Design Compass: The Comprehensive Interior Design Style Guide
There are many styles throughout the ages that have defined the decoration and ornamentation of the buildings that we live and work in. A region, a place in time, or even specific principles can define the aesthetic of different design styles. Yet each of them has a unique look and feel. Whether a space is sleek and modern or is a classic interior design style, there is something that fits everyone’s needs.
Almost every design type has either evolved from a style or is a direct response to a specific style. Often these different decor types will meld and blend with one another to create something brand new that transforms into a design style that is so unlike the original that they can be classified as something new. With interior design trends evolving, it can be difficult to see all the possibilities. One of the best ways to gain an understanding of what is out there and what resonates with you is to use an interior design styles list. Here you will find just that, a definitive guide to the background, the look, as well as similar styles that would work together.
Background: The origins of this design type are as eclectic as the style itself. Bohemian influences come from the Romani culture, 1840s artists in the Latin Quarter of Paris, as well as the hippie movement of the 1960s. It is an embodiment of unconventional lifestyles compared to the traditional cultures surrounding each influence. All of these unconventional influencers are artists, wanderers, and adventurers and the interiors spaces of this style directly reflects this.
What It Looks Like: More recently called Boho Chic, this style includes relaxed sitting areas plush with pillows, cushions, and ottomans. Patterns and textiles are layered over one another to create a cozy and abundant feel. Rugs of various shapes, sizes, and styles are layered to cover most of the original flooring. Fabric can be gauzy, tie-died, or suzani style and is often canopied over sitting areas or beds. The bright colors and exotic metals of Moroccan interior design is an inspiration for this style.
Similar Style: Eclectic, Moroccan, Retro, Irreverent, Vintage, Boho Chic
Background: The melting pot of modern design styles, eclectic design is a blending of old and new, modern and traditional, and is often a celebration of the unique taste of the designer or client. Current trends use white on white as a showcase to highlight the various aesthetics and create a calming backdrop and relaxed feel. There is often a concerted effort to include handmade and bespoke items in the design, to both observe artistry and to make the space unique unto itself.
What It Looks Like: Natural woods in medium or gray tones paired with white walls or fabrics to highlight tablescapes of unique items, art walls displays of unrelated things designed together in a relatable way.
Similar Style: Irreverent
Background: Often considered an offshoot of modern design, this style uses pops of color, unique forms, and unlikely pairings to create a space that is both fun and a little kooky. The work of Jonathan Adler is a perfect embodiment of irreverent interior design.
What It Looks Like: Bright and unlikely color pairings, bold statement pieces that can either start or stop a conversation. The nude form is often celebrated in artwork and household items.
Similar Style: Eclectic
Background: When it comes to throwing back to an older style, it can be difficult to figure out the difference between Vintage and Retro interior design. Vintage is the idea of incorporating items that originated from the time period that you are designing in, and retro is newly made items that are made in the style of or as a replica of a specific timeframe. Both vintage and retro are a reference to the recent past (usually the past 15-40 years). Using the word retro is derived from the French word retrospectif and has been attributed to fashion, culture, art, psychology, architecture, and interior design. Throughout any age, fashion and interior design often inform each other, and this is especially true when it comes to trends. Currently, the fashion world is taking inspiration from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Interior design styles are beginning to mirror this same retro look.
What It Looks Like: This is one style that can change drastically depending on the era a person is inspired by. Yet, people can look to color palettes, furniture styles, art, finishes, fixtures, and materials from each era as inspiration. Because this is a retrospective of a time frame, there is fluidity in incorporating other styles or more modern-time elements.
Similar Style: Vintage
Background: This design trend takes elements from both country and rustic aesthetics and mixes with modern to blend itself in to a single style. With clean lines and sleek surfaces, the materials in this style are softened and more comfort driven than other modern styles. The rustic side of this design is streamlined to blend well with the modern, while still retaining the rough-hewn or hand-planed wood elements that rustic is known for. Often this style has an underlying emphasis on renewable materials, energy efficiency, and sustainable design.
