What are the main types of interior design?

There are countless types of interior design, considering factors like home size, budget, location, available sunlight, personal preference, and special needs. However, having seen so many different home decor styles, I can say that most places ultimately fall into a few categories. So, here are the main types of interior design.

#1: Transitional

Transitional designs are among the most popular in modern homes. I like describing this style as a mix of two or more other styles, with plenty of room for variation. Transitional design usually has at least two primary color palettes, separate but complementary, mixed to create a busier and energetic look.

Most transitional decor uses varied materials, too. You may see steel alongside wood or lacquer or even chairs with different materials set around a table. The transitional decor is never just one thing, no matter where you’re looking.

One reason this style works is that everyone in the household can choose some elements. That makes the space feel shared rather than dominated by one person’s opinion. Mixing styles can be challenging, though, so I recommend consulting with an experienced designer if you want to go this route.

#2: Traditional

Traditional interior design, as the name implies, is a somewhat older style at this point. However, you can also say that traditional things stick around because they work.

Most home decor using this style focuses on materials and shapes from the 18th and 19th centuries in western Europe, focusing on France and England. Cloth choices include linen and silk, with brightly colored prints. Crystal chandeliers are common for lighting, especially in dining areas and occasionally in bedrooms.

Colors in traditional decor tend to be neutral. Beige and brown are particularly common, with the occasional splash of red and oil paintings on the wall. Traditional decor emphasizes consistency throughout a room and often a house, so you usually need to buy entire furniture sets to make it work.

#3: Minimalist

Minimalist designs are not the same thing as cold or unfriendly decor. But, unfortunately, I see people do this wrong a lot, so they end up with a less welcoming home than they could have.

The best way to think of a minimalist design is like an art gallery. There are a few key pieces that attract the eye and make the space look good without clutter. Most minimalist decor features a lot of open space and room between things, usually with printless fabric.

Dual-purpose furniture is also helpful for minimalist design. I’ve seen stands that hide chairs and beds that convert into couches used for this style. A few rugs help complete the look.

Minimalist color palettes feature extensive use of black and white, occasionally mixed into a light gray. Other colors are usually distracting here. Art is possible but usually follows a Japanese aesthetic of having a single piece in any area. 

#4: Contemporary

Contemporary design is, by definition, difficult to describe. Nevertheless, this is what’s widely popular at the moment, which in home decor terms usually means the last ten or twenty years. Most people don’t change their entire decor annually, so it takes time for new trends to become widespread.

Right now, contemporary designs are an improved version of the traditional style. They usually feature warmer lighting, more rugs, and different fabrics. Contemporary home decor may also have more details in room molding and show off furniture legs.

A common goal with contemporary styling is giving an airy and open feel for the room. However, finding as much living space as you want can be challenging, so making spaces feel larger is a popular way of compensating for that.

Like traditional decor, contemporary styling usually features neutral colors. However, it can add fabrics with different textures to create variety without changing colors.

#5: Modern

People often confuse modern design with contemporary decor, and I blame the words. The difference is that modern design is what contemporary is becoming, meaning it’s at the forefront of current design choices instead of what most people already expect.

Current designs for modern homes feature a lot of metal and chrome, inspired partially by society’s growing use of computers. Furniture is usually smooth, while glass is common on tables. Most modern homes have large windows where possible, sometimes effectively making up an entire side of the house.

Wood is a much rarer material in modern decor, often hiding behind solid white paint. You can see a minimalist aesthetic in modern design, but modern homes can be busier and have more art around the place. Color choices tend to be neutral but with brighter art in thoughtful places.

#6: Rustic

Sometimes called the “farmhouse” style, rustic design features copious use of wood, leather, and stone on the interior of a home. This is where you may see stacked logs as decoration, wire art pieces, sherpa sofas, and the like.

