Design Manifesto: Design Styles, Explained

In this final part of our Design Manifesto, we look at a few of our favourite design styles and exactly what these consist of

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Mid-Century Meets Modern, Plum Guide home in Palm Springs

Minimalist

The clue’s in the name. This is an interiors style where everything (yes, everything) is reduced to its most essential or minimal form. The key to minimalist interiors is that nothing lets the side down. Every piece of furniture, sculptural houseplant, light, or work of art should be given enough space to be looked at and examined on its own. Because of the generous space around things, it becomes essential that each element is of the highest quality, especially with regards to quality and textural qualities of materials – there is nowhere for cheap/crummy things to hide in a purist minimalist home. 

The minimalist look at Baroness Dupon, Plum Guide home in London

The minimalist look at Baroness Dupon, Plum Guide home in London

To an untrained eye, a supposedly ‘minimalist’ Ikea-type interior might look the same as a high-end minimalist home. The difference will be that in the good version, the floor will be highly considered (polished concrete or large, wide, raw floorboards) and the white armchair will be covered in a beautiful thick linen fabric. Stylistic coherence across the home is key and this is often achieved by having the same flooring and wall finishes throughout the home – floorboards often continue seamlessly between rooms and a continuation of the same indoor flooring is another trope that is often used to help encourage that much sought-after feeling of expansiveness and free-flowingness. Wall art (if there is any, because often there isn’t much) should be absolutely in keeping visually with the pared-down aesthetic of the style. For examples Google the designers John Pawson and Axel Vervoordt.

In a sentence: Pared-down, clean lines, exquisite materials, sensitivity to scale and composition of room and its contents, nothing fiddly or fussy, a feeling of durability and timelessness.

Design siblings: Industrial, Scandi, Mid-Century Modern

Eclectic

This is a slightly superficial label as it’s not really a style with a defined design history or a rule book. It is sought-after though and when it’s well done, it can result in some of the more unique and character-infused interiors. It is probably the most difficult style to achieve successfully as – unlike the more prescriptive styles like minimalism or Scandi – there is no real template and it needs to have been put together by someone with a great eye for unusual pieces and the design flair to combine fabrics, artwork, furniture from all over the world and from any number of different periods. It often works particularly well when the shell of the home is of interest too: a well-proportioned period home, for example, or a double-height modern space, as if done in too small a space it can end up feeling cluttered.

The eclectic look at Cloud Divine, Plum Guide home in New York

The eclectic look at Cloud Divine, Plum Guide home in New York

You should get a strong sense of the owner/decorator and their tastes from this style and you should feel like they have lovingly chosen each thing in the home with care, over a considerable period of time, and very likely picked up things from travels, flea markets etc. The things in the home might feel similar to a vintage/shabby chic style home but the difference is that they will have more room to breathe, will often be on a very clean, highly finished shell, and there might be more contemporary pieces thrown in.

In a sentence: A visually stimulating and satisfying mix of different styles, often with bold accents of colour through furniture or art, ranks highly in the character stakes, the opposite of a generic hotel room. 

Design siblings: Bohemian, Mid-century Modern, Hollywood Regency 

Mid-century Modern

There is some disagreement about when this American style established itself but broadly speaking it’s mid-1930s to mid- 1960s. It is very closely related to European Modernism, and grew out of the Bauhaus ideas of a highly integrated and function-led view of architecture and furniture design. It was quite utopian in its ambitions and its proponents believed passionately in the power of good, thoughtful, unornamented design in everyday life to help nurture a good, meaningful life. Form always follows function (key Bauhaus idea). Minimal ornamentation (the structure is often embraced as key part of the design and very much on show rather than concealed). 

The mid-century modern look at aptly named Mid-Century Meets Modern, Plum Guide home in Palm Springs

The mid-century modern look at aptly named Mid-Century Meets Modern, Plum Guide home in Palm Springs

Materials are key (both traditional and non-traditional) – the specific functional and tactile qualities of materials were of great interest. A range of colours are used in the furniture (often in seating cushions), including bright accents of 1960/70s-type colours (e.g. orange and olive green) often on a neutral base of greys and browns, but also a graphic use of black and white. It’s not enough for a home to have a minimal aesthetic to be considered mid-century modern – it really needs to have some furniture from or directly inspired by the period, (there is a lot of this around as it is extremely fashionable at the moment). Google mid-century modern furniture if you are unsure – you will very likely be visually familiar with the style already.

