Interior Design 101: A Comprehensive Guide To Your Favorite Styles

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I’m going to level with you: being a design enthusiast is hard. Not only do you need keep up with the latest trends and have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the colors of the year, but it’s also useful to know the differences between all the biggest decorating styles.

Sounds easy, right? Well, not quite. The truth is, understanding every single distinction between various styles is easier said than done. After all, who really knows the difference between Scandinavian and minimalism? Traditional and transitional? To help, I’m breaking down some of the biggest interior design styles out there.

It’s worth mentioning that everyone’s definition might differ a little bit. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But the explainers below should help you appreciate the many nuances of interior design and get inspired to curate your own personal taste.

Want to live the lap of luxury? You’re going to love Art Deco. Short for “Arts Décoratifs,” the style was all the rage in the 1920s to 1930s, and placed a heavy emphasis on all things glamorous: Rich colors, metallics, and, sure, the occasional animal print. But while Art Deco doesn’t shy away from being extra, it’s commonly known for its bold, geometric shapes with sharp edges. So the next time you see a picture of the Chrysler Building — or even a cool, sunburst mirror (they were huge back then) — you can thank Art Deco for making these timeless marvels.

While the word “bohemian” is often associated with an artful and unconventional person, the interior design style has become more mainstream. But when it comes to infusing a bohemian spirit in your own home, throw out the rule book and focus on creating a relaxing space that’s personal to you. Layer your bed with throw blankets from your local vintage shop. Take grandma’s accent chair out of storage. Create a soulful shelfie with all the trinkets you purchased on a recent trip. It’s all about creating a chill space that’s packed with personality.

Every bohemian space is bound to be different, but most of them generally focus on worn-in textiles, as well as vintage furniture and accessories.

Coastal is all blues, whites, and anchor motifs (aka nautical). When I hear the word “coastal,” I can’t help but think of the oceanfront home in Grace & Frankie. It’s inspired by natural elements, so while you may see a vase full of seashells, a driftwood coffee table, or a color palette of soothing blues, it also doesn’t have to be as literal as you’d think.

This one’s a no-brainer; colorful spaces daringly mix and match different hues, whether that’s pastels, bright tones, or a combination of the two. Beyond paint and furniture, even small decor touches constitute a color-filled home, like bold gallery walls or patterned area rugs. Depending on the design, this home decor style can also draw parallels to eclectic, glam, or maximalist interiors.

Is it just me, or is practically every home considered “contemporary”? Well, that’s because a lot of them are. The contemporary design style is ever-changing because it’s all about what’s in at the moment. For example, if pewter and gunmetal hardware is trendy, it’s likely going to be considered contemporary.

That being said, there’s more to a contemporary home than trends. Kita Marie Williams, interior designer and CEO of KMW Interiors, previously explained that the contemporary style aims to create a fashionable space without any superfluous fripperies.

The cottage (or “cottagecore”) aesthetic initially blew up on social media early into the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to its cheery, cozy, and country-inspired influences. This charming look centers around soothing florals, vintage and antique elements, or anything that feels straight out of a rustic English home in the countryside. It’s often conflated with shabby chic, but cottagecore tends to look more laid-back and natural.

Imagine Scandinavian style, but with tons of soft, muted colors, and you get Danish pastel. As the name implies, this Nordic-inspired trend plays up pretty light pinks, blues, greens, yellows, lilacs, and more. Expect fun, whimsical shapes, too, like mushroom lamps and squiggle mirrors, plus subtle checkerboard or floral patterns.

Some say that opposites attract, and no style better supports that theory than eclectic design. The style is associated with bringing two very different designs together. Want to mix traditionalism with Scandinavian style? What about minimalism with farmhouse? Eclecticism offers a blank slate to make all your wildest design dreams come true.

English country is a popular emerging aesthetic, and it’s like cottagecore’s moodier maximalist iteration. It’s typically characterized by darker, more subdued colors and patterns, yet maintains an overall cozy-meets-lived-in feel that looks straight out of a quant European home. The key is layering a mix of timeless prints and pieces, like combining antique and modern furniture within the same room, or playing with different nature-inspired prints. Oh, and the more books, the merrier.

No, farmhouse isn’t all chicken-themed decor and fruit basket paintings. While the farmhouse style certainly veers more into traditionalism, it’s really all about creating a warm, cozy space. Common characteristics include light, airy spaces, wooden accessories, and exposed beams, and cushy couches. Translation? Pretty much the shining definition of Chip and Joanna Gaines. While many farmhouse design lovers have leaned into the rustic aesthetic, others are giving this style a makeover with modern touches.

You’ll know a glam space when you see one; think mirrored or metallic finishes, marble details, faux fur, and velvet, just to name a few textbook motifs. Basically, any luxe-looking material or texture falls under glam design style. It’s opulent and sophisticated, but not over the top.

