Mixing and matching furniture styles: How to make it work

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There are many reasons why a person or a couple may want or need to mix and match furniture styles and interior design websites like this one are a great place to go for assistance.

  • An inherited piece or pieces are too dear to part with and need to be incorporated into your home's style but are different than the style to which you are accustomed
  • You are madly in love with one piece you already own or are determined to buy but for whatever reason don't wish to use that style for your entire home, or even one entire room
  • You've collected many disparate pieces over the years and now realize you need a plan
  • A couple moving in together need to combine their two different collections of furniture

If the issue at hand is either the first or the second scenario listed above or any scenario where you are only trying to incorporate one or two furniture items into an existing home then you might wish to skip this article entirely and instead see "Classic furniture never goes out of style", and then come back to this article if you still need assistance.

But if either the third or fourth scenario above describes your situation, although "Classic furniture never goes out of style" will be helpful for you, this article, "Mixing and matching furniture styles: How to make it work" should be considered carefully.

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If you want to incorporate several different period styles of furniture into your rooms, should you? Yes. If you want to, then you should. And if you've spent any time browsing interior design websites, then you know that combining styles is common and a well-respected practice. But there are a couple of caveats to consider before you start.

Caveat 1: Each piece needs to be in good taste

Good taste doesn't necessarily mean YOUR taste. If you've inherited pieces that aren't your taste or are moving in with someone who has very different taste in furniture than you, that doesn't mean their pieces of furniture are ugly. Good taste is defined in this case by an objective unknown large group of people who are well-versed in furniture design or design in general and therefore we will assume are experts and so therefore we will defer to them for whether an item is in good taste or not.

But what does that mean? This is a difficult concept. For help understanding if something may be in good taste, read my article entitled, "Do you have good taste? Does your partner?" Also, interior design websites like this one and decorating magazines can be enormously helpful toward these determinations.

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Many of the criteria for deciding if something is in good taste or bad taste center around whether or not it is a mixture of styles; individual furniture pieces can be a mixture of styles and be in good taste. Just as rooms can be a mixture of styles and be in good taste. HOWEVER, people who are not professionals in the design business often have trouble deciphering when a mixture of styles is wonderful and when it is a disaster. But to find out for sure you should learn at least a little on the subject of furniture styles.

One way to do this is peruse interior design websites for pictures of furniture similar to your item and then try to find definitions of the style or combination of styles and see if respected interior design websites or interior design magazines use things similar to your item in their rooms.

But if your furniture is a "pure" specimen of an accepted furniture style then it is probably in good taste. For assistance with determining if your piece of furniture has pure delineation of period styles you may wish to read my article entitled, "Classic furniture never goes out of style".

For many people who are trying to put together an eclectic home, they already own a houseful or nearly a houseful of furniture or they may have just inherited much furniture when they already have a home put together or they are marrying or moving in with someone and each of you has an entire or nearly an entire houseful of furniture. To develop a truly good eclectic home, you should take an inventory of each and every piece of furniture that you now possess and make sure that each and every piece is in good taste. If you find that a piece isn't in good taste, this may be a good time to let it go especially if you know you have too many furniture items to fit into your home anyway.

Caveat 2: Each item must be a logical piece of the puzzle

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This means that every piece of furniture must actually have a logical station in the overall design.

A "logical station in the overall design" simply means that if your living room already had two sofas in it, and there is no more room for another sofa, and you just inherited two more sofas from a great aunt who passed away, if you have no where to place four sofas, in four different rooms for example, then it is time to make some tough choices. If they are beloved family heirlooms, maybe another branch of the family should have them, or maybe you could get rid of your two pre-existing sofas from your living room and redecorate that room with these inherited pieces.

For help with where to place furniture in a logical way, see my article entitled "Space and traffic planning for furniture placement". Technically speaking "Space and traffic planning for furniture placement" should be completed before any furniture is purchased or inherited, but I know full well that in the real world that almost never happens.

