How to Define Your Design Style

For the sake of having an intelligent discussion about interior design, you should have a handle on the exact name of your design style. Here’s a list, with quick definitions.

  • Rustic. You live in a barn.
  • Industrial. You live in a factory.
  • Modern. You live in a plastic factory.
  • Traditional. You loved your grandmother.
  • French Country. You wish your grandmother had owned a winery in Bordeaux.
  • Urban Modern. Your rent is so high, you can’t afford much furniture.
  • Minimalist. You can afford furniture. You just don’t like it.
  • Mid-Century Modern. You enjoy making hand-crafted cocktails.
  • Hollywood Regency. Your household staff makes your hand-crafted cocktails.
  • Shabby Chic. The paint is chipping on your furniture, so you cover it with pillows.
  • Coastal. Same as above, but you use seashells.
  • Transitional. A blend of two of the above styles.
  • Eclectic. A blend of all of the above styles.

I am, of course, kidding. The fact is, most home designs are mixes of these named styles, and your own personal style — while it’s likely to lean toward one or two of the big ones — is going to borrow from the entire history of décor.

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If you like doilies, you’ll know to skip Minimalist and Industrial. If you think concrete makes a lovely floor, countertop, or wall, then steer away from Regency and French Country. A love of crown molding can cut this list in half. But don’t be afraid to pull in from a variety of influences. These days, we’re all Transitional.

To get started, you can plug the styles above into Google to see what comes up. But you can have a lot of fun exploring your personal style! Here are some ways to help you discover what kind of designer you are.

  • Pinterest and Instagram. You can search for the terms above, or find streams dedicated to particular styles. You’ll learn a lot just sitting on your sofa.
  • Consider your personality. Do you like to be bold, or play things safe? Some styles are riskier than others.
  • Look around. What do you own now that “sparks joy”? What style does it fit best in?
  • Be yourself. Don't try to talk yourself into a style you think is more fashionable. It’s like walking around in someone else’s clothes.
  • Visit stores. Especially high-end ones that you’d never think to visit. You’ll encounter styles that make you rethink what design can be.
  • Visit friends. Drop in on the homes of your fashionable friends and take note of what you like. (Also take note of what you don’t like; just don’t mention it out loud.)
  • Visit a newsstand. There are still a few wonderful design magazines on the shelves, and many are helpful in clarifying your design preferences.
  • Visit restaurants. The best eateries tend to hire the best designers. Feast your eyes while you have appetizers.
  • Avoid trends. Be true to you, not to the calendar. It’s all going to be over next year, anyway.
  • Think about who uses your home, and how. The way a room looks can really impact the way you and your family live in it.
  • Hire an expert. If anyone can integrate your personal preferences with the maze of design styles, it’s a professional interior designer. Hire one for a job, and you’ll end up with a new room and a new vocabulary.
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What’s your personal style, and how do you define it? How did you discover it’s the right one for you?


Mary Spalding is a Nashville based interior designer with over 30 years of experience. She has overseen countless home revitalizations, renovations, and restorations. She can be reached with your projects and ideas at mary@spaldingway.com.

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