, but you don’t want your home to scream grandma. The elegance of a Queen Ann chair complete with the requisite cabriole legs and padded feet is a tad more heavy then a graceful mahogany Hepplewhite with its straight legs and shield or spider backs, but either can be paired with more contemporary pieces.
Queen Anne and Hepplewhite dining chairs are two of my all-time favorite purchases, but maybe think about pairing them with a more modernistic and sleek table rather than a Duncan Phyfe pedestal table or, upholster them in a more playful fabric. Or, flip that thought and pair that pedestal table with perhaps mismatched traditional style chairs or lacquered red bamboo chairs. Not only will you create interest and texture, you’ll add a pop of much-needed color! This concept is expertly illustrated in these three photos:
In this BH&G photo, formal Queen Ann chairs sport more casual checked seats.
A formal Duncan Phyfe table is paired above with what might be formal chairs whimsically slip-covered in a fun and pleated check and joined by a very casual window seat.
A columned-legged chair above is upholstered in a sunny yet cozy yellow velvet and is joined by a matching table, yet is also paired with a modern acrylic X-bench in this photo from Veranda. Accessories include traditional blue and white vases and modern art on the wall.
I love that a new generation of home décor style makers and enthusiasts are returning to all things their childhoods, be it chintz, checks, and Chippendale or brass, bead-board, and book-filled rooms. And, even though the scheme is old, the names are not. So far I’ve heard or read about New Traditional, Neo-Traditional, Modern Vintage, and even Grand-Millennial. Whatever you call it, call it mixing the old with the new.
So, how to get timeless sensibility and design that will last? Megan Beauchamp of mydomaine.com spoke with designer Lori Henle who recommends staying away from popular styles that will age quickly and that you will likely grow tired of and instead think of making old-school design current. This could be a schoolhouse style ceiling light fixture, fabric window treatments, a dramatic antique serving as a kitchen island like in the photo above, or wallpaper in the powder room or on an accent wall. Accessorize those rooms with personal items you’ve collected or family heirlooms you’ve acquired so that your home feels like your home and not overly staged or designer designed.
“Traditional” is defined as habitually done or long established, which could also define traditional design. In fact, it was established long ago and has been habitually done since its inspiration of early European décor, most commonly English but also French. You could say there’s nothing more traditional than a stately Louis XV or wingback chair, but how inviting is the above photo of a traditional formal room with a less traditional fabric on the Louis XV and fellow side chair? Traditional design is yes, often formal, but it doesn’t have to be stuffy. It generally uses natural materials and colors and incorporates grand architectural elements like raised panel doors, built-in cabinetry, heavy trim work, and grand fireplaces. But, as Henle notes, even if your home is lacking any or all of these traditional design hallmarks, you can still get the look while keeping it modern.
“The new traditional has a modern influence that creates warmth and ease with subtle layers of texture, color, and bold finishes,” she told MyDomaine. “Start with a neutral color base and add colorful accents and bold large-scale pieces to make a statement as opposed to lots of smaller pieces, which can look busy and cluttered.”
You might splurge and purchase a stunning Chesterfield sofa but then maybe upholster it in leather and then add a chunky cable knit throw and velvet accent pillows to add depth and snuggle factor to an otherwise very traditional piece of furniture. Rustic and metals work great with traditional looks, so maybe place a more rustic or metal nightstand next to your four-poster bed.
Look anywhere and farmhouse apron sinks and bridge-style faucets are everywhere. If anything is “old school” it’s a farmhouse and its country style. These uber popular sinks might share a kitchen with more modern cabinet hardware or a sleek counter material, but make no mistake, they are old and they are the new new. Your thought process should not be to have head-to-toe traditional style (or any other style for that matter), but to add modern pieces to offset a sometimes too stiff traditional design.
All design experts are in agreement when it comes to furnishing an entire room: don’t pick pieces that are a matched set with the same fabric, wood, and finish. Doing so makes a room look dated from the get go and lack interest. Mix your woods with metals such as iron or brass, add color and pattern, and maybe even add a painted piece. But stick to just one piece of painted word furniture in a room as any more will start to look like a flea market.
And don’t forget function. All those mahogany lined libraries in old English manors may look beautiful and impressive, but did anyone really read in them? Keep your sofas comfy, your kitchen workable, and grandpa’s old writing desk could work great even with laptops and Zoom calls.
The 2020 quarantine has left us all feeling a bit isolated and in search of stability and certainty. We are also longing for warmth, safety, and security, which customs and traditions are conventionally known for, so if that means watching Netflix seated in a Martha Washington chair or working from home on a highboy secretary, I’ll take it. Sounds like a classic move to me.
Here are just a few more examples:
This adorable black-and-white bedroom from House Beautiful showcases a traditional spool bed, wallpaper, and window cornice valances with more contemporary woven shades, an iron nightstand, and contemporary prints.
Black-and-white is the concept in this Cynthia Weber designed eating area that incorporates a traditional curio cabinet, round spool table, Windsor chairs, striped valance, and butler’s tray but corners it all with more rustic accessories.
Nothing but formal here in this bedroom featured in Traditional Home. The four-poster bed and elaborate fireplace, mantle, and artwork harmonize perfectly with the heavy trim work detail while the mirror above the bed adds a slight contemporary flair.
Coziness is on point as is traditional style featuring Windsor chairs and lantern light coupled with a more rustic table, painted brick fireplace, and mix-and-match leaned artwork.
Windsor chairs flank a rustic trestle table flanked by window seat and woven shades.