A Break from Tradition – Let Transitional Décor Revive Your Room – Part 1


By Marni Jameson  

We all know someone (and don’t rule yourself out) who once decorated a room, or a house. And then it stayed that way, and stayed, for years. Decades. My parents’ home comes to mind.

Once the space clicks, and we all know how much effort and money that takes, that someone (maybe you) is afraid to change so much as a vase for fear of making a – gasp – style blunder.

And the room freezes in time, as if some invisible museum cord got pulled across it, or a bell jar covered it over. Eventually, the room feels musty and dated, like those dresses with big shoulder pads I know you still have. That someone (maybe you) needs to hit the refresh button.

Nine times out of ten these stale homes have traditional interiors that need to bust out of their time capsules and get a jolt of today.

Transitional style, as it’s called in design circle, is traditional style with a touch of modern. And it is your ticket out of room rut.

I’m talking about this common predicament with Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design for The Home Depot. (If I could pick the person I would most like to live next door, it would be Fishburne. We could talk for hours. And we have!)

“They think they need to start over!” says Fishburne, who, like me, worries about these people frozen inside their interiors.

“And who in their right mind wants to do that?” I say. “Redecorating after you’ve done it once is like volunteering to do middle school over.”

“But with just a few small moves….” she continues.

I know what she means. One of the very few upsides of having lived in and decorated six homes in four years during my stint as a live-in home stager was that I saw my mostly traditional furniture in new spaces, in new ways, with fresh eyes. Since it was my job to make the house I was staging look current, I had to be honest when something looked like yesterday’s breakfast. But I also didn’t want to buy new furniture for a house I didn’t own.

This is how I discovered the power of injecting well-placed contemporary accents, like little shots of Botox around the house.

“Some used to say that a home’s style, whether traditional or contemporary, is what made it cohere,” continues Fishburne. “We’ve thrown that idea out. Color is the new unifier. No one wants to commit to one style, anymore.

Altogether now, let’s take one big collective cleansing breath. Our homes can move on.

“The real beauty of mixing contemporary furnishings in with traditional ones is that your home can evolve as you do.”

“Amen, sister.”

Now, you, keep up! If you have a traditional home that you want to make more transitional – without buying all new furniture — consider these simple rejuvenating moves from Fishburne:

  • Pair old with new. Fishburne put her grandparents’ old Drexel Heritage dining room table on a modern rug, a nod to her past and her present. To update a country style bedroom, she hung two contemporary sunburst mirrors over an old brass bed.
  • Mix old and new in one piece. Spray paint an old natural wicker chair a current color, like bright orange, recover a vintage sofa in a contemporary print, put a sleek frame on a traditional oil painting.
  • Replace embellishment with clean lines. Elaborate frames, carved wood, fringe and other adornments are hallmarks of traditional style. Switching those items out for cleaner, straighter lines will refresh a space. Replace patterned fringed pillows with solid-color clean-edged ones, billowy layered drapery and valances with straight solid panels, and ornate frames with simple ones or no frames.
  • Trade wood for glass. Swap something heavy and wooden, like a coffee table, with something glass and metal, or put a Lucite chair at an antique desk.
  • Mix more match less. “You have my permission to mix finishes,” said Fishburne. Too many home decorators remain a slave to one color of wood and one shade of metal.
  • Be a rug trader. Replace a traditional oriental style rug with one that has a more modern pattern and color combination, or go with a solid sisal or jute rug. Transitional rugs often take a traditional pattern, and blow up the scale, drop the elaborate boarders, or swap dated colors, say burgundy and gold, for new shades, like peacock and terracotta.
  • Streamline the stuffy. Switch out oversized, bulky, upholstered furniture for less stuffy, straighter-lined sofas and chairs. Trade old standard kitchen chairs for stools and benches.
  • Tap into color trends. Throwing in accent pillows in today’s shades of navy blue and celery green can update a room fast, said Fishburne. “Interior colors in general are trending away from warm colors toward cooler ones, and we’re seeing less of true grey.” On her radar today are blues in all water shades, clear green, chalky pastels, and washed terracotta.

Join me next week as Sarah and I take a traditional dining room, and with just a few simple changes, and no new furniture, take the room from traditional to transitional.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.