In a sentence: A highly distinctive style – born out of German Bauhaus ideas – about architecture and furniture needing to be intimately related – an understated look, with minimum ornamentation. 

Design siblings: Minimalist, Industrial, Eclectic, Scandi 

Bohemian

Like Eclectic this style doesn’t have a set of clearly defined rules and, as such, needs to be put together by someone with a good eye. Because these kinds of interiors are often put together over long periods of time, with great love, attention, and a lot of scavenging at flea markets, they are likely to be lived-in homes rather than purely rental properties and so usually have a lovely, cosy, homely feel. 

The bohemian look at Boho Factory, Plum Guide home in Berlin

The bohemian look at Boho Factory, Plum Guide home in Berlin

Furniture might well be a bit beaten up, but this is part of the charm of this style – these are homes that evoke fun past gatherings and inspire future ones. Lots of love, visual stimulation, character, books and art. There should be nothing generic feeling in a home of this style. It should feel alive, unfixed, original, and tell you something about the person who put it together. Often has great art and books. People will disagree on exactly where the line falls, but this style should teeter on the right side of shambolic. 

In a sentence: Lots of vintage things (different colours, patterns, textures) thrown together with flair and a sense of easy spontaneity, brimming with character, might feel a bit chaotic to minimalist types.  Design siblings: Eclectic, rustic farmhouse style

Coastal

A weathered, faded look is the essential element of Coastal interiors. This look can also be achieved in a more chi-chi way (bit more Hamptons), but typically it feels a bit shabby chic and low key. Big windows help, and a sea view too. Floors will likely be wooden, often limed with a bit of white, or painted completely white. The overall feel is laid back, pared down, allowing the light and (hopefully gorgeous) views to be the main event. 

The coastal look at Abalone, Plum Guide home in Malibu, Los Angeles

The coastal look at Abalone, Plum Guide home in Malibu, Los Angeles

Furniture is always natural, made from driftwood, bamboo, or rattan, and linen often makes an appearance. It helps the style considerably for the shell of the home to have a double-height, vaulted ceiling and for there to be a feeling of spaciousness. Palette-wise, it is usually always white/cream and often with accents of blue (to evoke the sea and sky) but this is not essential. Driftwood and shells crop up a lot, as do hurricane lanterns, nautical themed objects, and stripes. 

In a sentence: Weathered, faded whites, natural materials, airy, lots of natural light expansive feel, not too precious.

Design siblings: Bohemian, scandi, minimalist

Sophisticated city style

This is a somewhat artificial category but we are using it to describe city-style (chic, sophisticated) homes that embrace the classic proportions of a period room, filled with lovely, expensive-feeling, often printed, fabrics (Colefax & Fowler-type thing) and an overall traditional feel. Some people might consider it a slightly old-fashioned style but when done well, it can be extremely cosy and appealing. 

The sophisticated city style look at The Wax Seal, Plum Guide home in Bath

The sophisticated city style look at The Wax Seal, Plum Guide home in Bath

Low level empire lamps (covered in parchment or fabric) are a key component of this style and this makes for a very cosy feel in the evenings. Colours are natural on the whole (think Farrow & Ball) and nothing remotely garish. Bedrooms are often wallpapered and always have proper bedside tables and cosy reading lamps on both sides of the bed. Sofas and armchairs are always traditional in shape and hard furniture is often antique wood. 

In a sentence: Usually benefits from a period-style shell (Georgian high ceilings and sash windows) – has traditional furniture, low level lampshaded lighting, expensive fabrics, and overall traditional colour scheme. Design siblings: Rustic farmhouse style

Rustic farmhouse style

Nothing should be too delicate or precious. Kitchens and living spaces given great prominence. Old, worn, durable furniture. Sturdy (Plain English style), good-quality shaker- style kitchen. Should look like the home has evolved over time as per shabby chic style – matchy-matchy is a no-no and feels twee.  

