The struggle with home design and decor can be real! Maybe you like farmhouse, but your spouse likes the modern look. You like bold colors and your roommate is a neutral fanatic. You love a bit of glam and they like rustic pieces. Or, you’re like me and love and appreciate all styles and sometimes end up with a huge mish-mash of items you love and don’t know how to make it all work in one space. If you’re attracted to (or working with) a variety of styles, or you just don’t want a “label” put on you design style, I’m here to tell you, “It’s going to be okay”. In fact, its going to be more than just “okay”, its going to be FREAKING FABULOUS! Yes! Because you are lucky enough to fit into the design style that is both beautiful and practical!
This is a com-pre-hen-sive post, guys! I call it my “Design Bible” because I put all of my principals into this ONE post, so you may want to grab a coffee or save this link to your “Favorites” so that you can keep coming back to it. It’s almost like a FREE seminar I’ve put together for you; I’ve even built in some FAQ I anticipate you might ask… so, you’re welcome! But I am sharing with you MY 5 secret elements of design because I am so CONFIDENT that I can help you figure this home decor thing out. So let’s dive in, here we go!
Personally, I believe the umbrella that encompasses these 5 secret elements is the concept of Transitional Design. Not only is it my favorite, but I think it’s classic and also current because it’s fluid and always changing. Even if you think you’re a “Farmhouse to the core” person, I’ll bet you still have elements of Transitional design throughout your home – Joanna Gaines herself does a fabulous job with this concept because she’s mastered these 5 secret elements in her designs. So let’s first define Transitional Design so that you can see how each of these principals plays into it.
A balanced blend of styles that are classic, timeless and clean while focusing on comfort and practicality to meet the lifestyle of the household. Typically pieces within a transitional space will be neutral and meet somewhere between “old” and “new” and contain a mixture of masculine and feminine features, emphasizing textures and fabrics through a “less is more” mentality, thus creating the perfect curated look specific to your story.
So, that’s it? THAT’S the big idea? Transitional Style? YES!!! If you’re feeling underwhelmed, don’t! You have no idea, but this design mentality encompasses the 5 secret ingredients that are going to change your life and blow your mind! Yep, I said it!
If you notice, there are 5 bolded words within the definition of Transitional design. I want to elaborate on each of these, so let’s define and discuss them and put them into an action plan for your space.
5 Secret Elements to Home Decor :
Personally, I believe the umbrella that encompasses these 5 secret elements is the concept of Transitional Design.
In beautifully decorated homes, you will see balance of many design elements including styles, tones, and textures. Most importantly, you will se a mixture of both feminine (soft) and masculine (harsh) touches. Examples of this may be crystal hanging from an industrial chandelier, a dark leather sofa paired with fluffy pillows, a reclaimed wood table with beautiful floral arrangement on it or it can be as simple as a pretty wingback side chair with a wooden side table next to it. No matter the situation, having this kind of balance (don’t get it confused with symmetry, you don’t need symmetry to have a balanced room) will allow you to continue down the Transitional path and achieve your dream look.
Advice: Balance is all about visual weight; making the space feel right. When I’m working on balance, I always think of things in terms of things that lift (light, bright, airy) or anchor (heavy, dark, grounding) the space; almost like a scale. This is why floors are usually darker than ceilings, they contain that balance. If I have a light sofa, I’d probably anchor it with darker accent chairs or a bold rug. Then, once I have those foundation pieces, I can go from there and bounce back between my lifting and anchoring to BALANCE the space. You’ll know when something is “off” or doesn’t feel right and when this happens, just take items away, reset, and try again.
