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The Key to Mixing Modern and Traditional Furniture

Mixing modern and traditional furniture is fairly common - only 60% of us buy only new furniture when decorating our homes. Not everyone can pull off combining their existing furniture with their new purchases, though. Some people have a knack for interior decorating, while others end up with a home that looks like a salvage yard.

Before you toss out the old and begin anew, we have a guide that will help you transform your decor. Pulling off a multi-layered interior with various period pieces can create quite the impression.

Combining minimalist modern designs with vintage furniture draws a lot of attention, make sure it's the kind of attention you want. Learn the dos and don'ts of mixing modern and traditional furniture below.

What Qualifies as Modern or Traditional?

Before we start throwing old and new pieces next to each other, we need to know how they are grouped. Generally, traditional style is defined as anything from the Victorian era, colonial times, Greek or Roman architecture, ancient Chinese, Japanese, and so forth.

It's an umbrella term, but with very obvious features. Traditional styles tend to fall under the category of accent furniture. The level of craftsmanship is more pronounced than your typical modern furniture piece. 

This is a good thing because you never want to have two styles evenly competing for space. All this does is create a type of visual chaos with your eyesight. Balance in decor is important, but that's based on color and texture principles.

What you want to accomplish from mixing new and old is an established foreground and backdrop.

What Gives It the Wow-Factor?

Haphazardly mixing new and old is what collectors do. Carefully selecting pieces to create an impression is what interior decorators do. You must start with why you want to incorporate traditional styles with modern decor.

If you're trying to capture the look of popular design trends, do your homework. For instance, when it comes to kitchen decor, research cabinet designs that are hot right now. This will help you find traditional accent pieces that fit your color pallet and design themes.

Pastels and retro appliances? That's a safe mix of modern and traditional pieces. There's plenty of room for personal expression, as long as you have a plan and stick to it. You can mix pieces that aren't even associated with home decor, as long as there is a theme and it follows basic art theory.

Elements of Good Design

To give you a start in the right direction, let's look at some design elements that always work. These are merely suggestions, but they work for any type of interior decorating project.

Blend or Pop?

When approaching a mixture of old and new, how will it fit into your home? Will these themes blend together or pop out with a contrast? For textures, you may want to keep to all warm or all cold surfaces.

Colors will follow their respective categories on the color wheel. You can pepper in some complementary colors, but with even spacing. If you are going for contrast, it also needs to be intentional.

High-contrasting modern and traditional themes can border on "clashing" or chaotic decor. Create contrast with intention, rather than attention. If your kitchen has modern, aluminum decor, you can create contrast by using brightly-colored metals from antique accessories.

Lines and Shapes

When dealing with a mixture of styles in closed spaces, lines play an important role. If you ignore lines and shapes, spaces become busy or chaotic, even when you follow all other design elements. This is true because modern and traditional design often clashes in the linework.

Modern designs emphasize sleekness, straight lines, and flatness. Traditional designs are elaborate, detailed, and contain intricate curves. At the same time, modern furniture is a great way to highlight the shapes of traditional accent furniture.

A really nice grandfather clock is beautiful sitting in a room with metal and glass minimalist furniture. A room with 1980s and 90s classic decor can provide an avant-garde backdrop for a modern entertainment center, too.

Aged and Restored

Another consideration between matching and contrasting of styles is the condition of the furniture. Antiques and family heirlooms share a certain level of charm. When placed in a home with modern decor, it takes on a museum-quality.

On the other hand, you could decide to restore these traditional pieces to provide a better transition between styles. Faded colors can work if you're going for a muted office-style or retro-grunge decor. Adding a new finish or coat of paint on an old piece of furniture may not improve the resale value, but it does wonders for mixing decor.


Statues, sculptures, and antiques are great accent pieces. They can help communicate to the viewer what theme you're going for. The best interior designs are those that don't require an explanation. 

Good art is universal and accessible. You could tell a story through well-placed decorative pieces. You don't have to say anything at all; a nice piece of artwork can exist purely for aesthetics and nothing more.

Mixing isn't Always Matching

Remember, mixing traditional furniture with modern decor isn't always about matching. You don't want to bore people with obvious choices. Yeah, checkered bathroom tiles go with polka dots, but it's uninspired.

Also, it's fine to have more than one theme in your home. If you have a great idea for each room in your house: go for it! You don't need a background in art or interior design to make your ideas shine.

If you need some more inspiration, we wrote a great blog post on decor variety. You can read it right here. Leave us a comment on what you like or what you have tried in your own home.

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