What It Looks Like: Raw wood and stone are often used in furniture, flooring, and structural elements, allowing the figuring of the wood to fade into the material itself and not stand out through staining or finishing. Wall décor may include hand-lettered chalkboards, antlers, or faux mounted animals (think a cardboard or plaster cast elephant head over the mantel) to add both warmth and whimsy. Color tones are often neutral, with grays and beiges featuring prominently in the design. Fabrics follow this same idea with simplified woven products like linen, jute, and sisal. A single bright color may be used as an accent to tie a room or a home into a cohesive design. Faux animal hides are used as both rugs or wall hangings and bring in added warmth. Modern furniture pieces lend well to this trend, often you will find classic mid-century pieces are used in homes with this style.
Similar Style: Rustic and Modern
Background: Rooted in the architecture and interiors of ski chalets in the small Swiss villages of the Alps, and merged with the American log home, this style is found throughout many mountain and ski towns of North America.
What It Looks Like: With many hours out on the slopes, it is important that these spaces exude warmth and comfort. Deep set sofas, plaid hand-woven throw blankets, and a impressive stone fireplace with a strong mantel is often featured in the main gathering room. Dedicated rooms for skiing or winter outdoor sports (ski racks, hearty benches, hooks and dryers for snow-dampened clothes) are a key part of alpine architecture. Bedrooms may have a bunkhouse feel in order to accommodate a large number of guests. Décor will include birch bark accents, vintage or retro ski signs and trail markers, wooden skis or snowshoes, hides and fur throws, and moose or deer antler fixtures. Pine and locally sourced wood are also prominent material in this style.
Similar Style: Rustic
Background: Coastal decor can be an all-encompassing word for a variety of styles based on the influence of living on the water. This might include Southern Coastal, Nautical, or even tropical. Yet it often evokes a light and breezy beachy feel as an interior design style. This style is all about bringing life at sea into life on land.
What It Looks Like: Beachy accents might include driftwood, sea glass, seashells, and coral. Sun bleached rope, anchors, and sea life motifs are also prominent in this design type. Colors are cool and light, whitewashed wood slats, sea greens, soft blues, and coral pinks are mainstays.
A more nautical look will have deeper hues of red, blue, and yellow. Nautical homes are found in coastal seaside towns where fishing or boating is considered a way of life. Nautical often replaces the seashell and driftwood accessories with maps, flags, brass navigation equipment, and displays of ropes in various knots. Wood is often a deep medium color and completed with a boat finish.
Similar Style: Nautical, Beach, Southern Coast or Tropical
Background: There are two distinct looks when it comes to the English Country style of interior design, and each are often gendered in color palettes and materials. The more feminine version is considered closer to Cottage Style or Shabby Chic, and the more masculine version is closer to an Equestrian or Hunting Lodge inspired design. Both can certainly be enjoyed by either gender.
What It Looks Like: Cottage inspired is pale pinks, blues, and greens with white or light colored wood accents. Fabrics are usually gingham, stripes, or floral patterned. The Equestrian/Hunting style is often inspired by the interior design ideas from creators like Ralph Lauren. Colors are dark in tone (not true black) hunter green, navy blue, and chocolate brown are staples. Fabrics are more likely to be plaids, tartans, tweed, and velvet. Cognac colored leather and brass nail heads on furniture is also a signature look.
Similar Style: Shabby Chic, Cottage Style, Equestrian, and Hunting Lodge
Background: There is a romantic and bucolic sense of enjoyment of life in this style. Based in the countryside of France (often the Provence area comes to mind), it is a celebration of nature, beauty, and a slow life worth living. With ideas of lavender fields outside the window and bottle of wine on the table, this design style truly embraces French joie de vivre.
What It Looks Like: Natural elements and smoothly-aged materials are some of the key components to this design. Rooms may have plaster walls, well worn stone, terra cotta tile floors, and rough-sawn beams overhead. Flour sack towels and provincial pottery can be used and loved in a French Country kitchen that might boast a wall oven with a brick surround and a cast-iron door. Furniture is a mix of hard and soft, with wooden back chairs and soft cushions in floral or pinstriped fabric. Sideboard furniture may be whitewashed or decorated in a vibrant milk paint color. Many metal features have a rich and aged patina. Copper pots and fixtures blend in well here. A spin-off of this style in American homes may feature chicken wire accents as well as hen or chicken motifs throughout. Additionally, the introduction of honeybees or honeycomb into this style is also a newer trend.
