It’s easy to think that picking a decorating style for your home is as simple as finding a photo of a room you like and saying ‘that one’. But there’s more to it than that; your choice needs to reflect your lifestyle – both with practicalities (like not having white rugs in a farmhouse where they’ll get muddy) and in terms of the emotional ambience of your home, whether it’s a den, a refuge, an exhibition, or a space of calm and serenity.
That’s why we’ve created this guide. It’s not designed to give you a single answer, but to help narrow down the range and give you two or three styles that will probably suit you. Armed with that information, you can take a look at the style guides we’ve provided, and think about which style you like the most, and how to adapt it to your individual taste and circumstances.
What are the different interior design styles?
- 1. Mid Century Modern
- 2. Scandinavian
- 3. Rustic and Farmhouse
- 4. Industrial
- 5. Coastal
- 6. Bohemian
- 7. Urban Chic
Let’s dive right in.
Mid Century Modern
Mid century modern is a break with the past. It chucked out the chintz, got rid of fiddly mouldings and smothering upholstery, and brought us into a modern age marked by clean lines and simple, uncluttered designs.
There’s an interesting tension at the heart of this style, between rounded, organic ergonomic forms, and sharp, angular, geometric stuctures, between hard and soft, relaxation and intensity. Curvy, comfortable chairs sit on thin metal legs; huge expanses of glass are set off by warm wood and bright colours.
That gives a broad spectrum of ways you can implement the style, from a warm family room with plenty of wood and bright colours, through to a modernist dream with spikier furnishings and a space-age vibe.
Simplicity is key.
Bent wood furniture has simple curves and no frills; lampshades are basic cones, cylinders or spheres. Rounded corners take the chill off, though; low slung chairs and sofas have sharp designs but are made for lounging in. There’s an attractive lightness to the style – tables and chairs have thin, tapered legs, and floor-to-ceiling windows are a trademark of mid-century modern properties.
Mid-century modern style is bold and no-fuss.
Patterns are big and bold – think Rothko or Mondrian, in terms of art. Colour accents are strong – orange and teal against a neutral background; anglepoise lamps in bright orange or red suit the style well (particularly if you can find an original in a vintage store). Just like a Mondrian painting, mid-century modern style sets off its colour with thin black lines – metal is almost always painted black, rather than being left natural.
Functionality was important for mid-century designers like Eames and Jacobsen, and this is a style that works well for any lifestyle. It also works for all budgets – good pieces can often be picked up from flea markets, or you can spend thousands on designer pieces.
Don’t obsess about being 100% authentic – your home isn’t a set for an episode of Mad Men; the style mixes well with understated modern furniture. But it’s a no-fuss style, so if you love collecting trinkets and bibelots, maybe it’s not for you.
Plainness and simplicity are at the heart of the Scandinavian style. White walls and bare wood floors emphasise the natural light, and nature is also the source of texture – wood, stone, brick, wool. Even the colour palette often draws from nature, with light blues, lichen greys, moss greens, and other colours of the northern landscape.
It’s a style that can be minimalist and even austere, or modern and funky, depending on how you accessorise. Give it a pop of bright colour with a modern print or an antique Persian carpet, or use chunky knits and primary colours for a warm family home.
Scandinavian style’s uncluttered functionality works well with modern furniture, but it’s a versatile style that can accommodate antique furniture, tribal art, or vintage style with equal ease. The key to making it work is to keep it clean and spacious – make one big accent in the room, or have simple display shelving to make a bold statement of your flea market finds.
While big spaces of white are at the heart of the style, it loves bold pattern – big striped rugs, or small accents like stripy red cushions, can give it a touch of warmth and interest, and stop Scandi interiors becoming chilly.
Scandi works for every lifestyle.
Bare floors and functional furniture work well for families with young children and pets, but a more glamorous take on the style delivers for the design-conscious.
