When it comes to personal style, what you call your style isn’t important. You like what you like and really, that is what matters. But when you are working with an interior designer to purposefully curate an ambiance of your choice, labels are key in terms of being able to communicate it effectively with the people who are in charge of executing your vision. I often have people come into the studio thinking that they are contemporary and yet they have slightly pastel walls and slip-covered furniture and then it becomes a fact finding mission (generally through the process of elimination) to find out what they truly love, or what their “style type” is. Clients almost never accurately self-describe their “style genre”. And two of the most confusing terms are Traditional and Transitional. Here are a few keys in identifying the differences in the designs.


Traditional style is decidedly old-world European in its genesis and exudes warmth and formality as it’s hallmarks. Colors are generally warmer neutrals, soft peaches, yellows and taupes with rich patterned fabrics playing up the luxury in brocades, damasks, toiles and velvet. Furniture arrangements are symmetrical and the shape of the furnishings is generally curved and a bit more feminine in its shape. The accessories and lighting are also distinctive in a traditional scheme. Often the lighting is a darker bronze or gold and more heavy and ornate. Window treatments are tailored and generally tied back with tassels. The accessories include oil paintings with gilded frames, enormous vases of silk flowers and porcelain collected figures such as Staffordshire dogs and the like. Familiar formality with comfort is how I generally feel about Traditional.



The key to mastering a Transitional style is balance. This “genre” of design borrows elements from from both traditional and contemporary but it’s predominate identifying factor is that it is airy, light, clean and serene without erring on a too feminine or masculine side. Soft, neutral colors abound and the furniture is more straight-lined and the fabrics are in varying shades of beige, cream, khaki or grey with the interest being more in the fabric itself: an elegant linen or a creamy suede for example. And the fabrics, whether they are on the furnishings, windows or pillows are either solid in color or the pattern is decidedly unfussy and “blends” in well with the surrounding clean lines. Accessories are kept to a clean minimum so that nothing steals from the serene scene that the transitional style of decorating offers.


So whether you are a modern minimalist or a country crazed enthusiast, being able to correctly identify your “style” genre helps your team build your dream much more effectively. But don’t worry if you don’t fit into “one style”- almost no one does. That is the beauty of personal taste and it is my job to bring out the best of it in you.

By Rebecca Van’t Hull, Sr. Interior Designer, Martha O’Hara Interiors