Similar Style: Shabby Chic, Cottage Style, and English Country
Background: Many don’t consider Napoleon Bonaparte as an influencer when it comes to French interior design. Yet, during his reign as Emperor of France, he commissioned Georges-Eugène Haussmann to tear down large parts of the winding streets of Paris and began a very prolific urban plan for the city. The long boulevards, wrought-iron balconies, and ornate high-ceilinged apartments that define Parisian style are the direct work of Haussman’s plan. While many might bemoan the loss of the architecture previous to this urban renewal plan, it ushered in remedies to sewer issues, traffic congestion, and the deeply unhealthy grit and grime that Paris was known for at that time.
What It Looks Like: The key to this style is ornamentation on the walls and ceilings. Ceiling medallions at light fixture installations, ornate and detailed crown molding (often 12-18” wide for high ceilings), and wainscot are hallmarks of this style. Parquetry and marquetry as a wood detail is also important in this style. Many of the fireplaces in Parisian style are understated in size but not in style, with herringbone brick hearths and Carrera marble fireplace surrounds, many of the molding details on the walls are repeated in the fireplace design. Colors are often layers of white or beige with understated added color. An off-shoot of this style is more of a Parisian café design, where wrought-iron and toile patterning is more prevalent than the emphasis on ornamentation of fixtures and finishes.
Similar Style: Hollywood Regency
Background: Opulence, boldness, and luxurious details could describe both Hollywood and this design style. First introduced in the 1920s by style icon Dorothy Draper, this design aesthetic embraces the golden age of Hollywood and movie-making at its finest. This style invites modern design to weave itself with the asymmetrical grandness of Rococo design. Reflective surfaces that are mirrored or gilt are a hallmark of this decor. There is an emphasis on luxury interior design along with the playful removal of any expected symmetry. Current designs by Kelly Wearstler embody a newer era of the iconic Hollywood Regency style.
What It Looks Like: Unexpected arrangements of color, furniture, and materials. Floors are often emphasized with intricate designs of inlaid marble or wood. Luxurious and rare slabs of stone like green malachite might be used in an entryway or as a feature wall. Ornate and nontraditional chandeliers are centerpieces of lighting a room. Deep jewel tones, bright hues of colors, and accents of gold or black are mainstays in this design style.
Similar Style: Irreverent, French Parisian, Art Deco
Background: Many might consider Mediterranean and Tuscan styles as nearly interchangeable, yet there are some important differences. Tuscan is a more specific design style as it calls upon a specific region in and type of Italian interior design. Mediterranean interior design style is more fluid as it is inclusive of a wider range of cultures and region. Mediterranean is a collection of French, Spanish, Italian, and Moroccan interior styles married together in a single design.
What It Looks Like: Terra cotta and earth tones are interspersed by bold punches of color. Walls can be brick, stucco, or plaster finish. Brightly colored accent tiles are found around doorways, fireplaces, and on kitchen backsplashes. Many homes incorporate Spanish Saltillo tiles into their flooring design, and mirror the classic Mediterranean red terra cotta roofs. The warm year-round climate encourages the melding of interior and exterior spaces. Often the main dining and gathering spaces are found outside under a portico or trellis. Design motifs may include olives and olive branches, grapes, wine, or bread. The fluidity of this style allows a person to customize it to his or her own tastes. For example, one Mediterranean style home may have a Spanish feel, while another might be more French.
Similar Style: Spanish, French, Moroccan, Italian, and Tuscan
Background: The country of Morocco boast cities that are over 1,000 years old. Generations of builders and craftspeople have been able to create and define a style that is unique and deeply representative of the country’s rich culture. Recently, Western design enthusiasts have begun incorporating and celebrating Moroccan interior design. Based in Moorish and Moroccan architecture, this style is perfect for the vibrant and bold decorator.
