Whether you’re moving into a new home or remodeling an old one, the best place to look for design inspiration is right under your feet — in the details of the home itself. Taking decorating cues from your home’s architecture can go a long way toward creating a cohesive look when it comes to choosing furniture and decor.
While this approach may seem simple enough, the truth is that a home’s furnishings don’t necessarily have to match its exterior. Instead, they should complement it while reflecting your own unique personal style. How do you find that happy design medium? Keep reading for expert tips and advice on matching your home’s architecture to an interior style that’s perfect for you!
Let’s start by heading outside and taking a good, long look at your house. How would you describe its architectural style? Your answer may be simple enough if your home falls within a common category such as Victorian, classic Colonial, or ranch. But you may also feel unsure, especially if your home, like many in America, incorporates elements from several different styles. To help you hone in on the dominant architectural style of your home, take note of its age and key details, including:
NOW LET’S LOOK AT A FEW OF THE MOST COMMON HOUSE STYLES ACROSS AMERICA. WHICH ONE MOST CLOSELY RESEMBLES YOUR OWN HOME?
|This historic style dates back to 1600s England, but it grew especially popular in the 1930s in the United States. Cape Cods usually have dormer windows, wood siding or shingles, and steep rooflines.||Hugely popular nationwide, Colonial homes often have two or three stories with symmetrical layouts and traditional wood or brick exteriors. Includes Dutch, German, French, New England and Georgian styles.||With roots in Medieval England, cottage-style homes tend to be cozy with lots of character, cross gables, steep roofs, arched doors, and casement windows.|
|Also known as Bungalow style, these homes put an emphasis on natural materials, with low-pitched roofs and exposed rafters, porches with tapered square columns, and open floor plans.||Log homes started out as one-room cabins and evolved into a sometimes-luxurious style often found in Western, wooded areas.||Particularly popular on the West Coast, Mediterranean styles (which include Spanish Colonial and Spanish Farmhouse), often have red tile roofs, adobe or stucco exteriors, arches, and a U-shaped floor plan centered around a courtyard.|
|Starting in the 1950s, more modern styles began to appear with geometric lines and experimental details like lots of glass and flat or low-pitched roofs. Includes mid-century modern styles.||A suburban mainstay popularized in the 1950s and ‘60s, ranch houses tend to have simple, one-story floor plans.||This charming style has steeply pitched, multi-gabled roofs; half-timbered framing; and tall, narrow windows.|
To learn more about your home’s style, check with your local Department of Housing and Community Development, Commission of Architectural Review, or similar government agency. Often these organizations will offer resources on common architectural styles throughout the community.
|Typically dating to the turn of the 20th century, these homes tend to boast ornate trim work, large porches, gables, and asymmetrical facades. Includes sub-styles Italianate, Queen Anne, and Gothic Revival.|
If you don’t have a good sense of your own personal style, even the simplest design project will feel like a challenge—and your home could wind up looking like a disconnected mash-up of furniture and accessories. While it’s acceptable—and even encouraged—to combine decor styles when furnishing your home, it’s a good idea to have a handle on your favorite looks before getting started.
According to interior designer Kerrie Kelly, author of the book My Interior Design Kit, there are three “master” styles that will help you lay the underpinnings for a well-designed room that reflects your personality and taste. “Although there are a seemingly unlimited number of highly specific design styles that can be incorporated into a space, a case can be made that they all evolved from one of the following three styles: traditional, modern, and transitional,” she says.
To keep the look cohesive and complementary, try to select items from two of the master styles listed above. Most importantly, trust your instincts. “Some of the most effective interiors combine styles in an unexpected way,” Kelly says. “The curated look of vintage and modern or rustic and minimalist typically reflects the true story of those who reside there through thoughtful, meaningful design elements.” To dig a bit deeper, let’s look at some of the most popular design styles today, along with suggestions for complementary architectural styles:
Architectural Matchup: Cottage, Log Home, Tudor, Colonial
This historically inspired style features abundant woodwork and elegant, European-style furnishings and decor. Symmetry and a soothing color palette give traditional rooms a cool and calming effect.
Architectural Matchup: Victorian, Ranch, Cape Cod, Cottage
Light, bright, and laid-back, Shabby Chic spaces combine well-loved antique pieces with a pretty pastel palette for a style that is effortlessly stylish. Using soft area rugs, mercury glass accents, and floral textiles will complete the look.
Architectural Matchup: Modern, Cottage, Colonial, Cape Cod
Like Victorian architecture, Victorian design is highly decorative with rich colors and fabrics, intricate patterns, and opulent furniture. Give the space added authenticity with textured drapery and Tiffany-style lamps.
