How to Learn Interior Design Styles with Style Genres

What’s in a name? More than you think. Could you explain this style?

Hello and welcome.

If you’ve never heard of a style genre, don’t worry, that makes most people! The style genre system was developed here on Design Baddie and we happen to think that when it comes to explaining interior design styles, it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

Here’s how it works:

A New Way of Classifying Interior Design Styles

We started out by creating a list of the thirty most commonly recognized interior decorating and design styles. We then organized those thirty styles into five logical categories.

I actually started doing this research in design school for my own reference. Because I have personally found it to be incredibly useful, I am now also sharing it with my readers.

The goal of the system is to organize all the style information that is out there into an easily understood format to make referencing it easier.

The curated list of common design styles is called the “Mega List 30“, and it is also available as a free reference e-book when you opt in to our newsletter.

Like all good lists, the Mega List 30 will continue to be updated each year to reflect current style trends.

Why Categorize Interior Design Styles?

When discussing any sort of style system, it makes sense to first ask why categorizing is necessary. After all, I don’t personally know of any other style categorization systems, nor have I heard anyone express a need for one.

So, what’s the point of a style system?

Behind the Big Five Style Genre Project

person choosing document in folder

Personally speaking, I’ve always found it easier to retain information when that information is properly organized.

I spent a fair bit of time considering the best way to do this and come up with two methods that I think are useful. I’m started with the first, and easiest method, the “style genre” system. I’m excited to share it with you!

What is a Style?

In design school we learn that “styles” are best described or explained as a “manner” of decorating or designing. As designers when we use a style reference we are taking an overall look or way of working with aesthetics and repeating it; at least, as well as it relates to our current project.

Style in Interior Designing

It will probably surprise many people to know that learning “styles” is not something interior designers spend any time on in school. I’m dead serious.

In fact, many architects and interior designers don’t like to be boxed in by the limiting notion of styles, since a good designer is able to create a unique vision based upon the project brief and the needs of the client.

Rarely does a designer try to emulate a particular look perfectly.

That said, there is some value to knowing about existing, recognized and established interior design styles.

We can’t exactly just ignore the fact that there are some “manners” of decorating that are pretty popular and well known. Often for good reason. They are “classics”.

Referencing the work of other designers also keeps us from needlessly “reinventing the wheel”.

How Interior Designers Learn Styles

pile of covered books

So, if interior designers don’t ‘learn’ styles per se, then how do they learn about interior design “styles”? you might wonder.

I’m glad you asked.

The most important way that we come to understand interior design styles is through exposure to them in modern day interior design and home decorating media.

The other way is through the study of interior design, architectural and art history.

Styles and History

The most important thing to know for interior design beginners is that many existing aesthetic styles are the legacy of past architectural fashions.

When I say ‘past’, I mean as far back as Greek and Roman times! Yet others have evolved since modernism began at the end of the nineteenth century, and many more are hybrids of traditional and new design styles.

Still other styles are driven by technology, especially through material and manufacturing innovation.

This will only continue to be more true as we head into an ever more digital future, and as we seek ways to undo the damage to the environment that the building industry has already caused.

Styles Evolve

The bottom line is that styles are always evolving and will continue to evolve and be “invented”.

That said, studying history is the best way for those who are interested in interior design styles to understand the many styles we find in the real world today.

You can read “Why you want an interior design time machine” if you would like to know more about why history is important to the study of interior design.

Why I Developed Two Style Systems

faceless lady with notebook and laptop on floor at home

Style Quiz Development 101

In a personal quest to devise a better design style quiz, I began creating a system for categorizing “style personalities”.  This system largely accounts for how “visually busy” styles are, as well as whether they are more modern or traditional.

This bigger project is still ongoing.

The Idea Behind ‘The Big Five’

I decided to begin my discourse on style theory on this blog by introducing the simpler modern-traditional style spectrum system. Basically, every style in the book can be categorized according to this five type system.

The modern-traditional “style spectrum” system is just the organization of thirty common visual styles across a chart which measures from most modern to most traditional.

The chart comprises a spectrum with five categories (thus,”The Big Five”). Also, I grew up in Africa, so..

You get the idea!

Now, before I introduce the style system, I appreciate that my work on categorizing styles might not resonate with everyone. Some people might not like my reductionist view.

The aim of sharing this information is to help readers figure out the broader styles they currently have, or would like to decorate with, for themselves.

I’m not out to change any existing information about styles.

I’m looking to add to the existing information.

Working on the Style Systems Project

person writing while using phone

System Development

I thoroughly enjoyed coming up with the official style system. This was something I started working on shortly after graduation from design school. It was also legitimately one of the first things I wanted to get in place when planning to start this blog.

