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What is Transitional Design Style?

by DAnny Robertson

transitional design living roomWhereas traditional design can feel stuffy or outdated at times, and modern design can lean too much on the sleek and streamlined look, Transitional design incorporates elements from both aesthetics to create a timeless and contemporary feel, while allowing for a high level of personal expression. Transitional design is simply a synthesis of both contemporary and traditional design to bring about a fresh timeless look.


Brands like Four Hands and Essentials For Living typify this design style with their unique combination of both modern and traditional elements throughout their furniture collections. Metal, wood, linen, and leather - even concrete and other elements are combined and juxtaposed to create exciting new designs that harken to the past while while feeling fresh and contemporary at the same time. 

In 2019 the Transitional interior design style was popular in 18% of American homes, outranking the Rustic and Traditional decor styles by some margin. Designers are witnessing an upsurge in clients who want to break the conventions and combine historic aspects (such as wainscoting or antique furniture) with modern, clean-lined hardware and accents.

The transitional design style, which is sometimes defined as "classic with a modern twist," gained popularity in the 1950s as a reaction against the previous era's harsh modern and mid-century modern designs. And its popularity hasn't waned in recent years.

Transitional Style Architecture in the Home

The architecture of a transitional home can range from a modern farmhouse with wide plank pine floors and reclaimed brick fireplace with an old-fashioned cast iron pot rack to a contemporary craftsman-style house with clean lines and natural material accents.

Transitional interior design tips:

  1. Make sure you have an antique or another piece of distinctive or authentic furniture in each room of your home, such as a collectible or designer item. It will give the room heft and gravity.

  2. A light-feeling accent, such as children's art, an affordable outdoor piece, or a modern piece with brilliant color, can add a sense of lightness to each area.

  3. Make sure each room has comfortable furniture, such as a deep sofa or a soothing chair, to accommodate a modern family.

  4. To give a clean, modern air that will work well with the traditional objects you've chosen, choose neutral or tone color schemes.

  5. Make sure each area includes at least one piece that elevates the space, something that is unique and possibly expensive. Lighting is a wonderful approach to invest in a room's overall appearance.

  6. Finally, adjust and balance the parts you've chosen so that the overall effect is curated rather than cluttered or chaotic. Your transitional home should have a balanced rhythm with the colors and objects in each area as you go through it.

Other essential traits of the Transitional design style

A subtle palette dominated by neutrals, with darker hues reserved for accent pieces.

Transitional design is a style that focuses on designing for the times. It's a transitional period of time, so the design style must be transitional too. 

This means it needs to be timeless, like shabby chic or country style, but it also needs to keep up with trends. Transitional design is often characterized by neutrals with darker hues reserved for accent pieces.

Minimalism without sacrificing personality and character

Transitional design is a design style that showcases a balance between minimalist design and the more decorative elements. It doesn't have too much ornamentation, but it also doesn't sacrifice personality and character.

Transitional designs incorporate features from both modernism and traditionalism, which can be seen in the structural details of buildings, furniture, and other objects.

A focus on comfort

The sofa or bed tends to be on the opulent side and there is a focus on comfort in the room when it comes to these items. There are no sharp edges or harsh lines; instead, we see round edges and softer colors used in the decorating scheme.

Textiles with large-scale patterns that don't overwhelm a room

Transitional is all about balance. It is the perfect style for those who want to give their living space a sense of both tradition and modernity. If you are looking for a way to bridge the gap between old-world charm and contemporary flair, then Transitional design style might be for you.

Metals and glass are layered with natural materials

Transitional design is also characterized by its balance between the use of natural materials, like wood, with the sleekness of metal, glass, and other contemporary materials.

Clean lines, symmetry, and glossy finishes

Transitional design has clean lines, symmetry, and glossy finishes that are characteristic of traditional design.

Aging gracefully is also a trait of transitional design. It can withstand trends better than other styles because it does not need to be updated often. Many people love transitional home designs because they are classy but still have an edge to them.

transitional dining room

What are the main differences between traditional and transitional design?


The transitional style is characterized by the use of a variety of wood tones in the same area. Although detailed, ornate millwork may be present, it does not always define the overall feel.

These décor components are frequently toned down in traditional style interior design by incorporating modern lines that contrast beautifully with more traditional wood elements.


To create depth, the transitional decorating style incorporates a variety of materials. When comparing a traditional vs. transitional kitchen, the transitional kitchen uses wood tones and subtle geometric designs to create a warm and inviting yet contemporary atmosphere.