Questions you might have:
- Can you give me some specific examples of “Feminine” and “Masculine” items so that I can have a frame of reference? Sure! Feminine: Florals (fabrics, wallpaper, art, etc.), Architecture (scalloped edges, curves in furniture, legs on a table), Lighter colors (whites, creams, beiges, taupes), Soft things (fluffy anything, comfy pillows, bedding, tufted headboard, etc.) Masculine: Leather (sofa, chairs, cowhide rug), Color Palette (dark, muted, almost gloomy), Textures (stained or weathered wood, exposed brick, industrial details), Architecture (straighter/clean lines, square arms on furniture, animal heads on walls, etc.). But if you’re asking about a simple vignette on a entry table, maybe a lamp with a metal base, but a pretty linen shade, next to a small vase with a floral arrangement; it doesn’t have to be extreme or complicated, start small.
- What do you mean by balanced? Well, for me, it’s a feeling I get when I’m in the room. I don’t count the number of “rustic” items I have vs. the number of “glam” things I have. If it feels heavy, almost like you need to turn a light on (even thought the lights are all on) then it may be too masculine. Or if you feel like it’s too light and airy, you might need some anchors to the space. I just know when it’s right and I think you will too when you give it a try.
- Balanced doesn’t mean symmetrical? Huh? Lets paint a picture so I can explain. Let’s say you have a narrow table up against a wall and there is a clock above it. Very simple, right? Let’s say to BALANCE it, you make the clock a little more of an industrial feel and the table is more “pretty” and focuses more on the details (the knobs on the drawers have more of a feminine feel and some of the detail on the table has a pretty pattern). So, now you’ve got that balance of masculine and feminine. Now you have a choice, do you want to go symmetrical and have a lamp on each side of the clock and then some art on either side of the lamps? Or do you want to go asymmetrical and have a lamp on one side, a taller piece on the other (say a potted plant or a large floral arrangement) and then a few shorter pieces placed on the table to create a vignette. Either way, what you select to put on the table should be balanced and how you put it there can be arranged symmetrically or asymmetrically.
There is a fine line between mixing and messy, so pay attention here. In a Transitional space you will have a mix of textures, wood tones and old/ new pieces, just as a start. So that leather sofa or chair that your husband loves can probably be mixed with those tufted linen chairs that you love and it can work. The reclaimed wood table you love can mesh with your gorgeous marble countertops and it works! Your cream built-ins can be layered with vases, picture frames and baskets using a variety of wood tones or metals and, you guessed it, it works! There really are no rules here, but if you follow the “Balanced” rule above, you will create just the right mix of items to get the perfect, This is my story, these items represent what I love and who I am look.
Advice: As I said before, there is a fine line between mixing and messy, so please err on the side of “less is more” here until you fine tune your skills. You’ve probably walked into a chaotic house at some point in your life and felt overwhelmed; you don’t know where to look, and there is just “junk” everywhere! (If this has never happened to you before, you may be “house blind” and YOU may own the chaotic house!! This may be time to reevaluate!) The only time I think you can make a mistake with mixing is if you go to “matchy-matchy”. This makes it difficult to mix because then it has to fit a certain color/pattern/texture that dominates the room. Especially when furniture shopping, stay away from buying a whole “set”, if possible.
Questions you might have:
- I have a variety of items that I took with me when I moved into my new space, but nothing goes together. How can this whole “mixing” thing work when my colors don’t mesh and my pieces just seem “off”? Great question! And brace yourself, because this may blow your mind so I’ll say it slowly. If you have lots of stuff, that just doesn’t seem to “mix” well together… PAINT. IT. I have SO many things that I have slightly altered to make work on my bookshelves and it’s been a game changer (plus it saves money)! My best examples of this are for books and vases. If you have a trillion books that you have hidden somewhere because the covers are all different colors, just grab some chalk paint, slap it on the exterior of the book and you now have a million neutral colored books that will be perfect as transitional decor! I’ve even ripped off the paperback covers to old books and stacked them, it really give it an “aged” look. Same goes for vases; spray or chalk painting several different sized vases, picture frames, knick knacks, whatever, can give you a cohesive, neutral palette for very little investment! If you’re just starting out, measure your shelves and go to the dollar store or to Goodwill and buy things that will fit your spaces and spray paint them. If you always stick with neutral colors, you can’t go wrong with this!