What It Looks Like: With the sandy taupe backdrop of the desert, this style revels in color, pattern, and natural materials. Walls are often a whitewashed stucco supported by rough hewn wood beams. Floors are ceramic tile in a neutral tone with colored accents. Rich silks and woven textiles are easily incorporated into the design, along with brass toned metals, and wood accents. Doorways are the traditional Islamic keyhole design, often with brightly patterned tiles framing the opening. Colors are bright and bold fuchsias, royal blues, deep purples, and bright reds.
Similar Style: Spanish, Islamic
Background: Like many other important design styles over the last century, Scandinavian interior design took root in the 1950s along side Mid-Century Modern, yet has a distinctive regional look and philosophy to it. This style is one where modernism and functionality meet. There is a simplicity and minimalist look to the design and it is truly a celebration of form and function. The furniture design of Alvar Aalto is a perfect example of the Scandinavian design aesthetic. Other companies of this style include Bang & Olufsen, Ikea, and Marimekko.
What It Looks Like: This style is all about celebrating the light. This is done by incorporating light colors, blond woods, and walls of windows to bring in sunlight throughout the day. Scandinavian design includes color schemes that are light and neutral with cool blues and grays, as well as whites and creams. Furniture often showcases understated curves and rectilinear forms.
Similar Style: Swedish, Modern, Mid-Century Modern, Minimalist
Background: As the heart of the Italian Renaissance and home to one of the most influential cities in Italian art and architecture (Florence), Tuscany is steeped in history and has served as a source of design inspiration for generations. The distinct feel of a Tuscan inspired home is unmistakable, and many gravitate to this style for its earthy and homey feel. One can look to the commercial success of “Under The Tuscan Sun” movie and book for both understanding and design inspiration.
What It Looks Like: Rooted in sturdy furnishings and well-aged architecture, the massing of forms is large and comfortable. Deep leather and upholstered sofas, often in earthy rust tones are a staple of this style, especially in American homes. Wrought-iron details and accents are paired with venetian plaster wall finishes and aged wood architectural details. Oversized terra cotta tiles are a quintessential flooring material in Tuscan interior design.
Similar Style: Italian, Mediterranean, Spanish
Background: From Texas to Montana there is profound history in the American Old West, and it is still prominent in today’s culture throughout a very large region of the United States. It is a distinct and renowned interior design style that pays homage to the history that shaped so much of American culture.
What It Looks Like: Much of the interior design ideas for a Western look spurs from items that were once essential to living. Wagon wheels, cowboy boots, horseshoes, barrels, and leather are materials repurposed into décor. Wood is an integral part of Western design. This style can also move away from the cattle driving and horse wrangling style with a more Southwestern look. With an adobe style of architecture, it heralds in the history of Native American design that is indigenous to this region. This is also known as Pueblo Revival Style. Bright and naturally hand-dyed textiles, wood accents and geometric patterns are quintessential to these interior design styles.
Similar Style: Pueblo Revival Style, Southwestern, and Rustic
Arts and Crafts
Background: Prior to the Arts and Crafts style’s heyday, most homes were built in a four square style, with a centralized hallway and grand staircase. It is a classic Victorian layout that can still be found in many historic homes around the world. Yet, innovators like Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Greene & Greene began to turn that plan on its head and develop homes with irregular forms, distinct room lines, and floor plans centered on the hearth rather than a grand entrance. It was the first type of home that was built on the philosophy of bringing nature into the interior spaces of a home. The work of Frank Lloyd Wright has made the Arts and Crafts style an important piece of design history. His work evolved into buildings that were the precursor to ranch style homes. Ranch homes are one of the few architectural and design styles that is specifically American in its origins.
What It Looks Like: Low roof lines, deep porches and eaves, open floor plans centralized on the hearth, geometric and nature based designs in furniture and fabric, and thick massing in columns and newel posts. It is utilitarian at heart and follows nature both in color palette and materials. Where Victorian era is ornate and embellished, Arts and Crafts is simple and sincere.
