The Beauty of Contrast: Global Furnishings in Modern Spaces

Mixing modern design with ethnic furnishings may not be an obvious choice, but when you look at the history of modern design, you’ll see a strong link between the two. Many influential architects and designers of the early 20th century, including Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, were inspired by the simple forms and honest qualities of ethnic art and furnishings.

If your taste leans modern and you’ve picked up a wide range of regional textiles, rugs, art, lighting or furniture, don’t hesitate to incorporate them into your modern space. They can make your space more visually interesting while also enriching it with your own personal and cultural narrative.

 Global Style

Global 1: KuDa Photography, original photo on Houzz

Mix bold with bold: The safe thing to do here would have been to let this collection of bold African masks and sculptures be the main attraction. The unexpectedly bold gesture of mixing them with a bright yellow fireplace and iconic modern furniture takes the room to a vibrant new level.

 Global Style

Global 2: Leslie Glazier @ Properties, original photo on Houzz

Add an ornamental backdrop: In this almost all-white space, the deep red folding screen is a strong backdrop that introduces color and ornamental detail. The effect is so powerful that no other art is necessary.

Global Style

Global 3: Delia Shades, original photo on Houzz

Introduce a subtle pattern: Note how the Moorish pattern on the window shades adds a subtle decorative layer to this minimally furnished modern loft. Imagine how much plainer the space would look with standard shades.

 Global Style

Global 4: Diego Perez, original photo on Houzz

Keep it light: In this airy, high-ceilinged space, colorful Mexican folk textiles, artifacts and café chairs introduce culture and personality. Painting the walls in bold, bright colors was an option, but the lightness here allows for the decorative accessories, along with the modern furnishings and lighting, to shine.

 Global Style

Global 5: Jessica Helgerson Interior Design, original photo on Houzz

Add texture: In this black and white modern space, the Beni Ouarain rug, Morrocan leather poufs and rustic wood table add texture to create a warm and intimate feel. This is a great example of accessories setting the tone — this room would feel less inviting with colder accessories.

Global Style

Global 6: Clifton Leung Design Workshop, original photo on Houzz

Try an unexpected grouping: A large Asian armoire is flanked by two matching smaller Asian armoires to create an interesting and unexpected composition in this modern dining room. Notice how the fretwork on the larger armoire adds subtle pattern to the neutral palette.

Classic Style Staple: Three-Panel Doors

From Arts and Crafts homes to contemporary ones, three-panel interior doors add architectural intrigue to doorways with their clean, timeless design. Their streamlined, classic lines add a welcome element of architectural detailing. With three equal-size panels, the design can be sleek and modern or reminiscent of its Victorian roots. You’ll notice there are two variations of the door style: a more formal door with five raised panels and a newer, simpler flat-panel design. Both are guaranteed to refresh any doorjamb in your home



Three Panel Door 1: Structures Building Company, original photo on Houzz

Painted, raised panels float within the frame of this three-panel door rather than being glued. This approach allows for expansion and contraction of the three panels.




Three Panel Door 2: Kitchens & Baths Linda Burkhardt, original photo on Houzz

The classic three-panel horizontal door looks beautiful in pocket form.




Three Panel Door 3: Benchland Homes & Design, original photo on Houzz

Two single three-panel swing doors are hung together in the same jamb here; they open in the middle.




Three Panel Door 4: Busby Cabinets, original photo on Houzz

Three-panel doors blend very well with other rich architectural details. In this bathroom a three-panel door complements a tall baseboard and crown molding.




Three Panel Door 5: Avonlea Homes, original photo on Houzz

Not to be taken too seriously, a three-paneler can work wonderfully in robin’s egg blue.




Three Panel Door 6: Kristi Spouse Interiors, original photo on Houzz

Flat three-panel doors are often used in Arts and Crafts homes. Combined with a Craftsman header, these doors are architectural gems.

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8 Tried and True Style Secrets for an Eclectic Look

What it is: Eclectic style is the great equalizer. It reshuffles the rule book, mixing and matching old and new, East and West, luxe and humble, showy and quiet. It invites you to fill a space with objects you love and unique finds that strike your fancy. Simply put, it’s you, curated.

