Choosing among the different interior design styles is a bit like choosing a romantic partner. You need to make a choice that aligns with your unique taste and personal preferences—and one that makes you feel happy to be around. (A dose of dashing good looks never hurts, either.)
A truly aesthetic room is about more than just picking and choosing items you love and putting them together, though that’s certainly part of it. By focusing on types of interior design and their elements instead of just individual pieces of décor, you can create cohesion in a space, giving it story, direction, and dimension for a more professional-looking appearance, even when you’re doing it on your own.
So, how many styles are there in interior design? Experts usually narrow it down to eight, though there are certainly many design styles beyond this core group. To keep it simple, we’re focusing this guide on the different interior design styles that are known for their timeless utility and that together make up the major schools of classic and composed interior design. Let’s take a look.
The Most Popular Interior Design Styles
Every era has its decorating styles, but some seem to last longer than others. Here’s what to know about the leading types of interior design styles, with a quick overview of the elements and atmospheres that have made each one such a staple in the ever-evolving world of home design.
Farmhouse is the modern take on two of the most common styles of interior design: traditional and transitional. Traditional design has its roots in the 18th and 19th century and is based around the use of historical or antique elements—think heavy rugs and draperies, overstuffed sofas, and the ample use of color mixed with neutrals. Transitional design, on the other hand, is about toning down those heavy elements and modernizing the approach for a more visually accessible space.
Bring them together (and into the 21st century) and you get farmhouse, which is heavy on transitional design while still paying homage to traditional features. Décor is stylized but unstuffy, featuring clean lines and plenty of neutrals with the smart and sporadic use of color. Farmhouse is essentially design evolution in action, representing two types of interior design styles that aren’t going anywhere—but that aren’t staying static either.
Scandinavian design brings Bauhaus principles like minimalism and artistic craftsmanship into the home. Its roots can be found in the five Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, where simplicity meets hygge (loosely defined as that cozy feeling certain spaces invoke) for an interior that’s stylized, intimate, and definitely not stuffy.
Don’t let IKEA take all of the credit for popularizing the Scandinavian style in the American home, though. This cool but cozy look has been one of the leading styles of interior design since the 1930s, with timeless qualities that have kept it at the forefront of everyday home aesthetics.
3. Mid-Century Modern
It’s impossible to answer the question of “what are the main interior design styles?” without mentioning mid-century modern. This retro look was one of the defining décor styles of the mid-1900s, and it continues to reign supreme—effortlessly melding with other types of interior design while also standing out in its own right.
Mid-century modern design is perhaps best defined by its materials: metallics, velvets, plastics, and grained wood. The updated approach involves combining these elements with modern minimalist, farmhouse, or industrial touches to create a room that’s stylish without trying too hard and that exudes warmth without feeling overly dated.
Industrial design is one of those décor styles that’s as ubiquitous in co-working spaces and restaurants as it is in the home. Defined by turn-of-the-century elements like glass and exposed brick, industrial combines rustic touches with a contemporary ambience, playing around with light and dark in a way that invites you to sit down and stay awhile.
Any home can embrace industrial elements, however industrial design as a whole is better suited to some spaces than others, particularly loft spaces and those with high ceilings and plenty of natural light.
Also referred to as shabby chic, vintage design brings the flea market into the home and can usually be identified through the use of distressed wood, florals, and cluttered antiques. Neutrals and pastels play a heavy role in the vintage color palette, coming together to create an aesthetic room that sits somewhere between playful and put together.
There are plenty of ways to update vintage design, including adding in more saturated colors and coupling it with farmhouse touches. However, traditional shabby chic is one of those styles that you just know when you see—and that doesn’t always play nice with other decorating techniques.
Contemporary home design lives at the intersection of modern and minimalism, though it’s uniquely all its own. You can identify it by its use of clean lines and muted color schemes, as well as its less-is-more mentality.
Unlike strictly modern décor, contemporary design changes with the times. While they key elements are always there, the features that take center stage can and do evolve with our collective tastes. And when brought up to date with the defining elements of the genre, you get contemporary décor that encapsulates the moment in the most simple and understated way possible.
Coastal interiors are all about bringing the beach inside (without any of that pesky sand, of course). Traditional elements include various shades of blue and green, plus white-painted wood, preppy prints, and often direct nautical nods like beach- and boat-themed artwork.
Coastal décor—sometimes referred to as cottage décor—doesn’t take itself too seriously. You’ll usually find plenty of kitschy features like jars of seashells on dresser tops and reclaimed wood art on the walls, though they’re balanced out by the overall clean lines and buttoned-up nature of the look.
What Are the 7 Elements of Interior Design?
All types of interior styles have one thing in common, and that’s their adherence to the seven elements of design.
There’s a rhyme and reason behind every single style, and certain rules that transcend individual taste. Broken down into their broadest categories, these are:
These elements are what separate textbook interior design styles from a room that’s simply a mish-mosh of furniture and décor, and each of them needs to be in balance for a composed space that comes together with purpose. On their own and together, the seven elements of interior design dictate the mood and feel of your home’s interior—and stand at the heart of the styles that have captured our interest for so long.
How Do I Choose a Design Style?
Most of us gravitate toward certain interior styles, even if we’re not aware of it. That being said, taking an interior design styles quiz could help you narrow in on what style best suits your individual tastes.
If you’d rather do things the old-fashioned way, here are some ideas for determining which interior design style is right for your home:
Create a Mood Board
Work backward when designing a room by first picking out interior design images that inspire you and then determining what common thread they all have. Collect them on a mood board (a Pinterest board works great, too) and then take a step back to see what patterns and trends emerge from the images that caught your eye.
Look at Your Closet
We embrace style in many different ways, including through our wardrobe. Are you drawn to clean lines and muted colors? Flowy florals? Metals and metallics? Take a look and see how you can build out your personal clothing style into your wider lifestyle.
Scrutinize Your Space
The structural elements of your home are going to play a role in what interior design style works best for you, especially if you’re not planning on doing a total renovation. Consider what you’re already working with to determine what styles will highlight major features and what styles might look out of place.
While you’re at it, do a Google search for an interior design styles quiz and see what result you get. It could help point you in the right direction if you’re still struggling to narrow things down.
Take the Guesswork Out of Home Design
How to Design a Room in 10 Easy Steps.