Traditional Style Architecture and Design - Explained

Decoration and Design
Additions and Remodels
Architecture
By Contractors.com Team July 19, 2021

At first glance, you may think the traditional style to be boring and outdated. It is, after all, the style of the past that draws from local architectural conventions. However, traditional architecture can be quite interesting and vibrant. Also known as vernacular style, traditional design draws from the culture, history, and geography of the place where it is built. This is in sharp contrast to modern architecture which tends to be more generic and less culture-specific in its aesthetic (an office building in Hong Kong isn’t much different from one in New York).   

Generally speaking, a traditional style structure is built with local materials and designed according to a traditional framework. Traditional style decor makes extensive use of natural colors and natural materials such as wood and clay. Because traditional architecture is specific to the region it is built in, it isn’t so much one simple style but a range of different aesthetics. A 16th century English timber-framed house is traditional architecture, as is a contemporary Kenyan clay house. Traditional architecture has a long and storied history and is responsible for some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. 

Roots of Traditional Style

Because traditional architecture is such a broad concept, it doesn’t have one distinct history. Instead, it is the coming together of many different strands of history from different parts of the world. This is especially true in the United States, where current traditional style decor draws cues mainly from Western Europe, West Africa, and the Far East. San Francisco’s rowhouses are a great example of distinctly American traditional architecture, drawing cues from Victorian architecture but making use of unconventional colors like bright red, orange, and battleship grey. 

The Fascinating History of Traditional Architecture

The Fascinating History of Traditional Architecture

Industrial Progress of Traditional Architecture

While they are quite iconic, row houses aren’t just a San Francisco thing. In fact, Victorian and Elizabethan architecture has been a staple of traditional architecture for the better part of two centuries. Virtually any major city in the contiguous United States will sport a few of these stately homes. The same goes for three-decker houses, which were built during the dawn of America’s industrial revolution to house the large influx of immigrant factory workers. These wood buildings typically housed one apartment per floor and sported big windows to let in more light. Entire neighborhoods of three-decker houses sprouted with streetcar networks and still stand today. 

Modern Takes on Traditional Architecture

Modern Takes on Traditional Architecture

The Resurgence of Traditional Design

Traditional architecture had something of a lull after WWII as suburbia started to grow and traditional design was abandoned. But in recent decades this trend has reversed thanks to changing times. As more and more people move back into the cores of America’s cities and are leaving the suburbs, traditional architecture is enjoying a soft comeback.   

The Rise of Traditional Design

The Rise of Traditional Design

How to Recognize Traditional Architecture 

What are some of the cues of traditional architecture? There are some key giveaways to look out for: 

Dark Warm Colors

The norm for traditional architecture is a color palette that is mostly composed of darker colors with brighter tones as accents. In other words, expect to see a lot of brown, red, green, brown, grey, dark yellow, and did we mention brown? 

Color Palettes That Go with a Traditional Home

Color Palettes That Go with a Traditional Home

Lots of Detail Work

Traditionally, everything in traditional design style is meant to be grand and intricate. In practice, this translates to a lot of decorative touches such as wood paneling, crown molding, and ornate columns. Details to look out for inside a traditionally styled home are ornaments such as chandeliers, vases, candleholders, and maybe even some silver and gold. Of course, these details are meant to be opulent, but not too opulent (because tradition!) 

The Beauty of Traditional Interior Design

The Beauty of Traditional Interior Design

Heavy Fabrics

Heavy silk curtains, velvet pillows, leather furniture, plaid patterns, and generous dollops of fabric trim. These are all things you’re likely to see inside a traditional home. 

Nothing’s Black and White

In the same way that traditions change with time, traditional design is also constantly changing with the times and isn’t stuck in the past. So, there’s really no reason why traditional design cues can’t be combined with more contemporary touches. Indeed it is quite common to see a traditionally-styled home that nevertheless has some modern design features. A sleek minimalist table can fit quite well with traditionally ornate chairs, and LED lighting fixtures can complement the ornamentation of traditional decor.   

Textures and Materials to Include in a Traditional Interior

Textures and Materials to Include in a Traditional Interior

How to Design Your House in Traditional Style 

If you’re planning to remodel your home, you’ll be happy to know that it’s relatively easy to adopt the traditional style for your house. 

Exterior

Unlike homes of old, our modern homes are not built of solid load-bearing materials on the outside. Instead, our homes are supported by a skeleton consisting of timber frames and a foundation. The outside stuff is just cladding, and while it plays an important job it doesn’t hold the entire house up. This is good news for traditional architecture enthusiasts because it means that it’s possible to give a house that traditional aesthetic by simply changing the cladding. The goal of this retrofit job is to give our home a woody external look complemented by dark colors.  

Most homes are clad with PVC which is quite a versatile material and can be easily made to look like wood. Alternatively, you can just go for the real stuff, strip out your vinyl cladding, and put in some genuine wood. Cedarwood is naturally resistant to moisture, pests, and rot so it can be an ideal cladding material. In any case, be sure the material you choose is finished in one of the traditional dark colors such as grey, yellow, brown, or red. If you want to be more adventurous you can even go for a two-tone color scheme where the lower half of your house is a darker color from the upper half.  

Traditional Home Exteriors to Be Inspired By

Traditional Home Exteriors to Be Inspired By

Interior

The key to traditional interior design is to avoid anything jarring or garish. Instead, your design choices should be predictable, cozy, and ornamental. At the end of the day, the intricacy of your traditional design depends on how far you’re willing to go with the whole redesign. For a shortcut to something more traditional-looking, there are several things you can do:

  • Get some antique furniture: anything made of wood that’s heavily upholstered and complete with darker colors is ideal. Traditional designs usually place furniture in the center of a room and typically arrange everything in pairs. Don’t just buy things willy-nilly though, because there has to be some semblance of uniformity in your furniture. Put simply, everything should look like it belongs together. 
  • Put in some hardwood flooring: you can also put in some other traditional-looking floor material. Generally speaking, anything that gives a wood look is a good fit. Vinyl plank, wood-look tile, engineered hardwood, and solid hardwood are all ideal choices for that natural, traditional look.
  • Add window coverings: window blinds are a bit too modernist for a traditional interior design, so it's better to ditch them and get something more classic. Look for heavy curtains made of luxurious material such as silk with pinch pleated sheers and other detail-work. 
  • Put things on display: for an authentic traditional aesthetic, you also want to have places to display all the finery in your house. So, invest in some cabinets with glass paneling and lighting so you have a prominent place for your beautiful chinaware and glassware. For the design of your ceramicware, you want to aim for something pleasing to the eye such as a floral design. When your plates are on your grand oak dining table, they’ll need some framing in the form of pretty napkins, some placements, and of course an ornate tablecloth. 
Most Eye-Catching Elements of a Traditional Interior

Most Eye-Catching Elements of a Traditional Interior

The Small Things 

There are smaller details you can change as well if you’re aiming for a more traditional look. When looking for pieces to add to your traditional aesthetic, look for symmetry, ornamentation, and nice materials such as brass, glass, silver, and a dash of gold. Here’s a list of items to look for which can be found at most antique stores and garage sales: antique lamps with silk shades, urns, mirrors, framed prints, antique ceramic china, antique crystal and glassware, vases, and old books. 

What Decor to Use In a Traditional Interior

What Decor to Use In a Traditional Interior

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team