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What is Traditional Interior Design?

By Darlene Goodman
Updated May 16, 2024
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Traditional interior design is typically evocative of classic European decor. Hallmarks of this style generally include deep wood tones, architectural details, and elegant furnishings. This style is quite versatile and can be combined with other interior elements to create a unique look in a room.

One of the most important facets of traditional interior design is the silhouettes, also called the lines, of the furnishings. Wing-backed chairs, claw footed tables, and curved furniture pieces that hearken back to the 18th and 19th centuries are examples of this. Common models for such traditional furniture are pieces attributed to the Queen Anne or Chippendale styles. Antiques are also often integrated into this design style, but many companies sell new pieces that mimic the lines of the old.

Architectural embellishments are widely used in this type of interior design. These can include elaborate moldings, beveled wood paneling, and intricate tile and wood floor patterns. Arches, columns, and built-in cabinetry are also frequent features of this type of design.

Rich wood tones are another key element in traditional interior design. Dark woods like cherry, maple, and mahogany are typically used in furniture pieces of this style. These are often carved and lacquered to give them a luxurious, elegant feel. Wood floors are also considered a standard for this decor, although tile and carpet are often used as well.

Color is generally important in any decorating theme. The walls are typically painted neutral colors to visually ground the elaborate furnishings. While such colors may also be used for large upholstered pieces, most furniture in this type of room incorporates rich shades of colors like red, blue, and brown. Artwork and accessories often incorporate more vibrant colors in a traditionally designed room.

Fabrics in traditional interior design often come in solid colors, but many also feature patterns such as florals, damasks, or paisleys. These textiles are often expensive materials like silk, velvet, or cashmere. This style is considered by many designers to be flexible enough to also incorporate more affordable and easy to care for fabrics, such as cotton or linen. Accents, like throw pillows, may then be used to incorporate the more costly textiles.

Although elegant, traditional interior design often also emphasizes simplicity and comfort in its layout. Pairings of furniture and accessories are common in this design scheme. This is often done to create a sense of symmetry around a focal point, such as a favorite work of art, a fireplace, or a large piece of furniture.

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Discussion Comments
By tolleranza — On Aug 02, 2011

I would not succumb to just one type of interior design type, but I must say having traditional interior design amongst say a mostly modern interior design look makes for a great statement pieces.

For example having a simple neutral couch with clean lines and then having an accent chair such as the wing-backed chair in a gaudy material sitting in the same room makes for a little flair but not too much.

By blackDagger — On Aug 02, 2011

I love decorating my home, but have no idea what is what in terms of interior design types. I don’t know European from Italian. I just know what I like, and that’s what I get.

As a result, I have this gorgeous four poster bed with a canopy on top. With the mattresses on, it literally comes up to my chest. Admittedly, I’m a shorty, but that’s still pretty tall. I need a stool to crawl up there with!

But I’m wondering if it is of the European style discussed in this article. It’s not an antique, but it was quite expensive. I got it at a steal for five hundred bucks after it had been marked down seventy five percent.

The backboard and headboard are not intricate, but a simple curve. The posts have straight lines carved into them, but that’s all. The canopy is standard. It is a rich mahogany finish.

Anyone have any idea what we’re looking at here?

By dimpley — On Aug 01, 2011

I think the key to using any kind of specific design type well is being able to combine it with other styles effectively.

That is not always as easy as it might sound. My mom, bless her heart, has it down to a science, though.

She is big on thrift store and flea market finds. She’ll take them and spruce them up into something really great. However, she ends up with this hodge podge of everything from the European style to modern.

For instance, she has a set of Queen Anne end tables that she got for practically nothing at a yard sale because the finish was horrible on them. No big deal to mom!

She took those bad boys home for ten dollars each, stripped, refinished and sealed them. They look like absolute new!

She’s got them sitting in the same room as her sectional sofa and chaise set. She refurbished that whole thing in a day after buying it for about fifty bucks at a flea market.

It had gotten smoke damage in a fire, but had no water damage or fire damage at all. You would never know it, though.

They look great and comfortable together!

By oscar23 — On Aug 01, 2011

I love the traditional European look, but I’ve had to alter my approach quite a bit since getting hitched a few years ago!

I love the elegant curves and the delicate look, but my husband is about six feet two inches tall, and about two hundred seventy pounds. He’s a real big boy, and cannot get comfortable in this petite look.

I mean that both psychologically and physically. He says he feels like a giant in the middle of all of that little, dainty stuff. So, we adapted.

We still have the curves and the elegant aire, but we’ve updated from antiques to more comfortable, newer sofas and the like. He even has a recliner – but it looks like a chair when he’s not reclined; it’s a quite nice, although large, wingback!

Momma always said I’d have to learn to compromise one day – I guess that day has arrived!

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