Rustic design isn’t quite minimalist, but it leans in that direction because elements may have an unfinished or even old look. This style doesn’t mix with most modern technology, so rustic design is better for a slower, simpler life. It works particularly well with incandescent lights, but those can be hard to find, so LEDs are an acceptable variation.

I often see a lot of white on sofas, rugs, and walls in rustic decor. Unfortunately, this means they’re a little prone to showing dirt and spills, so you may need to work a little harder to keep things looking great.

#7: Eclectic

Eclectic design isn’t as busy or unfocused as the name implies. Some people treat this as an anything-goes style where you can add whatever you want, but a good eclectic look features several bold pieces that combine into a single nice aesthetic.

One of my favorite versions of eclectic style includes one or two dark pieces in the middle of much paler areas. This is immediately eye-catching. The eclectic design tries to avoid having spaces that are too large without anything in them, so large pieces of art (or many small pieces) are common.

The best eclectic designs have a somewhat worldly vibe to them. They may feature a lot of wood to bring things down to earth or art that features people and natural scenery instead of something more abstract. It’s quirky, but the sense is always that people live in the world rather than having their heads in the clouds.

Brown is a traditional color for eclectic design, but pale blues and greens also show up occasionally to help promote a natural vibe. Beds tend to be white or beige.

#8: Bohemian

Bohemian design is effectively the same thing as transitional, focusing on relaxed styling and nature. Bohemian designs also feature a little more uniformity in furniture choices. All the couches might be the same, but the table will likely be different.

Plants are common throughout a house with this aesthetic, which requires thoughtful placement to optimize natural lighting. Many people mix art and patterns from different cultures when creating a bohemian layout, with wood and animal hides or bones as common choices. Also, hides are a great source of brown and beige.

You can also think of Bohemian decor as a little nomadic. The feeling should be that the homeowner has been to many places and brought things back for them, creating a highly distinct and unique style. Bohemian is a comparatively busy aesthetic, so it’s excellent for people who are home often and enjoy the decorations.

#9: Coastal

Unsurprisingly, you’re most likely to find this design along beaches and other shorelines. Coastal interiors feature light backgrounds accented by blues and greens, often with more curves than straight lines. The sense is open and flowing, with a degree of elegance for comfortable living.

Coastal designs are far more popular in warm and tropical areas, so they may also have open windows or airflow setups that help keep things comfortable. In addition, pale furniture helps reflect heat instead of absorbing it, and dark hues tend to be accents instead of primary components.

Ideally, the coastal decor looks out through one or two large windows onto tropical plants like palm trees.

#10: Scandinavian

Scandinavian designs make use of the inspiration of a snowy homeland. White is almost always the primary color here, with open walls and little or no art to distract from the clean colors. This works most effectively in rooms with unusual shapes or designs, where you can add reading nooks or chairs for a cozier experience.

Color is quite limited here, although not to the same extent as minimalist decor. However, one or two bits with brighter color, usually in a seat or rug, help bring everything together.

#11: Industrial

Industrial decor is an almost aggressively masculine styling, with raw wood and unfinished metal as common elements. Industrial design works best in larger spaces that can hold oversized artwork and some pieces of machinery without feeling too cramped.

Most industrial decor has an open design, with balconies and railings favoring see-through metal grates to maximize the feeling of space. However, I often see at least one dark wall, which has a major effect on the sense of space within the room.

Metal rafters are common here, either going below an arched ceiling or holding up additional lights to keep the area bright. As a result, industrial rooms can have an incomplete look to them, especially by the roof, although that’s not mandatory for the aesthetic.

#12: Hobbyist

People have had thematic decor for a long time, but this has come into its own over the last few decades. Hobbyist decor is especially interesting because it’s something people usually limit to one room in their house. They may go as far as decorating each side of a door in different ways to ensure each room feels complete, essentially hiding the hobby area.

Hobbyist decor features prominent displays of art and products across the walls and many shelves to hold related goods. Most people have a unifying theme of some kind, whether that’s a television show, video games, motorcycles, or anything else.

