Design 101: Transitional Isn't Traditional, and Here's Why

How Transitional Style is Different than Traditional

Ever wonder about the differences between transitional and traditional style? These two design styles have similar foundational elements, but when you compare them side by side, the finished look is completely different. Here are the reasons why:   

 First, let's acknowledge that most people these days don't fit into one style category. I do, however, believe everyone has a foundational starting point. This post will hopefully help you understand the core foundation of a transitional space compared to its traditional style roots. The goal is to help you transitionalists out there understand your foundation, and then add your flare.

Let's start with a look at where the transitional style got its roots...


A traditional room is characteristic of a 17th or 18th century home. It's warm and inviting, but can also be more luxurious. These spaces have curved and detailed furniture with a backdrop of ornate woodwork, luxurious fixtures, deep colors, and varied patterns.

If you are inspired by your grandmother's china, traditional style might be you.


How Transitional Style is Different than Traditional

A transitional interior blends traditional and contemporary interior design. These spaces tend to have neutral backgrounds - such as grey, beige, and cream. Transitional style mixes modern lines with classically curved furniture and finishes. 

Transitional style's contemporary leanings keep these rooms less luxurious and a little more relaxed. Wood tones, fabric textiles, and various decor textures create depth in these rooms. Color and pattern is used in subtle, repeated way.

If you love a mix of modern and classic curves on a neutral backdrop, transitional might be your style.

Let's look at transitional interiors in more detail...

How Transitional Style is Different than Traditional
Studio McGee (Transitional)

1. Transitional interiors mix modern lines with classic curves. 

The space above mixes modern lines and classic curves in a neutral background. It is not devoid of color but the minimal accessories keep the palette more neutral.

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The difference: 

How Transitional Style is Different than Traditional


How Transitional Style is Different than Traditional


These traditional spaces by Max Rollitt for House and Garden have mostly curved and very detailed furniture. The walls are neutral, but the furniture and accessories create a colorful space.


How Transitional Style is Different than Traditional
Threshold Design (Transitional)

2. Solids are dominant in transitional spaces, but patterns are present in mostly subtle geometric patterns.

The difference:

The above traditional spaces mix varied patterns with more saturated color.



3. Transitional spaces have mixtures of wood tones present in the room.

Detailed millwork can also be present but it doesn't define the furniture or decor. The above transitional interior is a perfect example of mixed wood tones. The fireplace mantel and lines of the built-ins are more traditional. These traditional elements are toned down with the contrasting modern lines of the furniture.

The difference:

In both these traditional spaces the woodwork is more ornate. The designers chose to showcase the details of the woodwork by allowing it to define the furniture choices.



4. Transitional interiors mix different textures to create depth.

The same space from the last example shows how texture creates depth in a transitional space. The designer used jute, wood tones, leather, and subtle geometric patterns of grey to create a clean and interesting space. The room feels more casual and cozy than luxurious.

The difference:

How Transitional Style is Different than Traditional


These traditional interiors are clean and cozy too, but they use more varied colors and patterns, creating a more luxurious, layered feel. 


5. Transitional interiors have a neutral background but can have repeated color (above).

Transitional interiors are neutral, but not totally lacking in color. If a bold color is used, it's often repeated. The above interior seen in Elle Decor is neutral with a nice pop of blue in a contemporary geometric pattern. Notice both colors (in the rug and in the flowers) are repeated creating a more calm relaxed look.

Also, note the above photo does not have symmetrical lamps. A transitional room can be symmetrical, but it can also break the traditional leanings of symmetry.

See the difference with the more traditional rooms below:

Both of these traditional rooms mix color and pattern. One in a more bold way and one in a more neutral way. These photos also show examples of how symmetry is present in a traditional interior.



6. Transitional interiors can incorporate modern day interior trends (above).

While transitional interiors have roots in the traditional style, their contemporary side allows more interior trends to be included - such as the modern light fixture above.

The difference (traditional, below):

Traditional spaces stick with ornate or vintage-looking fixtures. 



7. Transitional rooms incorporate modern wall decor (above)

The modern grouping of black and white frames continues with the contemporary theme of transitional interiors.

The difference:

How Transitional Style is Different than Traditional

Photo: Elements of Style

The above traditional spaces include more gilded frames and oil paintings. 



How Transitional Style is Different than Traditional
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Hopefully this was a helpful way to see and understand how transitional interior style is comparable, but very different from the traditional interior style. Which style suits you? Please do share!


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