First, take a deep breath.
If you’ve tried to figure out what your home’s style was in the past, but failed or the results seemed inconclusive, relax. We can figure this out together.
I’m going to walk you through the basic method I would use to determine a client’s existing home style before I advise them on any major changes. Whether you plan to change anything or not, this is still a great exercise, and it hopefully gives you some insight into the mind of an interior designer.
Evaluating your home
Here are the major factors broken down into steps.
I know, I’m giving you homework. Don’t worry, it will be fun!
Step 1. Look at your building
Step 2. Look at the architectural shell and layout
Step 3. Look at the architectural detailing
Step 4. Look at your wall and floor color
Step 5. Look at your furniture
Step 6. Look at your patterns
Step 7. Look at your decor
Step 8. Look at your art
Although I can’t be there with you in person right this moment, I still think I can give you enough info that you can absolutely get a handle on this yourself. You wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to get an answer on this very question if you didn’t think you could find it. You can do this!
After you’re done figuring out what style your home is, I’d love to hear about how it went for you and what you learned. Finding new and interesting styles is a personal hobby of mine, so don’t be afraid to share.
A Note on Interior Design Style
Okay, so, Let’s not be slaves to style. Don’t worry too much about how your home ‘fits in’ with others or how it compares to those homes you’ve been eyeing on Insta.
Ultimately you will have many ‘homes’, even if you always live at the same address, because your home’s interior, like you and your tastes, are always going to keep evolving.
If you want to recreate something you’ve seen somewhere that caught your eye or if you’re obsessed with a certain look, great! You can absolutely do anything you want with your home, given the determination, time and effort on your part.
My job is to help you figure out how to do that, and I think you will find that if this is something you really want to do, you are more than up to the task.
The other side of the coin is that inspiration is out there because it is meant to be exactly that.
It’s supposed to inspire you and motivate you to want to make your living space better.
Once you start gathering your inspirational influences together into one place and make a habit of editing it over time, you will actually start to develop your own ‘style’, which will likely be influenced on aspects of your favorites.
Whatever your circumstances, whether you’re a renter in a tiny apartment, someone who dreams of building their own tiny house or a couple who just invested in their first home that is standing glaringly empty right now, there is a solution for your design problem!
There is nothing that we designers like more than a design problem. That’s pretty much what we signed up to do!
Step 1 – Look at your building
So, when you’re ready, go outside and have a good look at your building. If you can’t tell what the architectural style of the building is (I mean, we’re not all architecture majors, am I right?), your best bet might be to ask your neighbors and long-time community residents and local home enthusiasts if they know.
So, yeah, go chat up some sexagenerians.
-Sometimes homes in neighborhoods have similar characteristics.
-If all the homes were built around the same time it will be easier to find out how old your building is. You can also get your homes blueprints and building permits under public record in most places.
This at least will tell you how old your home is, and thus what general ‘era’ it was built.
-At the very least, without going to great lengths you should be able to tell if your home has historical elements to it .
This is actually quite important to the process of finding your home’s interior style and doing this will get you in the right mind set.
You’ll definitely learn something, and hey, it makes for great dinner conversation with company!
If it seems like you have a historical or a revival style on your hands, it would be a great idea to do some reading about your home’s style if it seems and see if any of its history resonates with you. Barring this, hit Pinterest and see what ideas you can find surrounding your home’s style.
Step 2 – Look at the architectural shell and layout
Now that you’ve checked out your building, let’s have a look at your interior walls.
- Walk all the way around your house and if you’re up to it, grab your phone and photograph all the corners, at the ceiling and at the floor and wall juncture
- Photograph your door frames, your mantels, your window frames, your fireplace surround, your baseboards, your moldings and your ceiling fittings
- If you have stairs don’t forget to check the style of the banister and balusters, etc.
You know what to do.
Next, go through your photos, however you prefer to do it (i.e. put them into a folder or arrange them in a simple photo grid), and ask yourself:
–Are the various architectural elements present in your home similar in style?
If they are, this can indicate one of three types of broad architectural styles: an a) traditional, b) transitional or c) modern style type
The good news here is that there actually was an established style the planners had in mind when the home was fitted out.
An establish, cohesive style gives strong clues as to what general style you’re working with in your home.
An example of classical in America would be Federal style and a modern style might be American Prairie style, after the style invented by Frank Lloyd Wright.
–Do the moldings, trims and ornamental installations seem as though they were all installed at the same time, when the home was first built?
If so, the interior architecture of the home is in keeping with the architectural exterior, You might (if over 100 years old) have some type of heritage home on your hands, and these can include modernist homes, especially in the US.
–Were the architectural elements of my home likely all installed after the initial build and over time?
–Are some significantly older than others?
If so, you could have a transitional style which falls somewhere between modern and traditional, on a kind of spectrum.
–Are they very classical or very modern?
Either way, if you have a fairly consistent style thoughout your home it should be fairly straightforward to identify.
