How to Choose an Interior Design Style Without a Quiz

We get it: Narrowing down your choice of interior design style can feel like being at a high end buffet.  How are you supposed to choose what you want when everything looks good? When it comes to style, with so many style options, how do you know where to start on your style journey?

Your starting point for finding your interior design style

Today I’m going to help you get to the bottom of the “endless style choice” dilemma. So, if finding your style without relying on a style quiz is your kind of party, you’re going to love this post. Don’t go anywhere and let’s jump in!

To tackle the task of discovering your interior design style without a quiz, I’m going to ask you to put yourself into one of following three categories:

  1. I have no idea what interior design style I like at all. (You are an interior design style beginner.)
  2. I have a vague idea of what I like, but I need to narrow it down. (You are an interior design style intermediate.)
  3. I am confident that I know what I like, but I need to fine-tune the details. (You are an interior design style connoisseur.)

1. Interior design style beginners

If you fall into the first category: First off, don’t feel bad.  This is where everyone starts out.  At this point you might think that you like just about every interior design style, or maybe you look at different interior design styles and don’t really know what to look for or how to judge what you’re seeing.  

The good news for you is that the process of figuring out your interior design style from scratch is going to be fun! 

2. Interior design style intermediates

If you fall into the second camp, you have a rough idea of what you like. This means you are in a good place to build on some of your established preferences, and it will be easier for you to start making some good progress in choosing a design style than for a complete beginner.  

All you need to know now is what steps you should take next!

For number ones and twos: If you haven’t read my article on “Finding Your Interior Design Style – Yourself”, I’d suggest going there first.  In it I explain some good ways for a beginner to get started figuring out their design style for themselves.  

Yes, there are online quizzes you can take, and I recommend doing some of those as well, but don’t let a style personality quiz be the only thing you go on when determining something which should be uniquely yours.

It will be so much more rewarding, I promise, if you make the extra effort to examine your personal preferences and do some of the work that real interior designers do wehn determining which style or look to go for.

3. Interior design style connoisseurs

If you fall into the third camp and you already have a sense of what interior design style you like, then consider yourself ahead of the game!

For you honing your personal interior design style will come down to ironing out some possible snags and getting a strong sense of direction about action steps for bringing your style vision to life!

Interior design style basics

After getting accustomed to the major factors to be aware of when choosing an interior design style we can go on to the more advanced interior design style tips. In case you didn’t have a chance to read my earlier article on the subject, let’s sum up the most important points for getting started choosing your design style before we go further.

Image credit: Veranda magazine. Can you articulate the difference between these two styles?
  1. Learn the difference between traditional and modern styles, and determine which you prefer.  Keep in mind the third option, which is a mix of the two (also known as an ‘eclectic’ style in architecture).
  1. Look at the style of your home and the architectural detailing in each room to determine which style or ‘look’ you already have in place, and decide whether you want to play those features up more, or whether you want to bring in a different style to create an ‘eclectic’or mixed style look.
  1. Consider your own fashion sense when determining your preferences for color and pattern.
  1. Look at your personality and lifestyle.  

For example, if you are introverted and prefer alone time, choose furnishings and plan your space for your real needs.  On the other hand, if you are extroverted and want to have people over a lot, you’ll want to accommodate visitors.  It’s important to think about practical factors like kids, pets or a need to work from home, too.

  1. Add in your cultural preferences.  

For example, do you want to go with a style that suits your climate and environment?  Do you want a casual, easy going vibe or something dressed up?  Do you want to include aspects of your personal heritage or elements of a style you picked up on your travels?  

I say yes to elements of your personal history.  Yes also to your photography and your quirky artwork collection.  This is how you are going to truly personalize your space for yourself, rather than just replicate someone else’s good taste.  

Design Baddie’s Basic Style Tables

Now that we covered the basics, it’s time to introduce some style logic. The followingbasic style tables will take you through five major elements to consider when it comes time to planning the composition of a room scheme.These style tables build on what we learned in the earlier article about questions to ask yourself about your interior design style and give you a more concrete way to measure style factors in your interior space.

The five major compositional elements in any room are:

  1. Architectural shell
  2. Color profile
  3. Pattern profile
  4. Adornment and decor
  5. Artwork considerations 

In my opinion, these four major elements are enough to give you a very good sense of how you plan to decorate your space.  It is the basic logic I work with when I get a new interior design client and I’m trying to help them figure out their design style from scratch .

You might remember that the article about figuring out your interior design style in five steps included cultural and “vibe” preferences. Since this article focuses more on logical specifics I would suggest that you see your cultural and style preferences as falling into and informing your color, pattern, decor and artwork categories. By seeing these as integral to the specifics of your choices in these categories you can achieve the finesse that you will be looking for in nailing your personal interior design style.

Please note that the following tables reference very broad and general concepts in design theory, and are not specific to the many varied names of specific furniture pieces, fabrics or decorative items.  What we’re doing here is creating a general style organizational system that will help you to categorize the endless interior design style element options for yourself.

So, without further ado, let’s start our categorization with the first and most general division, the architectural shell.

The Most Important Consideration: Respect for Architecture

The three main “architectural styles” (or types of interior shell) are divided by traditional, eclectic and modern. 

In interior design we are usually working with an existing space that may or may not have existing style elements. These can include fitted cabinetry, trims, railings, moldings and fireplaces, for example. If you have historic architectural elements in your home your immediate work is to identify what existing style they are, so that you can decide whether or how they can be incorporated with the styles you are interested in decorating in.  

