When I was creating my style quiz, I spent a long time struggling to classify many of the images I wanted to use. Part of this is that I'm an over-thinker - I wanted the quiz to be the most accurate ever. But a bigger part of it is that many of the rooms and items simply defied classification.
What style would you call that kitchen? It has some Victorian elements, but is it really Victorian? The chair is mostly Traditional in shape... but it sure doesn't feel traditional. On the other hand, that living room feels like a cozy, traditional British "snug"... even though almost everything in it is midcentury or modern.
Now, sure, anything that mixes styles technically falls under the umbrella of "Eclectic." But when both of the rooms above are eclectic... well, that's not a label that really helps you narrow down what you like.
That was when I had my "aha!" moment.
I realized that when decorating, most people think about what "style" they should use, but this is arbitrarily limiting.
- Styles are very specific, while real rooms tend to blur the distinctions.
- Focusing too much on one style guarantees a room that's trendy, not timeless.
- There are very few people whose taste can be summed up by one distinct style. Knowing what kinds of elements you are drawn to helps you create a home that truly reflects you.
Let's get into that, shall we?
First, there is no clear dividing line between most styles.
Rather, styles blend together in a continuum from “most casual” to “most sophisticated” and from “most historic” to “most modern.” For instance, your room can fall anywhere from Rustic --> Farmhouse --> Cottagecore --> French Provincial --> Versailles just by dialing up or down the sophistication. Changing the amount of historic vs. modern elements will take you through other styles.
If you think about it, you can picture this from your experience. You have seen rooms with all antiques, rooms with no antiques, and rooms with a mix of antiques and more contemporary furniture. You have seen rooms that are modern but casual and rooms that are modern but very fancy.
But just for fun, here are some examples.
You can see that all the rooms above have a similar color palette, feel historic, and originate in the same geographical region. All three rooms have wood floors and paneled walls.
Increasing the formality of the paneling, fabrics, and lighting is what moves them between styles. You could also create levels of formality between these examples. The chandelier from the middle room could be used to dress up the cottage room; or the middle room's slightly distressed, non-gilded paneling could tone down the "Versailles" room.
In the example below, all the rooms are quite formal. But the one on the left is purely Traditional (historic). The one on the right is completely modern. The one in the middle blends the two by using modern furniture and simplifying the molding (but not as much as the modern room does).
Understanding that it's a continuum makes it easier for you to decorate.
That’s because you probably like things from many individual styles.
If you’re trying to decide “what specific style should I use?,” you’re likely to
a) freeze because you can’t choose a direction, or
b) end up with something that looks exactly like everyone else’s house… and looks totally dated when fashions change.
You are timeless.
By knowing what shapes and materials you like and where those fall on the continuum, you can create a mix that works and is uniquely you – which means it won’t look horribly out-of-date in five years.
Also, if you ever do decide you want an update, you’ll only have to swap out a few elements to move in the direction you want rather than having to start from scratch.