Years ago when I became an interior designer many of my clients were embracing a very traditional point of view. I am referring to how their homes or apartments were furnished. It’s safe to say we can easily become smitten by a contemporary interior in a shelter magazine; but fully transitioning from traditional to contemporary is a bit more complicated than most realize. Many of us (me included) live in very old homes or apartment buildings. I would classify myself as a modern traditionalist. My clients in Chicago and throughout the country live in a mix of spaces that either have great bones or we create the bones for them. If you live in an older building you know what I mean by this. If you are unfamiliar with the term I would say most vintage spaces typically have great bones unless their initial plan was altered over the years.
Nowadays my clients are looking for an easier lifestyle with less to maintain, I think we can all relate to this. So how do you take a space that is very formal, keep the best parts, and lose the rest? Read on my little crocodile as there are many degrees of traditional. Are you traditional, modern or a little bit of both?
The Pain Of Letting Go
Perhaps you live in a time capsule of traditionally proportioned spaces with very formal elements. If you do, you can easily relate to the room pictured below. There are many things that can be done to simplify the space: remove the window treatments, paint the walls a warm white, change the chandeliers to a more contemporary style or even paint all the mahogany woodwork white to match the ceiling.
The Modern Contemporary
This space is loaded with classic components that could possibly verge on traditional. However, the mix lends itself to a more deconstructed approach that appears modern. The dark charcoal walls may be too much for you. If this is the case you can use the idea on a feature wall and paint the rest of the space a warm white.
Prewar & Modern
The prewar layout of the room is classically proportioned, but everything else is modern. The moldings have been removed, the only ornamentation is around the fireplace and the baseboards. This is a great example of how a few coats of a warm white paint can change-up a space.
Heavy Window Treatments
Once upon a time many clients wanted swags, jabots, passementerie (drapery trimming) and many period details. As time has moved on so have they. This very traditional room can easily become more modern. I would remove all the window treatments, change the paint color to the softest shell pink (think of the interior of a seashell), keep the best antiques and artwork with the most meaning to the client…remove the rest, create a new gauzy roman shade at the window in a crisp linen, reupholster everything in one of my simple white “magic fabrics” (they do not stain…honestly!). We could also remove the old needlepoint carpeting, polish the oak floor below and add an area rug if you want.
This room has many beautiful details and moldings but I would not classify it heavy or traditional. It is a wonderful example of a traditional space that now reads modern. Traditionalists will love the details, even a few of the pieces are vintage or antique. The upholstered pieces and casegoods are clean lined but certainly do not clash with the traditional details.
Wood Paneling & Millwork
There are two camps when it comes to woodwork: those who believe woodwork must be stained, and the other believe painted woodwork is best. Clients are always afraid to paint dark and dreary woodwork a lighter color, they are terrified. It is not a sin to paint the woodwork in either of these spaces if you wish. You have my permission, live your life and be happy, life is too short to live with something you detest.
Wow, what a difference. The room is still lovely with painted woodwork. There was nothing to fear but fear itself. I recommend breaking out of your comfort zone whenever possible! Oh, and one last thing, look at how nice the modern sconce works with the ornate boiserie!
This space is majestic, regal and perfect to a traditionalist. To others it could be considered cold and too much like a museum. It is possible to create a modern feeling while retaining the period details. I would relocate the classical sculptures and add modern art to the space. The transformation would be incredible!
This floor pattern is classical yet reads modern at the same time. Still too traditional for you? No problem, the way around this is to lay a floor using one material. A limestone or marble floor in a simple white or gray material will create a clean and modern look.
Oriental, Aubusson or Savonnerie Rugs
This room has a handsome antique Tabriz rug that originally cost a king’s ransom. While many people still like oriental rugs I have seen a resistance to them lately. There are many vendors offering cleaner and simpler patterns. Still too complicated? Sisal or Sea Grass area rugs may be perfect for you!
Sisal Or Sea Grass Rugs May Be Perfect For You
A Perfect Mix
This room shows a great example of negative and positive space. The majority of the room has exposed wood floors but does not look empty or cold. The area rug provides warmth and anchors the seating area perfectly.
Artwork or Accessories
Less is more…unless more is more! The first room features a wonderful collection of art and accessories that have been lovingly compiled over the years. I will admit it is a perfect example of a room fit for a collector.
The Modern Collector
While the space is quite traditional, look at the moldings, details and fireplace. But the room reads very modern because of the adept use of paint and not over accessorizing. It is possible to achieve a beautiful balance!
I suspect you are still conflicted. How do you honor the past and embrace the present? It’s easy, call me. I can offer pride of place to the painting or furniture you inherited without making your room look like a museum. Let’s make magic together!