Or, again, you might have to do some digging.
This is fun, remember..
But seriously, remember, if you find the architectural details are all over the place or wildly different looking (different motifs that don’t match up, or different materials or color treatments for example), you likely have an eclectic style. Eclectic is a wild card.
This can be a good thing,
My article on eclectic styles explains why.
What if you have no preexisting architectural detailing in the home at all, very little or it’s not noteworthy?
Your home is modern.
Good news: If your home is more on the modern side, it actually frees you up to do a lot more in terms of making it “yours” and putting your unique stamp on it.
If there are historical elements you have a traditional style.
If this is the case you get to decide whether you want to play those elements up (more!), play along with them (if they’ll play nicely!), or if you’d like to get rid of them entirely.
Please do consider that if your home is more than 100 years old that anything you throw out that might have been installed when the home was originally built are actually antique, so they are valuable.
If you really can’t live with whatever it is, at least find it a good home and you might even score in the process. Seriously!
It also bears mentioning that, depending on where you live and relevant laws, if your home is a listed home (meaning it is historically significant architecturally) you will need to get permission from the relevant building authorities before making any changes.
Just be advised.
Step 3 – Look at the architectural detailing
So now you will want to compare the interior architectural details with the outside of the building. This step ties directly into figuring out what you will do with your interior style going forward.
–Are the exterior and interior styles cohesive?
If so, you might want to consider working with the existing architecture when moving forward creating your style. (All modern! All traditional!)
–Are the exterior and interior styles disparate?
You might consider working with an eclectic (mixed) style.
There are many to choose from!
–Are the exterior and interior stylistic influences wildly different?
You might have to make a decision on which vibe to honor with your interior style plans, or else go with a transitional style.
–Or perhaps your home lacks any significant architectural quality at all?
This is a big cue for modern, or it just might be your carte blanche to go with any vision you choose.
With all these questions, don’t worry too much about getting this perfect.
Just go with what you feel.
If the elements, or items you are comparing seem similar enough, there’s your answer.
If you’re shaking your head wildly, go with that instead.
Trust your gut.
I’m not trying to teach you an exact science, just help bring out some of the interior designer in you.
What about layout?
Generally, the concept of ‘open plan’ is a lot more modern than traditional
On the opposite side of open plan you could think of Victorian doll houses with all those tiny little rooms, some no larger than closets, and stuffed to the brim with curiosities, collections, as well as daily living items.
Grand old homes had those dumb waiters, split levels, secret attics and walk-in wardrobes where people ended up wearing fur coats and stumbling out into endless winters.
So the flip side of that is the modern idea of keeping things open so the eye has more space to wander and to allow for more ease and flexibility.
Modern design thinking also doesn’t advocate for being a pack rat, so if it’s necessary to get rid of some stuff to achieve more mental freedom, that’s a price worth paying.
With this in mind, it’s time to look at your layout
General rule of thumb: With smaller rooms or when there are many rooms, things are going to look more cluttered.
-If you want a modern look, you will need to seriously edit; and your best option for creating the illusion of more space is to go with a a) uniform, light color, b) more reflective surfaces and c) really good lighting placement in modern styles.
-No matter what your style, just remember that natural light is always king.
–When trying to expand small spaces visually, close to white is best. However, if you like warm tones, there are plenty of good ones, from a more yellow-y sand tone to a nice blush.
-Grays, though, not as popular at present (too early two-thousands), can be good if you like cool tones. The lighter the better if you’re going for something contemporary and ‘of the now’.
-Consider using hidden storage and built in furniture to maximize space saving ability.
Step 4 – Look at your wall and floor colors
Now let’s look at the predominant colors in the space.
The walls, floor and ceiling carry a lot of visual weight, but it depends too on how much furniture you have and whether there are other built in features, like various types of millwork and cabinetry.
Do an overall color assessment to see what the overall dominant colors are.
What will this tell you?
Well, it won’t be definitive, but it will offer up more useful clues.
If your home is traditional and then you also have a lot of heavy, dark and saturated colors, then it is going to feel even more traditional, in my opinion.
-If there are lighter colors present and more reflective qualities, then you have something more ‘neoclassical’ or ‘new traditional’.
-If your home is modern, but you have darker tones, it will seem more eclectic and perhaps more formal.
The Art Deco period enjoyed hues with heavy chroma, as an example.
The lighter the wall treatment, the more modern it appears; sometimes walls are left completely untreated when going for an extremely minimalist style or an industrial one.
Let’s not forget wall paneling and coverings.
Panels should be treated as architectural elements and wall treatments such as fabric or wallpaper, will depend upon the exact design motif when determining their style.
Try Google Lens to see if AI can recognize some of the style elements that you are unsure of.
Step 5 – Look at your furniture
Next, let’s take a peek at what you’ve got parked in your living room.
Two important questions: –
-Can you identify whether your furniture items are modern styles, transitional and eclectic styles, or if they are traditional or antique?
