Like one’s clothing choices, interior design can be intensely personal. However, unlike clothing, which you can change every day, interior design is a bit more permanent. So, let’s discuss how you can incorporate classic interior design in your space!
“Classic interior design” can actually mean a wide variety of things, ranging from more traditional styles–like English Country Home–to more modern aesthetics, like Bauhaus and Midcentury Modern. These days, you don’t even have to commit to appointing your space in just one style. Raphael and Teresa’s interior design, for example, leans heavily toward traditional aesthetics, but even they don’t stick to just one school of design. You can experiment with multiple styles at the same time to find a blend that’s unique to you.
If you look at modern home retailers, furniture companies, and design firms, it’s clear that traditional design is not the most popular style today. Current trends lean more towards simplified modern and midcentury-inspired styles featuring neutral tones and some light patterning.
It may be harder these days to find traditional design resources in the mainstream, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not worth pursuing. Just the opposite, in fact, because while everyone else is scrambling and fighting over a Room & Board sofa for 90% off the retail price, you can find a traditional Persian rug for just 10% of that retail price.
Today, we’ll be looking specifically at more traditional design classics, but stay tuned for another post sometime in the future covering more modern design classics.
Traditional Design Classics
“Traditional design” as it’s used today is most chiefly inspired by 18th and 19th century European home decor. This style was formal and sumptuous, embracing color, pattern, curved lines, and details aplenty. In other words, it’s really the opposite of minimalist style and it’s often described by adherents as being “elegant.”
In terms of furniture, traditional materials like wood and marble are often used, and upholstery will use plush, heavy fabrics like velvet and silk, as well as leather. Colors used can range from being bold and rich with reds, browns, and greens all the way to pastels. However, the style generally doesn’t take advantage of more neutral color shades. And from rugs to walls to curtains, an abundance of patterns are seen everywhere in this style.
We wanted to come up with a list of interior design classics that you can use to appoint your own space that won’t disappoint you in the long run. There are many classics out there, of course, but we think that this curated list of 11 choices will suit gentlemen who, like us, don’t want to be in a space that will seem hopelessly dated in 10 years’ time. Colors, patterns, finishes, and even the size of different furniture pieces can wax and wane over time but we think that this particular list of classics will never go out of style.
The Potential Costs of Interior Design
Before we jump into the list, let’s take a moment to briefly talk about the potential costs of interior design. Classically styled pieces that are purchased new can often be large, expensive, and costly to move. As such, you’ll often need quite a bit of space to accommodate some of these pieces. We would recommend that you buy vintage or second-hand when looking for pieces like this, as you’ll often be able to find a range of sizes and the cost will obviously be much lower.
The English Country Home aesthetic, for example, is based on the assumption that you’ve got a large amount of space and a relatively large budget–but with some creativity, you can find pieces in this school of design that would even work well in something like a 5th-floor walk-up studio apartment.
Interior Design Classics
1. Chesterfield Sofa
This piece was invented by the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield, Lord Philip Dormer Stanhope, who lived from 1694 to 1770. The Earl of Chesterfield was a politician, but he was also apparently something of a trendsetter. Given that he asked a local craftsman to create a sofa that allowed a man to sit upright without wrinkling his clothes, he was definitely a man after our own hearts!
Sigmund Freud was another famous owner of a Chesterfield sofa, and today it’s a staple in clubhouses, old-fashioned libraries, and offices. It’s characterized by deep-buttoned upholstery and nailhead trim, which adds three-dimensional interest to a room (since the rounded tufts and deep nailhead create visual peaks and valleys throughout the piece).
While some furniture can be flatter, a Chesterfield will definitely help to add more dimension to a room. This piece is especially great in that you can make it what you want, using colors like black or going with distressed leather for a man cave or library, and going with something like white or gray linen for a more formal living room.
If a Chesterfield sofa is too big for your space, you could consider a chair in the same style. This transitions us nicely into our next pick.
