Interior Design Styles For Beginners: 9 Popular Styles Explained

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Last updated on June 1st, 2021

Unfortunately, it’s possible to make expensive mistakes in interior design!

The first step you can take to AVOID this is to figure out which interior design style you like best.

To know what interior design styles you like, you need to familiarize yourself with some of the popular ones. After all, these are the styles we see every day on social media and on TV. They influence us whether we realize it or not!

Knowing what kind of design style you identify with will help save you time, frustration and money.

In this article, I will focus on some of the modern interior design styles that are most in vogue at the moment. 

If you don’t identify with any of these styles, it’s possible that you are a blend of two or more different styles! Many skilled interior designers blend styles and I think that’s the best way to decorate a room. 

I won’t go too in-depth into each style, otherwise this post will take 5 hours to read and I don’t want to waste your time. It’s only meant to be a brief introduction to each major style.

Specific, very detailed guides about how to affordably create each of these styles are coming soon, I will link them up to this article as I create them!

There will be inspirational photos, furniture and decor recommendations, and more! If you want me to ping you when these new guides are available, don’t forget to subscribe

Table of Contents

1. Mid-Century Modern

functional • streamlined • open • sleek • uncluttered

Design Within Reach

What is mid-century modern style decorating?

The mid-century modern style (or “MCM”) has been taking the world of interior design by storm for the past several years. It’s essentially the interior design style that emerged in the middle of the 20th century in America and in Scandinavia. Post-WW2 American designers were excited about experimenting with new materials like plastic and plywood, and wanted to explore all the possibilities of mass production.

Mid-century pieces are often a mix of organic and geometric forms, with clean lines and gentle curves. Admittedly it’s not always the most comfortable, but that depends on a lot of different factors, like whether or not your piece is vintage or made with today’s modern materials.

The mid-century modern trend is going strong – many of the original pieces designed over 70 years ago are still being made to this day – originals AND reproductions! Not only that, but a lot of new furniture lines are being inspired by this classic, vintage look.

If you like mid-century modern design, you may appreciate these elements:

  • abstract, geometric and asymmetrical designs. They were very popular in the 50s and 60s (think about the patterns on clothing and designs seen in advertising). These elements can be pulled into your art, wallpaper, rugs and room accessories for a mid-century look.
  • wooden tapered legs, sometimes peg legs will have brass caps
  • metal hairpin legs
  • splayed furniture legs
  • plastic shell chairs
  • “sputnik” style pendant lights, globe-shaped lights, streamlined floor lamps, arc floor lamps and functional metal table lamps
  • case goods in warm medium-toned woods like walnut
  • curtains are not a must – a lot of emphasis was placed on having big beautiful windows in mid-century homes, to allow lots of light in. If you have such windows, consider skipping curtains altogether for a clean MCM look, or perhaps opt for roman blinds instead.

Love MCM? Then you have to check out these posts:

  • 10 iconic mid-century chairs and where to buy affordable dupes
  • 11 mid-century style beds that will elevate your bedroom

For a much deeper look at Scandinavian interior design, check out this guide, watch my video where I dive deeper into mid-century modern design!

 

2. Industrial

moody • masculine• striking • inviting • old-world charm

Heirloom design build

What is industrial style decorating?

The industrial design style derives from taking an old warehouse or industrial factory and transforming it into a chic loft or living space. 

The style emerged in the early 2000s and is still popular today. Many stores, restaurants and companies have embraced the industrial style, partly due to the nature of the buildings their businesses reside in. 

90% of what is going to get you an industrial-looking space is the type of architecture that you live in.

Seriously, if you don’t believe me, then do this test: google “industrial living room”, and look at all the image results. Ignore all the furniture and accessories.

What remains?

Rooms that feature exposed bricks, beams and pipes, cement/concrete, metal staircases and huge windows.

So my point is, if you have any of those features in your home, you are well on your way to being able to create a fantastic industrial-style space.

Otherwise, it’s going to be quite a bit more difficult to successfully achieve that look. Without those inherently industrial features, what you’ll probably end up with is something that looks a little more contemporary or mid-century. 