Styles and materials can be all mixed up – that’s part of the charm. Reproduction, faux-nostalgic type furniture designed to look “country” should be avoided in favour of good-quality actually old pieces. The devil is in the detail (the nuances of texture and quality), as with all interiors styles. Helps significantly if the shell is old and country style – exposed wooden beams, old floors (wooden or flagstones). Look out for aga stoves, farmhouse sinks, period (brass) fixtures and fittings, weathered, matt finishes.

The rustic farmhouse look at Thyme & Sage, Plum Guide home in the Cotswolds

The rustic farmhouse look at Thyme & Sage, Plum Guide home in the Cotswolds

In a sentence: Feels cosy, old-fashioned in a good way, homely, full of charm and character – lots of natural materials, feels lived-in, nothing modern or garish. 

Design siblings: Bohemian, coastal, scandi

Scandi

You’ll likely have heard of the Danish concept of ‘hygge’ (roughly translated as cosiness), which has been all over the place in the last few years, but there’s more to Scandinavian design than candles and sheepskin rugs – it’s a laid-back, quite easily achieved style, which consists of clean lines, white walls, wooden floors and lots of houseplants. It’s so prevalent in fact (mainly because it’s quite cheap to achieve), that it’s almost become a bit invisible as a style. Scandinavian design shares quite a lot with Japanese design, in that in both countries it is deeply embedded culturally that good, uncluttered design is essential to a good life and that this naturally starts at home.

The scandi look at Belle, Plum Guide home in Copenhagen

The scandi look at Belle, Plum Guide home in Copenhagen

Scandinavian design relies upon good quality, natural materials, in a pared-down palette (white is king), with cosy lighting and throws and cushions aplenty. If the shell of a home is boring or small, then this style can feel a bit generic and Ikea-esque, but in a high-ceilinged, well-proportioned space, it can look super chic and stylish. 

In a sentence: Restrained, minimal overall but still cosy – lots of white, linen, wood, large house plants, often with industrial-inspired lighting. 

Design siblings: Mid-century modern, minimalist

Industrial

Industrial interiors obviously look a lot more authentic if they are in a converted warehouse or loft space, as a key aspect of the style is an embrace of an industrial building’s framework and inherent structural elements. Industrial accents are cropping up in all sorts of homes now though – especially in lighting (Jielde articulated wall lights and big metal pendant lights in kitchens). 

The industrial look at Copper Cabana, Plum Guide home in London

The industrial look at Copper Cabana, Plum Guide home in London

For a full-on industrial look, it’s best to have a large, double-height, open-plan space, whose raw walls and floors haven’t been done up. As the colour palette of industrial-style homes is often quite restrained (greys, blacks, whites), textures become extremely important. The rough-hewn irregular surfaces of floors (polished concrete) and walls (unfinished plaster, concrete, exposed brickwork) become a central feature and are often left unadorned without art, so as to focus on them as the main point of interest. Factory/warehouse-style metal-framed windows are a key feature as is the open-plan, expansive feel of an industrial home’s layout. 

In a sentence: The industrial style displays the building materials and structural elements that have traditionally been concealed in domestic spaces – raw, functional feel, exposed metal features, factory windows. 

Design siblings: Minimalism, mid-century modern

Hollywood regency

This style executed full-throttle is mainly only seen in LA/Palm Springs but introducing accents of Hollywood regency is becoming increasing fashionable around the world, especially in the recent taste for bold colour and velvet sofas and cocktail chairs. The two key elements of Hollywood regency style, that almost every example has, are velvet and gold. 

The Hollywood regency look at The Rich & Famous, Plum Guide home in Los Angeles

The Hollywood regency look at The Rich & Famous, Plum Guide home in Los Angeles

Other key features include extremely bold, geometric, high-contrast carpets, bold, often quite garish colour, mirrored surfaces, lacquered surfaces, and a kind of art deco glamour. It should evoke the Hollywood’s Golden Era (1920s through the 1950s) but with a contemporary sense of irony/knowingness. It’s deliberately over-the-top, kitsch and theatrical in feel. When done well, it should feel very high-end and glam – the kind of space you sip a cocktail in, or wander through in a silk dressing gown. Jonathan Adler is a good designer to Google if you want to see more. 

In a sentence: Kitsch, opulent, glamorous and has a sense of humour – lots of velvet, gold, bright colour, glass, and mirrored/ lacquered finishes.

Design siblings: Eclectic

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