Some interior design styles can be self-explanatory. But many of the most in-demand and influential design styles of the last few years require a bit more explanation...and when a new look borrows from other more established styles or puts a fresh spin on a well-loved classic, things only get more complicated from there.
If you're finding yourself struggling to tell a minimalist interior from a midcentury one, we're here to help. While the lines aren't always so cut-and-dry, there are a few main tenets of each interior design style that can help you identify even the most eclectic home.
Being able to readily identify each interior design style is more than just a clever party trick—it can also help you define your own personal style and seek out more of what you gravitate toward. It can also give you permission to mix and match depending on your intuition and sensibilities, and throw those labels to the wind—if that's what your personal style demands. Of course, these styles and trends change rapidly from month to month, so there's always something new to learn. And if you land on a new style all your own, go ahead and give it a name—we might just be writing about it next week.
Read on to see the most important design styles to know, with their key characteristics and insights from designers we love.
Though it has largely taken a backseat to more casual styles over the last several years, traditional design is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, and we find ourselves falling for the stately rooms and beautiful antiques all over again.
It's not difficult to deduce that traditional design is inspired by—you guessed it—tradition. Specifically, traditions of 18th and 19th-century European interiors, albeit in a more timeless approach. Symmetry, harmony, and understated elegance are defining traits.
Classical furniture, intricate details, and rich colors abound in traditional interiors, resulting in decidedly formal yet functional spaces. Architecture is another important component, with detailed millwork such as crown molding and wainscoting playing a significant role.
One of the main rules of interior design is to always "edit, edit, edit"—but that should come with a caveat. "Edit, edit, edit"—unless you're a maximalist at heart. "More is always more," says designer and founder of Andrew Martin, Martin Waller. "Layer texture and pattern to create excitement in a home—more rugs, more art, more objects."
This no-holds-barred style is all about mixing bold patterns, bright colors, unexpected textures, and more in a technicolor whirlwind that delights the senses and always leaves a new detail to be noticed. There are very few rules when it comes to maximalism, but we always think wallpaper is a good starting point since it immediately ups the ante of the interior without crowding it spatially.
Of course, there's a difference between "maximalist" and "overwhelming." Some editing, to be sure, is still required, though it relies much more on intuition and impulse. Be sure to step back every once in a while and take in the room as a whole. Or, better yet, snap a pic to give yourself some impartiality and distance, allowing you to see if the maximalist style is working in your home.
Not sure if you can pull off this look? Try starting in a small space, like a guest room or hall bath, to limit the amount of square footage you have to festoon.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have minimalism—the true "less is more" design philosophy delivers a big impact with bright, clean spaces that keep clutter at a minimum and often have a hyper-restrained color palette of muted neutrals or pure black and white.
While minimalist styles often incorporate hints of Midcentury Modern or Scandinavian styles, this look is more about what's not present. Hint: Expect to pull a major Marie Kondo on your home if you're hoping to achieve this look. What it leaves open to interpretation is what makes it so versatile, so even traditionalists can get in on this trend.
Not to be confused with other modern design styles, contemporary interiors are entirely of the moment, whereas modern can refer to anything forward-thinking from the last several decades—Midcentury Modern or Modern Farmhouse, for example.
The key elements of contemporary design can be boiled down to simplicity, clean lines, subtle sophistication, and deliberate use of texture. It seamlessly blends classic, timeless elements with very current, modern pieces. It's also a naturally minimal style that should never feel fussy, stuffy, or dated. Most contemporary spaces will stick to an overall black, white, and neutral color palette, occasionally using bold accent colors to create a strong contrast. There is also a distinctive presence of strong visual lines, be it straight or curved.
Also referred to as modern traditional, this style puts a fresh twist on the age-old style. "We’re seeing homes really honor history in fresh and inspiring ways," says Decorist designer Luz Perez Brown. While "traditional" itself as a moniker might sound old and tired, the way that designers and homeowners alike are reclaiming this term really speaks to both a love for the past and an eye on the future.
"Infusing clean lines with beautiful antiques, ornate moldings, and vintage artwork...Anything our grandparents owned is new again and that rich culture is woven seamlessly into our surroundings," Perez Brown explains.
As a style mash-up, transitional design is one that you may not even realize you're using in your home. At its core, transitional is a blend of both traditional and contemporary design styles. In other words, it combines the old with the new to achieve elegant yet comfortable and timeless interiors.
