An Intro to the Modern Traditional Style
We’ve introduced you to Parisian Art Deco, California Casual, Modern Victorian and today we are talking (drumroll please……) ‘Modern Traditional’. The name may need some work (minimal traditional? modern shaker?), but the style does not. It’s what I strove for in our current house and failed and succeeded in various spaces.
Now, what is ‘Modern Traditional’ you may ask? While it may sound like a bit of a contradiction, it’s a little bit traditional (obviously), a little bit rustic, with a hint of modern, and infused with an heirloom and handmade look.
The style takes its elementary cues from the traditional farmhouse style but has shaker-inspired elements mixed in, humble finishes, and it is all done with a slightly modern twist. It feels welcoming, open, carefully curated and warm. You might be thinking ‘wait, how is this any different than Modern Farmhouse?’ Unlike Modern Farmhouse, which can feel quite ‘planned’ and less like it came together over time, this look is a bit more refined and slightly less rustic (think more early settler meets chic English cottage meets super cool Euro hipster). Confused yet? Well, let’s take a look at some inspiring spaces that are infused with this ‘Modern Traditional’ vibe to give you a better idea of the key elements that make up this style that we love so much (though keep in mind that not all of these photos 100% represent the style – while some are spot-on, others lean a little more rustic but we wanted to include them to showcase some of the key elements).
FARMHOUSE TABLES & EAT-IN KITCHENS:
We mentioned that it has a similar vibe to Modern Farmhouse and this is one of the main elements that it shares with its similarly named sister. Modern Traditional evokes a sense of gathering and family in a very casual, unfussy way. So instead of formal dining rooms with finely detailed paneling like you might find in Modern Victorian, this style will have a large well-loved table in the kitchen that everyone can gather around.
The table could be painted, stained or unfinished but the finish will always have some age and patina to it to make it look like it’s been passed down from generation to generation (bonus points if you use a table that actually has been). The familial aspect rings strong and true in this style as it has a slightly Quaker, Shaker and Americana feel to it, although it does pull pieces from English and French Country as well.
The little details like the peg and groove woodworking that you see on the table below or above are key to this style as everything should feel slightly handmade.
SIMPLE BUT IMPACTFUL DETAILS:
The details in this style are very quiet, quaint and subtle, and will often have a utilitarian lean to them. Think shaker peg rails like you see above and below as well as the very simple baseboards that don’t draw too much attention to themselves. Neve forget the power of a simple but tall baseboard. NEVER.
SIMPLE STYLING VIGNETTES:
If you are a maximalist or love layering things to create a vignette, then the Modern Traditional aesthetic might not be for you. This style embodies the ‘less is more’ concept and rather than having multiple items styled together to form a vignette, instead it will use a single item to create a simple yet impactful styling moment. Pieces are all used for function vs just having decorative accessories splayed around the room like in other more ornate styles. No tchotchkes here.
A single chair on a wall, or a simple row of pots is all the styling that these spaces need (the materials on the floors, ceilings etc. usually do all the talking). And the pieces that are used for styling will always feel homespun. Nothing too modern, mid-century, ornate or shabby chic.
It looks like a child’s ‘time-out’ chair. Only …please don’t sit on it….
Rather than loading the walls up with art, this style leans more simple in its curation of art. You will often see bare walls, or maybe one simple art piece leaning against or on the wall. No need to overcrowd things with multiple pieces, a gallery wall or an over scale piece. One simple and quiet piece is often plenty. It’s about treating the eye a little – keeping things restful with a little visual goodie thrown in for good measure. Walls and floors don’t need to be pristinely painted either – in fact, a little wear-and-tear is welcomed (hurray for anyone who has better things to do than touch up their moldings every few months, am I right?).
LOTS OF SIMPLE PANELING:
Modern Victorian was all about the ornate and decorative paneling whereas this style is filled with woodwork but in a much more rustic and simple way. The style lends itself to small cottages, rustic farmhouses and older homes so you won’t find anything that is too elaborate or showy. Instead, it could be a simple shiplap, board and batton or horizontal and vertical paneling. The wider planks feel a touch more modern.
TONAL COLORS AND WHITE ON WHITE:
If statement walls and patterned wallpaper are your vibe, then Modern Victorian may be closer to what will resonate with you as Modern Traditional is filled with quiet, tonal colors – think soft whites, ivories and eggshells – that feel warm and inviting.
