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The 12 most popular interior design styles you need to know

Confused about the difference between mid-century modern and contemporary? Unsure what makes one house rustic and another bohemian? Here, we unpack all your interior design style questions—once and for all

By Vogue UK | July 26, 2021 | Category

Picture: Unsplash
Picture: Unsplash

Picture: Unsplash

In popular fashion parlance, trends come and go, but true style is forever. And you could argue the same for interior trends, which never truly date, but rather move in cycles and are often reactionary to external influences like social change, technology and environment. While we certainly don’t expect anyone to confine themselves to one strict design style—where’s the fun in that?—knowing which styles appeal and which don’t jibe will make a world of difference, particularly if you’re renovating a home or looking to update your interiors. And it will certainly make consulting an interior designer, architect or contractor much, much easer.

In fact, having a grasp on all the different design styles available to you (and there are many, and all are open to interpretation), means you’re perfectly equipped to mix and match them at will, and create a truly personalised home that feels unique and special to you.

1. Minimalist

A close friend of contemporary decor, although not quite the same, minimalist houses are defined more by what they lack. Free from excessive ornamentation or fussy decorations, minimalist designs favour clean, simple lines and a neutral colour palette, with a focus on sleek and simple architecture. Layouts are usually open and airy, and every object or piece of furniture serves a function or aesthetic purpose. Art is often abstract or modern to match, and modern interpretations go for stone, concrete and raw timber materials. If you’re not keen on a home that’s overtly stark and bare, don’t forget a minimalist base can pair very well with other styles, too.

2. Industrial

Often influenced by a home’s location or a building’s heritage, industrial design takes its cues from the lofts and warehouses found in urban and industrial areas. Characterised by raw finishes like exposed brick, untreated wood and metal, you’ll often spot visible ceiling beams, metal or exposed light globe light fixtures and steel window frames. Furniture is usually functional and non-decorative, and more recent interpretations often include raw timber or concrete floors. Most industrial styles favour a neutral or monochrome colour scheme, and the design pairs well with black and white photography or abstract art.

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3. Coastal or Hamptons

Categorised by laid-back interiors, free-flowing living areas—and if you’re lucky, water views—there’s an inherent ease to coastal style. While Hamptons is a more specific style under the banner of coastal, both take cues from the surrounding environment. Coastal aesthetics can range from the more luxurious and traditional Hamptons look (think: weatherboards, sash windows and a palette of white, grey and navy) to a more Spanish-inflected coastal vibe (white concrete, natural timber and rattan), but all usually embrace natural fibres like linen and cotton; wicker furniture and light fittings; tropical greenery, and seaside-inspired homewares. In terms of colour, you’ll find a ton of creamy neutrals interspersed with navy or grey accents.

4. Bohemian

Known as the free-wheeling, relaxed kid of the interiors world, bohemian homes refuse to adhere to a set of design rules. Instead, they’ll feature a range of textures, materials and finishes to unique effect. You’ll often find vintage furniture, cushions, light fittings and rugs mixed with colourful knick-knacks and decorative items sourced from all corners of the globe. Known for mixing styles, cultures and eras, there’s usually a strong sense of eclecticism running through bohemian homes—old pairs with new, opulent pieces reside next to flea market finds, and often there’s no strict colour scheme. Decorations can be anything from framed posters and old-world art to found objects, and you’ll often find a range of materials like velvet, linen, leather and rattan artfully thrown together. Be sure to include fresh-cut flowers and greenery.

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5. Country cottage or French provincial

Country cottage is a close cousin of French provincial, which is why we’ve paired the two together. While cottage style usually takes its inspiration from the quaint houses found in the English countryside, French Provincial is influenced by—you guessed it—the style of the French provinces outside of the main cities. Signified by earthy tones; lots of timber (barn doors and exposed ceiling beams are common), stonework or brick; fresh-cut flowers and cosy textures; both country cottage and French provincial lean heavily into the farmhouse aesthetic. Expect to see vintage or rustic furniture, floral and patterned fabrics and traditional, time-worn homewares like porcelain plates and embroidered cushions. While many new homes riff on the style in a more modern way, the overall vibe is unstudied and thrown-together—so don’t expect everything to match.

6. Traditional

Think of this as the classic interior style, one you’ll often spot in European homes with beautiful heritage details. A style that generally eschews current interior trends, traditional homes favour dark timber, ornate furniture designs and richly patterned fabrics. Homes are usually ornamental in style, with many decorative touches like curtains, drapes and ruffles sitting beside lush fabrics like velvet, silk and brocade. Art is more often than not pre-20th century, rugs are usually oriental and you’ll easily find storied, old-world treasures like blue and white china, vintage books and maps, and crystal decanters dotted throughout. Traditional plays on the familiar and comforting, offering warmth, cosiness and a sense of history.