It was surprisingly gratifying to finally get it out of my head and put it all down on paper. From there I continued to work with it until it ‘clicked’.

With the help of my readers I hope to test it out a lot more in future, too.

The best way of explaining the Big Five and 8×2 Style systems is that they encapsulate my personal way of thinking about and categorizing styles that I developed over my design student days.

Design Psychology

I have attempted to keep the psychology of good interior design and the end user first and foremost in my work on the style systems.

It is my hope that they can aid those who are interested in this topic of styles to get a handle on the style information overload out there in popular media.

The goal is still to be able to use all of the information available, but in a more streamlined and practical way.

So, without further ado, here is my introduction to the Big Five:

The ‘Big Five’ Style Genres

The core principle of my system is the creation of five basic categories, called ‘genres‘ (like music) which form a spectrum. We are measuring how much pure modern vs. pure traditional influence exists in any interior.

Modern-Traditional Influence Spectrum

Rather than working with strict dates, this spectrum looks at real-world styles seen today and categorizes them according to their modern-traditional makeup percentage.

The Two Extreme Styles: Modern and Traditional

This board exemplifies the Pure Modern side of the spectrum.

An all-modern room, such as the minimalist and contemporary examples above, would fall on the one extreme of the spectrum, while an eighteenth century classical interior or revival style of a historical interior, like Gothic, would lie at the other extreme end.

This board, taken from my second style system ‘8×2’ shows the traditional extreme on the opposite side of the spectrum from modern.

Eclectic or 50/50 Mixed Styles

In the very middle we would have a perfect 50-50 percent mix between the two modern and classical extremes.

At the very center of the five we have the middle catgeory or style ground zero, because it is where modern and traditional converge.

Modern and Traditional Fusion Styles

Filling in the middle positions of the spectrum between eclectic and pure modern and pure traditional are two fusion genres, modern-eclectic genre and the eclectic-traditional genre.

This “buffer” style falls between the middle eclectic and modern. It leans more to modern than traditional.

This second “buffer” style, on the other hand, falls between the middle eclectic and traditional. It leans more to traditional than modern, making it the direct opposite of the above genre.

And that makes five! It’s important to note that the assignment to categories is based on ratios. While real life examples aren’t usually ‘exact’, once you know what to look for, spotting these genres becomes easy.

The Big Five Style Genre System “In the Wild”

Here’s what the Big Five modern-traditional style spectrum looks like with some loose historical dates for when the style was likely first implemented or first appeared in decorating:

The Big Five style genre ‘hack’ can be very helpful when you don’t want to get bogged down in the names of many similar styles, and are looking to figure out a basic niche, either for a client or for yourself.

What’s Your Style Genre?

I find personally, that I have the most appreciation for the modern and modern-eclectic style genres, but there are also too many exceptions to my style genre preferences to count!

There is truly so much to appreciate at each point through the spectrum.

It reminds me of how I would fall in love with each period as I was studying Interior Design history.

Style Homework

As an exercise, it can be fun to look at interiors of different stylistic influences and think about where you would place them on the Big Five spectrum.

Going further, can you explain why the particular interior has been categorized the way it has?

Here’s an example of some collections I have made based on the Big Five design style spectrum on Pexels

Mega List 30 + Modern-Traditional Spectrum (Big 5)

The next step for me after creating the Big Five spectrum was to take my list of 30-32 styles in common use today and fit them on the spectrum. I’m showing you my early draft. Some of these have been rearranged since.

Here’s how the thirty major interior decorating styles fall into the modern-traditional style spectrum, creating a style genre of five possible types.

Next Steps: The Big 5 and 30 Styles Mega List Combined with 8×2

depth of field photography of file arrangement

The 30+ styles above will also be used for my 8×2 style design quiz (coming soon!) where they will be further analyzed and broken down into 16 style profiles.

It is my hope that the style profiles will enable users of my quiz to get at least a couple of style recommendations that suit their style personality.

Please feel free to try our (beta) Big Five Style Genre Quiz here:

No email address is required to use the quiz. Feel free to share it!

Further to the information provided above, I have also discussed which of the styles within the five genres (modern, eclectic, traditional and modern-eclectic and eclectic traditional) are most similar to one another

This means that we compare modern styles with modern styles, traditional with traditional, etc. If you are interested in styles it will help you to start noticing the differences between those that seem similar.

You can read these articles here and here.

The next article in this series is “The Pure Modern Style Genre”, below:

Happy style hunting!

We are on a mission at Design Baddie to make basic interior design information accessible and free to all! Get our introductory interior design e-book absolutely free when you sign up for our newsletter.

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