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In the 1950s, interior design was transformed into a profession by the trailblazing American architect and designer Florence Knoll.
Knoll was an extraordinary woman who led the way in many innovations, including the first use of photography in furniture advertisements. As an icon within the industry, her pieces now personify classic mid-century modern design.
For example, Knoll chairs and tables are statement works that remain popular with Living Interiors’ clients decades after they were first created.
When these trends started to emerge as its own field, they became a new language: modern, contemporary and minimalist. So which one is which and what exactly does that say about your sense of style?
What are interior design styles?
In essence, an interior design style is an approach to home furnishings and accessories that follows a particular visual aesthetic or set of principles.
While most people gravitate instinctively towards particular decor styles, they may not be familiar with the terms used to describe these. Having a deeper understanding of the most widely used looks is useful when you are navigating renovations or jazzing up your house.
How? It allows you to communicate more effectively with designers, and gives insights into your own 'design personality' that will help you work your magic like a true professional.
The most popular design styles with our clients are:
● Mid-century modern
Traditional interior design evokes previous eras: the sumptuous drawing room of an English country house; the elegant bedroom of a French chateau. It also draws inspiration from a rich history of natural materials and textiles. Wood tends to be dark; fabrics are plush – velvet, silk, brocade.
Furniture is enhanced with ornate details, like winged armchair tips or cabriole legs. Rooms emphasise symmetry and order, with pieces carefully positioned to create an atmosphere of harmony and balance.
Comfort and luxury are priorities in this category of design as well. The worn leather upholstery of a timeless sofa takes centre stage in a room embellished by homey touches, for example. Meanwhile, spaces are often offset by antiques and artwork collected over many years.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Contemporary design reflects furniture and décor of the current period. As trends change quickly, what is considered 'state-of-the-art' also moves on.
However, contemporary design has several hallmarks. These include simplicity; sleek lines; freedom from clutter; and a neutral colour palette of white, black, grey, and beige.
Branching out from past traditions, designers in this field tend to explore inventive uses of geometry and form. Lines can be straight or curved, but they are always clean and uncomplicated.
Lighting is also important. Advances in technology have led to arresting suspended fixtures and stunning floor lamps as signature elements.
With this form of design’s forward focus, materials are often human-made and include metal, glass and plastic, rather than timber and earthy alternatives. Expect lines that are used to dazzling effect in accessories such as bookshelves and coat-stands.
This is somewhat a broad term that refers to 20th Century décor and embodies specific features across:
● Clean appeal
● Architectural lines
● Natural materials and textures.
Modern design represented an evolution in the 20th Century from more traditional styles. It grew when designers and architects had access to mass forms of production, and could scale up concepts for broader markets.
Compared to traditional takes, modern furniture lacks ornate flourishes and focuses on practicality, although its sleek lines ensure it looks stylish. Materials are primarily timber, chrome or steel.
A notable difference between modern and contemporary design is the palette. While contemporary colour schemes are neutral, modern ones embrace bold primary hues, earthier rusts and autumn tones, teals and mustards.
Art and accessories will be sourced from the present day, not the past; you will find a Jasper Johns, not a Jasper Knight, in a modernist home.
As the most loved category in this type of look, it features a distinctive appeal that was created by Danish and American designers in the 1950s and 1960s. The critical elements of focus on functionality, with precise, sculptural lines and the elimination of unnecessary detail.
Colours are warm, with luxurious upholstery and fabrics inspired by men's suiting such as tweed and felt (another of Knoll's innovative contributions to the world of interiors).
Living Interiors can testify to the eternal popularity of mid-century modern, with iconic armchairs and timeless tables always in demand. Our portfolio of Classic products incorporates the famous Womb Chair and Florence Knoll Table – a staple of cosmopolitan urban offices for decades.
Living Interiors also hosts Jacobsen’s Egg and Swan chairs produced by official manufacturer Fritz Hansen, along with an Eames lounge chair crafted by Vitra (one of the only two companies worldwide with the Eames name attached).
Minimalist design is on a continuum with Modern and Contemporary design – but amplifies the concept of simplicity common to both. Pared-back lines and structured furniture create spare, streamlined spaces. A neutral palette finishes the Minimalist home.
Minimalist does not mean austere. A Minimalist table, bed, or desk offers an ultra-clean platform for accessories and lighting that build a calm, stabilising atmosphere.
Stripped-down without being severe, Minimalism is for those who appreciate a “less is more” approach to life.
The transitional design blends Traditional and Contemporary influences – offering the perfect solution if both past and present eras spark your imagination.
Transitional effects can be achieved through designers integrating modern materials with traditional fabrics or colour palettes, like the delightful Audrey bed by Galotti & Radice.
The transitional design incorporates details that reinterpret history through a contemporary lens, such as the elegant Savile Row by Mariani.
A thoughtfully planned space will combine traditional pieces with up-to-the-minute accents, staging a harmonious effect that is both sophisticated and welcoming.
A brief guide to other interior design styles
Other common interior design styles that you will encounter include:
Art Deco: A distinctive style that originated in the 1920s and includes dramatic, detail-heavy elements such as gilt edges, leadlight windows, mosaic tiling, and ornate overstuffed furnishings.
Glamorous and over-the-top, it’s reminiscent of the opulent The Great Gatsby era of flappers and vintage Hollywood films.
Bohemian: The rules in the bohemian design are – there are no rules. It is eclectic, influenced by carefree 1970s style, fashion and music. A bohemian home is likely to include retro furniture, vintage accents, and one-off items sourced from markets, travel destinations and environmentally aware retailers.
French Provincial: Inspired by the farmhouses of Provence and the French countryside, lime-washed floors and white cabinetry are the backdrop to elaborate furniture and elegant linens. The French Provincial colour palette is replete with whites, creams, taupes and gentle greys.
Hamptons: Titled after the US holiday enclave, Hamptons style is popular for beach weekenders and coastal living. Rooms are airy and light, often all-white including painted floorboards and shuttered blinds.
Colour schemes are neutral, with grey-and-white or blue-and-white striped accessories. Ocean themes are a focal point in artwork and décor.
Industrial: Commercial and urban environments influence industrial design. The raw features of building design that are typically hidden from view are deliberately exposed to form an essential part of the aesthetic: pipes, brickwork, ducts, unfinished surfaces.
Renovated lofts and warehouses embody the industrial style, which has made its way into countless business as well as residential interiors. Concrete floors, metal furniture, and art and accessories reclaimed from the commercial world, complete the industrial look.
Scandinavian: Scandinavian design is simple, functional chic inspired by the understated lifestyle and sparse landscapes of Nordic countries. Clean lines are complemented by white and neutral colour styling and pale timbers such as beech.
What’s your favourite interior design style?
The most popular designer furniture styles explained
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