Rustic And Farmhouse
Rustic and farmhouse is more a bunch of styles than a single, well-defined style, but they all share a warm, cozy, relaxed feel. Comfort and homeliness are at the heart of the rustic interior, with a feeling of groundedness, and connection both to nature, and to tradition. Rustic interiors feel as if they have evolved over time, combining heirloom pieces with more modern furniture, and pretty lace or woollen textiles with things your children found on a walk in the woods.
Organic materials are big in farmhouse style; exposed stone and reclaimed wood, wicker, natural textiles like wool and linen. Distressed finishes work well with highly textured fabrics – rag rugs, knits, chenille. Wood cabinets are often limed rather than painted, so you can see the grain of the wood under the finish. Bring fresh flowers or laurel wreaths in from the garden, or use floral patterned fabrics for a charming accent – but be careful, this is a style that can become twee and fussy if you don’t keep control of it.
Clean lines and neutral colours with a predominantly white scene set let a farmhouse interior feel spacious while remaining cozy; pine furniture or panelling, plank floors, and barn doors with wrought iron accents (chandeliers or lampstands) give it a basic honesty and integrity. A big rough-hewn refectory table or a pretty dresser can focus a farmhouse interior and help set an individual style for the room.
Farmhouse is a style that’s easy to infuse with little rustic touches – an old wooden ladder can be used as a clothes rack, or a colourful quilt can be used as a throw over the sofa, or hung on the wall. It’s a very tolerant style – absolutely the antithesis of matchy-matchy; you can put eight completely different chairs with a farmhouse table and it will still look great.
Above all, the rustic style is practical and homely.
You don’t need to worry if your kids tramp mud through the living room, or if your Le Creuset casseroles don’t match; a farmhouse is a practical house, and designed for comfort.
Industrial style got started with converted lofts and factories – huge spaces with big windows, unplastered walls, all the pipes and conduits on display. This was life in the raw – if it’s not edgy, it’s not industrial.
Key to the industrial style are worn and unfinished textures – wood, brick, stone. Metal accents – copper, steel, brushed metal or black-painted wrought iron – confirm the factory origins of the style. It’s utilitarian, with a rough honesty that comes from connection with a world of physical work.
Industrial can be quite a masculine style.
Furniture is robust, not elegant; workshop trolleys with metal wheels take the place of side tables, and a repurposed pallet can make a dining table or a bar. Leather fits the style well, particularly if it’s distressed or vintage. Repurposing and flea market finds are part of the style – salvaged industrial equipment or components like huge metal gears or glass insulators make intriguing accents, while reclaimed wood bars and counters are sturdy and functional. Industrial can be shabby chic or kick-ass elegant, depending on how you play it – reused engine springs for bar stools to massive iron spiral staircases.
The colour palette is darker than many decorating styles.
Start off with the raw materials – lots of brick and raw wood, and even concrete, so browns, terracottas, and greys are predominant. Wood tends to be darker in tone than in, say, coastal style – the rich patina of reclaimed wood runs from yellow to orange to dark brown. That can make things a bit sombre, so a couple of really strong accent colours can pick up the tone – mustard, orange, red.
But modern industrial doesn’t have to be gloomy or brutalist. It can be counterpointed with little touches of glamour – a twinkly chandelier hanging from an exposed beam, or a vibrant, shaggy rug. Travellers can bring back a Moroccan throw or an Indian sari, and it will brighten the room without compromising the overall rough honesty of the design. Even natural accents can work – driftwood, antlers, dried flowers.
Industrial isn’t cute. It’s not high maintenance. It’s about hard graft and rough and ready – the urban version of farmhouse, in fact.
Coastal takes its inspiration from the natural forms of the seacoast and the wonderful spaciousness of seaside skies. There’s a lot of white and blue, and the white needs to sparkle like sea-foam – magnolia isn’t white enough. Painted wood panelling – in white, of course – can provide a smart backdrop to the marvellous textures that this style features prominently – the roughness of driftwood, the patterned weave of wicker, mats in raffia and jute or sisal and seagrass, and tactile, loose-weave linens, or canvas for the loose furnishings.
