What Is Transitional Design Style?

Transitional living room with sofa and pillows

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Transitional interior design is versatile enough to be used in spaces ranging from five-star hotels to your own living room. This unique decor style aims to combine the old with the new, incorporating traditional design aspects with the clean, crisp angles of modern design. Transitional rooms strike a balance of both masculine and feminine details, making a space inviting and comfortable for all. 

Here we will look at some key characteristics of this style, where it came from, and how you can incorporate it into your own home. 

Key Characteristics

Transitional design style is known for mixing very different aspects together in a harmonious way. For example, a traditional style dining table may have a modern light fixture above it and modern chairs upholstered with a traditionally patterned fabric. 

Mixing these elements may seem a bit disjointed, but when done while keeping a few key points in mind, the result is a unique and attractive space. Make sure each piece is not extreme in its design. Extremely ornate, detailed, traditional furniture may stand out as awkward next to ultra sleek, modern pieces. Try to choose both traditional and modern pieces that are balanced. Traditional curves and simple detailing can look stunning next to a clean-edged piece when extremes are avoided. 

Another way transitional design keeps differing pieces flowing harmoniously is by keeping color palettes simple. Oftentimes, transitional color palettes are mostly built of neutral tones, such as grays, tans, white, and brown. Soft, subtle colors may be added as accents, such as certain shades of blue or green. Monochromatic schemes are popular, as they keep the color choices simple and cohesive. 

In order to add visual interest to the space, unique textures are often layered upon one another. Materials such as metal, glass, wood, leather, rattan, lacquer, and fabric are used throughout the space. 

Decorations and art are used sparingly and with intention, as the main focus of transitional decor is the flow of old and new features and the use of interesting textures. For example, one large piece of art may be seen on a wall instead of a collage of multiple smaller pieces.  


Transitional furniture and design emerged not long after modern design. As modern design styles took off in the 1940s and 1950s, transitional design also became popular. Transitional design was a unique response to the very new concepts of ‘modern,’ as transitional looked to combine the old with the new. Modern sleekness was paired with traditional comfort and familiarity, creating a whole new style. 

From the 1950s onward, transitional design has proved to be a much-appreciated and utilized style. Even today, you can see examples of this blended style in magazines, hotels, and other trendy spaces. 

Transitional Design vs. Traditional Design 

As mentioned, transitional design uses elements of traditional design, making these two styles somewhat related. So what actually differentiates the two? Let us see. 

Transitional Design
  • Light wood tones

  • Furnishings have both curved and straight lines. Detailing is not overly ornate or distracting

  • Traditional elements are found alongside modern, new elements

  • Colors are mostly neutral or monochromatic, with calming, light colors like blue or green

Traditional Design
  • Dark wood tones 

  • Furnishings have curves and intricate detailing

  • Furnishings are placed symmetrically in the room, such as a table and a lamp on each side of a sofa

  • Ornate details, such as heavy window treatments or crown moldings

  • Colors include neutrals along with muted, dark colors, such as jewel tones, red, or green

Decor Tips 

If you would like to incorporate transitional design into your home, keeping a few tips in mind will help you effortlessly create a harmonious space. 

First, don’t be afraid to mix and match! That is what transitional design is all about. To ensure each piece still looks harmonious in the space, avoid pieces that are either extremely modern or extremely traditional. A traditional shelving unit would look lovely next to a more modern chair. However, if that shelving unit prominently features curvy, intricate detailing and the chair is so modern it is pushing on futuristic, the two will clash rather than complement each other. 

Keep your colors calm and simple. Neutral color palettes keep the space consistent despite its different elements. 

Try layering different textures for visual interest rather than loading the space with art or decorations. This keeps things calm and allows the unique furnishings to be the focal point. 

By keeping these things in mind, you can create a well-composed transitional space.