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How to Identify the 5 Most Important Interior Styles

Put on your thinking cap, it’s time to play Sherlock with design styles. Learn the basic categories you need to know to help you profile any style you see.
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Profiling Interior Design Styles

Wanna be a style ace? Learn to identify styles using this easy categorization method and become a total style baddie!

This is the short, visual reference version of a series of posts here on Design Baddie which explain how to profile every day interior design styles using the Big Five style system.

This system puts all existing styles into categories, which we’ll explore below.

We’ll will also give you one important example style for each of the five style categories to help it stick.

Just like a detective profiles his subjects by looking for clues about their modus operandi, profiling (or categorizing) styles is useful when you’re trying to suss out a style.

It also helps us with finding a general way to explain our overall style preferences without having to pick a very specific style. Having a broader style category to work with allows us to explore our own tastes and create our own individual styles.

Categorizing styles also makes it easier to think about styles in general without getting bogged down in minutiae.

What follows are two boards for each of the five style “genres”. These serve as a handy visual reference. Even without understanding the theory, the images pretty much speak for themselves.

Let’s begin with the basics.

What are the 5 Style Genres?

The idea is that every interior design style in the world falls into one of five types. Here on Design Baddie we call the types of styles “genres”, like musical genres.

To create five genres, I organized the 30 most common interior design styles used globally on a simple spectrum between most traditional to most modern.

1. How the Pure Modern Style Genre is Classified

Pure Modern is a classification we can use for any interior that:

  1. Has a modern architectural shell (90-100%)
  2. Has mostly modern furniture (90-100%)
  3. Has mostly modern decor (85-100%)
  4. Has mostly modern artwork (85-100%)
  5. Bonus points if it is low on patterns and saturated (heavy) color

Important things to know about modernism

Modernism is a social movement (something of a reform movement, hoping to change society for the better) which began in the early twentieth century. The modern movement is probably best known for its powerful ambassadors in architecture.

-Players like Mies van Der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, showed a new vision of the world and paved the way for innovation and new ways of thinking.

-Modernism was a backlash against the excessive decoration of the previous ages. It also got started as technology allowed for new ways of building.

-Modernism stands for forward thinking and for progress.

-The beginning of modernism saw the rise of skyscrapers, geometric and linear forms, simplicity in design and truth in materials.

How to Recognize the Pure Modern Genre

It helps to understand pure modernism if you go to the extreme.

What would the most modern type of interior look like?

At it’s most extreme, an uber modern building would be created from the most appropriate materials for the climate and the landscape. It would be built elegantly and specifically for the site and would be designed to solve specific questions or problems for the client or owner. It would also embrace technology.

The interior would not be excessively decorated, instead it would be pleasingly neutral, often white, or the natural materials would be left untreated.

Minimalism is probably the most extreme and the easiest form of modernism to recognize. Here’s an excellent example:

Notice how there is a general lack of clutter, an emphasis on simplicity and there is nothing in the space that doesn’t have a reason to be there?

Modernism is about respecting nature by not competing with it.

It’s worth mentioning that the early modernist architects did their own interior design, and it was often a little soulless, even scant and uninviting. Since that early time modernism has shown it’s fun side a lot more!

The revolutionary “Bauhaus” school of design introduced quality and aesthetically beautiful handcrafted products that were entirely novel for their time.

Scandinavian modern designs of the mid-century (50s onward) showed us that modern could mean stylish and comfortable.

Since then modernism has evolved a great deal, to the warmer and more playful organic and urban forms we have come to know and love. However, at its heart it will always be about honesty, simplicity and innovation.

How do we recognize a pure modern room?

Here are two boards to help us out:

Examples of the Pure Modern Style Genre

Although these rooms are not all from the same building or created by the same designer, they all have one thing in common: They are pure modern. There is a pureness in the lines (look at the built-in cabinetry, the window frames and door frames, etc. Even decorative elements are streamlined and “clean” looking. The interiors are warm, and not necessarily minimalist, however they are mostly free of excess decoration.

Looking at this second set of examples you can see that there is generally not much decoration, although when there is, it is carefully curated. Color is not a no-no, it can be used as an accent or even as a backdrop, as is the case with the bathroom on the bottom right hand corner. There is nothing in these rooms that dates them or reminds us of something we’ve seen in a museum, in a period film or in our grandmother’s house. It is fresh and clean and gives us space to breathe and to think.