You won’t find any whites in here that have a blue, or cool undertone and often you will see a tonal color play between whites, grays and creams. The picture below is the perfect example of this – rustic wood beams, white walls and then trim work that is painted a very soft gray color that highlights the details without screaming out, “I AM A QUIET DETAIL”.
Warm woods in natural, honed finishes are also welcome as a complement to the tonal white-on-white color palette in the style like you see below.
HUTCHES & CABINETS WITH GLASS FRONT CABINETRY:
Girl, you don’t have to ask me twice to put a glass cabinet in my kitchen on our first date. That kitchen up there is what dreams (and the Modern Traditional) style are made of. The shaker-style cabinet door is something you will always find with this look. And although the shaker-style door has become huge in kitchen designs of all varieties (which typically means that it will fade in trend to something new… ), this style of door will always be timeless within Modern Traditional.
You will also see a lot of stand-alone furniture pieces used throughout the home or retrofit to work in the space. Above and below the repurposed antique dressers for use in the bathroom and the antique piece instantly brings a sense of heritage to the room.
If you inherited your grandmother’s vintage hutch then pull it out of the garage and display it proudly if this is your style. Glass front cabinetry and hutches are a key design element, and rather than something that is low and long (like many credenzas in the mid-century style) Modern Traditional tends to favor more tall and lean shapes (likely from the space constraints over homes from yesteryear). They can even take a more modern look like you see below as the shape, style and function keep it from feeling too modern in the space.
TRADITIONAL CHARACTER WITH SIMPLIFIED DETAILS:
There are two main types of furniture in this style. Shaker-inspired furniture that takes its cues from the traditional shaker style but does it in a more modern way, or authentic and antique shaker pieces (paired with some more modern pieces like lighting). Let’s first talk about the furniture inspired by the antique pieces.
You will see very simple detailing, Windsor-style chairs, and long benches to name a few that are done in a more streamlined and modern way. Rather than the hand-scraped look of the antique pieces you will instead see them very finely honed and often treated with little to no stain or paint to showcase the craftsmanship of the piece and the utilitarian bent that it has.
The furniture focuses on the details of the craftsmanship rather than decorative elements. For instance, those pieces seen above – they’re all about the wood, the artisanal touch of the carpenter who labored over them for hours/days (weeks?).
These chairs above that Jessica Helgerson used in a recent project are a perfect example of that. They are inspired by traditional Windsor chairs but are done in a much more modern way. It’s all very quiet and humble with an undeniable magnetism. Don’t you just want to sit at that table and hold a warm cup of tea while you catch your BFF/mom/great aunt up on your life? It would be impossible to be uncomfortable in that room (and thus, the beauty of Modern Traditional).
ANTIQUE SHAKER STYLE FURNITURE:
Alternatively, you will also find a lot of antique Shaker, English and traditional furniture in here. The pieces – as everything in the style – will lean more classic and will have refined details and simple lines.
Remember when I dabbled in this style? That cabinet is my favorite piece of furniture in my house. It’s so simple but special … and in the voice of somebody super fabulous … and that color …
Antique Windsor chairs and benches are again very popular in this style and can be used as stand-alone pieces on a wall to create a vignette (never underestimate the power of styling with just a single chair), or around a table (in an eat-in kitchen, of course).
Handmade furniture, homegrown details…of course handmade tile would be part of creating this look. Whether that be in the kitchen, bathroom or anywhere else you’d use tile, you won’t see anything too fancy in shape or finish here – it’s all about simple shapes like squares and rectangles (subway) that are handmade and hand-finished to show the texture, variance and differences between each.
It’s less about a pattern or color and more about telling the story in a textural way with the tiles. Lots of whites, creams and ivories in various shades create the perfect backdrop for your ‘Modern Traditional’ kitchen (and bathroom).
At this point, I am sure you have some questions on the trend, but first off…we want to know, are you into this trend? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Do you think you could actually make it work in your home or is it not for you? Do you think you could simplify your styling and decor to be more utilitarian and clean, or are you the type that loves to have a plethora of things around you at all times?
Let us know below in the comments and we will try to get all of your questions answered. And stay tuned for a few more posts about this style where we walk you through specific lighting, furniture, art and decor pieces to make it work in your own home with suggestions for pieces that you can buy online.
I for one want this in my house – it’s what I strived for when I designed our current nome. I didn’t succeed in every room but I’m more encouraged now more than ever to embrace this wonderful, modern traditional style …