- Can I mix too much? The answer is, yes. You don’t want to go overboard. If you’re unsure if you should add something else, DON’T do it until you’re sure and ready for the commitment. You’ll know when you find that ONE thing that you NEED in that space the instant you see it, so no use wasting time or money – less it more with transitional style. Remember, it has to be functional and practical – not chaos!
When I say neutral, I don’t necessarily mean white. I don’t even mean gray, or beige, or greige. What I mean is create a foundation that allows for additional pieces to collaborate with and not complicate the space. Think of it this way… take out all the furniture, art and decor and your space should almost seem boring. If thats the case, you’re on the right track! If you take out your “stuff” and something is standing out like a sore thumb, you should probably find a way to make it more neutral and compatible with your space (unless it’s gorgeous and that’s what you were going for as a feature). Then, when you’re starting to piece things together, its absolutely acceptable to incorporate different patterns, textures, and even furniture styles, but just try to keep to the same neutral color palette so that it’s cohesive. Remember, transitional style is classic and timeless, you can always switch out pillows, patterns and what not, it takes a lot more effort to re-buy furniture because you went wild with your “foundation” – keep it neutral!
Another thing to keep in mind, especially for those of us who are more mathematical and linear thinkers, is the 60-30-10 Rule. The 60-30-10 rule states that 60% of the room should be a dominant color (neutral, in my opinion), 30% should be the secondary color or texture and the last 10% should be an accent. So, for my formal living room, the my 60% is cream, the 30% is wood tones, and the 10% is gray. Walk around your home and see if you’re already following this rule and if not, it may help.
Advice:If you think of this in terms of how you apply makeup, it might help (sorry, I like analogies and I think even guys can understand this one). In terms of makeup, you would never want your foundation to be the star of the show. It’s NEVER good when you have the wrong color foundation because then anything else you add on top of it, just seems “off”. Right? You want your foundation to be neutral, or barely noticeable so that the other details you apply can stand out and speak for themselves. So, your room should be the same way.
Questions you might have:
- Won’t a neutral room be boring? Yes, in the early stages, it might be. But, when you finally piece together all of the elements including the furniture, pillows, rug, wall decor, lamps, vignettes on your shelves, etc. you will be able to pick and choose the pieces that you LOVE and eventually you will have a space filled with pieces you’ve crafted yourself, found on vacation, picked up on the fly, bought on Craigslist, etc. and each piece will tell a wonderful story – which isn’t boring at all. If you’ve ever seen Fixer Upper on HGTV, Joanna Gains, even though she usually falls into the “Farmhouse” style, does a really great job of transitional decor. If you look at her spaces, they are full of neutral colors, patterns, old and new. She mixes industrial with greenery and whites and creams. This is why I say Transitional is the secret sauce to all interior design, because Joanna is not just farmhouse, she’s whatever her client wants her to be, which is usually a blend of two or more people who live in the home…she’s transitional.
- Can my neutral be a color? Say blue? Yes, you may choose to decorate with blue and blue can absolutely be a neutral (remember the 60-30-10 rule?). Your walls may be a soft, light blue and your accent chairs may be a blue microfiber or velvet and your sofa may be cream (cream might be the 30%). The important thing is to recognize that blue IS your neutral (60% of your decor), so you can’t really add a whole lot more to it, but you can use that color to play into all of the other elements such as texture, fabric, pattern, etc. So your accent pillows on your cream sofa might be the same blue fabric as the chair, paired with another pillow with a mix of blue and cream to bridge the gap between the two pieces. Then your rug might be blue with flecks of cream or even have a bold pattern to it and same with the drapery. Then your accent color might be green or instead, you might want to incorporate a pretty metallic brass color as your remaining 10%. “Neutral” rooms can be bold, as ironic as it seems, it’s all about that balance and mixing that we talked about before to make it work perfectly.