What it is not, however, is a free-for-all. If you toss a little of this, a little of that and a dash of the other into a room at random, it’ll look like exactly what it is: a mess. The liberty and leeway that make eclectic style so appealing can also make it tricky — you’ll need to be careful not to trip over the thin line between contrast and chaos.

Why it works: When it’s done well, eclectic décor broadcasts your confidence in your own style yet still adheres to the fundamentals of good design. You don’t have to choose between profiles or periods; there’s room for a range of favorites. Plus, isn’t it fun to feel like you’re getting away with something?

You’ll love it if… You can put together a smashing outfit from a jumble of sale-rack finds. Your iTunes mix skips from Bach to Bob Marley to the Black Keys. Matching furniture sets make you itchy. Friends tease you that you can never make up your mind. Purebreds are pretty, but mutts capture your heart.


 Eclectic Style

Eclectic 1: laurengyll, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: Methodical Mismatching

Eclecticism wears its lack of pedigree proudly and draws its energy from contrast. The trick is to find enough common ground to make a space gel. The dining area shown here weaves together a narrow palette and subtle shine, from the table to the frames to the chandelier. No two chairs match, but all of them have strong silhouettes and roughly the same proportions.

Road-test it: The best way to master the medley: Dive in. Choose a few must-haves to anchor the space, then experiment with rugs, artwork, lighting, accents and other elements. Play light against dark, honed against glossy, rustic against elegant — but look for opportunities to create parallels. And be firm about editing; you can’t stuff every piece you love into a single room.

When you find the right balance, you’ll feel it instinctively. But if you have doubts, try this trick: Snap a photo of your space, wait awhile, then study it. What shouts at you? Winnow out any discordant elements and try again.

 Eclectic Style

Eclectic 2: Kailey J. Flynn Photography, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: Repetition

Visual echoes, from color to shape to finish, help an eclectic room find its rhythm. Look closely: This living area is essentially a series of rectangles, from the windows and the framed artwork to the coffee tables and vintage café sign. And the accent pieces reiterate the brilliant yellow of the room’s focal-point chest.

Road-test it: Choose a few fundamental pieces to anchor your space, and survey the architecture as well. Then consider which elements you can repeat. Do you have a big, round ottoman paired with Eileen Gray side tables? Pull the circle motif into the room: a round mirror, a vintage schoolhouse wall clock, a collection of straw orbs. Throw in a few contrasting shapes for balance and you’ll spark an engaging mix.


Eclectic Style

Eclectic 3: Nichole Loiacono Design, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: Scale, Proportion, Composition

These tenets are essential to any well-designed space, but they’re especially important in a room with so many disparate parts. Paying special attention to fundamental principles helps ensure that each element feels of a piece. In less skillful hands, this living area could have looked like a garage sale gone mad, but peek closer and you’ll see how well balanced it is. Dramatic draperies hold their own against the sultry sofa, and the coffee and breakfast tables add just enough presence without fighting for the spotlight. Despite the tumble of artwork and accessories, there’s nothing accidental about this space.

Road-test it: Before you bring a piece into an eclectic room, consider its relationship to the setting. Does it overwhelm everything else, get lost in a sea of openness or crowd the space? If so, maybe there’s a better spot in the house for it.


 Eclectic Style

Eclectic 4: Lisa Borgnes Giramonti, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: Layered Textures

Texture gives an eclectic space its depth. Nearly every surface in this living room brings something different to the party: the nubbly Oriental rug over coarse sisal; the rich wood of the floors and trim; the thick, lush upholstery fabrics and sleek desk. A rich collection of textural elements makes a space appeal to our senses and resonate on a visceral level.

Road-test it: This one’s easy — play by the rule of opposites. If you have shiny pieces, add matte ones. Offset metal with wood and plastic with porcelain. Marry smooth silk with coarse burlap. Use your hands as much as your eyes to gauge the level of textural interplay you’ve achieved.

Style Secret: A Clean Background

Working the eclectic look is like seating guests at a dinner party: Put the chatterboxes next to the shy types and everyone’s happy. This style begs for a blend of strong, singular pieces, so keep the backdrop — walls, floors, windows — simple in order to avoid competition.

