There are a slew of style descriptions and variations for decorating and design. At Zelman the majority of our clients fit into these categories, with slight twist on style based on individual personalities.

Here is some insight into the basic to help you identify which style suites you and your lifestyle.




Many people confuse contemporary design with modern, but they’re two separate animals. Modern refers to a defined aesthetic that’s rooted in the early- to mid-20th century, while contemporary is a broader term referring to a dramatic departure from the constraints of traditional style, favoring sparse over cluttered, plain over ornate, and free-form over symmetrical.

contempo-thumbEssentially, contemporary style does more with less. Furnishings are streamlined and sleek, with none of the decorative embellishments found on more traditional pieces. Colors tend to be pale and neutral, though contemporary rooms can also accommodate punchy bright colors and offbeat hues. The overall air is one of spaciousness and simplicity without frills or excess.

Monochromatic colors. Build your palette around varied tones of neutral basics such as white, gray, beige, chocolate, and black. If you’re a color fan, you can certainly go for it; just stick to one or two vivid hues and work the contrast—or choose more subtle shades that look sophisticated and a little edgy.

Crisp lines. Furnishings and accents in this style are straight forward and simple. Lines tend to follow a horizontal-vertical axis, balanced by a few curves and angles.




The term MOD or modern is often used interchangeably with contemporary, but when it comes to matters of style, they aren’t the same. While contemporary style refers to the decor trends of the moment (modern or otherwise), modern style evokes a specific sense of time and place. It is an offshoot of the minimalist architecture and design of the 30’s plus the modernist art movement that reached its zenith in the early twentieth century.

Simple and crisp, modern style marks a sharp departure from the formal symmetry and rich embellishments of traditional design. Although its roots are utilitarian, it has evolved over the decades into a balanced blend of form and function.

Color in modern interiors takes one of two forms.

A. The most prevalent is the use of neutrals, keeping the emphasis on the architecture and furniture which creates a streamlined, monochromatic effect.

B. The opposite approach uses clear, high-contrast hues, such as black and lipstick red or lime green and cerulean. Stark white interiors with dashes of bright color.

mod-thumbClean-lined furnishings. No muss, no fuss—modern pieces consist of the essentials and are fashioned to suit the human form. Lines tend to be straightforward, with the tight upholstery, bare legs, and crisp edges that marked Bauhaus and other seminal modern styles. Profiles are strong and sculptural with a focus on angles rather than curves.

Dramatic architecture. From cantilevered ceilings to a progression of angled walls, striking architecture with pronounced geometry is the star of many modern interiors. Rooms tend to have a sense of light and space and feature open, unbroken vistas; bare windows; and a functional flow. Unconventional, durable materials such as acrylic and concrete are often put into play.

Sleek finishes. You won’t find thick carpets or wood-paneled walls in modern design; surfaces tend to be smooth with a lot of give-and-take between matte and glossy. Think polished or brushed metals, stone, tile, glass, and plastic. That’s not to say that there are absolutely no soft elements, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

Spare accessories. Clutter messes up the modern vibe. Interiors in this style are more likely to feature a carefully culled assortment of pieces, useful as well as decorative, that stand on their own. Abstract art and black-and-white photography both work well with modern interiors, and sculpture feels apt for this approach as well.




Timeless style speaks of elegance tinged with hominess, refinement without being stuffy, and a pitch-perfect balance of formal and casual. Done well, it’s proof that you can relax the rules without rewriting the rule book; it keeps one foot planted firmly in the past while paving the way for judicious updates.

Harmony and balance. The linchpin of traditional design is a sense of symmetry and equal weight, both in the bones of a space and the furnishings. Furniture groupings stick closely to convention, such as face-to-face sofas or a sofa opposite a pair of chairs. Although you don’t need to buy matching furniture sets, there’s only so much leeway when it comes to mixing disparate pieces, as the overall look should remain coordinated.

Classic color palettes. Traditional colors are mellow and mannerly. You can’t go wrong with creams, tans, grays andbrowns, but rich jewel tones, sophisticated pastels, or clear, bright hues can work nicely too. Timeless pairings such as blue and white, red and khaki, or yellow and green are fail-safe, but explore fresher combinations such as pale turquoise and coral, or muted citron and marine blue.



Trans-what? Given the popularity of transitional style, it’s surprising how many people aren’t aware that it even has a name. The transitional look has gained steam over the past couple of decades, as the contemporary glitz of the ’80s gave way to a dual craving for style and comfort. It’s versatile, accessible, and open to interpretation—major reasons for its mass appeal.

Clean and classic yet of the moment, transitional decor nimbly straddles the line between traditional and contemporary with a relaxed, inviting air that offsets streamlined furnishings and minimal accents. Simple but not austere, warm but not cloying, it feels both fresh and timeless.

Neutral colors. There’s a hint of minimalism about transitional style, and it extends to the palette. Colors rarely stray beyond neutral boundaries, from warm white sand pale tans to shots of coffee brown, charcoal, and black. That’s not to say you can’t incorporate color, but it should be the exception rather than the rule—think art and accents, not upholstery and floor coverings.

Crisp, clean lines. Transitional furnishings are stripped down to their essence with no unnecessary embellishments, yet they’re anything but boring. Strong lines and a beautiful interplay between lines and curves add ample visual interest to carry a space. Woods tend to be dark and rich; metals are cool and polished.

Share This

Related Posts

Designing a Home to Fit You

Designing a Home to Fit You

It is difficult to think outside the box when reinventing your home. Many times, clients s...
Modern Design Vs. Contemporary Design

Modern Design Vs. Contemporary Design

Many struggle with the difference between modern design and contemporary design. They are ...


You want experienced people working on your home so you can save money by not making the w...

Leave a Comment