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6 Designer Secrets to Nail Transitional Style

by Lisa Frederick, Houzz | Jul 31, 2017

What it is:  If Goldilocks were decorating a house, transitional style would check all of her "just right" boxes: not too cold, not too formal, not too fussy. It blends the comfort and warmth of traditional design with the clean profiles and understated colors of the contemporary look. The result? Gracious, streamlined spaces that radiate harmony. It's about meeting in the middle, but it's not at all middle of the road.

Why it works:  Browse home design photos, and we'd bet that at least half of the rooms you see fall into the transitional camp. Its appeal lies in having the best of both worlds: You aren't straying too far from the familiar, but you have the freedom to freshen it as you see fit. And because you can update it indefinitely to reflect current trends, it ages well.

Although transitional usually denotes a balance between contemporary and traditional, that's not always the case. You can mix in a few (we repeat, a few) pieces from other styles as long as they don't detract from the casual, tailored setting. 

You'll love it if... You're a natural diplomat. You prefer a few statement accessories to layers of necklaces and wristfuls of bracelets. You serve mac and cheese on your wedding china. Your dream vacation involves chilling out at an elegant spa. You can't understand why people think beige is boring.

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Transitional 1: Valerie DeRoy Interiors LLC, original photo on Houzz


Style Secret: Tone-on-Tone Palettes

The transitional look won’t necessarily suit color junkies. Warm neutrals rule: cream, taupe, tan, khaki, gray, with the occasional hint of chocolate or espresso brown thrown in to ground the palette. Patterns, if used at all, should be understated; skip the punchy florals and Pucci-esque prints.

If you just can’t live without a jolt of color, keep it to a few strategic accents — for instance, you might repeat bright turquoise or saturated coral in a piece of artwork, a pair of lamps and a throw pillow or two.

Look Closer: This living area reads as monochromatic, yet it’s anything but boring. The reason: Strong furniture carries the space, and there’s just enough pattern from the curtains and the grain of the wooden coffee table to break up the swath of neutrals. Plus, the wide windows shed light on subtle shading variations in the walls, upholstery and rug.


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Transitional 2: Jace Interiors & CreateGirl Blog, original photo on Houzz


Style Secret:
Simple Silhouettes

Transitional furnishings have crisp profiles and straightforward style — not a baroque flourish in sight. Gentle curves and rigid lines feed off each other to create energy.

You don’t have to leave older furniture styles by the wayside, but use updated versions, such as a modern wing chair or a pared-down bergère. Keep the scale large enough to feel inviting and the seating cushioned and comfy; you want guests to flop down and settle in without a second thought. 

Look Closer: The muted stone tile in this bathroom minds its manners, but its variegated patterns add a little spice. Carrying it partway up the walls gives it more presence and prevents the white tones from feeling clinical.

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Transitional 3: Redbund Custom Homes, original photo on Houzz


Style Secret:Neutral Flooring

Flooring tends to be a background player in transitional rooms. It’s less about the material than about the color — you can go with natural woods, stone, tile, carpeting and more, as long as they’re kept to a subtle, restrained palette. And this style also gives you a lot of leeway to combine multiple floor surfaces throughout a home (though not, preferably, in the same room).

Look Closer: The muted stone tile in this bathroom minds its manners, but its variegated patterns add a little spice. Carrying it partway up the walls gives it more presence and prevents the white tones from feeling clinical


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Transitional 4: Spinnaker Development, original photo on Houzz


Style Secret:Textural Touches

You can't rely on color to punch up a transitional space, but texture rises to the challenge admirably. Coarsely woven fabrics, natural fibers and a blend of matte and shiny finishes lend a sense of layering and help the room pop.

Think leather, sisal, burlap, chenille, rattan and more — any material with tactile appeal will fit right in. Don't go overboard, though, or you'll lose the sleek elegance that's so essential to this style.

Look Closer: The textures pile up subtly but steadily in this bedroom, from the matelassé coverlet to the wood-framed TV to the rattan desk chair and window blinds. Beaded board on the ceiling riffs on the honed floor planks below. The mélange adds just enough interest without overriding the restrained feel of the space.

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Transitional 5: Michael Abrams Limited, original photo on Houzz


Style Secret:Minimal Accents

Cull your accessories wisely and you won’t need a ton of them to make an impact. That’s especially important in a style that eschews frills and flotsam — as with furnishings, transitional accents share a lack of ornamentation and have a certain purity of form. Artwork should be simply framed; lighting should have strong, clean lines.

Be prepared: The less-is-more approach requires firm and judicious editing. If you just can’t bear to stow your prized majolica or dismantle your gallery wall, ask a style-savvy friend to handle it while you hide in another room.

Look Closer: A few well-chosen pieces are all it takes to bring this room to life. Understated frames and wide mats showcase the pair of black and white sketches, and the dramatic chandelier highlights the sculptural bowl. Don’t overlook the attention to scale — all of the accents are substantial enough not to get lost in this quiet space.


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Transitional 6: Exquisite Kitchen Design, original photo on Houzz


Style Secret: Clean-Lined Kitchens

Like all such spaces, transitional kitchens have a foot in multiple camps. They might blend traditional surfaces such as wood and stone with sleek stainless steel, or pair paneled cabinetry with minimalist hardware. They might even borrow the idea of open shelving or apron-front sinks from cottage-style interiors. What you won’t see: ornate millwork, fancifully painted tiles or other components that look jarring against contemporary touches. 

Look Closer: In this kitchen, paneled white cabinetry, variegated hardwood flooring and a stainless-steel hood maintain a classic look that falls just short of traditional. The mosaic cooktop backsplash puts a mod spin on the veining that appears in the stone island and countertops.


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