Socrates famous adage, “know thyself” seems to hold as true in home decorating as it does in other things.  The more you know about what you like (or don’t like) about the stuff in your home, the easier it is to find things that you’ll like and that will fit.

In this article, we’ll delineate four main decorating styles: casual, formal, traditional and modern.  Neither you nor I should necessarily plan our home around any one single style, but the more we can enunciate what we like, the easier it is to find it.

Style is fashion.  Interior style is fashion for the home.  Orson Welles said, “Create your own visual style…let it be unique for you but identifiable to others.”  Think of these four styles as a direction.  You may choose to deviate from the course, but at least you know where you’re headed.


The casual style has a focus on comfort.  It may be attractive, or even pretty, but never luxurious, ornate or elegant.  The feeling is homey.  The larger pieces of furniture tend to have horizontal lines, be somewhat “chunky” and newer pieces mix with older pieces.  Frequently no two pieces exactly match.  Wood stains are lighter in color or even whitewashed.

Upholstered goods may be shiny and soft and may have slipcovers.  There’re lots of natural fabrics like linens, cotton and wool and these may add texture to the pieces, along with ruffles or cording.  The pieces tend to be low because items on the floor close in a space to make it feel homier.

Tables are chunky and large.  Drawer pulls may be rustic iron, carved wood or antiqued brass.  Carpets tend to be low pile and in lighter colors.  There are usually lots of accessories like candle holders, books, throws, afghans or pillows.  The idea is a quiet and restful look.  This is the kind of home where you can put a plant inside an empty birdcage.  Balance in the room is important but not crucial.


In contrast, the formal style is what you’ll see in Capitol Building.  Here it is the visual impact that is important in the symmetry of the lines with beautiful moldings along tall windows.  The lines are vertical rather than horizontal. The fabrics are silk, satin and velvet.  The colors are deep and rich.  The wood furniture tends to be darkly stained with a high polish.  Carved details accent the straight lines of the.  Floors may be polished stone or glazed ceramics.

Perfect symmetry is an important part of this style.  In a home, this is accentuated by pairs of porcelain figures or candle sticks.  This style is stately and ornamental.


If the above styles of casual and formal can be contrasted, most of our homes mix some blend of these two styles.  Not as homespun as casual nor as dignified as formal, the traditional style blends these two.  So the detailing may still be present on the furniture but it isn’t as overstated as the formal style.  Balance becomes more important than symmetry.  Vertical and horizontal lines mix.

In traditional style, the walls tend to be flat finished with light or white ceilings.  Details like a crown molding will be dark to contrast.  Window treatments may be tied back or pleated.


I’m not calling this style contemporary, because contemporary just means what’s of the current time.  The modern style is refreshing and minimalist.  This is the urban edge of streamlined looks with bold accent colors that pop out of the background.    There is nothing delicate or cute in the modern style.  Lighting is a very important element and may be used to “wash” the walls. Colors never blend.  Upholstery is taut on the frame.  Bold prints like zebra or leopard may be used because of their sharp contrast.

So there you have it, four styles in a nutshell to help you and the clerk in the furniture store speak the same language…at least if they read this article, too.