What is Transitional Interior Design and Its Furniture?

Interior Designers understand their client's difficulty in choosing a style for their home and so they came up with the idea of mixing different styles. One such style is what designers like to call the Transitional style. It's a combination of contemporary and traditional styles. If Goldilocks were to have her house designed, it would be in this style because it's just right, not too sleek and not too boring either.

Transitional Style has seen a spike in popularity among millennials who have fallen in love with traditional pieces from the older generation yet strive to be trendy and aim to be "in" their own time. Almost all designers currently use this style because it's something that ages well allowing for little edits here and there.

Transitional Style is not to be confused with eclectic which seems more cluttered and chaotic. Rather, Transitional style marries curved and ornately detailed furniture from the past with linear and clean lines of the present. As a result, the style is gender neutral, neither too masculine nor feminine. When designers speak of timeless designs, they could very well be talking about Transitional style as it is the style that doesn't stray away from the familiar but also gives the freedom to update it with current trends.

Traditional Meets Contemporary
Creating a cohesive and seamless look with two styles contributes to the success of a Transitional style. Elements from the traditional and contemporary may oppose each other but in Transitional design, a perfect balance is created and the best of both worlds are showcased.

Neutral Colors – Not for the color enthusiasts, the style uses neutrals in the brown palette. Patterns are kept to a minimum. Monochromatic is almost a standard. Visual interest is created by layering different shades from the same color palette. Natural materials like grasscloth, abaca and sisal are preferred because of its neutral tones. The same rule applies to the floor. In the Transitional style, colors matter more than materials. Woods, stone, and tiles are kept in subdued tones. Rugs are added to make the floors look cozy.

Textural Pattern – Since color cannot be relied upon in Transitional design, the style takes advantage of textural patterns that adds contrast and prevents the look from being boring and outdated. A blend of the more sleek, glossy and lacquered finishes with the more traditional finishes like woven textures or grainy wood patterns can elevate a room despite the neutral and uninteresting color.

Minimal Clutter – Despite the style being similar to Eclectic, the Transitional design is never cluttered. Accessories are kept to a minimum only displaying a few pieces for the eye to appreciate. Artwork and pictures are displayed without much fanfare, using simple frames in clean lines.

Simple Window Treatments – Window treatments are often modest using simple curtains and plain metal or wooden rods. Heavy drapes are sometimes replaced with light sheer curtains combined with blackout roman shades. Fabric patterns are restrained and should never contrast with the color palette of the room through a subdued traditional pattern can be used.

Combined Styles – The beauty of Transitional style lies therein that it has the best of both worlds. Done carefully, it creates a seamless and cohesive design. Some examples:

- Modern seating can be upholstered in traditional fabrics.

- A sleek marble kitchen island can be partnered with traditional wooden bar stools.

- Tufted and curved headboards in a neutral fabric flanked with updated bombe night tables with glass or metal lamps.

- Paneled kitchen cabinets with modern, stainless hardware or lacquered kitchen cabinets in traditional design.

- Rustic farmhouse kitchen island with contemporary pendant lights.

- A claw and foot tub in the middle of a sleek and modern bathroom.

- Antique or inherited pieces combined with more contemporary furniture serves as an accent piece.

Transitional Furniture, Streamlined but Interesting
The most particular attribute of Transitional furniture is that it avoids being too ornate and detailed but it also rejects the idea of being too sleek and futuristic.

Simple and Sophisticated – Furniture doesn't necessarily have to be boxy but the lines are kept simple and the edges gently curved. It avoids being too ornate but still has intricate details. The transitional style uses furniture from the previous eras but uses updated versions like a modern wingback chair or a simple Bergere, tastefully upholstered in modern fabrics.

Details are added in small and simple touches. Cabinet doors are paneled, bracket feet are sometimes used as well as crown moldings. To update the look, modern stainless steel cabinet pulls and handles are used. Carvings are rarely applied to furniture and is applied in small doses.

Transitional furniture is also just the right size, not too bulky and too small, in keeping with its moderate and neutral tone. It is not too formal nor stiff looking but rather casual and inviting.

Materials not too Sleek – Wood is a common material in Transitional furniture. The use of dark wood tones are not rare but more commonly, lighter wood tones that go with neutral colors are preferred. Contemporary finishes such as glass, acrylic, and metal are rarely used on its own and are often combined with wood.

Upholstered furniture often uses textured fabric like suede, chenille, corduroy, and tweed in restrained colors such as taupe, ivory, tan and olive. Natural materials in neutral colors are also used as rattan furniture.

Updated Old School Furniture – As mentioned before, transitional style blends traditional and contemporary style. The style uses pieces from the past in a more updated look. Chesterfields with rolled arms, tufted wingbacks and bergeres and a camelback chaise lounge all updated with modern fabrics and streamlined edges are often used in Transitional style.

With its clean, simple look, relaxed color palettes, gender friendly style and updated take on classics, the Transitional design is the epitome of sophisticated elegance that's not too bold nor flashy. It's no wonder why designers, clients and even furniture companies are in love with this style. It has the best of both worlds, it's timeless, and there's no risk of falling into the pitfalls of a temporary trend.

- Pile, John F. A history of interior design. Laurence King Publishing, 2005.

Related Article
- 7 Elements of Classic Interior Design Explained

Last review and update: August 27, 2018

About the Author

Patty Benjabutr is an interior design enthusiast. She loves to write about actionable home decor knowledge because she believes interior design content is something much more than a collection of beautiful photos. You can contact Patty via e-mail.