2. Wingback Chair
This was a piece that was originally designed to keep its occupant warm, because the wings and upholstered back would trap the warm air of a fireplace and block drafts; it would often sit in the home facing the fireplace. These were first introduced in England in the 1600s, but they didn’t really become popular until the 1720s. The basic design has essentially remained unchanged ever since, and today, wingback chairs are a staple for libraries, living rooms, or hearth rooms.
They can be styled like a Chesterfield, and they’re often tufted as well. They’re great for a space that’s directly opposite the entrance of a room or against a wall, because they naturally draw the eye upward with their tall frame. As long time viewers of our channel will have noticed, we have two small wingback chairs in our studio.
3. Grand Piano
Though it’s doubtless a luxury purchase, a piano is still a staple of classic interior design. In fact, a true grand piano really is almost as much a design piece as it is an instrument. The modern piano was invented around the year 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco, the keeper of instruments for the Medici family. In terms of design, pianos are an excellent element to fill large or awkward spaces, bay windows, or empty areas that you aren’t sure what to do with (like an entryway or corner, for example).
Propping the lid open will help to again draw the eye upward and thus make your space look larger overall. With the lid closed, you can use a piano as a table of sorts to display floral arrangements, family photos, artwork, and so on–although the particularly music-minded among us probably wouldn’t want to set things on top of a grand piano.
Even though the popular perception of a grand piano is of something that’s an incredibly expensive purchase, this doesn’t always have to be the case. If the brand, in particular, isn’t important for you, you can find a model for something like $5,000 from a dealer.
For reference here, a new eight-foot Chesterfield sofa from RH (formerly Restoration Hardware) is just about the same price. In fact, we’ve also seen them on Craigslist for just a few hundred dollars from people who desperately want to get them out of their houses! So, don’t be intimidated by the price of a grand piano (and a baby grand, in particular).
If you’re in it just for the looks, it can be a relatively affordable purchase. Of course, if you’d like to get an actual working instrument of good quality, that’s an entirely different ballgame, and probably something that could be covered in a future post.
4. Curated Bookshelf
In traditional design, bookshelves were really an intrinsic part of a room, built into spaces like walls, corners, and alcoves. So even though you may not have built-in bookshelves, buying a shelving unit that looks like a piece of furniture can help to replicate this built-in look. In particular, look for pieces that feature crown molding around the top and the base.
Traditional bookshelves were often constructed either from wood that directly matched that of the house, or painted. Therefore, painting your shelves the same color as the walls and trim will help them to look as though they “belong” in your space in a more traditional way.
What do we mean by “curated,” then? Essentially what it means is appointing the contents of the shelves in a design-oriented way first, rather than directly for functionality. In other words, you’re not using the shelves primarily as a method of storage, but rather as a focal point and design element.
The most traditional look would, of course, involve tightly fitted leather-bound books that fill the entire capacity of the shelf. The more modern approach, meanwhile, is to avoid filling the entirety of the shelf or even half of its space, to avoid looking crowded or overstuffed. You could fill the space partially with books, either vertically or horizontally stacked, and then add various artworks, objet d’art, knick-knacks, framed photos, statuary sculptures, floral arrangements, and so on, depending on your own personal feel.
5. Oil Paintings
Though there are countless ways to fill your wall space these days, at the height of the English Country Home, paintings were nearly the only choice. So today, portrait and landscape paintings that are heavily framed will instantly make your space look more polished and formal.
The contents of the painting itself don’t necessarily need to be strictly traditional, of course, as a traditionally styled frame (like a gilt frame) will go a long way to making the entire piece seem more traditional overall. Even a piece of modern art in one of these types of frames will still look somewhat traditional. And again, this is another category where new, gallery-purchased art can run for an impossibly high price tag, but you can certainly find original and reproduction pieces at estate sales and online for a fraction of those costs.
6. Classically Styled Mirrors
Another traditional design element that’s both beautiful and practical–and closely related to our previous pick–is a classically styled mirror. Mirrors will help to open up space and make it feel bigger because they reflect light back into the room, and the frame can provide another traditional design element.
