How to Keep Traditional Design Fresh
Traditional design may mean many different things to different decorators. But it’s sure to conjure images of patterns and prints informed by the past, furnishings that have been passed down through generations, and fabulous interiors of yore. Most designers working today who are fond of classic style continue to uphold its long-admired tenets, while adding their own contemporary spin on things. But doing that, of course, requires a delicate balancing act so that the past and the present can seamlessly coexist in one unified interior scheme.
Yesterday, three newly coined AD100 designers—Joy Moyler, Mark D. Sikes, and Corey Damen Jenkins—joined AD editor in chief Amy Astley in a virtual panel hosted by AD PRO to discuss how exactly they keep traditional decor fresh. Here are some of the key takeaways.
Don’t be afraid of color
Traditional design may not usually be thought of as highly saturated, but Damen Jenkins explained that injecting vibrant hues into a project is one of the best ways to make it pop today. “Color is a really good way to stay fresh and current, and it’s fun,” he says. “There are ways you can do it without being gimmicky or kitschy, but still be classic and timeless.”
He specifically recommends painting doors, moldings, or other architectural accents in exciting tones, or incorporating color through fabrics or wall coverings. He also suggested color as a way to enliven antique pieces, while speaking about a black chinoiserie coffee table that he freshened up by dipping in white lacquer. “Just using that little jolt of white, it took it from this very ornate, chinoiserie aesthetic to a very sculptural, modern touch,” he says.
Find the right mix
Too many historic touches can overpower, while not enough can fall flat. So what’s the right mix? “We think every wonderful room should have at least three great antiques,” says Sikes. The designer looks for antique casegoods, tables, and occasional chairs, while throwing in some vintage textiles. “To add a little bit of a modern element to every room, we gravitate towards modern art as a great diffuser of true traditional decor,” he continues.
When it comes to the mix, Moyler also has a strategy. (Hint: It involves sometimes not mixing.) “I don’t particularly recommend very beautiful antiques next to something like a shag rug, because I think it looks very schizophrenic,” she says. “I think you really have to put some thought and research into the pieces that you have and how they will be used and repurposed. You can’t mix everything.”
Keep things budget-friendly
While antique gems and high-end furniture and fabrics often carry a high price tag, there’s a way to spruce up a traditional-leaning interior space without breaking the bank. “Accessories are a great way to make an impact,” Damen Jenkins says. He recommends changing out the pillows and throws on a sofa, for instance. For a bigger adjustment, look to the floor. “If you keep all your furnishings the same and you change out the rug, it’s amazing what a dramatic impact that can have,” he says.
Don’t skimp on window treatments
Though all decorators know the importance of window treatments, Sikes illuminated one of his tricks for making them stand out in a project. “We’re starting to do a contrasting solid fabric on the back of our drapery panels that you can see on the whole outside of the house,” he explains. “If you have a white house with green shutters, maybe we’ll pick a robin’s egg blue that’s on the back of all the Roman shades and the curtains. From the outside you can see this really beautiful, subtle color.” More generally, Sikes says his firm likes to do a mix of drapery, Roman shades, and natural fiber blinds throughout a residence.
Give heirlooms their moment to shine
Every designer has had to contend with a client who insists on displaying their old family hand-me-downs. A strategy for how to handle such pieces is important. “I always like to know very early on what pieces the clients have that they really insist on using in the space,” Moyler says. “The worst thing is you design a space and as soon as you’re gone, they bring out grandma’s curio and plunk it in the middle of the room.”
She recommends giving important pieces their own standout moment. “I had a client some years ago and they had a very simple box that their grandmother was able to escape the Holocaust with,” she says. “Something like that needs a prime place, not to be thrown under a kitchen cabinet somewhere. We built a real sort of presence about this box to give it the respect it deserved.”