Farewell, Minimalism—Mixing Furniture Styles Is In

Updated 06/12/18

Let's start with a baseline set of facts: Very few people decorate with furniture sets these days. And while it's easy to fall into the trap of following a specific trend—whether that be midcentury, Scandinavian, traditional—the most impactful spaces are the ones that effortlessly combine elements from multiple periods, styles, and places. After all, you can only purchase so many midcentury pieces before your home starts looking like a replica of a Mad Men set (though if that's the look you're going for, carry on.)

But mixing different periods and styles can feel overwhelming if you've never done it before. When we start decorating our homes, big-box stores might be the first stop to help us furnish rooms with the essentials: Quality sofas, sturdy beds, spacious dining tables. But once this is done, opportunity opens up to add smaller furniture pieces, antiques, objects, and soft furnishings to complete the look.

Think of your rooms in terms of layering by adding items to make your space feel unique and personal.

Ready to scour your local antique store in search of the perfect vintage piece to add to your modern home? Here are a few foolproof decorating tips to help you start mixing furniture styles.

Limit Your Color Palette

Mixing Furniture Styles
Julia Robbs

The easiest way to ensure that your room will look coherent, even if it features a variety of styles, is to limit the color palette. In this New York City kitchen, the palette is strictly black and white with pops of greenery, which ties together the ornate architecture and chandelier with modern kitchen cabinets, Chinese-style chairs, and a contemporary ladder.

Umbra Hub Decorative Ladder $80
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Add Contemporary Art

Mixing Décor Styles
Courtesy of Jessica Helgerson

If you're only dipping your toes in mixing furniture styles, one of the easiest ways to start is by adding contemporary art in a classic room—like in this Brooklyn brownstone by Jessica Helgerson—or vice versa. Adding classic art in a contemporary space adds interest. The clash between the two styles is easy to achieve, and it always makes a striking statement.

Photograph of a woman in red dress diving into plume of blue fabric
The Heidies Roche III, unframed, 24 x 36 inches $1140
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Pay Attention to Scale

Mixing Decorating Styles
Courtesy of Charlie Ferrer

One of the most valuable lessons in interior design is learning to play with the scale of objects. What does this mean, exactly? Scale refers to proportion and the comparative size of objects in a space. Take this room by Charlie Ferrer, for instance. Dainty objects, such as the coffee table and settee, tend to look good next to weightier, heavier ones, like the round pedestal side table and the fringed velvet sofa. It's all about achieving balance. 

Rupert Nikoll Brass Floor Lamp $3500
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Use the Power of Repetition

How to Mix Furniture Styles
Courtesy of Amber Interiors

Repetition works wonders in design. Even if your room mixes different styles, it will look more polished if similar patterns or items are repeated. For example, in this dining room by Amber Interiors, nautical pendants over the table lead the eye along the table in the same way the Mies van der Rohe chairs create continuity. The neon art is also repeated along the bookcase, and the legs on the contemporary bench create repetition as well.

Mies van der Rohe Brno Flat-Bar Chair $2000
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Choose an Inspiration Piece

How to Mix Décor Styles
Courtesy of Studio DB

It always helps to start a room with one focus object and build from there. Take this room by Studio DB, for example. The curves of the coffee table are repeated in the curvy chairs, the rounded chandelier globes, even in the fish-scale pattern on the rug. Though each of these items come from a different time period, they work together beautifully.

Karl Springer Vintage Large Coffee Table $2400
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Pick a Unique Theme

How to Mix Decorating Styles
Courtesy of Charlie Ferrer

Another way to mix and match furniture styles with ease is to envision a theme. For instance, if you wanted to create a dramatic professor's library for a room with wood-paneled walls, you may start collecting objects that serve the theme: A green wingback chair, a tri-arm floor lamp, hammered brass baskets, a French secretary desk. Having visual points of reference helps keep your overall theme on track.

Arredoluce Pivoting Three-Arm Triennale Floor Lamp $2500
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Balance Different Materials

Mixing Furniture Styles Tips
Courtesy of Studio DB

The same way you should pay attention to scale, you should also look to balance the different materials in the room so as to not end up with a room full of mid-brown wood tones. For instance, mix a sleek stone surface such as marble and travertine with a more rustic material such as cane or rattan. Mix shiny black wood finishes with matte blonde wood. Add in glass, metals, velvet, and patterns. Thinking of materials in terms of contrasts will help in creating a layered space.

Nadia Black and Cane Chair
CB2 Nadia Cane Chair $349
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Do Your Research

Mixing Furniture Styles Advice
Courtesy of Charlie Ferrer

Finally, educate yourself. It's easy to throw furniture together, but a space starts to become really thoughtfully curated when you know the provenance of items and their meaning in design history. For instance, you may want to pair a Belgian art nouveau armchair with a midcentury side chair or an art deco table with a velvet fringed tufted sofa. Knowing how they coexist in design history will help you tie in the pieces together using color palettes or materials.

Harry Bertoia Vintage Diamond Chair $2800
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