Road-test it: Err on the side of neutral and build the background from there. You’ll rarely go wrong with pure white walls in an eclectic space, but if they look too bland for you, use an unassuming hue such as chamois, smoky gray or pale blue. Still not enough? Choose a color that’s already in the room and try it out on an accent wall or on the ceiling. Or you could just hang more artwork, mount colorful window treatments and throw down a vibrant rug — all quick fixes that are easy to reverse as the room evolves.

 Eclectic Style

Eclectic 5: Chronicle Books, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: Cohesive Color and Pattern

In an eclectic room, you almost have carte blanche with the color wheel — almost. Pair bright citrus hues with shy pastels, mix and match every shade of green, restrict the palette to basic black and white. Likewise, you can combine sassy stripes with a mod floral and overscale chevrons. Conventional wisdom wags its finger at you? Bah, we say.

Road-test it: However, and this is a big however, the scheme needs to make sense. If you try to bring in every single shade you love, or if you pile up patterns with no restraint, you’ll be left with a mess. For example, the bedroom here has a lot happening, from the bold print coverlet to the zigzag rug. Now imagine adding a patterned wallpaper or brilliant paint. Feel the headache coming on? Instead, a handful of strong colors and motifs enliven it without overwhelming it.

Style Secret: Unexpected Accents

The fun of eclectic style lies in the element of surprise. This is the time to get personal: Showcase mementos from your trip to India last year; bring out the faded concert posters of your favorite band; stack books inside your Radio Flyer wagon from childhood.

Road-test it: You can go overboard with quirkiness in a hurry. If you have a vintage bicycle next to an old dentist’s chair next to a surfboard next to a … well, you get the picture. Use really outlandish pieces as you would exclamation points: judiciously. Tempering them with a few simple, classic furnishings can elevate the look without diluting its eccentric charm.

Eclectic Style

Eclectic 6: Niche Interiors, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: The Odd One Out

Eclectic decorating invites cross-pollination between wildly different design periods. So what do you do if you have a piece that you’re wild about, but it doesn’t seem to gel with its counterparts? Give it pride of place. Don’t try to blend it into the background. Think of it as the room’s black sheep: You love it for who it is rather than trying to make it something it isn’t.

Road-test it: This approach is best used sparingly. In this bedroom, the chartreuse tulip chair works because the rest of the space allows it to take center stage. A whole room full of strong statement pieces like this one would be overkill. In a pinch, you could always rotate: your prized Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair one season; the next, an antique bergère updated with a zebra print.

These 5 Gorgeous Living Rooms Are True Testaments to Transitional Style

Transitional style offers the best of both worlds: the comfort and class of traditional style and the smooth and crisp look of contemporary style. And living rooms make great candidates for this style. That’s because you can create a flexible space that works for formal get-togethers and more casual, everyday living. These five living rooms show the versatility of the approach.


Transitional Living Room 1: Aliza Schlabach Photography, original photo on Houzz

1. Comfortable and Casual

Designer: Larina Kase
Location: Devon, Pennsylvania
Size: 330 square feet (30.6 square meters); 15 by 22 feet (1.5 by 6.7 meters)

Homeowners’ request: Casual, comfortable and child-friendly. Also, they wanted a yellowish stone fireplace surround replaced. The main challenges for designer Larina Kase were bringing in adequate artificial lighting and figuring out how to arrange the furniture in the long, rectangular room, which has three points of entry.

Special features: Large drum chandelier. Large, hardworking coffee table. Extra-long (105-inch) leather sofa.

Why the design works: “This room design is a balance of opposites,” Kase says. “Soft versus hard edges, modern versus classic, organic versus industrial, form versus function, masculine versus feminine, light versus dark values, organic versus geometric shapes. I find that the balance of opposites adds interest in a space.”

Designer secret: “I love the tip from Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, to ask whether an object brings you joy,” Kase says. “We found some fun, whimsical objects, like the little wood bird on the glass bookshelf, that brought joy. One of their daughters named the bird and likes to play with it.”