This element right here, this is what I call the “Dream Crusher”. HA! I call it the dream crusher because you may have been dreaming of the “perfect” Pinterest-worthy room or space. And now, practical comes into the picture and says, “Hey, who are you kidding? You have three kids and a dog, you are NOT getting a white sofa”! Yes, unfortunately, this little element of transitional design can crush dreams, but actually, it’s the beauty of it. Transitional homes don’t have that “stuffy” feeling to them, it’s more of a causal feel. We LIVE in our transitional homes and we have kids and dogs and we are not robots. We need toy boxes, places to put your stuff when you come through the door and furniture that will withstand the ninja warrior courses created on them, but we take practical and make it work into the design and make it livable. The wonderful thing about transitional design is that it’s always changing and adapting to your home. You can now make a laundry room look beautiful AND still be functional, thanks to transitional design. Mud rooms, the places you literally track in mud from the outdoors, are more gorgeous than ever, but not because they have to be, but because we, as transitional design lovers, want to put our own stamp on each section of our home making them both beautiful and practical. The blending of the old and new, dirty and clean, light and dark, allows us to do that – it’s practical and that’s what makes it oh-so-awesome!
Advice: This is coming from a mom who has two kids under the age of 4 and a dog: I say, if you have the choice and are going to invest in a piece of furniture (or anything for your home), don’t immediately throw away your dream room idea just because you have kids or pets. Fabrics are amazing these days and slipcovers are incredible! In fact, my formal living room sofa is slipcovered in a (soft) fabric that is used to make outdoor rugs! It’s cream and when my kids spill on it, we wipe it down and that’s it! Face it, if you have kids or pets, they come with a lot of extra “stuff”, but it doesn’t have to mean you must live in a disaster zone. A couple of bins, storage cubes, and hardcore rules (no eating popsicles on my NEW rug), go a long long way! *Oh, and all those Pinterest-worthy rooms you drool over…they’re totally and completely staged with the perfect light and photoshop editing, so don’t you think for one second that you can’t have a beautiful AND functional space. Those people posting on Pinterest (including me) have a messy house a lot of the time too!
Questions you might have:
- How do I make my space both pretty and practical? It seems like it can be one or the other. For me, I think first about what this room NEEDS to be able to do. If its a living room, it needs to house some toys for my kids, the sofa for my husband to lounge on, and it needs to be the place we gather with friends and family to either chat over cocktails or watch the big game on TV. So, that is now what I base everything around. If I always have toys everywhere, I need a better design to accommodate this need for this particular room. So, I may knock out two birds with one stone and get two cubes to put toys in when they’re not being used, but they can also double as seating when we have our guests over. It’s all about mixing and making things be multi-use. But, when you do pull the trigger out buy something, don’t spend your money on something if it doesn’t fit the bill for both “pretty” and practicality. If something doesn’t go in your design, no matter how functional it is, it’s going to stick out in a negative way! So, like I said before, if you have to, paint it to go with your scheme, but don’t put a neon colored toy box in your formal living room and expect it to work – it just won’t!
- I have kids/pets and I don’t want to buy “nice” things until they’re older and less prone to spilling and making messes. What should I do? Well, to me, this is like registering for fine china for a wedding gift and keeping it in the cabinet for a special occasion, but you NEVER use it. What are you waiting for? For me, my husband is more prone to spilling his coffee than my kids are – they have leak proof cups and he doesn’t!! I don’t think it ever get’s easier. In fact, as we get older, we probably
drink more wineget MORE clumsy. So, if you want “nice” things, just take a look at the fabric grades and the cleaning codes. Cleaning codes with a “W” are best for kids or pets because they can usually be cleaned with water; they’re the most durable fabrics and can stand the test of time (and spills). There are many fabulous fabrics that mimic the fancy ones, but have a “W” cleaning code, so do your research and DO NOT SETTLE. I would NOT recommend waiting to get the room of your dreams until “later”, because you never know what could happen and if you’re going to invest money in any piece of furniture or decor, it should be pieces that you LOVE, not things that will work for now.