Similar Style: Craftsman
Background: This historical design style had its heyday from the 1920s through the 1940s. With the forefront of this style based in Europe and the United States, it has a distinct look that harkens back to the jazz age, supper clubs, and upscale train cars. It is a celebration of industry and progress that began with the ability to mass-produce goods. Many consider it to be a progression of Art Nouveau, yet it is more accurately a design type that is a response to Art Nouveau rather than progression of it. Art Nouveau encouraged flowing lines, highlights from the natural world, and asymmetry as a design principle. Art Deco was defined by the rectilinear form, symmetry, and technological progress.
What It Looks Like: With geometric forms and symmetry as the guiding force of this style, shapes such as spheres, polygons, rectangles, trapizoids, zigzags, cheverons, and sunbursts are used throughout Art Deco interior design. Luxury and glamour are important aspects of this style, and are showcased in the materials and finishes used in the interiors. Stained glass, aluminum, chrome, geometric inlays, laquer, and high contrast color (think ebony and burled cherry wood) mark the epitome of Art Deco design. While Art Deco colors throughout the world are rich in color, the Art Deco style found in Miami and Florida utilized more flair with hues. Pastel pink, mint green, white, and baby blue are classic colors for a coastal Art Deco feel.
Similar Style: Art Nouveau
Background: When this style says Mid-Century it is specifically referencing the 1950s. This was a defining time in design history. While many think that the 1950s began this movement, it is really a signifier of its peak in popularity. Precursors to this style include Bauhaus and International Style, and emphasized rectilinear forms, as well as rational and functional designs. The ideas and aesthetics were so innovative and revolutionary that over 60 years later Mid-Century Modern is still a high influence in design.
What It Looks Like: Sleek lines, little or no ornamentation, and a distinctive use of glass, metal, and wood. If you are madly in love with the look from Mad Men, then Mid-Century Modern is the style you are looking for. Design icons from this time period include Saarinen, Florence Knoll, Charles and Ray Eames, Bertoia, Breuer, and Mies van der Rohe. The office furniture companies Knoll and Herman Miller have purchased the rights to the original works from many of these designers, and these designs are still in production today. If you are looking to furnish your space with originals, you can access them with the reseller, Design Within Reach.
Similar Style: Bauhaus, International Style, Modern, and Minimalist
Background: This is one of the last design styles before electricity became a mainstay in homes and buildings across the world. The Victorian style was always viewed through sunlight, candlelight, or oil lamps and this deeply affected the aesthetic. By layering pattern with pattern with pattern, the lowlight created a muted effect on the otherwise busy look found in many aspects of a home. High gloss metals like brass, copper, and gold reflected light well and was used to add interest and sparkle to a space.
What It Looks Like: Shield-back and “H” back chairs, such as those originally made by Sheraton and Hepplewhite (think H shape for Hepplewhite and shield for Sheraton when scoping out originals). American and English style wing back chairs are staples of classic Victorian interior design. Traditional Oriental, Persian, and Aubusson rugs anchor the sitting areas in large rooms. Wood is prevalent as a design feature, from built-in cabinetry and bookcases, to flooring throughout, and to the many furniture pieces that boast claw-feet and cabriole legs. Needlepoint, cross-stitch, and other fiber art is embraced, along with sumptuous fabrics like velvet, cognac-colored leather, and damasks.
Similar Style: Traditional, Hollywood Regency, French Parisian, and English Country
Background: The American farmhouse is a place where simplicity and practicality meet. This is true for all aspects of farm life, and extends into the way the home is decorated as well. Often considered a close relative of Shaker style design, there is no direct need for ornamentation. Yet, the small moments in this style where ornament is used is a celebration of value and enjoyment.
What It Looks Like: Most original farmhouses have a formal sitting room for entertaining guests, and much of the real living happens in the family areas. The kitchen, porches, and outdoors are where farmhouse style thrives. Wood is a staple material for cabinetry, flooring, and furniture. Walls may have whitewashed clapboard siding, painted bead board, or wallboard with a simplified baseboard. The kitchen often features a long and well-loved table for eating, usually with a combination of benches and chairs for seating. A deep porcelain farmhouse sink is an important design feature of this interior style, for both practical and design aesthetic reasons.
