Everything you Need to Know to Create the Perfect Transitional Interior Design


White Contemporary living room

SOURCE: Scout and Nimble


Welcome back to another edition of my interior design style guides. If you’ve been following along with this series you may be up-to-date with all the other styles. If not, you can go back and read all about Modern Farmhouse, Hollywood Regency, Coastal, Contemporary and Traditional.

Today I’m talking about the style that is by far the most popular and easiest to live with – transitional style. This is a mix between traditional and contemporary. It’s the marrying of the best of both worlds and to some degree, it’s also why it’s hard at times to nail it down and describe it. If you’re a dog lover you’ll understand that a Golden Doodle can be a mix of both breeds and yet 2 from the same litter look like entirely different breeds. The same goes for transitional interior design. Let’s dive in and see exactly how to achieve this look.


The Colour Palette 

beige living room with black contemporary light fixture

SOURCE: JCathell


When  you’re creating a transitional design, keep the palette simple. This style looks best when it incorporates a neutral palette. Use a light neutral for the walls. You can add in a dark neutral like navy, black, etc for some of the furniture pieces. The new neutrals that have replaced gray (beige, sand, mushroom) work extremely well in a transitional style.

Accent colours are used but in very small doses. You want to make sure you tie them to the neutrals in the space. The colour shouldn’t steal the show but just enhance it in the best way. You don’t want any really loud colours like fuschia, orange, yellow. Just stick to blues, greens, charcoal and maybe a camel.

Silver is the metal of choice for this palette. If you love the trend towards gold metal by all means you can incorporate it but just a splash. Overall you’ll be going for a cooler, rather than warmer colour palette.


The Furniture

gray contemporary sofa with bold artwork

SOURCE: Studio McGee 


Since transitional design is a blending of both traditional and contemporary you can use a mix of both styles. Opt for clean lines on the large furniture pieces. You don’t want anything fussy or overdone. The furniture should always be comfortable in a transitional space. While you want there to be plenty of contemporary you don’t want to go too modern and include pieces of upholstered furniture that sit too low. That will push the room too far to the contemporary side.

And don’t be too heavy handed with either style or you’ll end up with a room that leans more towards traditional or contemporary and not transitional. 

When accessorizing, keep it simple. The shape should be interesting but keep the colour simple. You don’t want anything loud to draw too much attention away from the calm, neutral feel of the room.


The Fabric

Transitional design is all about relaxed neutrals and that includes fabrics. There’s not a lot of pattern used in this style. Stick with neutrals but feel free to incorporate tone-on-tone patterns. This could be traditional patterns like a check or stripe but don’t go for the bold colours. Instead, use a combination of colours that are close together. For instance, ivory and taupe or a darker gray with charcoal look great and keep the colour level toned down. Add in lots of texture like wool, velvet, etc as opposed to relying on colour.

This style shouldn’t be sparse or cold so make sure you add in enough texture so that the tone on tone look of the room doesn’t come as too cold. You can do this with lots of pillows and throws, a great wool or sisal area rug and texture in your decor.


The Architecture


Contemporary living room

SOURCE: Andrew Howard


Since this is a blending of a couple of styles it can be incorporated into a number of architectural styles. One of the important aspects of creating a transitional space is to include a lot of millwork. Think about crown moulding, wall panelling and extensive millwork around the fireplace. This will give the room the traditional backdrop it needs. 

Now we’ve covered the traditional aspect but you want to think about leaning towards contemporary with your lighting. Go for linear shapes with chrome and glass or even black metal. You really want your lighting to stand out in a transitional design. It’s the yin to the yang of the millwork. Contemporary meets traditional and that’s what it’s all about in this style.

Avoid using any traditional chandeliers, particularly if you have a lot of great traditional millwork. Your room will end up looking traditional rather than transitional if you go too conservative with the lighting. 


The Layout

Contemporary living room with oversized black light fixture

SOURCE: Moon Mirror


One of the best parts of designing a transitional space is that it’s all about working with balance. This isn’t the same as symmetry which plays an integral role in traditional design. Balance is about consideration for what you bring in, not just in size and colour but style as well. You’ll be incorporating 2 distinct design styles into one and you’ll balance that with furniture. 

Yes, you can bring some antiques into the equation but then you’ll want to consider something contemporary to maintain the balance. It doesn’t have to be an equal distribution of styles but you want it to be aesthetically balanced when it’s complete. You also want to consider how to balance the size of pieces and the layout of the room.

The layout of the space can be either open concept or traditional but consider that when buying your furniture. For instance, if the space is open layout you want to balance that more contemporary layout with some additional traditional pieces. Add in a traditional area rug and that will balance the styles.


When it comes to the layout of the furniture, I’d advise you to lean more towards traditional furniture layouts. This could be a sofa across from 2 matching chairs as opposed to an oversized sectional or just a grouping of 4 chairs. 

Overall, this is a style that works naturally so use some of the rules and then use your gut and your instinct to guide the way. If you need help with the design of your home, let’s connect. I’d love to talk to you about how I can help you.


If you know your design style but you struggle with which paint to use, take a look at my Made-For-You paint palettes. They take the guesswork out and give you the confidence to get started.


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