A traditional kitchen is also warm and inviting, but the colors and patterns are oftentimes more ornate and diverse, giving it a more opulent sense.


The neutral background of transitional style interior design is generally recognized without having to sacrifice color. If a strong tone is employed, it is generally repeated to maintain consistency and give a unifying modern feel. Although a transitional space can be symmetrical, it oftentimes is not.

In a traditional space, however, patterns and colors are frequently mixed. One is more daring, while the other is more reserved. In traditional interior design, symmetry is crucial.


Although the transitional decorating style has classical roots, it frequently includes contemporary interior design ideas. Its modern aspect makes it simple to incorporate other interior décor trends, such as a modern-style lighting fixture or artwork.

Traditional style settings, on the other hand, will use old or opulent appearing furniture and fittings.

Kitchen differences

Modern décor is used in transitional kitchens. Modern touches, such as contemporary photography, modern wall art, or mirrors can be found more in a transitional kitchen as opposed to a traditional one, which may incorporate a mix and match of ornate wall decor.

A traditional kitchen, on the other hand, would include traditionally crafted woodwork and classic paintings.


A traditional environment's tone and colors are more powerful and saturated, whereas a transitional area is primarily neutral with some delicate pastel bursts.

A transitional environment also feels light and airy, whereas a traditional area seems to have more of a warm and weighty atmosphere.

transitional design bedroom

How to get the Transitional look - room by room

Dining Room

In the dining room, use a modern dining table and chairs, but upholster the chairs in a traditional fabric.

Modern cube side tables and sleek metal lamps, on the other hand, may be employed to compliment a traditional headboard.


Upholster a classic characteristic like a curved headboard with a more contemporary aspect like a steel-gray fabric in the bedroom.

Modern cube side tables and sleek metal lamps, on the other hand, may be employed to compliment a classic, traditional headboard.


If you don't want to modify your kitchen cabinets since they're already conventional, go for a stronger design throughout the rest of the kitchen with modern accents and updated colors.

Consider adding modern pendant lighting above your kitchen island or replacing it with a more contemporary piece.

Steel or concrete countertops may also offer a more traditional kitchen a more contemporary look.


Use glass, metal, ceramic, and wood in the bathroom for a contemporary design.

If you have a conventional clawfoot tub, use contemporary floor tiles or arrange classic tiles in a chevron pattern to bring in that updated contemporary look.

Living Room

Keep fabrics warm yet neutral in tone, and use clean-lined chairs and sofas to compliment historic architectural elements like trims and moldings. With a living room you can mix and match with traditional and modern elements to bring about a cool yet cozy feel that you love to spend time in.

What Brands Make Transitional Furniture?

There are many brands that are creating new and innovative transitional style furniture. Below are some that we’d recommend diving into if you're furnishing your home.

  • Four Hands creates beautiful high quality furniture that typifies the transitional aesthetic. You can learn a lot by reding our in depth Four Hands Buyer’s Guide

  • Essentials For Living is another brand that makes furniture in subtle neutral tones with materials like rope, linen and wood. You can dive into our Essentials For Living Buyer’s Guide and learn all about the company and their high quality furniture.

  • While not transitional per-se, Skagerak has a warm modern feel that blends in nicely in a transitional setting, both indoor and outdoor.  You can read our extensive Skagerak Buyer’s Guide to learn more about their modern yet approachable furniture and accessories.

  • Blomus makes high quality modern home accessories that have a scandinavian or japandi feel to them which can also blend well into a transitional space if balanced correctly. We have a great Blomus Buyer’s Guide that you can dive into and learn more about them. 

  • Sometimes the perfect modern lamp or pendant can bring that modern feel into a casual or traditional space to bring that certain pop that’s needed. Louis Poulsen makes classic danish modern lighting that can be perfect to liven up a transitional space. You can learn all about them at our Louis Poulsen Buyer’s Guide

Wrapping up

We hope you now have a better understanding of the distinctions between traditional and transitional design. In the end, deciding between classic and transitional styles is a personal decision dependent on your lifestyle and desired aesthetic. Traditional interior design may be your best option if you want classic and old-style elements with a restrained charm.

If you want to include other interior design trends into a traditional area of your home - make a blend with modern furniture and fixtures, as transitional design is all about a creative mix of styles and personal expression.

When it comes to interior design styles, the main thing to remember is that there are no hard and fast rules and we’re always happy to assist you with your next home decor transformation.

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