“Fashions fade, style is eternal,” said Yves Saint Laurent. These are wise words and quite simple at their core. By itself, “stylish” is a rather abstract word and concept, I think. Not because we can’t understand what it means, but because it’s so personal to everyone. Everyone has a different approach to style in home design, not to mention different tastes and unique preferences overall. So how are we to know what is “stylish”? And, more importantly, should we even care?
In this article, we’re going to officially define stylish and then take an analytical look at a variety of “stylish” interior design choices. Some of them may resonate with you. Some of them may not. But the takeaway from this article should be that style is more a confident display of personal acceptance and taste than it is a choice of specific, finite design options.
In a nutshell, “stylish” is defined as being “characterized by or conforming to style or the fashionable standard; fashionably elegant, smart, or chic” – Dictionary. It can, similarly, be defined as “having elegance or taste or refinement in manners or dress” and “being or in accordance with current social fashions” – Vocabulary.
In a historical context, design style (also referred to as “visual style”) is often associated with a given style that is “localized to a time, place, and purpose. … Many styles take the name of the time period (Victorian), aesthetic movement (Art Deco), or design philosophy (Swiss/International) that spawned them” – Medium.
How to Be Stylish
It might not be what some of us want to hear. We might question our own tastes and preferences and, consequently, seek guidance by the “experts” in determining what is stylish. However, while stylishness is influenced by the trends at a given time and place, those things are not the end-all to a comfortable, inviting, and reflective space.
True stylishness is the intersection between what is deemed “fashionable” and the influence those things exert on our lives for the better. Before this gets too abstract and overwhelming, however, one truth remains clear: there are so many versions of “stylish” floating around out there that we all owe it to ourselves to determine the one(s) that speak to us, reflect us, and inspire us.
THOSE are the stylish elements that we need to gravitate toward and incorporate into our interior designs. So what if everyone loves mid-century modern furniture and it’s a popular contemporary stylish design option, if we ourselves are drawn toward the more flowery, detailed curvatures of the Victorian era? Our home and personal space can be stylish because we make it so. We make it our own.
Oscar Wilde said, “She behaves as if she was beautiful… It is the secret of her charm” – Goodreads. Our homes are stylish when they are designed and decorated tastefully according to our preferences and what makes us the happiest. Sure, there are guidelines for design, but I believe that the secret of great design anywhere is the alignment between the souls of the inhabitant(s) and the space.
I’m not the only one who believes this, either. Shawn Ashmore said, “Style is a reflection of your attitude and your personality.” Orson Welles advised that we “Create your own visual style … let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others” – Lifehack. So, in keeping with this personal flavor of stylishness, let’s examine a few examples.
Let’s take a brief look at the five most common design “styles” today – modern, contemporary, traditional, industrial, and eclectic. (You can read more about each of these styles in articles linked)
Modern Style – “The term ‘modern’ in interior design really refers to ‘mid century modern.’ It is recognizable by its clean, unadorned interiors” – blog.relishinteriors. Modern style tends to gravitate toward the use of natural materials, such as wood, teak, leather, stone, linen, wool, and cotton.
Interestingly enough, along with this emphasis on natural mediums, molded plastic and polished chrome and other metals are also popular in modern style, particularly furniture pieces.
Contemporary Style – There is a difference between modern style and contemporary style, although the terms are often used interchangeably these days. Contemporary style is more about whatever is current (which, mid-century modern is popular now, which makes it also contemporary), rather than a distinct style in and of itself. Contemporary pieces currently involve clean lines, smooth surfaces, and minimal or no extra detailing.
“Silhouettes are slim without being dainty” – HGTV. Light-colored woods are a contemporary preference for furnishings, as are stainless steel and mixed metals. The style also embraces natural textiles, such as wool, linen, jute, and cotton, although we can’t overlook the occasional bold color or geometric print mixed in.
Traditional Style – Traditional design, also referred to as “classic,” generally involves “deep wood tones, architectural details, and elegant furnishings”- Dwellcandy. Silhouettes are particularly important in traditional style, which is partly why pieces such as wingback chairs, clawfoot tubs, and other curved furniture pieces are so prominent in traditional spaces.
It’s important to remember that, although elegant curves and deep hues are an important component of traditional style, it’s not only about elegance – comfort is prioritized as well. One common decorating strategy of traditional style is the use of symmetry: paired pieces of furniture, two identical pieces flanking another, or other symmetrical layouts centering on a focal point.
Industrial/Urban Style – Industrial style is most briefly described as a warehouse look. It combines “a true industrial feel with a range of other styles, from the earthy to the polished” by involving neutral tones, utilitarian objects, and often (but not always) roughened wood with metal. Industrial, or urban, style is about exposing all that lies beneath to achieve raw, edgy style.
Worn wooden and iron pieces, repurposed industrial objects, exposed bits such as pipe, brick, and lightbulbs, and an overall functionally worn but stylistically intact atmosphere permeates industrial style.
Eclectic Style – Eclectic style is often misunderstood as a design strategy. While it is based upon mixing and matching, it’s not completely laissez faire. Eclectic style involves the blending of several other styles. This blending happens most successfully with “the use of various decorative materials: wood, stone, metal and glass, fabric; plastic fittings and furniture will also be appropriate if they blend harmoniously” – Smalldesignideas.
Eclectic style doesn’t require bold, bright colors; walls in eclectic spaces tend to be white, and furniture is often neutral, with a draw toward organic compatibility and balance. Eclectic style is certainly innovative, original, and both classic and vintage; it is perhaps the most intimate and revealing of all design styles.