This may seem obvious that you can't keep four sofas if you have no niches for four sofas but you would be surprised how many people buy furniture items they love that they saw in a store or on interior design websites without regard to where they may place them someday. Many people have basements full of furniture that they "plan" someday to use. It is time to start using those items you love and to start making decisions regarding whether the purchasing phase is over, or whether it needs to continue but have strict regulations placed on it not to buy any more sofas, or buffets or whatever it is that you have too many of and instead stretch out to side chairs or whatever it is that you still need.

When it comes to having too many sofas or buffets or whatever they may be, if you truly love the piece, keep in mind that sofas can be used in many rooms, in bedrooms for example, and even in some kitchens. And buffets can be used in kitchens, and also re-purposed as storage furniture for bedrooms, offices, and playrooms, as well as many other areas. Interior design websites are filled with ideas for re-purposing furniture items.

Plan to develop a good eclectic home

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The practice of combining more than one style of furniture into a room is labeled "eclecticism". If you have a room that has more than one style, it is an eclectic room, and if the entire house has more than one style used in it, then you have an eclectic home. Interior designers use eclecticism regularly, interior design websites and interior design magazines display examples everywhere you look.

There are no "rules" for eclecticism because there are no "rules" when it comes to design. Design is an art form and art forms are about self-expression.

For this scenario, let's say your furniture you have collected over the years is mostly Scandinavian and Mid-century American. And let's say your life in relation to home design has become complicated because you just moved in with your partner whose interior furnishings favor French provincial and Biedermeier. AND just for this scenario let's say that your partner's dear grandmother just passed leaving him a very large good collection of Art Deco and Shaker furniture.

But whether or not your actual design life is this complicated or not here are some guidelines that I hope you will be able to use in putting together a beautiful home that looks as if it was meant to be.

Choose a unifying theme for each room in the house

Themes in this case would be similarities of one type or another that "bind" the objects of a room together or "unify" it. Most designers want at least some unity in their rooms even if they are choosing an eclectic group of furniture styles.

These unifying themes, which do not need to be the same in every room, and in fact probably shouldn't be, or it could appear contrite, need to be chosen from your current collection and what themes it can offer you. Some themes that this scenario may be able to offer its owners are:

  • Items that have similar "lines" be grouped together in a room

This is a well-respected "theme" in eclectic rooms everywhere, interior design websites and magazines are awash with this "theme". Here's how to use it:

Similar "lines" mean that if you were to make a quick sketch of the items, the lines on your sketch would be similar in shape regardless of the period style of the item.

And so in relation to our scenario above, we might choose "simple straight lines" as our theme, then the styles we might pull from what we already have could be Scandinavian, Shaker and Mid-century furniture that all favor simple straight lines and might easily occupy one room together in harmony.

OR

Curvilinear line could also be a "theme" that we may be able to group together from our seemingly disparate collection in the scenario described above.

French provincial furniture is marked by its curvilinear lines and so is Art Deco so these may be pleasing to the eye in one room together.

  • Group items that have a similar wood color together

Wood colors are generally categorized by most people as "brown", "yellow", "red" and sometimes "orange" and certainly stains have been used from time to time that are close even to black, white, and gray or other colors.

So for our scenario here, the furniture period styles which often use wood tones considered "yellow" might be "Mid-century, Biedermeier, Shaker, and Art Deco, and these placed together in a room may then be able to provide the room some "unity".

OR

Wood tones of "brown" might be readily found in Scandinavian, French provincial, and Mid-Century here again because this style uses many wood shades in its various sub-styles. So therefore these brown woods together regardless of style lend themselves to seeming as if they are part of the same "family" and by this relation provide the room they occupy together with unity.

Choose a method to provide each room with variety or interest

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While good interior design does need unity of some sort, pleasing rooms also need variety. Now the variety within a room decorated with an eclectic collection of furniture does provide variety in itself, but the variety may seem to be random, if the pieces are of disparately differing period styles and there is nothing that seems to tie their variety together harmoniously.

You see planned variety at work in all good eclectic rooms on interior design websites and in interior design magazines everywhere.

Here are some ideas that can be utilized alone or in partnership with any of the above themes for unity that may help your rooms appear more "finished and planned" in other words, more "designed". After all good design rarely happens accidentally, it is by design.

