Decorating 101: Traditional

Author: Alecia Pirulis


If traditional style could be summed up in just two words, they’d have to be “calm” and “classic.” Think of your favorite room in your grandmother’s house: curvy wood furniture that all matched, floral fabrics, swags and curtains at the windows, soft and sensible chairs and sofas, a comfortable and homey place where there were few surprises. You won’t find chrome furniture or a curvy modern art piece in a traditional style room, nor will you find fun-and-funky flea market treasures painted in unusual color schemes. Traditional style is comforting in its routine and in its classic, timeless lines.

Traditional decorating is the most popular of all styles, probably because of its familiarity. It is also the easiest decorating style – walk into any furniture showroom and the space will be dominated with traditional pieces. And, since the dining table with matching chairs and matching china cabinet and coordinating rug and accessories are all set out for us, it’s a great style for anyone unsure of the whole decorating process – just choose the set on the showroom floor that appeals to you and you’re done.

When it comes to paint colors, stay with calm, mid-range tones – nothing too dark, too light, or too bright. Colors should be relaxing and usually trend toward the cream, green, and peach tones. The walls should be painted the lightest color in the room, while the darker shades are saved for the upholstery, curtains, area rugs, and throw pillows. Colors should complement each other – avoid strong color combinations.

The layout of the room is also traditional – put the sofa in front of the fireplace with the coffee table in between and chairs on either side. Put the china cabinet on the longest wall in the dining room and place a throw rug under the dining room table. Hang your photos in an eye-level straight line. Speaking of photos, think pastoral scenes in gilt frames. Add a crystal chandelier in the dining room and put a pair of silver candlesticks on the fireplace mantle. Lamps should have simple silk shades in the traditional white or off-white. Wall sconces and floor lamps are popular in traditional decorating.

A traditional room is slightly formal but not fussy. It is warm, comforting, and familiar – but it doesn’t have to be old-fashioned. Pair accessories for a symmetrical look and look for very classic designs and materials, such as bronze, silver, and wood. Wallpaper, chair rails, and crown molding are all typical elements in traditional design.

Go heavy on the fabric – think long, billowing curtains, cornices and valances, upholstered furniture, lots of rugs, and several accent pillows. In the dining room, you’ll want a tablecloth, fabric placemats, or fabric napkins. Choose muted colors with floral print, gingham, and stripes. Materials popular in the traditional style include velvets, brocades, and damask. Keep the frills to a minimum (avoid tassels and fringe) and remember – balance is important in any traditional room.

Traditional decorating borrows elements from French Country and 18th Century English décor. In a traditional style room, you’ll see plenty of furniture in the curvy Queen Anne and Chippendale styles. A slightly Eastern influence – especially in area rugs and throw pillows – is also a common element. To keep your traditional space from resembling grandma’s house a little too much, look for classic shapes and strive for balance, but also look for newer, more updated twists – such as a curvy Queen Anne style chair that is just a little bit bigger and more comfortable than the original design.