The New Old

We expect a lot out of our home decor. We want classic design blended with practical comfort, family heirlooms mixed with newly curated collections, historical references with room for modern technology.

New traditional, an increasingly popular interior design style, bridges the gap between old and new. It’s a version of traditional with a softer side, allowing us to cherish our family heirlooms and appreciate historic architecture while still creating inviting spaces for family and friends to gather.

“Classic styles appeal to us for their timelessness on an emotional level - offering a secure feeling of warmth and history - for raising families and entertaining,” says globally acclaimed interior designer Lillian August. “But there is a new perspective of traditional that emphasizes personal style and empowers us to mix retro forms and color for a curated look.” 

New traditional is less focused on following the “rules” per se. Instead, balance is important. Time periods, finishes and materials can be layered together in a room in unique combinations, as long as these elements are balanced. 

Finding the right balance of design elements is made easier by a clean, lighter backdrop, and part of new traditional’s softer approach is a shift towards lighter paint colors. “I start a paint color selection based on the traditional style and types of pieces that are being used,” says Delaware-based interior designer Amanda Friend. “Traditional pieces often have a rich look, heavy details, and a patinated surface quality. The goal is to accentuate and highlight those aspects. To compliment the rich patinas of most traditional elements, paint colors should have soft undertones and fall into the medium range of intensity. Dark colors used with heavy traditional items can become too heavy and look outdated.”

Window treatments, too, are getting a more tailored approach. “We’re seeing people trade in heavy linings for soft, yet structured options,” says Christina Price, owner of Main Line Window Decor. “The most versatile style is a classic drapery panel followed by a roman shade, both of which take on the characteristics of the fabric used.”

When it comes to furniture, today’s traditional reflects historic frames but in a more edited way, with fewer decorative moldings and ornamental details. Furniture manufacturers are also more focused than ever on balancing style with comfort. After all, comfort is the ultimate luxury, even for traditional upholstery. “We spend as much time - if not more - engineering comfort as we do the look of a piece,” admits Chaddock Home’s CEO, Andrew Crone. Upholstery, for example, may use a traditionally-inspired frame, with a seat depth and cushion that prioritizes comfort. 

Ultimately, the art of designing a room that is timeless yet relevant comes down to editing. “If you begin your design by prioritizing pieces you love, thoughtfully mixing and matching them can lead to a more curated and timeless look,” says Chad Groves, owner of Studio 882. “Our mantra is ‘good design goes with good design.’” 

Friend agrees. “To help you choose what traditional items to keep and use in a space, I offer this advice: if you love something, use it. It doesn’t matter what century it’s from or what design it is. If you love it then it carries with it the most important element of design which is authenticity.” 

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Katie Groves