Think you can recognize a pure modern room? Don’t forget that your 30 Interior Design Style Mega List e-Book has handy genre labels on each style for you to check. Sign up if you haven’t gotten your free download already!

Further reading:

The Pure Modern Style Genre

Which Modern Styles are Similar?

What is the Most Important Pure Modern Style?

Minimalism. It is the most extreme, and thus the “purest” form of modernism. It will always compete with contemporary futurism, however. The only question is, how much more modern can we get?

Honorable Mention: Scandinavian

2. How the Modern Eclectic Style is Classified

I’m going to use the analogy of a train leaving a station to help you visualize where we are headed from our first stop, Modern. Let’s imagine for a moment that we have just left Modern town and we are heading to our next station.

We are on a one way track, (otherwise known as our spectrum between modern and traditional), which ends up at our final destination, Traditional station, in the polar opposite direction from where we started out.

We have three stops between our first terminal station, Modern and last terminal, Traditional.

The next of the three stops is called Modern Eclectic. This name is given simply because it lies between Modern station and the midway station, Eclectic. Thus it takes the combined name of the first and third station to combine a version of the two, or a mix of the two.

This is exactly what Modern Eclectic is: It is mostly modern in style, but it does have some eclectic elements to it.

Pure Eclectic = Mixed 50/50

Eclectic, as you may remember, means “of many sources”. In architecture and design, it is used to indicate a mix between modern and traditional styles. Pure Eclectic, at the heart of our train line, is the exact midway point.

A pure eclectic home would be about fifty-fifty traditional-modern in make-up or influence.

Modern Eclectic = Mixed 75/25 or 85/15

So now that our train is at the stop between eclectic and modern, this style would be less than 100 percent modern. It would fall somewhere between 75 percent modern, anywhere up to about 85 percent modern.

After 85 percent modern we could just call it modern from there up to one hundred.

How to Recognise the Modern Eclectic Style Genre

We could think of Modern Eclectic as being an imperfectly modern room. It is mostly modern, but then it has a strong influence from somewhere or something else that makes it not standard modern.

What kind of influence could this be?

Oftentimes the ‘anti-modern’ influence could come in the form of cultural elements or motifs (graphic patterns) that have a traditional or eclectic background. A lot of pattern is not very modern.

Another example would be the liberal use of patterns, or a room that has more visual “clutter” or detail than a very pure modern room should have ideally.

A mostly modern room that has a few antique and vintage elements sprinkled into the mix is another good example of “tainted”, devil-may-care ‘modern’.

There is nothing wrong with keeping things interesting!

More visually “busy” than modern, but not as “busy” as the next stops on the line

Keep in mind that modern should mean more negative space; so if a room has a lot of detail and is very “busy” to the eye, this is certainly not the most modern aesthetic! Instead, it pushes it into the realm of our spicy “Modern Eclectic”, or only 75+ percent modern, tops!

Can you tell that these rooms rooms are more visually “busy”? And yet, the genres which follow will be even more so!

Let’s jump into looking at some boards so we can see this for ourselves:

Examples of the Modern Eclectic Style Genre

In this board we can see that some of the rooms have architectural “shells” that are not modern to being with. They are traditional or very eclectic, thus even though the furniture and interior detailing might be mostly modern, it still can’t be pure modern. The architecture can be very heavy in rooms that are industrial, or all made of brick, for example. If I wanted to make those as modern as possible, I would paint them out white.

Let’s look at another example:

Are you able to “get” the whole Modern-Eclectic vibe going on?

Again, we are looking at some eclectic (also called transitional, meaning between styles) interior architecture, or else furniture or decorative elements which are traditional, mixed into the mostly modern setting. Can you see how these boards are a little less “pure” in style than our pure modern boards were? There is a lot more pattern and detail for the eye to look at, however it is still mostly modern.

Don’t compare with others, but do compare styles

Go back and look at the modern boards if you need to compare. How common do you think modern eclectic style is out in the wild?

Pure 100% modern is not all that attainable for many people who lack the discipline to maintain a more minimalist aesthetic. I called Modern Eclectic category “spicy modern”, because this genre allows for a little more leeway and flair or flavor than purely modern does.

I like both, but I reckon Modern Eclectic is more common and a little bit easier for most people.

In case you would like to read more about the Modern Eclectic genre, follow the links below:

Further reading:

The Modern-Eclectic Style Genre

Which Modern and Eclectic Styles are Similar?

What is the Most Important Modern-Eclectic Style?

