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Mix Up Your Interiors

Combining design styles can create an eclectic and elegant look in your home.

By Ben Ikenson

A good rule of thumb in interior design is to choose a favorite style that guides you in making consistent, cohesive choices of individual decorating elements. If you’re drawn to two disparate styles, such as traditional and contemporary or Southwest and midcentury, however, this approach simply doesn’t apply. But don’t despair—with the help of professional interior designers, you can enlist well-honed strategies to create the perfect mix-and-match look.

“You have to be careful not to end up with a mishmash, and there is a fine line between eclectic and hodgepodge,” explains interior designer and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Susan Hersker. “Eclectic is a successful blending of designs, lines, materials and other considerations with a great deal of thought given to the process.” The designer’s rooms frequently include furnishings from different continents, periods and cultures, but commonalities in texture, color and form provide the necessary visual synergies.

Introducing a single, unique item to an existing interior can also take a special touch. Hersker relays an anecdote about a client whose home and furnishings were contemporary. When the woman inherited a precious heirloom cabinet from her mother—a traditional-style item that was out of sync aesthetically with her sleek interiors—Hersker embraced the piece’s ornateness. Instead of banishing the casegood to a back hallway, she created a custom space for it in the homeowner’s office. Now set between modern-style built-in cabinets, “it looks like it belongs exactly where it is, as if it was meant to be there all along.”

A contemporary Moroccan tribal rug anchors this dining room by interior designer Karen Rapp. The serene space seamlessly integrates a traditional table with contemporary chairs, a 400-year-old oil painting above the fireplace and an antique French side table.

Interior designer Karen Rapp, also a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, shares her primary trade secret for orchestrating cohesion while combining contrasting styles: Focus on scale, proportion and style sensibilities. For example, she pairs a No. 14 bistro chair designed by Michael Thonet in 1857 with an Eero Saarinen Tulip table created by its namesake Finnish designer in 1957. “The scale and proportions of the chair and the table are the same, so that’s complementary. Both pieces have curved design elements, and while they’re from different centuries, they have a similar timeless grace and elegance,” says Rapp.

Interior designers often deliberately choose seemingly discordant elements to enhance the personality of a space. “Mixing styles can add charm as well as change the entire look of a room,” says interior designer Michelle Pierce. To create a hierarchy of styles and keep the ensemble balanced, she follows a 75/25 rule. She notes, “If 75 percent of your existing furnishings and accessories are one style, say, traditional, you can add in 25 percent of another, such as midcentury, and your space will have a creative vibe but still be cohesive.”

To enhance the large scale of this sitting room dressed with mostly traditional furnishings, Rapp incorporated large pieces of contemporary artwork from the homeowner’s collection. The size of the painting above the sofa table is proportionate to the size of the antique Chinese foo
dog collection.


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