If you like industrial interior design, you may appreciate these elements:

  • exposed brick
  • exposed beams
  • exposed structures and inner workings of a building
  • concrete floors
  • cement blocks
  • wood
  • leather
  • plush, often dark furniture
  • windows are usually very large and with multiple black window grills
  • pipes used as decor
  • edison bulbs

3. Contemporary

trendy • fluid • ever-changing • present • ambiguous

Kevin O’Sullivan

What is contemporary style decorating?

Quite simply, contemporary interior design is what is in style TODAY.

The word contemporary literally means “belonging to or occurring in the present”.

What is contemporary today, may end up looking dated in 10 years time (anyone remember those kitchens with cherry cabinets and dark granite counters?!😱).

And, what is contemporary today will also be “vintage” in 30 or 40 years’ time.

If you wait long enough, whatever is contemporary will probably end up being in style again at some point 😝.

Some people refer to contemporary style decorating as “modern”. Contemporary and modern are not the same thing. Although by definition the two words MEAN the same thing, in the world of interior design, they are actually two separate styles.

Contemporary is what we described above: what is in style TODAY. Modern refers to any “forward-thinking” interpretation of design that began in the 20th century. 

If you like contemporary interior design, you may appreciate these elements:

  • curved lines
  • state of the art and/or eco-friendly materials
  • restrained palette
  • strong sense of minimalism
  • concrete
  • steel
  • glass
  • elements of mid-century modern and art deco

4. Traditional

homey • symmetrical • timeless • calm • luxurious

architectural digest

What is traditional style decorating?

The traditional interior design style pulls from classic, timeless shapes from the past: mainly the 18th and 19th centuries. Traditional design will often incorporate antiques or reproduction pieces designed to look antique.

Furniture will be ornate, but rooms will favor symmetry in order to portray a feeling of calm and order. Classical artwork will be incorporated, dark woods are popular and jewel tones are used a lot. Fabrics will be heavy and luxurious.

If you like traditional interior design, you may appreciate these elements:

  • gilded picture frames
  • cabriole legs
  • tufted upholstery
  • wingback chairs
  • damask, plaid, paisley
  • heavy luxurious materials like silk, velvet, leather
  • strong architectural elements such as moldings are often present
  • crystal chandeliers
  • marble

5. Transitional

versatile • freedom • best of both worlds • elegant • clean

Design by Sue De Chiara, Photography by Nicole Cohen

What is transitional style decorating?

Transitional is a bit of a silly term, like where are we transitioning to? 🤣

I’m not sure why the need to coin a new design style has emerged, as transitional design is essentially contemporary design with some traditional elements mixed in.

Anyways, I am addressing the transitional design style because it’s definitely a thing and thus, cannot be ignored. 

If you’re wondering what transitional interior design is, don’t worry: you are not alone!

In essence, it’s a blend between traditional and contemporary design.

Transitional style interior design allows more freedom when decorating your space because you can combine items from different eras.

So if you find yourself drawn to traditional design elements, but perhaps want to mix things up with something more contemporary so that it doesn’t feel stuffy, then the transitional style might be perfect for you!

If you like transitional interior design, you may appreciate these elements:

  • modern wall decor
  • clean furniture lines
  • a tendency towards minimalism 
  • modern lighting fixtures
  • moldings
  • mixing traditional with modern

6. Scandinavian

handcrafted • bright • cozy • less is more • natural

SkandiaMäklarna

 

What is Scandinavian style decorating?

The Scandinavian (or “Scandi”) is without a doubt one of the most popular interior design styles on the planet.

Scandinavian interior design draws inspiration from its nordic environment and is like a distant cousin to mid-century modern. With long, dark winters and sub-zero temperatures, the home is designed to be a place of utmost comfort. Walls are kept bright white to reflect as much light as possible. Furnishings are unfussy, yet should be tremendously comfortable.

Nature is brought into the home through the use of woods, cottons, linens, wools, and plants.