Pointers for traditional architectural elements

  • It’s usually easier to make a modern interior traditional than a traditional interior modern.For example, traditional architectural features can be easily be applied from scratch to a modern shell(for example, moldings or panels), whereas it can be hard to mask heavy or dominant traditional features that are undesirable when a more modern look is desired.
  • Traditional features need not restrict you entirely, however.  Classical elements work with several contemporary styles, despite their traditional heritage. This is usually accomplished by altering the overall aesthetic to an eclectic one.
  • When a modern look is desired in a space with a strong traditional feature in the mix, you would simply need to ensure that the rest of your choices in color, pattern and decoration leaned to the modern side in order to swing it toward a more modern contemporary look.

Why considering the architectural shell is paramount to getting the rest of the style right

  • If you are deeply unhappy with the interior architectural features in your home then your decision comes down to whether to work around the undesirable features or whether to find a way to disguise or remove them entirely.
  • Whether you want to achieve a traditional or a modern look, addressing the traditional vs. modern question, or alternatively, working to achieve some ambiguity in style is paramount to getting the rest of the look right.
  • When in doubt, respect the architecture and take your cues from it.


Building Interior Envelope

This table shows the names of some common interior design styles in the context of the architectural shell.

Please note that the term ‘eclectic’ is my personal interpretive use of the word for the purposes of classification. My use of this term borrows from the architectural use of the word eclectic, meaning ‘between modern and traditional’ ,or incorporating elements of both.In contrast, this term in interior design is used to describe a style which borrows from multiple styles and diverse style elements.

Another term that is commonly used for the meeting point between traditional and modern is transitional. Since traditional and transitional

Another term that is commonly used for the meeting point between traditional and modern is transitional. Since traditional and transitional are lexically similar I decided to avoid any possible confusion by using ‘eclectic’ instead. Note that eclectic and transitional can be used interchangeably.


Interior Color Profile

This table shows the general and typical distinction between architectural typologies or “style types” as they relate to interior color schemes. This is a rough guide and should not be strictly interpreted as an absolute rule.


Interior Finishes and Soft Furnishings

This table is a guide to patterns, motifs and stylistic elements as relates to interior architecture. Again, this is a loose and general interpretation.


Furniture and Decor

This table compares the ornamentation and finish qualities associated with the three architectural categories as relates to furniture.


Art Work and Sculpture

How to Use these Tables

Discovering your design style aesthetic can be a straightforward affair using these tables to discover how to work with your preexisting and planned interior features. How does it work?

All you need to do is track the colors of the squares you chose for each category (i.e. red, purple or pink). The elements in these categories can describe both what you have to start with (i.e. architectural elements or existing furniture), and what you plan to use in your interior scheme. After considering the colors you have more of you have a good indication of your style direction. 

Using the Basic Style Tables with the “Big 5” Style Genre System

1. If you have more pink squares then you fall into the traditional camp.
2. If you have more blue squares, you prefer modern.
3. If you are have a lot of purple, you are in the eclectic mid-range between modern and traditional. In this case, you can check which of the adjacent color categories (blue or pink) you have more of to see if you lean more one way or the other.

Are you mostly purple, but have more pink than blue?  

If so, then you are “eclectic” with more traditional leanings.  This is known as Eclectic-Traditional.

Are you mostly purple, but have more blue than pink?

This would make you “eclectic” with modern leanings.  This is known as Modern-Eclectic.

Keep in mind that if you like all your style elements pure, then try to keep all of your influences to one hue; all mostly blue, pink or purple without mixing too much.

And yes, in case you were wondering, it is totally possible to be fully eclectic; even what we would callpure eclectic.

More interior design style resources

To learn more about the Big Five Style Genres, please visit these posts on the subject:

How to Learn Interior Design Styles with Style Genres

The Pure Modern Style Genre

The Modern Eclectic Style Genre

The Eclectic Style Genre

The Eclectic-Traditional Style Genre

How to Identify the 5 Most Important Interior Styles

room interior with lamp and vases on table near wall

Your interior design style identity, solved

If you’ve reached this point in the article, well done. This information can be a little tedious the first time you come across it, but I believe it is valuable if you study, print it out and use it. It presents you with a useful formula that you can use to become a style sleuth, all without needing to use an online quiz. So, go ahead, give yourself a pat on the back, and maybe even a new interior design style hashtag!

After reading this article you can now declare, my style is Pure Traditional or Eclectic Traditional, Pure Eclectic, Eclectic-Modern, or Pure Modern, and you’d be pretty right on the money. All just by using these five metrics to assess your style!

We have a similar article in which we help you figure out what style of home you are working with according to the traditional-modern interior design style spectrum or “The Big Five”. Also, be sure to check out our article on the thirty most popular interior design styles according to popular media and interior designers. We even have style boards which present the essence of each style so you can get to know them better!

Interior design style personalities

Beyond using a style spectrum like the “Big Five” to tell the difference between interior design styles, I developed a method for reading a room in four steps that results in a distinctive “style personality”. This method goes more in depth and works as a basic shorthand for remembering a style’s composition, as well as providing a “recipe” for creating a similar style. This sixteen interior design style personality method is called the “8 x 2” method, and we’ve published several of these style personality types already (on going project) and included examples of well-known styles that exemplify them. 

You can check those out here:

Traditional Styles:

How to Recognize the Gentleman Traditionalist (TSOS) Interior Design Style Personality

How to Recognize the Updated Traditionalist (TSCS) Interior Design Style Personality

Modern Styles:

How to Recognize the Pure Modern Interior Design Style Personality (NMCS)

How to Recognize the Carefree Modernist (NMCP) Interior Design Personality

How to Recognize the Decorative Modernist (NSOP) Style Personality Type

Were you able to figure out how to use the above method? I’d be interested to know! Drop a lines below and sign up to be notified of new style posts!

Thanks for reading!

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  1. Pingback: 5 Steps to Finding Your Interior Design Style – Yourself! – DESIGN BADDIE

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