Architectural Matchup: Log Home, Modern, Crafstman
A raw, rustic look with religious roots in 1700s England, Shaker style is all about calm simplicity. Colors are typically kept very neutral and light, while furniture is simple and sparse, like ladder-back accent chairs.
Architectural Matchup: Mediterranean, Colonial, Victorian
Inspired by the modern art movement, this minimalist style features clean lines and symmetrical silhouettes along with a neutral palette, lots of glass and metal details, and streamlined furniture.
Architectural Matchup: Tudor, Craftsman, Modern, Ranch
With a nod to the roaring ’20s, this glamorous style features bright colors, geometric patterns, and sleek, shiny textures. Finish it off with sculptural accent pieces and bold artwork.
Architectural Matchup: Log Home, Ranch, Modern, Crafstman
Characterized by muted colors and a monochromatic palette, minimalist spaces put the focus on function with simple, straightforward furniture and minimal decor.
Architectural Matchup: Craftsman, Modern, Ranch
At once cozy and sleek, Scandinavian spaces are known for having abundant light, multifunctional furniture, and plenty of natural materials while achieving a look that’s thoroughly modern.
Architectural Matchup: Colonial, Cottage, Tudor
Heavy metals and weathered wood are key to this stripped-down urban style influenced by the early 20th century.
Architectural Matchup: Modern, Colonial, Tudor, Mediterranean
This eclectic look embraces furniture and decor with character and a sense of history. Combining antiques, replicas, and flea market finds from the 1960s and earlier, vintage-inspired homes are generally comfortable, colorful, and completely unique.
Architectural Matchup: Modern, Mediterranean, Log Home
You don’t have to live out West to enjoy this warm and welcoming design style characterized by earth tones, natural textiles, comfortable furnishings, and Native American-inspired accents.
Architectural Matchup: Cape Cod, Victorian, Modern
This style emphasizes nature with handcrafted pieces made from natural materials such as reclaimed lumber and smooth stone. Antiques, folk art, and found items give spaces a relaxed and comfortable feel.
|“It is OK to not know your style and to have more than one. I suggest getting home magazines and tearing out looks that you like. Then see if there is commonality between what you pull, looking at colors, finishes or styles. You might have more than one bucket you gravitate toward. Then walk away from it, maybe overnight or for a couple of days. See what you continue to go back to, and that’s probably what will make you happy and help you create your house to be as you envisioned.”
—Sarah Fishburne, Director of Trend and Design at The Home Depot
Now comes the part where we could all use a bit of expert advice: Creating a link between our home’s architecture and the furniture and accessories we fill it with. Chances are, the architecture of your house reflects your personal style to some degree—after all, there’s a reason you decided to call this place home! While there’s no need to stay strictly within the stylistic and historic bounds of your exterior design, it can give you a clear starting point for choosing furniture and home decor items.
Mark Williams, whose Atlanta-based firm specializes in architectural design, says it’s all about finding a balance. “While the interior design should always be respectful to the exterior style of the house, we feel like the most interesting interiors are created when you include a little counterpoint within the design. For example, if you live in a red brick Colonial with a lot of traditional furniture and antique rugs, throw in some contemporary art and maybe some modern classic furniture like a Barcelona Chair or a Corbusier Chaise. If you live in a modern home, maybe throw in a few antiques and some eclectic tribal art.”
|SOME DESIGN STYLES THAT WORK WELL TOGETHER:|
|VICTORIAN ARCHITECTURE + MODERN FURNISHINGS|
|TUDOR ARCHITECTURE + MEDITERRANEAN DETAILS AND FABRICS|
|LOG HOME + SHABBY CHIC INTERIORS|
|RANCH HOUSE + MID-CENTURY MODERN INTERIORS|
|CRAFTSMAN ARCHITECTURE + MODERN INDUSTRIAL DECOR|
“I love to combine different styles,” says KariAnne Wood, design blogger at Thistlewood Farms. “For example, my home is decorated in a modern farmhouse style. Adding an industrial element, like lighting or an old factory table, grounds the design and adds authenticity. Sometimes, I like to add contemporary elements as well. A gold-leafed accent table with a modern sensibility brings out the whimsical side of a grain sack fabric-covered chair.”
Kerrie Kelly recommends keeping the larger elements of your home simple while adding style with the decorative details. “Go with your gut when designing a home while selecting timeless larger furnishings and expressive smaller details,” she says. “The final details you add to a room are what set it apart. Some are obvious additions: pillows, throws, different styles of mirrors, and artwork. More subtle items might be books, family photos, plants, or personal collections.”
