• Wei Shen

When we talk about interior design “style”, what are we actually talking about?

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

Have you ever entered a furniture store and been confronted with a question:

which style do you want in your new home?

So today we are here to discuss what "styles" really mean to you and how we can benefit from them better.

Eclectic interior designer, modern interior design, industrial style, Scandinavian style

Image from

Which style can you tell this room represents?

Classic, modern, industrial, Scandinavian, Bohemian... maybe more. Can you feel the unique flavor that cannot be obtained by using one style throughout?

Non-designers usually romanticize and simplify the process of design, believing that it can be summarized by a "style" name, and that good designs are pure results of gathering beautiful examples which they have seen before.

There are occasions where people complain about their disappointments when decorating their homes by following a magazine photo. Well, here is the problem. Without putting into your specific context, copying from another interior will most likely lose the "soul" part of a project. Like many other things we do, context should be taken into account when designing our homes.

What is the context of an architectural or interior style?

How do you think a style was formed?

Any style that you can give a name to is an embodiment of a certain era or region. It reflects people's lifestyles, tastes and the level of technology and craftsmanship of that time. Applying a type of "style" without understanding the relevant context of how it originated will hurt the integrity of the design process.

The builder of an American colonial house in 1740 did not think, as we often do today, “I really like colonials, I think I’ll build one.” Rather, houses were built sensibly with the materials and technology available, and with an eye sensitively attuned to proportion, scale, and harmony … True architectural style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely - even accidentally - out of a holistic process. (Frederick 82)

American colonial architecture includes several building design styles associated with the colonial period of the US, including First Period English, French Colonial, Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, and Georgian. Take the Spanish Colonial homes as an example. They were first built in the parts of America settled by Spaniards— Florida, California, and throughout the Southwest—from the 1600s to the mid-1800s. Since the Spanish settled in areas with similar climates as their homeland, the houses they built were quite similar to those found in Spain. For instance, typical white stucco over adobe brick or stone wall which helped keep the houses cool. To be practical, colonizing settlers also merged building practices of their home nation with the local materials and tools available.

Whitewashed stucco walls, hand-glazed tiles on the kitchen backsplash, sculptural stove hood and the wrought iron chandelier above the table are typical elements of Spanish Colonial kitchens, which were highly associated with the techniques then and the culture of the two nations. Images from

Since Spanish Colonial architecture was built across such a large geographic area with different indigenous populations, the style has some regional distinctions as well. "Despite sharing the same Spanish cultural traditions and building techniques, the Southeast and Southwest had markedly different stylistic responses, based upon their specific geography and indigenous cultures," explains Andrew Cogar, AIA, and president of Historical Concepts, an architecture firm based in Atlanta and NYC that specializes in traditional homes.

That, is a context of an architectural style.

Spanish Colonial style continues to have its popularity for homes in temperate climate zones. When homes that share a similar context are integrating this type of style, they look more authentic than artificial.

Art style can explain it in another angle.

Post-Impressionists were dissatisfied with the triviality of subject matter and the loss of structure in Impressionist paintings. They believed that color could be independent of form & composition as an emotional & aesthetic bearer of meaning. Within this context, one of the best-known Post-impressionists Vincent Van Gogh found his euphoria through experimenting with his own painting techniques, instead of deciding in the very beginning that “I am going to paint Post-impressionism style”. No mention that the term Post-impressionism was first used in 1906, 16 years after his death.

In Van Gogh's letters to his younger brother Theo which we could read like a continuous diary, we feel the artist's sense of mission, his struggle and triumphs, his desperate loneliness and longing for companionship, and we become aware of the immense strain under which he worked with feverish energy... He longed for an unsophisticated art which would not only appeal to rich connoisseurs but give joy and consolation to every human being. (Gombrich 420)