So how exactly is this blend achieved? Generally, transitional rooms are outfitted in sophisticated furniture that blends classic, soft lines with the comfort of modern pieces. Color palettes lean more modern, with clean, neutral colors creating the base layer and soft pastel or rich earth tone accents incorporated sparingly. Contrast is achieved through the use of various textures or tones.
The trend that's here to stay, MCM has our hearts now and forever—but it's also interesting to see this look change and adapt with time.
"I'm seeing more and more people request Midcentury Modern," says Decorist designer Joshua Jones. But this isn't your grandma's Midcentury Modern, he explains. "Often they want to mix this style up with either a bohemian or glamorous vibe to reflect their personalities. It can go bold and fun or light and airy."
Part of what we love about this look, which is characterized by geometric and wavy shapes like hairpin legs and "amoeba" or "kidney bean" furniture styles and warm wood tones, is how adaptable it is. "This style is ideal for an older home or those that appreciate retro furniture and accessories," Jones says.
Usually characterized by rounded shapes, lush fabrics, and rich jewel tones accentuated with brass, the Deco style has undergone a transformation in recent years, re-emerging in a way that feels more modern and less 90s.
"Using curvy shapes is a distinct throwback that is re-emerging into a more modern twist," explains Design Works' Robin Strickler. "In furniture, we are seeing upholstered pieces like sofas, chaises, and even benches designed with asymmetry and curves, rather than straight lines. This creates a more tranquil energy—emulating waves and curves—and feels cozier and more intimate." Wavy club chairs like the ones seen here are a hallmark of Art Deco style.
Deeply rooted in place—specifically, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, though occasionally Finland and even Iceland are generously lumped into the mix when speaking more broadly—this aesthetic favors clean lines, bentwood and other natural materials, and sleek, sophisticated understatement over ostentatious displays.
"Scandi" spaces are likely to have some of the big-name Nordic design icons you've heard about, from Eeno Saarinen's tulip tables to Hans Wegner's gently curved wishbone chairs, and yes, even a few well-placed IKEA items (no shame—we love the Swedish megastore).
Blame it on Joanna Gaines—no list of top décor styles is complete without a nod to modern farmhouse. Incorporating rustic elements in a fresh and airy way, this look has become all the rage for its home-y, welcoming vibe...and for its nod to a simpler lifestyle.
"The fast-paced, real-time bustle we're accustomed to has our generation craving a slower, more intentional lifestyle," says Perez Brown. "The farmhouse style allows for peaceful nature to flow indoors with its soft neutral earth tones, its natural materials, and casual architecture full of texture."
World travelers and plant moms, this one's for you. Bohemian style favors layers of lush textiles from far-flung lands, like handwoven Moroccan rugs layered with Japanese block prints and even Malian mudcloth pillows. Expect to see plenty of natural materials, tapestries, macramé planters spilling over with lush greenery—the jungle-like plant-obsession trend is very at home in a boho space—and metals like brass and copper with a well-loved patina.
Authenticity is the name of the game here, so anything that looks like it was picked up at a flea market in a far-flung location is game for this comfortable, creative style.
What happens when two in-demand styles come together? Pure magic. A portmanteau of Scandinavian and Californian, this interior design style is rising through the ranks quickly these days.
"This style is mixed with a bit of coastal, industrial, bohemian, and Midcentury Modern with some Scandinavian elements, with a focus to create a light and calming space," explains Decorist designer Joshua Jones. "The common finishes of this particular style are light wood tones, black metal, brass, and tribal/textured pillows against a backdrop of lighter-toned upholstered furniture"—aka lots of elements we already love from their respective styles. "It's perfect for anyone that likes neutrals but also wants a calm and serene space without being boring," he says.
The desert modern look borrows from boho and eclectic styles but incorporates earthen textures like plaster, clay, and stone along with geometric and organic shapes to evoke a vibe that's reminiscent of the desert.
Designer Lauren Nelson finds several of these elements to be irresistible right now: "I love the use of organic shapes in accessories," she says. "They can really breathe life into an otherwise bland bookshelf or mantel—I especially love handmade ceramic vases and filling them with branches that provide some visual interest."
Here she pairs perfectly imperfect ceramics with a geometric print that's a little midcentury, a little Memphis—another common theme in this aesthetic style.