As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. When industrial design was born in the 1700s, it was a purely utilitarian style that would outfit the growing factories. While industrialist design occasionally evolved to keep up with new safety regulations, it wasn’t until the ’60s and ’70s that people started to convert abandoned factories into lofts, restaurants, and hip hotels.

While industrialism features pared-down materials like wood and brick, you can also expect to find sturdy iron and steel. To play off the masculine materials, many industrial homes feature a cooler, neutral color palette. Does Dan Humphrey’s loft in Gossip Girl ring any bells?

Think more is more? Well, you’re going to love maximalism. A far cry from modernism or Scandinavian style, maximalism dares design enthusiasts to be bold. Similar to bohemian, you have the autonomy to make your space as maximalist as you’d like. Start off slow with a controlled, symmetrical maximalist à la Wes Anderson, or channel your inner Austin Powers by dialing up the patterns, colors, and textures.

Rising to prominence after World War II — along with tract houses — mid-century modern style is a cool, pared-down alternative to the ornate pieces of yesteryear. It’s been over 50 years since this first hit the design scene, and it’s showing no signs of losing its luster any time soon. In fact, its simple, boxy silhouette is almost more popular than ever before. If you want to learn more about mid-century modernism, here’s a crash course on the style’s most iconic pieces, plus where to shop for the look.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but minimalism technically isn’t an interior design style. It’s easy to associate it with a neutral color palette, airy layout, and scarce details, but the phrase simply represents making your home less, well, extra. So technically, you could have a coastal or bohemian home that’s also minimalist.

Rumor has it modernism and mid-century modernism aren’t as different as you’d think. While modernism came before minimalism and contemporary design, most of the pieces considered modern — you know, simple shapes and muted hues — generally nod back to mid-century modern style.

Organic modern also goes hand-in-hand with minimalist and mid-century modern styles, but relies on more natural textures and materials, organic shapes, clean lines, usually a neutral color palette, and lots of plants. The main differentiator from modern design is that this often incorporates boho elements as well.

You don’t need a château to channel Parisian interior design. Airy French-inspired interiors typically strike a balance between luxurious and laid-back, with timeless, thoughtfully-curated decorations. Think vintage gold mirrors, ornate lighting, picture frame molding, and elegant French-pleated curtains. For more Parisian styling tips, check out how to make your space look très chic on a budget, too.

When it comes to channeling interiors reminiscent of the Regency era, between 1811 and 1820, lean into luxurious canopy beds, touches of chinoiserie, dramatic chandeliers, ornate seating, and ethereal drapes or shades. Pastel hues — like light pinks, blues, greens — are also hallmarks of this European-inspired style. For more sumptuous Regencycore inspiration, take a cue from the set design of Bridgerton.

So farmhouse and rustic are exactly the same, right? Think again. While the two styles share some similarities, many believe rustic is a little rougher around the edges. Here, you’re bound to see rugged, unfinished woods like alder and hickory, as well as distressed chairs, fabrics, and other accessories. It’s like farmhouse style’s outdoorsy cousin.

If you say you have a minimalist home, what you might mean is you have a Scandinavian home. Made popular in the 1950s by the three Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, this style emphasizes a minimalist aesthetic, a clean color palette (perhaps with the occasional pop of color), and functionality above all else. Fortunately, you can embrace a Scandinavian aesthetic on any continent, and design experts share how to nail the look.

Interested in the bohemian aesthetic, but don’t want to go all out? Give shabby chic a try. By definition, the style hits on a lot of the same elements as bohemian (think: prints and distressed materials) but is paired with more put-together pieces. Go ahead, embrace shabby chic by mixing an old quilt and a sleek, mid-century side table together.

Drawing from Indigenous and Spanish cultures, Southwestern-inspired spaces rely on earthy palettes, desert motifs, and bold patterns. Most typically have all-white walls, too, so the decor can take center stage. The beauty of this design style is that small touches can also go a long way: Think terracotta accents, textured pillows, or colorful geometric rugs and blankets to get the look, regardless of where you live.

Traditionalism might be the OG style of interior design, but don’t write it off as “dusty” or “boring.” While the style draws a lot of inspiration from the past with rich colors, beautiful prints, and ornate details, there’s plenty of room to add some modern touches. Simultaneously elegant and cozy, traditional homes often integrate pieces from different eras and places (think baroque chairs with beautiful chinoiserie vases) in a clean, composed manner.

Torn between modernism and traditionalism? Well, thanks to transitional style, you don’t have to choose. If you ask me, traditionalism is like the best of both worlds: It focuses on a minimalist aesthetic and a muted color palette of grays, tans, and off-whites, but celebrates texture. As for the furniture? You can expect a mix of pieces with curved and straight lines.

What other design terms do you want us to define? Let us know in the comments below!

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