Transitional Living Room 2: Aliza Schlabach Photography, original photo on Houzz

“Uh-oh” moment: 
“Just when everything was moving along smoothly, we had several upsets to our timeline,” Kase says. “After lining up someone to install the fireplace tile, when he came to install it he said that it looked like the wrong amount. It turned out that the person at the tile shop had accidentally ordered half of the amount, and it was special order — six weeks. One of the chairs arrived missing a leg. It was a semicustom piece and took 10 weeks to arrive. Everything was remedied, and fortunately the homeowners were very patient and understanding. I try to let people know upfront to expect that there can be challenges in the process. It’s not always smooth sailing when there are so many variables in the process, and it all works out in the end.”

Also on the team: Aliza Schlabach Photography

Wall paint: Revere Pewter, Benjamin Moore; rug: custom-made from a remnant; coffee table: Restoration Hardware; sofa, white media cabinet and striped chairs: Pottery Barn; round side table: Houzz; dark wood cabinet: homeowners’; large drum chandelier: CB2; glass console table: Wayfair; arch floor lamp: Pier 1 Imports; table lamp, round rose gold-framed mirror and basket next to striped chair: West Elm; wood shutters: custom; paintings over sofa:; blue-and-white pouf: Joss & Main; basket at fireplace and vases on wood cabinet: Crate & Barrel; accessories on glass shelves: West Elm, Crate & Barrel, Anthropologie, Wisteria and antiques


Transitional Living Room 3: Frusterio Design Inc, original photo on Houzz

2. Open and Flexible

Designers: Frusterio Design (house plans); Jenna Jackovich (interior designer)
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Size: 400 square feet (37.1 square meters); about 20 by 20 feet (6 by 6 meters)

Client’s request: Open-living concept on spec, for formal gatherings and casual everyday living.

Special features: Natural white oak floors. Two large sofas in cornflower blue velvet. Rug with tribal motif.

Designer secret: “I love painting the window mullions black,” designer Jenna Jackovich says. “It creates such a subtle pop and gives a nod to the European details that I love so much. Also, you can’t forget about the impact of the ceiling beams and the dimension they bring to the room.”

Also on the team: John Jackovich of Grande Custom Homes (builder)

Paint by Benjamin Moore: Moonshine (walls), Winter White (trim) and Twilight Zone (window mullions); rug: Loloi Rugs; fireplace tile: Tile Collection


Transitional Living Room 4: Werner Straube, original photo on Houzz

3. Flexible Fusion

Designer: Teresa Manns of Peabody’s Interiors
Location: Fox Point, Wisconsin
Size: 510 square feet (47.3 square meters); 17 by 30 feet (5.1 by 9.1 meters)

Homeowners’ request: Fuse their opposing styles — she’s contemporary; he’s traditional — to create a beautiful, functional living room that’s also kid-friendly.

Special features: Leather-top coffee table. Limestone mantel. Scaled dentil moldings. Traditional-style rug in contemporary colors. Furniture scaled right.

Designer secret: “The room originally had dark drapes with valances that covered the top portion of the windows, a very literal interpretation of Tudor style,” designer Teresa Manns says. “We replaced them with full-height curtains that frame the view; the color references Lake Michigan beyond. The less formal presentation allows the room to feel relaxed.”

“Uh-oh” moment: “Because the fireplace is such a focal point, the clients had latched on to the idea that they would need large, expensive pieces of furniture flanking it to balance it out,” Manns says. “That concept did not sit right with me once I got to know them better. I suggested bright, modern lamps, but they were not sold on the idea. While we were installing the furnishings that they did agree with, I went ahead and placed the lamps and tables ‘on approval.’ Once they were able to see everything in the space and how [the lamps] brought the room together, they decided to keep them.”

Splurges and savings: “The upholstered pieces are all stock frames but with upgraded, custom-selected fabrics, a great way to have a room feel put-together without paying full custom prices,” Manns says.

