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How to master traditional décor in a contemporary world

Do you long for a home that feels both traditional and current? Read on for top tips on how to get that cosy, traditional vibe into your home without staying stuck in the past.
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‘Traditional’ has had a bit of a bad rep in the interior world. Conjuring images of avocado bathrooms, tattered paisley wall paper and dusty-pink tasselled lamps, it seems the word ‘traditional’ equates to ‘old fashioned’. And, reinforcing this negative view, a quick google of the word reveals its synonyms to be, ‘standard’, ‘run-of-the-mill’ and ‘unadventurous’, among other equally unflattering alternatives. But when it comes to designing homes that are both on-trend and cosy, isn’t there something to be said for the enduring grandeur of a plump Chesterfield armchair, or the luxurious folds in a pair of heavy silk curtains? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ – there are elements of traditional décor that work exceedingly well when done properly. Think timeless, not tired and chic and stylish instead of dull and old.

The trick is to not overdo it and, perhaps most importantly, to not be afraid of mixing eras. We’ve talked before about the danger of being too matchy-matchy when it comes to interior design, and this is never truer than when bringing traditional elements into a contemporary home. Think velvety fabrics and roll arm sofas, offset with square-edged coffee tables and contemporary colour schemes (more on that later).

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A quick lesson in lingo

Getting interior design lingo right is important when searching both online and in the shops for furniture pieces. For example, lots of people look for ‘modern’ items when what they really mean is contemporary. That’s because modern refers to a distinct period in time – usually between 1920-1950 – as opposed to the here and now. That’s not to say it’s fuddy-duddy or unstylish. In fact, modern décor is decidedly futuristic and symbolises a complete break away from the conservative, highly decorative designs of previous decades. Contemporary, on the other hand refers to the here and now and is typically characterised by polished surfaces, light colours and open spaces.

And finally, there’s traditional – the misunderstood, much older cousin of modern and contemporary – which is often characterised by paisleys, damasks, stripes and plaids, alongside patterned walls and hardwood floors. It’s true, when these features are shoved together, you run the risk of replicating your great-great grandmother’s living room. But when used selectively and paired with contemporary and modern flourishes – you’re onto a winner. Read on, to get started.


Colour scheme: Getting your canvas right

If you give yourself a canvas of patterned walls and paisley carpets, you’ll end up with a room that’s so overbearing and cluttered it makes your head spin. But if you opt for a neutral and uncomplicated canvas, then more elaborate, traditional pieces of furniture and accessories (hello stripes, velvets and plush Chesterfield sofas) stand out in all their glory. It’s all about aiming for that perfect balance between traditional and contemporary, detailed and pared back. That way you’ll end up with a home that’s chic, textured and utterly gorgeous as opposed to resembling a set from Downton Abbey!

Cream walls can be a great way to achieve this blank canvas, and there’s nothing to say you can’t add depth to the room with a richly coloured accent wall. We love dark, dusty greens and gunmetals, or luxurious wallpaper embellished with thick stripes to really do the traditional vibe justice.

In terms of overall colour scheme for the room, the world’s your oyster. But to achieve a traditional style that’s both defined and current, we’d recommend going for splashes of colour rather than something that’s totally neutral, which can end up feeling very contemporary. The key is to mix and match for a layered, more textured feeling. Think royal blues offset with taupe walls and splashes of turquoise, or rich plums set against shades of cream and purple.

Furniture: Creating your very own work of art

This is where modern décor can really come into its own, and work in harmony with traditional to create a look that’s bold, contemporary and traditional all at once. When it comes to your main sofa suite, go for something that feels luxurious to set the tone of the room. Leathers or sumptuous fabrics work well for this, and there’s nothing more traditional in feel than a statement Chesterfield chair, complete with pouffe or footstool. But to make sure you’re not edging into grand-old-library or Buckingham Palace territory, throw in a wild card like a smooth, modern egg chair. Add to this a contemporary, coffee table with clean edges and state-of-the-art storage space, and you’ve got your very own traditional-meets-modern masterpiece. There are some gorgeous furniture pieces out there that blend old with new, such as this modern take on a Chesterfield two-seater. It has all the makings of a modern chair, with curved edges, splayed oak legs and natural coloured woven fabric, but gives more than a nod to the traditional with its buttoned back and Chesterfield silhouette.

For the dining room, go for a wonderfully heavy and imposing table, but make sure it’s offset with simple overhead lighting and a statement mirror to prevent the space from feeling stuffy. Complete the look with straight-edged chairs (be wary of anything too ornate), with opulent, velvety seats for a room that feels plush and of-the-minute.


Accessories: Bringing the masterpiece together

Minimalism is the enemy of traditional, which is why it’s important to layer up your home with lots of accessories if you’re aiming for the latter. Accessorising is a good way to eradicate the stripped-back vibe from your home if you’ve gone for a fairly neutral or contemporary base. Think sizeable Persian rugs on bare wooden floors, plump, tapestry cushions on pale sofas and real-wool throws on leather armchairs.

And it can work the other way around if your base is more traditional than neutral. In this case, modern designs can add a touch of cutting-edge style to your interiors. Think geometric patterns on cushions and rugs, and splashes of monochrome to offset richer colours.

It’s amazing how much one or two statement pieces can transform the look of a room. They can tip it into traditional territory, or pull it ever so slightly away, to prevent it from looking too old fashioned. Adding an imposing chandelier to an otherwise contemporary dining room can instantly add an air of old-school, grandiose glamour to the space. Likewise, adding a contemporary, cubist-feel coffee table in the midst of more traditional furniture instantly creates a look that’s interesting and fresh.

It can be hard to stay true to your traditional taste in a world where it feels as if we’re catapulting into the future faster than ever. But all it takes is a little courage in your convictions, and an open mind. With a bit of careful thought, you can blend worlds old and new, to result in a home that feels well and truly you.


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