Artistic, creative, and free-spirited, eclectic style is at times tough to characterize because it makes use of a little bit of everything—but that's where its magic lies. Combining and juxtaposing furnishings from different periods and traditions while also incorporating color and plenty of personality, eclectic-style homes just feel like an instant insight into a home's history and owner, as Lily Brown of Lily Brown Interiors points out.
"Preserving and highlighting historic architecture and elements in a home while juxtaposing sharp, clean lines creates a beautiful balance of form and detail," she explains. "A thoughtful injection of color adds to its layers and creates an intriguing space that acknowledges both the past and the present."
The best way to get this style at home? Forget the rulebook and just collect things that catch your eye—no need to ascribe to anything matchy-matchy.
More elevated and refined than the "shabby chic" trend of the past, this look draws from similar sources of inspiration but infuses new life into classic fabrics, patterns, and silhouettes by mixing them in a unique way. Expect to see ditsy florals alongside antique pieces and lush materials in a bouquet of femme hues.
"I'm still attracted to (and loving) the classics like channel-backed puffy upholstery and historical but recolored or rescaled florals," says Boston-based designer Liz Caan. "There is something comforting about the past right now—it's known and familiar, so I am excited about updated chintzes that I can have quilted, glamorous channel tufting, natural materials like cane and rattan that may be trendy at the moment have stood the test of time and require skills to weave and manipulate, and hand-painted wallpapers and blocked fabric based on historical patterns."
Though this look is decidedly feminine, it's much less delicate than its foremothers thanks to an eclectic array of prints and bold colorways.
Coastal design has come a long way from the seashell-centric, beach bum vacation rentals of your youth. Instead, today's beach-inspired interiors focus on conveying the airy and calming vibes of the seashore.
It should come as no surprise that modern coastal interiors often rely on a crisp, white base layered with sea and sky-inspired blues and earthy browns and greens. The overall feeling should be clean and light—the embodiment of a breath of fresh, salty air.
Much like the colors are nature-inspired, textiles and furniture in coastal design are of the natural variety, too. Materials like wood, jute, linen, cotton, and glass are all common. But arguably the most critical element of modern coastal interiors? Light. Lots and lots of glorious, natural light.
Coastal but with a distinct twist, this look is all about texture—often in the form of plaster walls and organic, natural finishes.
"One of the trends I’m most excited about is a lime plaster wall finish," says Decorist designer Jessie Yoon of Casa Nolita. "The earthy, soft-finished walls create a sweet illusion of being somewhere by the Mediterranean Sea. Add furniture made with natural materials such as rattan, stone, reclaimed wood, live edge wood, and washed linen to complete the look." It's like a far-flung beach vacation you can bring home with you.
"Naturalism is something we’ve noticed our clients gravitating towards," says Michael Cox of Foley&Cox Interior Design. "The organic driftwood base of the cocktail table is one of the most obvious elements, but the use of natural and organic fabrics like hand-woven cotton and hand-loomed wool subtly contribute to the relaxed and 'of-the-hand-and-earth' vibe we wanted to achieve for this waterfront home."
While there's growing interest in natural and hand-touched textures in several of the top design styles of the moment, this takes that influence a step further by emphasizing contrast and imperfection in each element. "Even the idea of upcycling in fashion is represented, with the vintage chairs we found in Clignancourt and reupholstered in naturally dyed leather," Cox notes.
If you need more evidence that the American Southwest is having a major design moment, look no further. Brown notes that a style she's calling "Southwest Soul" is the latest trend to look for.
"We're moving out of the '50 shades of grey' phase of interior design and embracing color and texture in avant-garde ways," she says. "The patterns and palettes of the Southwest are coming through in design and fashion, and the result is a playful and sexy interior that definitely keeps things interesting." Southwest-inspired patterns and textiles mingle with raw wood and midcentury touches for an eclectic vibe with tons of personality.
Industrial style is one you're probably pretty familiar with by now. Inspired by the lofty factories of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it's a design aesthetic that considers function first, then form.
Elements that are commonly associated with industrial design are, of course, rough building materials such as unfinished brick, exposed pipes and metal, worn wood, and polished concrete. Architecturally, these spaces often feature soaring ceilings, massive windows, and open floor plans. Colors tend to veer neutral, with light walls and darker, more masculine furniture.
An interesting thing to notice about industrial design is how it has subtly trickled into just about every other style out there. When our interiors are inevitably "missing something," so often the solution is adding in an edgy, industrial element.