-Is the style of your furniture uniform throughout your home?
Again, if the results are mixed, we’re going right back to that label ‘eclectic’ I was telling you about.
In general, the more ornate the furniture, is and the more stylistic detailing it has, then the more traditional it tends to look, as modern is all about simplicity.
If you enjoy heritage architecture and interiors then you might want to indulge yourself more on the traditional and new traditional side of the design style spectrum with your own furniture choices.
Step 6 – Look at your patterns
For this you will need to examine any upholstery on your furniture and look at the style of the motifs and the pattern arrangement.
Certain types of upholstery are fairly neutral, meaning they might be used across style genres, while others give off strong style vibes and are best suited for one or the other.
Floral patterns just seem more old world, while geometric feels more modern; however a strong graphic quality will read as more modern, too.
Try to determine how modern or traditional your patterns feel, and then decide whether you want to change the vibe up somehow by introducing new elements, or whether you like what you have.
–Just remember that if you adhere to a very specific historical time period in your decorating, that the design rules going forward will be a lot stricter .
–The next level up from traditional for history-lovers is to get an eclectic look, which can be tricky for some, but it for sure is a great look when done right.
Modern classic and Italian modern both come to mind.
–Keep in mind that if you go this route, you have ventured into the realm of transitional and eclectic styles.
My advice on updating a historic style: Do it! Rooms shouldn’t ever stop changing unless they are museums. Then that is sacred.
Eclectic styles make up the largest proportion of all style genres actually a comfortable place to be, stylistically, with lots of great design inspiration and style choices at your fingertips, such as biophilic , ethnic or fusion styles and even lifestyle styles..
-If you’d like to keep it a little cleaner and more minimalist, you could consider painting all of the architectural elements, along with the walls (like door jambs), in one uniform color.
-White would be the way to push this to its most modern, but it’s not the only way. Consider uniform color and open furniture arrangements.
Are you pretty eclectic so far, more modern or more traditional? These are all pieces of the puzzle. Once you get all your data together, you should be able to arrive at a good conclusion.
Step 7 – Look at your decor
Your decor is the next thing you will observe.
I’d say your lighting can fall into this section, as well as any mirrors you have hung or framed photographs.
See if you have highly ornamental and elaborate styles with lots of curves and detailing, or if most of it is fairly solid and clean.
The more detailed it is, the more it leans to traditional styles, while the simpler and more ‘profound’ it is, usually the more modern.
There are some modern styles where you can find more detail (again, Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles are examples), but it is less common.
If you are all over the place, hello, eclectic!
Step 8 – Look at your art
So now we come to art.
This should be simple enough.
–Traditional and classical fine art and modern, abstract and contemporary art are worlds apart.
–Take a hard look at what you have hanging on your walls and you might start to notice that your present ‘collection’ works together on the whole or is a real mixed bag.
–Maybe you don’t have any art.
Great! That just gives you more to look forward to if you choose to.
I would advise you to think about what you like and work developing your own ‘collection’ slowly.
There is no hurry with any of this.
Tying it all up
Now that I’ve given you three big style genres in which to place your home stylistically, and helped you determine where the furnishings in your home fit in you have a choice to make.
The big question here is: Do you like the style category genre you’re in?
For the classic types
If you have a traditional or really old-fashioned home, barring it being listed, (in which case it might not be up to you), do you want to keep decorating it in a traditional way?
The alternative option is to lighten up your traditional elements to get to a more nuanced ‘new traditional’ or transitional style, or go for something split 50/50. Going totally modern can work too. Strip those fittings and be a style rebel!
For the eclectic types
If you can love the fact that your home is all over the place and has many unique and disparate elements giving it its uniquely sparkling personality, you can think about how to bring some harmony and order to what you have in order to bring out the best in the space.
For the modern types
If your home is modern and you don’t really want it to be so modern, you can always add visual interest by fitting baseboard and crown mouldings, ceiling panels or fixtures that add more interest to your space if its in your budget.
If you’d rather spend your money on soft furnishings, you can bring in interesting patterns, textures and furniture styles that don’t fall in line with strictly modern, like a bohemian or tropical style.
If you love the modern elements you are working with, perhaps you just need to edit a little and see if there are things which could be moved, replaced or bought to make your modern look more cohesive.
Some good style inspiration books or Pinterest boards could really help you here.
–Actually, truly, Pinterest is an amazing resources for many of the style questions you may have. I used it for reference all through design school.
Follow my boards:
The road to figuring out your home’s style is paved and lit
Remember that the reason the question, ‘what style is my home’ can be hard to answer is because your home is made up of so many elements.
I’ve outlined all the most important things for you to consider in this article and I truly hope that this gets you on the right track.
If you are still having trouble finding your home’s style or knowing how to move forward with styling your home, I’d be happy to use your interior space as an example of how to solve a style problem, if you are open to sharing your pictures and story with readers. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Happy style hunting!