I’ve saved this for last because this is the most special element of transitional design, in my opinion. It’s the part that says the most about you and your family, where you’ve been and who you are. I believe a “curation” is a special collection of items that you’ve selected and accumulated over the years; it’s what allows your home to tell your story. Nobody can curate like you can, nobody! You might hire the best designer around, but I guarantee they will ask you for photos, trinkets, and items that are special to you to work into their design. See what I mean, the designer, the person who you’re PAYING to do the work, is coming to you for advice! So, if you can master the four other transitional design elements listed above (Balance, Mixing, Neutral, and Practical), you can dominate and master transitional design on your own.
Now, I hope I don’t confuse you with this, but I’m going to go against my own rules here… If a few of your sentimental pieces don’t totally go with your neutral color scheme, it’s okay. (Yes, I said it.) These “odd” pieces are what gives your home character. That one thing that sticks out, will stick out because it’s special to you, not because it’s “not right”. Or if it’s super odd and just feels wrong in the room, find a way to tweek it to fit into your design. Just be prepared though, it will be a conversation piece almost anytime you have new guests over! But, if it’s special to you, you can always find a way to make it work in your home. (If you need help with this or anything “home”, feel free to send me photos and ask my advice, I LOVE a good design challenge.)
Advice: So remember before, when we talked about the space being pretty and practical, I mentioned that you must first decide what the room NEEDS to be able to do for you? Well, if this space NEEDS to be able to display something quirky that you love, you will have to add this to the list. And to be honest, you may need to make some sacrifices to make it happen, such as adding something about that element into your color scheme, but it can be done. This happened to me with our large brown leather sofa that my husband INSISTED we keep in our gray and cream living room. We had to make the brown an accent color in pillows and a few other decor pieces to bridge that gap. It wasn’t ideal (for me), but it works.
Questions you might have:
- I am just starting out and I have nothing. How can I get this character in my space? Ask your parents if they have anything that is meaningful to them that they may pass down to you. If not, hit up Facebook Marketplace, antique stores or Goodwill to get a good deal on items that have character and meaning to them. It may not have specific meaning to you, but if you really appreciate the design or the art behind it, it can still tell a story about you and fit perfectly in your home. And remember if you find a piece of furniture you love, but the color is off, you can always paint or stain it!
- How the heck do I arrange all these unrelated “curated” things? It seems like a mess! This can be challenging because you don’t want to create chaos in your space. Start by creating small vignettes in groups of threes or fives. Do this by grouping things by color. Separate the things you are trying to work with by colors, similar to laundry: Lights, Darks, and then the “special” uncategorized items. Then select something tall that’s from the one of the groups, then something thats a little shorter and wider from another and then a third item from that last category. Arrange them a few times until you find a combo that seems right. Or find three things that are similar in size or color and put them next to each other on a shelf and let that be the statement. It’s up to you and it definitely takes time, but keep at it. The more variation in the items, the trickier it is. Keeping things monochromatic, or all the same color tones, makes it a little bit easier. If things are “odd balls” and don’t really fit with other items, its definitely okay to let an items sit alone and speak for itself.
Whoa, that was a lot. If you’re still here, thanks for sticking with me! I know this is a lot to swallow, but it really is the total guide to Transitional design. Save this tab, print this post, or “Pin” it on Pinterest and keep referring back to it – no need to memorize or master it all in one sitting. I’ll elaborate different aspects of this throughout the blog so that you keep getting new reminders and tips and tricks.
Your home should be filled with items that tell your story. If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t waste your hard earned money on it. But just don’t give up and leave things the way they are because you don’t want to (or cannot afford to) get rid of everything and start over. If you take some time to really understand these 5 elements of Transitional Style, which I believe 90% of us have, you can truly figure out how to use most of what you already have to get the look you want. You will begin to see things with a new and different eye – an eye that can save you money and slay when it comes to styling! YEAH!