Similar Style: Shaker, Modern Farmhouse
Background: Long before designers began using plywood, corrugated metal, and exposed brick as design features, the factories of the industrial revolution began to pair down the ornamentation found in office buildings and factories. This was a time where a support column was allowed to do its work to support a roof or a floor above without being wrapped in plaster or given decorative capitals or bases. It was also a time where form followed function. In the 1990s and early 2000s, a similar examination of the building and its materials began to develop. Soon the prevelance of exposed beams and the use of building material became a staple in the Industrial style of design. Even now, this design aesthetic has evolved into incorporating both modern and the original industrial revolution look together.
What It Looks Like: Exposed beams, exposed brick, the use of concrete, plywood, sheets of stainless steel, and riveted or corrugated metal. This design style lends itself to loft style living and can take on a steampunk feel or a sleek modern look.
Similar Style: Steampunk or Dieselpunk
Background: A sibling style to Mid-Century Modern, and with the same origins, Modern interior design has taken itself on a vastly different career path than its Mid-Century kin. With sleek lines, minimal décor, and a focused emphasis on organic shapes in furniture. This design style is uniquely its own. Much of modern design is about the materials used and the forms found within a space.
What It Looks Like: Bedrooms often boast a low-slung platform bed, flat-paneled cabinetry to house clothes and toiletries, and pointed inclusion or exclusion of furniture and decoration. Materials can have a variety of finishes, from honed to high-gloss or even matte, yet they are applied in smooth or flat ways that lack ornamentation. This might include stainless steel, wood, or concrete. Furniture may have either an angular shape or be rounded and organic. Often colors are minimal or monochromatic, but sometimes a surprising punch of bright color is added. Many modern designed homes are also considered Minimalist in style as well.
Similar Style: Mid-Century Modern, Minimalist, Irreverent, Urban Modern
Background: Rustic is often an all encompassing style that can include log or timber homes, board and batten cabins, or salt-box homes with barn board. It is all about the handmade and country style of living. Often homes are amassed of one larger shape with a variety of additions that have been built overtime.
What It Looks Like: Stone and wood are the key elements to any type of rustic interior design, most surfaces in these homes consist of one or the other. Log cabins will have rough-hewn logs for walls and structural elements, cabins will have wood planks of either a natural color or painted (often in white or whitewash). Large stone fireplaces or cast-iron wood stoves often serve as the focal point of a space. The degree of refinement varies from home to home. This might include crown molding and wainscot or it might be a home with straightforward timber walls.
Similar Style: Cabin, Country, or Western
Background: Often considered transitional, traditional, or contemporary interior design, this style is a blend of many other styles to create something that has its own design identity. With influences from Farmhouse style, Victorian, and European design it is often considered a new take on old classics. It is prevalent in many American homes, where it is easy to mix heirloom pieces with new and still have a cohesive look. Designer Barbara Barry is a leader in this type of design.
What It Looks Like: Rich wood tones from maple to mahogany are found throughout traditional interior design. With touches of old world ideas, furniture may have rounded upholstered arms and plush engaged back pillows, along with a variety of throw pillows and blankets. Comfort and home are what appeals about these interiors. Fabrics are often classic prints. Plaid, stripes, muted florals, and check patterns are popular. The versatility of this design can lend itself from well-loved homes all the way to high-end luxury spaces.
Similar Style: Contemporary, Victorian
Background: While the word Zen is considered a state of being, it is also a way to represent a style that is emerging from Japanese interior design and cultural influences. Meditation and the Buddhist philosophy are a large part of Japanese culture, so much so that it is now being incorporated into home decor with an emphasis on harmonious proportions. This style is often a Western appreciation and adaptation of an Eastern way of life.
What It Looks Like: Simple and minimalist designs that incorporate muted colors and Asian inspired materials. Bamboo, touches of gold or patina covered metal, and soft linens are often found in Zen styled spaces. Rooms may incorporate tatami mats, low-slung beds, and rice paper accents.
Similar Style: Japanese, Chinese, Feng Shui, Minimalist