Interior design styles are kind of like Kardashians. It feels like new ones keep popping up with no end in sight, and the average guy has no idea how to tell them apart.
In the face of a new home improvement project, you’re probably tempted to skip straight to the DIY part where you get to flex your muscles and show off your ability to use power tools – but before you turn your home into the disappointing version of a Benny Benassi video, you need to know what kind of space you’re creating in the first place.
The following list of interior design styles isn’t definitive, but rather a selection of some of the most common or popular styles you’re likely to see because…well…we just can’t name them all. But in our defence, we can’t name all the Kardashians either.
Modern design is rooted in minimalism. Function is the focus, so lines are clean, decorative elements are subtle and accessories are kept to a minimum. A modern space is likely to feature a neutral colour palette, polished surfaces, strong geometric shapes and asymmetry. Though some find modern design too harsh or cold, others find it calming and appreciate its ability to maximize a small space.
The terms “modern” and “contemporary” are similar, but not interchangeable where interior design is concerned. Modern design means a specific style, while contemporary can only mean trendy looks that are in style at any given moment. Contemporary interiors are comfortable and welcoming without being cluttered and dark. Smooth, clean, geometric shapes are essential, as is structural furniture and an emphasis on basic shapes and forms. Accents are graphic elements in artwork and occasional pops of bold colour.
Minimalist design takes a ’less is more’ approach to interior decorating. Everything is stripped down to its most basic state to achieve a Zen-like simplicity. Straightforward geometric forms, little ornamentation, simple materials and the repetition of structures put the focus on the essential quality of the space, rather than the objects that fill it. Minimalism is ideally suited to large, open spaces with natural light and cleverly hidden storage.
Order, symmetry and balance are the key elements of classical interior design. Classic spaces are often built around a focal point, like a bed or a feature fireplace, that forms the centre around which visual balance is achieved. In addition to the mirrored setup, classic design is characterised by natural colours, elegant (but not overly ornate) fabrics, and natural flooring made in wood, stone or marble.
Urban design blurs the line between domestic and industrial. Think concrete floors, exposed beams, metal siding, galvanised steel and unfinished surfaces. Unique, non-functional objects (at least in terms of a living space) are often used as features to create a distinct look that is both modern and bohemian. Urban interiors are often designed to create open space, sometimes in surprising ways, and allow for multifunctional rooms.
Once the definitive style of the ‘20s and ‘30s, Art Deco is now known for its industrial materials, lacquered wood and sparing use of colour. Deco furnishings are streamlined and geometric, with rounded fronts, sleek lines and mirrored accents. Lighting is especially important in this kind of design. Ceiling lights, floor lamps, table lamps and wall lamps are all used in union, typically emitting orange or yellow light that warms up the otherwise-sleek space.
“Everything old is new again,” as the saying goes. That’s the philosophy behind retro design, which gives old styles a modern twist. In this style, classic and contemporary mix together to create a space that is entirely unique and individual. Retro design elements can include materials, gadgets, shapes, objects or colours – anything from the past that can be reimagined in an eclectic space for the present.
If you want to live in a cottage without having to deal with that pesky “actually living in a cottage” thing, give your pad a country makeover. This is your chance to scour flea markets and antique shops for rustic furnishings and handmade decorative doodads (or, if you’re feeling especially creative, to put your DIY skills to the test). Country style is cosy and comfortable but sometimes cluttered, so it’s not ideal for a small space.
Let’s just say Rococo style is not for the faint of heart. It harkens back to the flamboyant interiors of 18th century Europe, where intricate, ornate features were the order of the day. From the gold plasterwork, to the gilded mirrors, to the decorated ceilings, to the mahogany wood and rich fabrics, everything is over the top. Rococo is particularly known for the combination of gold and pastels and its sensuous, curved lines. Let’s be honest, this is rubbish.
The Georgian style takes a uniquely international approach to interior design. Much of it is inspired by Ancient Greece and Rome, but Chinese influences also show up in flower motifs in fabrics and porcelain accessories. Colour schemes are pale and subtle, in contrast with more audacious floral patterns, gold and wall murals. Georgian furniture is delicate and elaborate, with ball-and-claw feet, ornate carvings and luxurious fabrics. A fireplace frequently is the centrepiece of the Georgian room.
If there was a scale of interior design styles, Victorian would sit directly opposite minimalism. The Victorians never met a detail they didn’t like. Excessively decorative furniture, ornate accessories and flamboyant ornaments fill a Victorian room. Colours are deep, textures are rich, materials are exotic. But it’s not all extravagant; to contrast the opulence of the rest of the space, Victorian floors and walls are typically plain. This is what Ron Burgundy’s office would look like.
Eclectic style is here to save the day for the indecisive interior designer. As its name implies, it’s a catch-all approach to décor that borrows elements from other design styles. But don’t mistake that for an excuse to throw together anything and everything. Yes, eclectic interior design is about inspiring imagination with unexpected contrasts, but the space still has to look cohesive. Blends of patterns, textures and colours are common, but they are thoughtfully curated in order to create a space that’s surprising but still visually pleasing.