Industrial. Modern, commercial buildings converted for living have just the right amount of texture and interest to keep modern interesting, while still being totally modern. Because industrial comes from “industry”, you don’t really get much more modern than that! Thus, this can’t be an eclectic style. It is also well represented.

Honorable Mention: Art Deco. Where modern all began and when it still had art and heart.

3. How the Pure Eclectic Style Genre is Classified

Pure Eclectic Style is a classification that we can use for any style that:

  1. Is a perfect 50/50 percent mix between modern and traditional, such as a very clean transitional style room
  2. Contains a perfect 50/50 percent mix of modern and classic elements, including architecture, furniture and decor
  3. This genre also includes any “manner” of decorating which may be applied to any interior design style, such as “luxury”, “glamor”, “biophilic”, etc.

Important things to know about the eclectic style genre

I often say that if you threw all the styles together without much thought, what you would end up with would be eclectic.

This is because eclectic means “mixed”.  It is beautiful when done thoughtfully and intentionally, but it can be hard to get right.  It takes a good decorator to do a really good eclectic room.

One way to do it is to put modern furniture into a traditional room or vice versa, put classic furniture into a modern room.  This is a stark contrast and can look great when colors are used intentionally and overall harmony is balanced and pleasing.

How to Recognize the Pure Eclectic Style Genre

Think of pure eclectic as a prefectly balanced room incorporating both modern and traditional elements. It can also be a style which hits the right note between old and new. Eclectic rooms are very livable and they work well for all sorts of lifestyles and needs.

This is a style which really lets your indivudual personality and your cellections shine. It is not too strict on clutter and seems to enjoy a healthy dose of decoration and stylistic elements.

Definitely one to have fun with!

Time for our eclectic style boards.

Examples of the Eclectic Style Genre

We are midway through our spectrum and you can see that the rooms are looking fuller than the previous two styles. There is more in the way of decoration and embellishment and the decor is more liberally applied. There are lots of things on display, even if the color palette and mood are still calming in many cases. No need to go crazy with eclectic!

Eclectic has a way of feeling very homey. I might argue that it is the homey-est and for many people the most livable of the style genres. I also love the fact that no two eclectic rooms ever really look alike. This is a style which celebrates personality and allows it to reign free.

What is the Most Important Pure Eclectic Style?

The most important eclectic style is Bohemian. Not only is it incredibly popular but it is almost always stylish and inviting. It is loved the world around and for good reason.

Honorable Mention: Transitional is another very important eclectic style, however it is more often found in hospitality settings and can seem “hotel room” like, a little stately and for some, boring.

4. How the Eclectic-Traditional Style Genre is Classified

The Eclectic Traditional Style Genre is any interior that:

  1. Is about 75/25 percent traditional to modern to about 85/15 percent traditional to modern.
  2. This style genre includes interiors that look traditional but have been updated in small ways.
  3. The Eclectic Traditional interior leans heavily toward traditional but can’t be categorized as purely traditional because of some important distinction for which it falls into this middle category.  

Important things to know about the eclectic traditional genre

The Eclectic Traditional Style Genre is any interior that is close to being traditional and perhaps even attempts to be traditional, but which might fall short of the mark in some way.

-Sometimes this is a deliberate updating or “twist” on the traditional theme. 

-Other times it might be necessitated by using more modern fixtures or items of furniture for which there are no easy traditional examples or styles available.

The eclectic traditional style will certainly “read” as mostly classic in nature.  However, when looked at closely, it is clear that it is not a period room.  Sometimes classical motifs, themes or furniture are mixed, adding to the eclectic features of the room.

How to recognise the Eclectic-Traditional Style Genre

To recognise this genre, look for places that preserve the popular looks of history, but which might play with newer elements in some small way.

There might be some modern artwork, some modern architectural detailing or light fixtures. Sometimes the patterns of the upholstery are too modern to be truly classic.

This is a style genre you need to play detective with if you are going to spot it.

Further reading:

The Eclectic Traditional Style Genre

Which Eclectic and Traditional Styles are Similar?

Let’s look at some boards!

Examples of the Eclectic Traditional Style Genre

Here we can see that there is a fair bit of decoration and embellishment which gives off the classic vibe, however none of these interiors are extremely cluttered or busy, just that they have more detailing and are more elaborate. Modern chairs in an otherwise traditional setting, an art print in a traditional room, little things stand out as making a statement.