7. Pool Table
Billiards, in their various forms, have been a leisurely pastime for gentlemen for centuries. In fact, King Louis XI of France had the first known indoor billiards table, and the game has been evolving ever since. Pool, more specifically, has been around in its current form since about the mid-1800s.
If you have the space for it, a pool table is a traditional centerpiece for a gaming room, library, or spare room. Pool tables are another piece that can be quite expensive new, but given that they are so large and cumbersome to move, you can often find them for a fraction of the price if you’re looking second-hand. In fact, some people are so happy to get rid of them that they can even occasionally be found for free! Moving might be a challenge, but ultimately, their loss will be your gain.
This item is the only one on this list that might be slightly controversial. We’ll start here by saying that taxidermy is definitely not for everyone; either you love the concept or you hate it. We’ll go on the record here by saying that we don’t believe that animals should be killed solely with the purpose to create taxidermy, nor do we think that endangered or exotic animals should be displayed like this in a home.
Where Gentleman’s Gazette headquarters is located in Minnesota, most taxidermy comes from legally hunted animals like deer and pheasant. What’s more, state fishery and hunting boards, and even private organizations, often have animal conservation at the core of what they do. With all that being said, then: once it is preserved, a taxidermied animal can last almost indefinitely as a piece of decor.
In general, this kind of decoration is wall-, shelf-, or surface-mounted. It’s primarily something that can be found at antique and vintage stores, as well as at estate sales. It definitely provides a more ruggedly masculine look, but it can be used in small doses to further enhance an overall traditional theme.
9. Oriental Rugs
These are among the best design pieces you can add to your home for a traditional look, since wall-to-wall carpet or other flooring alternatives were created mostly in the 20th century. At retail prices, they can be incredibly expensive–and that’s because many of them are painstakingly created by hand over a period of months, or sometimes even years. But just like many items on our list, they can be particularly cost-effective when purchased second-hand, as a quality oriental rug can last for decades and will be quite resilient to any wear and tear.
Window coverings can definitely make a statement about your personal style. Traditionally, window coverings were used to keep out cold air and light, but today they’re almost always used purely for decorative purposes. They’re also an excellent way to introduce color and pattern into the design of a room while being relatively inexpensive compared to many of the other items on our list.
We’re not talking about the horrible, poofy designs of the 1980s here. Rather, classic drapery is sweeping, bold, and elegant–and as we’ve mentioned with a few other pieces, it can draw the eye upward, making a space look taller and airier.
Drapery will go a long way toward making a room look more finished, and it will also tie together other traditional style elements; while most traditionally designed spaces may or may not have contained some of the elements listed above, they almost always contained drapery. When in doubt, going with a solid will be the most conservative choice, but we would encourage you to work with patterns if it’s compatible with your space.
11. Palm Trees
During the Victorian Era at the end of the 19th century, traditional style added a plant for the first time: the palm tree. In the 1840s, the Kew Gardens built the world’s largest greenhouse and started collecting palm trees, which at that time only grew in the tropics. This inspired the wealthy elite to begin collecting palm trees, and influential American financier Jay Gould, for example, had more than 300 palms in his collection in the 1880s.
Palms came to symbolize wealth and luxury, so they became a coveted interior design element. Today, the palm tree, whether living or faux, is still an elegant addition to any home. As we’ve said with many of the other items on this list, a palm tree can also help to draw the eye upward and make space look larger.
The green leaves will help to add color and freshness to a room, and they’re great for filling awkward spaces like corners. We’re not suggesting you develop a collection of 300 palms, of course, but maybe start with one and see how you like it!
Classic interior design can make your space look elegant and timeless. Although traditional decor is perhaps best suited for larger spaces, concepts like expanding the dimension of a room and incorporating some personality can be adapted to items for modern, smaller homes, and can be worth pursuing.
Note: This post is an update to our previous guide, which emphasizes English home interiors.