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7. Contemporary or modern

Not to be confused with modernist homes, which generally refer to mid-century, contemporary or modern homes are rooted in the now. While that might seem vague and open to interpretation, think of contemporary homes as current in every sense of the word—they usually embrace popular interior trends and blend a variety of styles. While our idea of contemporary will no doubt shift every couple of years, rest assured you’ll often find a mixture of iconic designer furniture, contemporary art and modern fittings in any contemporary home. Right now, the contemporary look is a neutral colour palette, with rounded, sculptural homewares and furniture taking centre stage, plus sleek, luxurious finishes like marble, concrete and terrazzo in the bathroom and kitchen.

8. Mid-century modern

One of the most influential design movements of the 20th century, the ripple effect of mid-century is still being felt today. Broadly speaking, it relates to the burst of creativity that originated out of the post-World War II boom of the late’40s, ’50s and ’60s—one that spanned architecture, industrial design, art and graphic design. While not rooted in one specific country or designer, mid-century style is grounded in simple, functional forms, organic or natural-inspired shapes and egalitarian design.

From Pierre Jeanneret’s iconic Chandigarh chairs (which are impossible to avoid, especially on Instagram) to Charles and Ray Eames’ Lounge Chair and Ottoman, the clean, geometric lines and of mid-century design are still strikingly relevant today. Architecturally speaking, the geometric lines and large windows (designed to let nature in) are still prescient in modern homes, and the design can be incorporated easily into many interiors. Mid-century pairs well with the warm, earthy colours of the ’70s—and you’ll often find furniture is made from medium-toned timber.

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9. Rustic

As evidenced by the dictionary definition, rustic relates to a natural and pared-back style, one that favours simplicity and authenticity over obvious design flourishes. While the meaning of the word itself might suggest anything rural or country, in interior design it can encompass a range of styles, from farmhouse to log cabin, to coastal and Tuscan. Rustic homes are usually decorated with antique or vintage finds, bunches of wild flowers or greenery, and materials include raw or reclaimed timber and stone, plus natural fabrics like cotton, canvas and linen. While not shy of ornamentation, styling is usually simple, unfussy and down-to-earth. Homes tend towards natural or earthy tones and there’s usually a sense of tactile warmth to a space. The vibe is timeless, trend-less and charmingly undone—it’s little wonder many rustic homes subscribe to the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi, which finds beauty in imperfection and nature.

10. Art Deco

This decorative art movement originated in France during the 1910s, but really took shape after World War I after it was exhibited in Paris during the 1925 International Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industries, with the look’s popularity carrying on into the ’30s. Prioritising elaborate, decorative design, and stylised, geometric forms, Deco favours man-made materials such as glass, plastic, chrome and steel, contrasted with natural materials like jade, silver and ivory. With the signature playful, elegant and expensive-looking style being emulated everywhere—in architecture, furniture and fashion, especially—Art Deco was the ultimate representation of modernity during its time. Still cherished today, the Deco aesthetic can be enjoyed in many early 20th century homes and buildings, and you can still trace its influence everywhere.

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11. Scandinavian

This interior design style, also known as Scandi, is inspired by homes from the Nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway. While often characterised as minimalist, uncluttered and all-white, many homes, particularly the Danish ones, incorporate bold, playful colour and patterns. Furniture is sleek, sculptural and functional (like Hans Wegner’s Wishbone chair), with wide use of lighter-coloured timber like beech and pine, as well as natural textures like rattan, wool and fur. Due to the long Nordic winters, Scandi homes make ample use of natural light and keep interior shades muted and bright. Admired for their simplicity and functionality, you won’t find excess decoration or clutter in a Scandinavian home, but you will find beautiful, clean lines and ample greenery which works to liven up a space.

12. Eclectic or Maximalist

While not exactly the same per se, eclectic and maximalist homes both take elements from other interior design styles and combine them in new and interesting ways. While eclectic homes takes cues from all sorts of design styles and design periods (Memphis Milano is a common favourite) and can end up quite balanced; maximalist homes take a more-is-more approach, favouring bright colours, bold pattern, strong graphics, avant-garde shapes, and eye-catching artworks. If you think of maximalism as the polar opposite of minimalist, you’ll start to understand the look. Think: patterned and clashing wallpaper, layered textures and a rich colour scheme. But beware: it’s harder to pull off than it looks. In actual fact, both styles require a carefully curated edit of colours and statement pieces and there needs to be a sense of cohesion and design intent for the look not to verge into chaotic territory.

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Written by Yeong Sassall.

This article originally appeared on Vogue Living Australia.