Unusual lighting choices are also common here. For example, hobbyist decor may involve LED strips hidden behind furniture, unusual color decorations, and even music or sound effects that play when someone enters the room.

Sound isn’t usually a part of the decor, so this highlights how unusual this style is. Regardless, hobbyist rooms tend to have an exceptionally busy feel to them.

Theoretically, you can decorate a house so that each room has its own distinctive styling. Most people prefer to avoid that, though, and I often see minimalist aesthetics in houses with a hobbyist room somewhere so owners can focus all of the art and decorations in one area.

Mixing Bohemian and hobbyist is much rarer. Both have free-spirited elements, but people usually want a distinctive change when entering a hobbyist space, rather than going from one busy design to another.

#13: Modern Country

Modern country features a rural vibe, with exposed wooden beams and some metal or industrial elements. Brown is a common color choice for furniture and ceilings here, though I also see it along some walls and furniture. White is the other major color, helping accent the natural hues of wood and other materials.

Modern country styles feel a little old in most areas. Younger adults rarely go for these house decor styles, preferring something that feels more upscale and electronic. However, modern country can still pull off an impression of simple elegance suitable for a relaxed lifestyle.

#14: Art Deco

What are the different types of interior design styles worth looking at, and why does anyone consider art deco? Popularized around 1920, art deco is extremely ornate and features extensive use of metallic elements. Chrome is acceptable, but gold and silver are usually better.

Art deco also has a lot of glass and smooth-colored furniture, often serving as a way to highlight the metallic elements. In addition, dark woods like ebony are common in flooring, while artistic pieces may have jewel-like themes and shapes.

The primary thing to understand about art deco is that it’s all about the impression of wealth in a troubling time. This includes having large pieces, so oversized couches and artwork are pretty common here. Mirrors are useful, too, because they can create the impression that any room is significantly larger.

#15: Feng Shui

Feng shui is primarily a Chinese aesthetic that focuses on bringing balance to a room and, therefore, people’s lives. It’s one of the oldest design styles still in common use today because it works with various colors and styles.

This decor style works best if you talk to an experienced designer because it has many specific principles. These include things like picking colors for doors based on direction, specific spots to place certain furniture, and a three-by-three grid involving different aspects of your life.

The result of feng shui is a lively but personalized space that uses different elements, colors, materials, and emotions to create a single harmonious whole. This works best as whole house decor, so feng shui designs rarely permit a hobbyist room.

#16: Shabby Chic

Shabby chic is an 18th Century style that uses vintage furniture and materials to create a comfortable aesthetic. It mainly features pale and floral patterns with simple, white walls and plenty of windows for natural lighting.

True shabby chic is challenging to put together all at once because the classic style has people passing down furniture for generations and each person putting their own spin on it. That gives it a level of personal heritage that most other decor styles can’t match.

Shabby chic is a feminine style, with few bold pieces or harder, masculine elements. This makes it a little more common among stay-at-home mothers who want to manage their living space while a spouse works elsewhere.

#17: Asian Zen

Asian zen decor draws heavy inspiration from feng shui but goes beyond it to create a more distinct styling. The main components are a relaxing atmosphere and interesting shapes. Unlike some other styles, Asian zen tends to be asymmetrical and use circles and curves instead of squares and boxes.

White and wood are common color choices here, emphasizing natural colors and elements to keep things feeling calm and comfortable. This isn’t busy decor. Instead, it’s intentionally calm and mindful.

Final Thoughts

These aren’t the only types of decor you can see in homes these days. I haven’t even touched on French Country, Mediterranean, or many national design styles. Beyond style, however, the important thing to remember is that interior design is a reflection of its occupant. You don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars redecorating to find a style that fits you, but it does help to look at different styles of home decor and references. When in doubt, talk to an interior design expert for ideas that match your personality and budget.

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