Traditional vs. Transitional Style: What's the Difference?


Ever wonder what's the difference between traditional decor and transitional decor? These two styles have similar core design elements, but when compared side by side, the finished look is completely different. 

As noted before in a previous post (read here), there are a number of different design styles to choose from and there is certainly overlap between them. However; I've noticed that people have a hard time identifying the difference between transitional and traditional styles. So I've decided to provide a little cheat sheet to help you figure out which is which to better define your style.


Traditional Style

Traditional design gained influence in the 18th and 19th century in Europe. It's style is very ornate and interiors are generally filled with heavy furniture and warm colors. The characteristics of a traditional room may include: furniture with tufting and curved feet, ornate woodwork, heavy drapery, and varied patterns. Let's take a look below at some sample interiors...


First off, let's all stop and admire this gorgeous paneling! The wood tones are warm and inviting. Notice the fine details in the crown molding; those little "cubes" are called dentil. The woodwork dominates the room and sets the stage for the rest of the decor. As mentioned above, the furnishings feature curved lines with tufting. Also check out the ornate details on that chandelier!

And this one…

This room feels heavy thanks to the silk drapery panels.  The red, gold, and tan hues, dark wood floors, as well as the varied patterns contribute to the warmth in the space. Again, we see the curved furnishings, fancy caster feet and ornate details within the wood coffee table and side table.


Transitional Style

Transitional design is a mixture of traditional and contemporary design. It's aesthetic is characterized by modern lines mixed with curved furnishings and neutral wall tones in hues of beige, ivory, and grays. This serves as the perfect backdrop for contrasting pops of color found in accessories like artwork and pillows.

The contemporary elements in a transitional room showcase furnishings that are smaller in scale with less ornamentation than the traditional style. This design style celebrates simple architecture.

Let's look at a couple of transitional interiors in more details...

Both of these rooms look less luxurious and feel more relaxed than traditional interiors. Notice how both also showcase a simple aesthetic void of ornate details, dark wood tones, and millwork. Each space feels light and airy; thanks to a neutral color background with pops of color seen in the decor accessories. Lastly, the furnishings mix modern lines with classic curves to create a comfortable environment that transitional pieces are known for.


Transitional vs. Traditional

Now that we've highlighted the historical elements of the 2 design styles, let's do a side by side comparison to discuss the differences between them.


The Difference: Wood Features



Both of these rooms showcase beautiful wood paneling. However; in the traditional space the woodwork is the prominent feature in the room. Whereas in the transitional space, the wood paneling has been painted and is subdued. It blends seamlessly into the furnishings.

Additionally, the colors in the traditional room are more saturated and intense, while the transitional space is mostly neutral with pops of soft pink. Furthermore, notice how the transitional space looks and feels light and airy compared to the warm and heavy feel of the traditional room.


The Difference: Texture



This transitional room mixes different textures to create depth in the space. The textures shown include: jute, leather, wood tones and geometric patterns to create an interesting and calming space. Whereas traditional spaces will generally mix varied patterns and colors to create a more layered and luxurious feel. However; both rooms provide visual interest and comfort.


The Difference: Patterns



Both rooms have a neutral background. However, in keeping with the design style, the traditional room uses a bold, saturated navy as the accent color. Although only one accent is used, the typical feature of various patterns are seen throughout in the throw pillows, chairs and draperies.

Transitional interiors are not void of color however; the pops of color used can be subtle and are repeated throughout the space. Neutral is the theme of this space except for the navy and soft pink accent colors used only in the pillows and artwork.

Another interesting thing to note is the level of symmetry in each space. Traditional design is known for symmetry and the room above is no exception which showcases its use in the chinoiserie vases, floor lamps, and chairs. A transitional room can be symmetrical but this design style is not typically known for it.


The Difference: Lighting





In keeping with the same picture above, transitional spaces lean towards the contemporary side with modern lights fixtures. On the other hand, traditional interiors are usually fond of vintage or ornate inspired lighting.


The Difference: Art



The groupings of the different frames along with the black and white images display a modern and contemporary theme in this transitional room. In contrast, gilded frames and oil paintings are more commonly found in traditional spaces, as seen in the picture above.

I hope this post gives you a better understanding of the differences between traditional versus transitional styles. Now that you know some of the key differences, tell me what's your favorite style?

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