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"What's Your Design Style?"

When I meet with potential clients or attend networking events with my peers, one question I hear a lot of is, "What's your design style? Is it modern or contemporary?". My response is always the same, "transitional". For industry vets, transitional is understood. For those outside the industry, I have to do a bit more explaining.

So today I will examine the more common design styles I run into as a designer in DC and the mid-Atlantic region. These styles are modern, contemporary, traditional and transitional. There are a ton of other styles; country, mid-century modern, shabby chic, Asian, Morroccan, Arts and Crafts, etc. but I've found the four above to be the most common.

Interior Design by Peter Mikic Interiors

Photo via Elle Decor on Instagram


Modern design is a minimal, clean, stark approach to design. It is the absence of decoration. It is made up of clean lines, whites, greys, blacks. The absence of color allow neutrals to dominate in this type of design. Asymmetry is often a component. It is not uncommon to find highly polished finishes (brass, chrome, glass) that lend the design a sleek, streamlined flair. Technology plays a large role in modern design with everything being accessible and controllable at the press of a button. Modern design is the most "no fuss, no frills" of all the design styles.

Interior Design via Charles Zana Image via


Contemporary design and modern design are often used interchangeably. However, although, they draw from some of the same ideals, they are not the same. Contemporary design picks up where modern design leaves off. It embraces clean lines and neutrals but also incorporates bold, pops of color. Open floor plans that incorporate natural materials are signature of this type of design. While modern angles toward minimal, contemporary design allows for a few more frills.

Interior Designer unknown

Image via


Traditional design was one of the first design styles to evolve. It can be said that it is the mother of all the other styles mentioned in this post. Traditional design incorporates all the bells and whistles. Furniture tends to be ornate and decorative, heavily carved, gilded or in darker toned woods such as cherry or mahoghany. Window treatments and upholstery tend to be made of velvet, silks, damasks, florals, and embroidery. Heavy trims and elaborate moldings are signature. Decorative accessories are plentiful and art is usually of still lifes, landscapes or portraiture.

Interior Design via Danielle Rollins

Photo via


Transitional design is by far the most common of design styles. It is a delicate mix of traditional and contemporary design. In this design style, there is enough frill to allow a space to be unimposing but not so much that it is overwhelming. Transitional design marries masculine and feminine elements to createn a classic and timeless design. Neutrals serve as the base of this style with bolder hues layered in using accessories and window treatments. Furniture can be either that of the sleek, clean lined variety or stuffed and with rolled arms. The aging process in a space designed in the transitional style is much slower than it is for the others mentioned in this post.

Interior Design by Eric Cohler Design

Photo via

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