What’s your home’s style? Clean lines and clutter-free glass tabletops? The vibrant colors of the Southwest? Or do you find comfort in an elegant traditional setting?

The good news: You don’t have to choose just one. Mixing styles is an option that can make your home design more interesting. But how do you avoid bringing something in that will stick out like the proverbial sore thumb? We asked Traci Taylor, principal interior designer of Arise Interiors in San Diego, how mixing different furniture, lighting and décor styles can be done right.

Q: Some home-design articles suggest that mixing styles is a trend. Is it a new thing?

A: People have always mixed styles. Colonization and travel along trade routes connected people and things that had not been connected before. There is a lot of unusual and interesting mixing of influences; we can see a hacienda table with Queen Anne legs. In the West, we see blending of Native American, Spanish and Mexican. In the Caribbean, there’s some Dutch influence.

Most of the articles out there are about what not to do, and how to play it safe. Design 101. There is not a lot of information out there about the wild things people want in their homes; you have to be a pretty good designer to tackle that.

Q: What does it mean to play it safe?

A: Designers use the 80/20 ratio. Choose a basic style for 80 percent of the space; different elements can be brought in to fill the other 20 percent. It’s a pretty good standard.

Some designers take that formula a little further, saying that the added styles should come from the same decade as the foundation furnishings and have the same feel, the same sensibility.

Q: What styles are we likely to see together?

A: Minimalism and Scandinavian play well together. Desert modern can be compatible with midcentury modern. But you don’t usually see desert modern touches in a farmhouse room. You don’t normally combine coastal and contemporary[r1] .

Mixing creates character, but it’s a challenge for both the homeowner and the designer. You have to figure it out, to ask yourself, ‘How are we going to do this?’ It is like being back in design school, solving problems. But it is so much better than seeing the same thing, over and over again.

Q: What would be a good mix people would not normally think of?

A: When furnishings are of high quality and good design, you can get a good feeling placing a plain Mexican pine table in a clean, modern space. It can be stunning. Or use a beautifully curved antique pedestal table.

Rooms have a rhythm. You can create a critical interest by repeating contrast, pattern and color. Your eyes should go to the focal point, then look at the other beautiful things in the room, like the fireplace, the comfortable furniture, the rug and a few treasures, maybe from the homeowners’ travels. It is like following their story.

Q: I’m glad you mentioned travel. How do you handle a redesign when the clients have large collections of stuff?

A: People collect very odd things, and sometimes it is hard for them to let go. I usually advise choosing three of the finest and most interesting things from a collection, and then find a place for them.

Too many collectibles can overwhelm a room and create a chaotic and haphazard atmosphere. Especially in a small room, which can feel cramped.

Q: What have been some of your biggest challenges?

A: One of my clients loved plaid. She wanted everything in plaid. Everything. I told myself, was going to make this place look cool, no matter what. In the end, it became one of my favorite projects. I wish I had pictures of it.

I did an upgraded kitchen. It is gorgeous, a super modern, contemporary with a high-gloss creamy marble countertop with touches of green. The homeowner wanted to display a collection of colorful knickknacks that would not normally belong in a neutral, streamlined kitchen. We put the collection on floating shelves and added pops of color around the room for balance.

Generally, color by itself is not enough to unite everything in the room. You need to consider the space, scale, texture, and as I mentioned before, pattern and contrast, texture and lines as well[r2] .

I really love it when people want to mix it all up, but I didn’t say it was easy.

Catherine Gaugh is a freelance writer.


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