  • Combine "charismatic" pieces and unassuming pieces in each room

The most "charismatic" period styles, the ones that in effect demand attention of the styles our scenario offers above are probably Art Deco, Biedermeier, and Mid-century .

The most unassuming styles of the ones in our scenario above are probably Scandinavian, Shaker, and French provincial.

So in order not to overpower the visitors to a room, you might choose to place only a few items of the more charismatic styles into each room and then the remainder in the more unassuming styles.

OR

If you do wish your room to have a BIG impact on its visitors then you can use mostly the charismatic pieces together with just a little of the unassuming pieces. This then would not be a method to provide variety but instead might be considered a method to provide "unity". Interior design websites and magazines abound with rooms that make huge impacts on the eye.

  • Size and proportion of items to provide variety and "emphasis"

Size and proportion is another honored method you can use to provide variety and emphasis and is used on interior design websites, including this one and interior design magazines everywhere.

Size and proportion should always be considered for all well-designed rooms, but with such a large array of styles to choose from, size or actually how large some pieces are can be a great way to add variety to a room. Because of this, you may wish to use only one of the larger pieces from one period style while all the other items in the room are from one or two or maybe even three other styles and have those be unified by some theme together. In this way, you can "break up the monotony" of the unifying theme of all the other pieces in the room.

This also gives the "bonus" design principle to the room of "emphasis" which simply put means that you have created a "focal point" which every room needs anyway. And in case you were wondering, rooms can definitely have more than one focal point or "emphasis".

  • Reversing the unifying themes above

Any unifying theme that is listed above or that you can come up with can be reversed to provide variety to a room.

Many other unifying and varietal themes exist to make an eclectic room "hang together" in some way. Interior design websites as well as interior design magazines teem with these "themes" and methods for use in eclectic rooms, but you needn't spend time trying to find them, they already exist in your furniture right in front of you.

How can you relate this to your collection of furniture?

First ensure that your furniture meets caveats one and two above and then try to find unifying themes or varietal themes in the furniture like the ones listed above, or any other unifying or varietal themes that happen to exist in your furniture and try differing amounts of unity and variety in each room until you find the most pleasing for your pieces to complement each other that also pleases your personality.

What does each of your pieces offer you?

Look at each piece individually and try to find three adjectives to describe it. We do however want to keep our adjectives vague so that we can find unifying themes in groups of furniture but not so vague as to be inaccurate. Some adjectives that may help get you started are:

  • Strong
  • Shy
  • Quiet
  • Noisy
  • Demanding
  • Big
  • Small
  • Color describing adjectives are always good, especially if you can choose just one basic color, such as "brown", "orange", "red" or "yellow"
  • Decorative
  • Plain
  • Urbane
  • Provincial
  • Unassuming
  • Round
  • Square
  • Long
  • Short
  • Tall
  • Narrow
  • Fun
  • Serious

In this way, you can find which themes for unity or variety may be applied to your particular situation. The varietal themes would include adjectives that are opposites of one another such as "serious" and "fun".

You may even wish to write the three adjectives for each piece on a slip of paper, drop it onto the piece, and then move onto the next piece, and so on until every piece you own has been "categorized". This may help you to "see" your pieces more objectively later when you go back and read each slip to try to delegate pieces or themes to rooms.

Your home is an extension of you

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All good interiors involve true self-expression. You should LOVE your interiors. But just like you have people in your life that have some characteristics you may not be crazy about, you keep them in your life because overall you do love them.

If the Biedermeier pieces brought into your home by your new partner at first seem to "bully" your Scandinavian pieces, keep working with each piece until you find it's perfect place in your new home together and soon you will find that although no home is perfect, just like no person is perfect, your home as a whole can be perfect for you, and you will learn to love it's perfect expression of your life and your experiences and your family history.

Or if your collection happens to be eclectic and every single piece is beloved as well, then I promise you, if the space planning is good and the pieces alone are in good taste, they will be beautiful together. A little tweaking from time to time and the perfect place for each piece will allow each piece to shine while also contributing together to the whole design of the room and the house. And in no time your home will look like a picture you've seen on interior design websites or in magazines.

If this is all too much to ponder and solve, I am here in St. Louis for further assistance, for an initial consultation, contact me at [email protected]