Scandinavian interior design color palettes are usually made of neutrals: white, ivory, greige, pale pink, soft sage green. The odd pop of color is not uncommon either.

With each design choice being very deliberate, you won’t find a lot of cluttered Scandinavian interiors!

If you like Scandinavian interior design, you may appreciate these elements:

  • Monochromatic furniture
  • white or greige walls
  • warm accents through woods, cozy textiles, velvet and leather
  • rooms filled with light
  • streamlined yet comfortable furniture
  • boldly patterned textiles
  • use of candles
  • IKEA 🙂

For a much deeper look at Scandinavian interior design, check out this guide, or watch my video!

 

7. Bohemian

global • laid-back • inviting • mismatched • eclectic

Rebecca & Genevieve

What is bohemian style decorating?

The bohemian interior design style is an eclectic blend of mismatched elements that make up a warm and inviting space. The idea behind boho decor is that over time, the decor in your home becomes a collection of your worldly travels and experiences.

Failing being able to travel the world, you can incorporate global elements into your home by shopping for products that FEEL global (think antique stores, second-hand shops or even places like World Market are awesome). For a super in-depth affordable boho shopping guide, click here!

If you like bohemian interior design, you may appreciate these elements:

  • bright, happy colors
  • rich patterns
  • low-level furniture
  • rattan furniture
  • vintage items, somewhat worn or distressed
  • a lot of plants
  • persian and turkish rugs
  • woven wall hangings
  • maximalism
  • natural textures

For tons more ideas on how to bring bohemian decor into your home, check out my guide here! Or watch my video below!

 

8. Modern Farmhouse

classic • restrained • cozy • elegant • warm

Nicole Davis Interiors

What is modern farmhouse style decorating?

If traditional farmhouse is the awkward and clumsy teenager, modern farmhouse is that same teenager turned into an elegant and sophisticated adult.

A little more refined and contemporary compared to traditional farmhouse, the modern farmhouse style has just that little bit more of an edge to it.

It’s a fascinating interior design style, being a mix between contemporary minimalism, industrial elements and warm traditional country.

You can use architectural salvage (somewhat sparingly!), but the finishes shouldn’t be quite as worn as they would be in a traditional farmhouse.

Keep the walls light and bright, the furniture comfortable and the feeling inviting.

Save the wall quotes, mason jars and sliding barn doors for traditional farmhouse decor.

If you like modern farmhouse, you may appreciate these elements:

  • streamlined upholstered pieces
  • vintage-inspired lighting
  • black accents eg: wrought iron
  • shiplap
  • board and batten
  • natural materials
  • A-frame architecture

Totally head-over-heels for Modern Farmhouse? Check out the full guide here!

9. Minimalism

essential • curated • deliberate • careful • uncluttered

Almost makes perfect

What is minimalist style decorating?

Minimalism is becoming increasingly popular, affecting many of today’s interior design styles.

At its core, minimalism takes an interior, or an object, and strips away any and all excess components. You are left with the essential structure, the core elements, and a clear, simple and hopefully exciting design.

The construction of minimalist interiors is incredibly difficult to pull off: you can’t just choose a couple of pieces of furniture, chuck them in a white room and call it a day. Since everything is pared down to its essence, nothing can be masked or covered up. As a result, careful consideration is required for every shape, form and material.

Minimalist interior design keeps it simple and ensures that every object in the room has a place and a purpose. 

Open floor plans are favored, and walls and ceilings without mouldings are preferred.

If you like minimalism, you may appreciate these elements:

  • very restrained palettes, usually monochromatic
  • complete lack of embellishments/ornamentation
  • extremely clean lines
  • obsessive attention to detail
  • uncluttered space
  • everything must have a purpose
  • a feeling of openness 

Never before have we lived in a time where so many fascinating interior design styles have co-existed and influenced each other so much! And of course there are many other different styles out there that I didn’t cover. So please let me know in the comments if there’s another style you would like me to cover!

Are you now able to recognize which type of interior design styles you might identify with? 

 

 

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