The advantage of these final touches is that they’re flexible. You can have different pillows for different seasons, add or subtract throw rugs and photos, bring in plants in bloom and then return them to the garden when they finish their display. And if you don’t like the result, you can always rearrange. Looking for key pieces that transition easily between multiple styles? Our designers have some suggestions:
|“For rugs, updated geos and trellis designs can fit into many different styles. Choose classic lighting that has almost a nostalgic feel and it will work with many architectural styles. For a finish that is pretty universal, choose brushed nickel. When choosing a trim color, a clean white trim will live well with many different styles.“
|“A classic lamp with a neutral shade is a transitional piece that works well with so many different design styles. A seagrass area rug or neutral striped curtains or a traditional desk with simple lines are other examples of classic design that pairs well with different types of decor.“
|“I love to mix and match styles, so I’d say anything is fair game as long as you don’t try to do too much in any one single space. I think a few antiques and a few modern classics blended with upholstery in simple tailored shapes, contemporary art, and some tribal art can always be beautiful!“
“WANT TO KNOW HOW PROFESSIONAL DESIGNERS GO ABOUT BLENDING STYLES? KEEP READING TO TAKE A PEEK AT THREE HOMES THAT EFFORTLESSLY COMBINE DIFFERENT LOOKS—AND THEN TRY IT FOR YOURSELF!”
|Globe Bronze Pendant, Tufted Back Dining Chair, Industrial Mansard Stool|
WHAT SETS IT APART
What is really unique about this room is the juxtaposition of cool, hard metals and warm, plush fabrics. The reason these two styles pair well together is because they both offset each other in a way that isn’t opposite, but complementary.
We were inspired by period pieces and warehouse fixtures that strike a balance between sophisticated and contemporary.
GETTING IT RIGHT
Our biggest challenge with this space was to make sure that we didn’t overpower the concept with too much femininity or too much masculinity.
|Director Floor Lamp, Custom Rockford Sectional, Courtyard Area Rug|
FROM THE BOTTOM UP
The original house has a Tuscan flavor to it, so we started by responding to that influence with 36″x36″ limestone slab flooring. The rug is in a very traditional pattern, but we had it made with only two yarn colors, one in wool and one in silk. This gives the rug a traditional feel with- out being too heavy.
A NEUTRAL FOCAL POINT
The large sectional is in a tailored transitional style in a neutral fabric because it’s the largest piece in the room. If something is large in scale, you usually want it to be neutral so that it doesn’t overwhelm the space.
WHY IT WORKS
I think the balance of scale and texture is really what makes this space successful. There isn’t too much of any one thing, and the room has a very approachable, comfortable feel.
WHAT BRINGS IT TOGETHER
I think the neutral foundation, consistently punctuated with chocolate and red with just a bit of black, and very straight tailored drapery, keep the room tied together.
|Cozy Shag Rug, Camel-Back Dining Chair, Gothenburg Walnut Table|
The dining room was pretty nondescript decor-wise, but had great architectural interest like heavy crown molding and wainscoting. The client and her husband had already chosen gorgeous lighting during the finishing process, but it still needed a little punch. My goal was to give this room a fresh update from its traditional foundation. Accents with global influences were my thoughtful additions.
The styles work so well together because I used one style for the furnishings and another style for the fabric and rug selection. It’s almost as if the global accents play a starring role in the design, while the furniture played supporting characters.
OPEN UP TO COLOR
To get this look at home, you have to be open to color in unexpected places. You want impact here. Look toward the floor and the ceiling first. Painting a ceiling red may be a stretch for some or going with a patterned rug, but the big leaps like this prove to be the most rewarding. You’ll see that your “daring” room will turn out to be your favorite room.
Your home is the place where you can be yourself—and you shouldn’t have to follow someone else’s design rules. However, if your goal is to create a home environment that is as beautiful as it is functional, keep in mind these do’s and don’ts from our home design experts.
|“Start with a statement piece that you love and let it dictate the other design choices in the room. For example, if you find a beautiful hand-painted piece of furniture or a piece of artwork or inspirational area rug, start there and build your design.“
|“Include both high and low elements throughout the room to keep your eye moving. Give the display a high point and let the side support pieces trail from it, creating an overall triangle effect.“
|“Use accessories to put a personal spin on your style. These should be picked because you gravitate toward them and not because you are following a rule. KNick-knacks from trips have meaning and a story behind them. A lot of times it is not the items, it is the placement and what it sits next to.“
|“If you place items on a flat surface, don’t just line them up. Instead, treat them as a still life, using them to tell a story about the people in the house.“
|“Don’t be afraid to move your lighting and accessories around, live with them, and find where it all comes together. An easy way to perk up a room you’ve grown tired of is to move the layout or accessories around to make it feel new.“
As you embark on your decorating adventure, be sure to keep one thing in mind: This experience is supposed to be fun! Understanding how different furniture and decor styles work together should inspire rather than limit your design choices. Trust your instincts, and you’ll be rewarded with a thoughtfully decorated home that truly reflects who you are.