What is Traditional Interior Design?

Traditional interior design brings the warmth and elegance of the past into the present.  This style has a long, rich history from which to draw.  The Traditional style of today has its roots in the classical period of ancient Greece and Rome over 2,000 years ago and  actually consists of a broad range of styles that were implemented prior to the Modern Movement of the early 20th century.


While the Traditional style has roots in the past – it still  embraces the present with style and comfort – making it the most popular style in the U.S. today.  Elegant, refined and warm, this style is classic in every way and will never go out of style.

Traditional Interior Design Principles and Features

Ancient-Architecture-and-Design-Elements The principles of order, symmetry and proportion are paramount to Traditional design.  Similar to the way special attention is given the the base, shaft, and capital of a column, interior spaces place rigorous attention to 3 distinct elements of a room – the floor, wall, and ceiling. Wide baseboards and furniture (and perhaps wainscoting anchor the floor level and ornate cornices (and perhaps coffers or frescoes) articulate the  ceiling.

Meticulously crafted wall panels, moldings, fireplace mantels, French doors, chair rails, window treatments, needlework, fabrics, and other types of architectural and interior embellishments are the hallmarks of Traditional design.

The generous use of these features can create a space that is exceptionally rich and inviting to the senses. Some critics of the Traditional style say it caters to the bourgeois. Certainly, the labor and materials can get quite expensive if you stay true to the lavishness of Traditional design. Yet, with some careful shopping or inherited pieces and perhaps some “do it yourself” labor, a Traditional style interior may be achieved on even a very modest budget.

traditional interior fabricsTraditional Colors and Fabrics

A wide spectrum of colors and shades are utilized in Traditional interior design. Probably most associated with this style are the rich jewel tones: warm reds and burgundy, vibrant greens, regal golds, yellows, and blues. Yet, neutral shades of gray, beige, and white are also quite prevalent.

And too, soft, elegant pastels often paint a beautiful Traditional palette. Or, the perfect color scheme may be as simple as white and gold. As in other Traditional design elements, classic is the word for color – never neon bright or shocking.

Large areas of solid color are often broken up with patterns or other accents. Fabrics add lots of texture or pattern with geometric, striped, or floral designs in large and small sizes. They often consist of elegant and opulent silks, satins, velvets, and brocades. Needlework, such as Jacobean crewel work, and tapestries may be featured.

traditional curtains Window Treatments

Swagged or scalloped valances with tassels or fringe are common features of traditional style window treatments. Gathered side panels often consist of a heavier fabric with sheers behind. And, there may be some sort of tie-back tassel to pull the side panels open.

In earlier days,  it was not uncommon to find solid wood interior shutters built into to the window casing that folded out to completely obscure any transparency. In certain areas, operable louvered wood shutters were prevalent.  Also know as Plantation shutters, these remain very popular.

Today, window treatments for Traditional style interiors may incorporate only a few of the classic features in favor of a more streamlined look. Swags may or may not be used.

traditional style chairsFurniture and Accessories

As you can imagine, a wide range of traditional furniture styles have emerged over the centuries. Examples of such include Queen Anne, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton  – and these are only a few.

Whether graceful with delicate lines or more muscular in appearance, a common feature of Traditional furniture is that the couches and chairs frequently have exposed, decorative legs. Skirted bases are sometimes used also.

The foot of the leg is often given a special accent, perhaps with additional carving or size – as in Chippendale or Queen Anne. Furniture is generally a dark or medium wood tone as expressed in cherry, mahogany, or walnut.  And, painted wood furniture is always an option.

Wall mirrors are a great way to enlarge the perception of space, add style and an element of sparkle.  Mirrors were in scarce use until 17th century when more affordable means of production were developed. To further accessorize a strong traditional look, add oil paintings or mirrors with gold frames, oriental rugs, and a few vases or figurines.  And, a large bouquet of fresh flowers adds a nice touch.



Traditional Lamps and Lighting

When providing interior lighting for any style, multiple sources of lighting  provide the best effect. Fixtures typically include chandeliers, table lamps, floor lamps, sconces, candles, and hurricane lamps – or some combination thereof.

Track or cable lighting would not be appropriate.  Recessed “pot lights” should be used sparingly – if at all – depending on how closely you want to stay true to Traditional style. (See our Traditional Style Table LampsTraditional Style Wall Mirrors).

To implement the principle of symmetry, use pairs of lamps.  As shown in photo above, a pair of table lamps have been placed on the buffet table and a pair of hurricane lamps on the dining table.  For a more formal look, a crystal chandelier over the dining table or in the foyer is always lovely. For a more casual or rustic look, consider a wrought iron or brass chandelier.traditional style bedroom

Traditional Style Today

In most well designed traditional homes today, you will notice that the furnishings are typically not from one historic period. Rather, the space consists of a blend of several traditional, and perhaps contemporary styles – to look like a collection of the homeowner’s favorite pieces.

Most, but not necessarily all, of the furniture and accessories may be Traditional. Swags for window coverings may or may not be used. And, couches and chairs may have features that give a nod to earlier days, but have been transformed to accommodate today’s requirements for comfort. Also, the table lamps may be more contemporary. They may have a drum shade or a shade that is simpler in design.

If you crave the luxury, elegance and romance of days gone by and your home style is the proper backdrop, the Traditional style is probably your soul mate. Enjoy!


Photo Source:  HOUZZPhoebe Howard

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