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This Old-School Design Style Is Back (and We're Here for It)

How to master the trend

a living room with armchair by a fireplace
Courtesy of Lori Henle

We called it: Traditional décor is back. Last year, after stepping inside this classic traditional home and this updated traditional kitchen, we predicted the old-school design style would be on the rise—and, indeed, the trend has serious staying power. Leading designers by the likes of Emily Henderson and Dan Mazzarini of BHDM Design are renowned for decorating in the timeless style, but even those partial to modern design like Joyce Downing Pickens of JDP Interiors and Stefani Stein have embraced the modern traditional fad.

To find out why traditional design is trending, we turned to Decorist elite designer Lori Henle who specializes in the style. "People are drawn to traditional design for its comfort beauty and timeless sensibility," Henle explains of the style's recent surge in popularity. "Economically people enjoy timeless design that will last over time as opposed to a trendy style that they may eventually grow tired of later on," the designer tells MyDomaine.

So, how do you make the old-school design style current? Here, the designer divulges her expert tips for nailing traditional design in 2020, including the most common mistake people make when decorating in the style—and how to avoid it.

Traditional fireplace
Courtesy of Lori Henle

Inspired by the 18th- and 19th-century European décor, traditional design is hardly new. "The furnishings are a reflection of historical design elements, utilizing natural materials and colors," explains Henle. "Architectural elements of heavy trim work, built-in cabinetry, raised paneled doors, and grand fireplaces are key hallmarks of traditional design."

However, even if your space is lacking in these architectural details, you can still get the look, assures Henle. "The new traditional has a modern influence that creates warmth and ease that is subtle with layers of texture, color, and excitingly new, bold finishes," the designer tells MyDomaine. Ahead, Henle explains how to get the look without renovating.

Pottery Barn Booker Candleholders, Set of 4
Pottery Barn Booker Candleholders, Set of 4 $78.00
Traditional living room décor
Courtesy of Lori Henle

For a modern take on a traditional design that doesn't involve adding architectural interest to your space, "start with a neutral color base and include layers of texture and colorful accents, add bold large-scale pieces to make a statement as opposed to lots of smaller pieces, which can look busy and cluttered," Henle advises.

The living room pictured above perfectly illustrates Henle's advice. In this space, the beige sectional serves as a neutral base that gains plenty of visual interest from layers of texture via a chunky cable knit blanket and a fluffy fur accent pillow. Green velvet throw pillows lend a pop of color and add another depth of texture to the room.

West Elm Andes 3-Piece Chaise Sectional
West Elm Andes 3-Piece Chaise Sectional $26,974,197.00
a cabinet with a blue lamp
Courtesy of Lori Henle

Opting for streamlined furniture silhouettes that are sleek and sophisticated as your base lays the groundwork for a well-edited room, Henle explains. "Include personal touches when styling, such as grouping modern accessories that are bold in scale, or all in one color tone, such as white or brass, to highlight a bookcase or cabinet," she suggests. "Hang art as a series to create a bold statement, or showcase a group of found objects as art on a wall to create an unexpected focal point."

West Elm Roar + Rabbit Ripple Ceramic Table Lamp
West Elm Roar + Rabbit Ripple Ceramic Table Lamp $179.00
Traditional bedroom
Courtesy of Lori Henle

Avoid selecting furniture pieces that are a matched set with the same fabric and finish, advises Henle. The room will feel flat and lack depth in wood finish, color, and texture, she explains. "To avoid a matchy-matchy room create a layered look by mixing and combining furniture pieces that have a different finish to mix it up adding texture and interest," Henle tells MyDomaine. "The goal is to create a room that is not a cookie-cutter matched look but has a unique style that feels exciting and fresh."

Pottery Barn Astoria 3-Drawer Nightstand
Pottery Barn Astoria 3-Drawer Nightstand $499.00
Traditional bathroom design with wallpaper
Courtesy of Lori Henle

To make a traditional design feel fresh and modern in 2020, "formulate your color palette and feature wallpaper with an interesting bold pattern or texture," advises Henle. Don't be afraid to mix materials and finishes. "Go bold with an oversized light fixture in brass or polished nickel finish to make a statement," the designer adds.

Anthropologie Windsong Crane Wallpaper
Anthropologie Windsong Crane Wallpaper $198.00
Traditional bedroom design
Courtesy of Lori Henle

To bring a space up to date, add modern pieces to offset the traditional design. "Mix in bold contemporary finishes such as a matte black or a polished nickel to add fun highlights and enliven the space," she advises. Take style notes from this space which pairs modern wall sconces with a traditional headboard and rustic nightstands. And, as with any design style, be sure to "personalize your space with interesting found objects or family heirlooms to feel collected and not staged," advises Henle.

Serena & Lily Flynn Single Wall Sconce
Serena & Lily Flynn Single Wall Sconce $248.00