Also on the team: Werner Straube (photographer)

Upholstered pieces: Lee Industries, with fabric from Holland & Sherry; rug: Lee Jofa; drapery fabric: Japura Mattier, Manuel Canovas; lamps: Visual Comfort; coffee table: Henredon


Transitional Living Room 5: GroupSeven Images, original photo on Houzz

4. Elegant and Easy

Designer: Alison Hodd of Catherine Alison Interiors
Location: London, Ontario, Canada
Size: 368 square feet (34.1 square meters); 16 by 23 feet (4.8 by 7 meters)

Homeowners’ request: Make a significant style update to replace 30-year-old furniture. Entertain family and friends comfortably and elegantly. “To get a transitional look, we used clean-lined furniture and employed a variety of tones, textures and colors,” designer Alison Hodd says. “The arm style on the sofas and chairs is sleek and restrained, yet the lamps have a classic shape and proportion. It is in the layering and the mix that the homeowner got a transitional room.”

Special features: Picture-frame panel molding. Oil painting. Brass and gold finishes.

Designer secret: “Adding the faceted stool and side table gave the room a more playful vibe,” Hodd says. “This helps to relax the more formal elements, like the toss pillows with tape trim, the bolsters and the glass coffee table. We didn’t want the room to read as too serious.”

“Uh-oh” moment: “The homeowner wanted to use blue, teal, sand, gray and celedon, yet her treasured needlepoints that she made herself [seen in the previous photo] did not all fit with the palette,” Hodd says. “To make it work, we advised her on the exact frame style to have them all reframed in. Because they are framed in the same frame as the focal art, they now all work beautifully in the room.”

Also on the team: Dianna Knight of Catherine Alison Interiors, GroupSeven Images (photographer)

Window treatments: designed by Catherine Alison Interiors and manufactured by Custom Home Decor; upholstered furniture: Gresham House Furniture; coffee table, end tables and mirrors: Cocoon Furnishings.


Transitional Living Room 6: Rikki Snyder, original photo on Houzz

5. Neutral in New York

Designer: Caroline Kopp
Location: Scarsdale, New York
Size: 444 square feet (41.2 square meters); about 24 by 18 feet (7.3 by 5.4 meters)

Homeowners’ request: Create a more inviting vibe and add more seating for entertaining. Combine new pieces with existing modern pieces like Victorian chairs and heirlooms. “Because we were decorating a 1920s home, with traditional architectural features, using furniture forms dating across time from 1890 to the 1950s, a transitional style felt appropriate and natural,” designer Caroline Kopp says.

Special features: Wing chairs. Pale blue and cream carpet enhances a sense of lightness and brightness. Reworked fireplace. Flexible furniture that can be rearranged as needed.

Designer secret: “The new carpet makes this room a success,” Kopp says. “It transformed the space, making it feel fresh, stylish and full of light. Light-colored carpet can be scary because of fears it will not wear well. Ask your carpet store to do a stain treatment prior to delivery to help with maintenance. If you see a carpet that you really love and you know it works, just go for it instead of fretting about wear and tear. All textiles will experience wear and tear; it is their nature. Just relax and enjoy, and have your carpet cleaned every few years. Buying better-quality fibers helps with this, and there are lots of wonderful low-maintenance carpets on the market today.”

“Uh-oh” moment: “We had reviewed many possible carpets from designer sources in the city, but after we both fell in love with this one, it looked like it wasn’t going to fit in the budget,” Kopp says. “My smart client shopped around and found the same carpet in her town at a little shop down the road, which saved her a lot of money. So, don’t give up on something great. I always find it pays off to put a little more legwork into finding the right pricing.”

Splurges and savings: The homeowners saved by using existing furniture andartwork, and splurged on new windows, refinishing the floors and repainting the house.

Also on the team: New Dimensions Remodeling (construction); Rikki Snyder (photographer)

Victorian chairs: antique family heirlooms; glass and chrome side table: Eileen Gray; mercury glass votive with flower: West Elm; stone on table: natural crystal, Mineral Store; rug: Stanton Carpet; wing chairs: Room & Board: artichoke pillows: custom; coffee table: Noguchi; accessories on coffee table: Murano glass, vintage; iron fire screen and blue throw: Crate & Barrel; vases on mantel: Bia Cordon Bleu; mirror on mantel: Larson Juhl; brown balls on mantel: Africa; black sofa: custom; blue pillows: Restoration Hardware; book tower: CB2; wall paint: Smokey Taupe, Benjamin Moore