Coastal is an informal style
Think of lazy seaside afternoons, walking barefoot in the sand. Deckchairs and hammocks are welcome, and vintage furniture will sit in a coastal style interior just as happily as new. Natural wooden floors complement the light décor, and look good with simple seagrass matting or light coloured rugs.
Besides clean white, the coastal palette includes the colours of wood, whether that’s pale beech, or rich mahogany. But you can add the other colours of the sea; blues vary from navy blue (often in matelot stripes) for a nautical feel, through teal and turquoise, to pale sky blues for a more elegant or feminine interior, but you could also add sand colours (yellow, pale pink) or even a dash of coral red as an accent. You can even add a little more vivid colour to recall the seaside holiday – a yellow beach umbrella or a red striped bathing suit.
A coastal style décor can include overt references to the sea, whether that means seashore pebbles and shells, or pictures of sailing boats or dolphins. Glass fishing floats and nets are quite popular, though of course, you don’t have to be so literal to use the coastal style.
Because coastal is quite a relaxed style, originally intended for holiday beach houses, it’s good for families, as well as for anyone who simply loves the sea.
Other decorating styles might have ‘rules’, but with Bohemian, anything goes! Collectors (or hoarders) will love this style, which can accommodate the most outrageous and the most delicate art or textiles, antique and vintage furniture, and even homemade art and craft works.
The difficulty with this style is making it hang together, and not just become one glorious mess of completely unrelated bits and pieces. For success, it needs one unifying factor. That could be a texture, a colour scheme, a pattern or a theme – the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
Although there are no rules, colours tend to be bold.
If you find the predominant sea-of-white aesthetic washed out or chilly, you’ll love boho – metallics, warm earthy colours, or bright jewel tones are all popular. Feel free, too, to use bold patterns, from stripes and zigzags to floral and heraldic. Ikat prints, tribal prints and waxcloth can share a space with Persian carpets, Italian Renaissance style brocades and Bruges lace. Textures, too, can be mixed – furry, rough, knitted, smooth, from fringes and ruffles to hammered metal and distressed wood finishes.
Bohemian rooms tell stories
They contain interesting objects – things brought back from travelling, antique tools found at flea markets, your first pair of ballet shoes. That’s why handcrafted items fit a boho room so well; there’s always a story attached.
Bohemian style is for individuals.
You can be as messy, as practical, or as hopelessly impractical as you like; you can get everything from flea markets and Freecycle, or you can buy original tribal art and expensive silks. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though, because a Bohemian room only comes alive if you’ve stamped your own character on it – you can’t just go out and buy one.
And remember: the first rule of Bohemian styling is – there are no rules.
Urban is what happened to industrial once it got sophisticated. It’s cosmopolitan loft living, a more polished, sleeker lifestyle. Industrial style lives in a factory; urban lives on the top floor of a skyscraper. Industrial style is edgy and raw – urban style is hip.
Urban style is about space, and lots of it. A huge white loft with big windows, open-plan living, maybe a mezzanine level with a spiral staircase leading up. It’s contemporary – not looking back to the past the way some decorating styles do – and it’s definitely a city style; the only flowers you’ll find in urban style come from the florist’s. An urban room is clean and uncluttered – pipes and ducts are hidden away, and surfaces become smooth and sleek.
Urban style offers a great deal of room for individual expression.
It can combine different traits – minimalist and glam, heirloom dining table and Pop Art on the wall. But the vibe remains contemporary, with clean lines, no frills, and a feeling of spacious ease. It’s a style that looks great but also, like mid-century modern, puts a high value on comfort – soft leather sofas, well-upholstered chairs.
The urban coffee table has two magazines and a book on it – not a sprawl of papers and books. Urban style hates clutter. It lives sparingly, or hides its hoard of stuff behind the closed doors of a fitted cupboard. Urban style can be a bit puritanical, but that single-mindedness is what makes it so great when you find one fantastic accent for a room – a massive banana plant, a huge Andy Warhol print, a steampunk chandelier.