Lots of commercial examples, but a few residential for this style. Once we can spot a perfectly eclectic room it is easier to see where it starts to head into more traditional territory. Still, I find that this style is not as well represented or nearly as common as eclectic style.

What is the Most Important Eclectic-Traditional Style?

The most important eclectic traditional style is probably Colonial style, (possibly better referred to as Age of Exploration style). Colonial styles were copied from traditional styles in their original homelands, and adapated to new environments, often using local building methods and materials, so as to develop a local flavor. In this way, they departed from their pure traditional aesthetic and became a little more eclectic.

We chose this style to represent this category because for better or worse the style is found in multiple variations and expressions the world over. Some colonial styles border on being more pure eclectic (perhaps more updated), while others are firmly traditional with that little bit of eclecticism thrown in.

If you like a soft traditional style, this is your best bet. Now you know why Spanish Ranch and Tuscan homes are so popular.

Honorable mention: Rustic. Yes, we can find rustic styles wherever we go too, but they are not exactly considered pure classics.

How the Pure Traditional Style Genre is Classified

The Pure Traditional genre applies to any style that:

  1. Is close to one hundred percent traditional or indistinguishable from conventional and common classical styles
  2. Is a perfect replica or representation of a period style
  3. Is an actual preserved or updated version of a historic style

Important things to know about the pure traditional genre

Although its easy to associate pure traditional with fussy Baroque or Victorian styles, that is certainly not the whole story.

Although its true that in interior design and architecture it’s important to know about the legacy of Greco-Roman styles and their many revivals, there are also Gothic styles and plenty of other styles from the moorish, Islamic and Asian cultures which are their own type of traditional and should one hundred percent be classified as such.

Strangely, one of the cultural styles which I feel is an exception to this is Japanese, which in it’s elegance and simplicity was way ahead of its time, so much so as to make it an almost modern style in its philosophy.

Having said that, it couldn’t actually be modern as Japanese style has advanced a great deal since then. I always put Japanese into the modern-eclectic category.

It is truly timeless!

How to Recognize the Pure Traditional Style Genre

Look for styles that haven’t changed since they first became popular and that are a deep and integral part of a nation or civilization’s backstory.

These styles have deep rooted cultural elements. They embody the aspirations of their people in their architecture, the techniques of working with materials and crafting home goods. Textiles too, are an important part of telling a pure traditional style story. Research is important when trying to create a traditional room today.

Antiques and antique reproductions are also key to a finished traditional room. Unless you inherit one, trying to create one from scratch is an expensive and challenging project for any decorator.

In the case of western classical styles, symmetry and order are very important to creating a convincing tradtional style room, and there are many “rules” that you must follow.

Also, mixing different traditional styles is generally not advised, and will get you kicked right back into the eclectic traditional category.

You’ve been warned.

Examples of the Pure Traditional Style Genre

Traditional styles are definitely on the more cluttered end of the spectrum. Notice how the styles get so busy and there is so much in the room that it is hard for the eye to rest or focus on one thing?
A lot has changed to get us from thinking that displaying all our possessions and having elaborate detailing is what makes a successful interior.
The people who saw this as normal were often wealthy and couldn’t imagine a life that was spartan and rustic and just generally devoid of stuff.

There is still a lot to appreciate in traditional and period rooms. It’s always interesting to see which things have moved with us through the ages and which stylistic elements can still be found in our furniture and decor in the twenty first century. These styles are definitely for the historians, romantics and lovers of history.

What is the Most Important Pure Traditional Style?

Neoclassical is the most important pure traditional style because of its use across continents and in buildings of government, which are unlikely to change for a good long time. It is also the most “modern” and updated version of the classical styles and can fit in well with modern styles.

Neoclassical generally had cleaner lines and less elaborate detailing than Baroque or other styles of the later second millennium BCE. It was adopted by some who sought to overthrow the older styles so it was new for its time and it is still common today.

A neoclassical interior in the White House in the United States. Neoclasscism was adopted by Napoleon after the overthrow of the French monarchy and then by Thomas Jefferson as the official style of the US government after he saw the style in France.
Image from Love Property.

Honorable mention: Victorian style, a colonial “favorite” and thus also extremely widespread.

Well, that’s it style detectives! This concludes our look at how to indentify each of the five most important profiles for nailing our most style suspects when it comes to understanding interior design styles.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this style adventure. Stay tuned for more awesome style breakdowns and lots more from us here on Design Baddie coming soon.

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Happy styling!

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