Must A House’s Architecture Dictate Your Design Style?

Hi Everyone,

What glorious weather we’ve been having here in Boston the last few days. No air-conditioner is needed. So, I’ve opened the windows but first spent quite a while cleaning the soot-infested sills. No sense having all of that blowing inside!

While I’m no longer able to answer every comment, I read all of them, and several days ago, one caught my attention after the post concerning decorating paralysis.


It’s an interesting topic, I think. Does your home’s architecture have to dictate your design style?


Here is what LVWoods said in her comment:


I am in the midst of a kitchen remodel myself, and I’ve certainly suffered from design/decor paralysis. I believe Pinterest is the primary culprit…so many rabbit holes to go down over there.

To your point of continuity and design style “flow” between rooms and throughout the house, I think we can often become entrenched in what we think we want and dig in our heels, even if it’s not what’s best suited to the house. The problem with this approach is that the house itself should get at least a say in how it all unfolds.  Ultimately, the design and decor don’t belong to us; they belong to the house.


Okay, I understand her point; however, do I think that the inside of the house needs to dictate the design style?


Well, some of you might be surprised to read that I don’t think the architecture and the design style need to match.

Here’s why.

Once you’ve walked into the house, it’s just another place with ceilings, walls, and floors. And I can say from experience that it is possible to have a different style on the inside.


Some examples of houses and what we might expect in terms of design style inside.


A beach house with beach-style furnishings and colors– ala Serena & Lily

Mid-century modern home with mid-century furnishings

Or, a center hall colonial with traditional (based on 18th-century designs) furniture.

It could be a log cabin home in the Adirondacks with the obligatory deer head trophy, and all of the rest one is “required” to have in a home of that style.


It doesn’t have to be like this. Please check out this post when I first introduced the fabulous Jean Stoffer. There you can see what she did with a rustic home. Plus, there are a lot of other fantastic rustic homes with a trad bent to them.


In fact, what I think is more important than the architectural style is what is going on OUTSIDE the house. What do you see through the windows?


For instance, if it’s a beach home and you’re right by the ocean, are you going to do a red, green, and gold color scheme? Well, I wouldn’t.

One example I’ve been sharing recently is Philip Mitchell’s exquisitely designed former home in Toronto.

Philip uses the hashtag  #pmd914yongestreet on Instagram.

Please follow Philip Mitchell on Insta if you aren’t already.

So, I googled 914 Yonge Street and found the building.


914_Yonge_Street_Condos_Exterior Facade

I’ve been to Toronto maybe 15 times. My waslaws live there. And, yes, this is the typical, contemporary downtown apartment condominium building. There are dozens of these buildings.

contemplorary design style 914 Yonge St - TorontoAbove and below are a couple of typical apartments that one can find in this building. Certainly, as far as design style goes, they are what I would expect to see with a modern building like this. Right?


914 yonge st Toronto - modern apartment - contemplorary design style

But, do you remember Philip’s apartment?

Of course!

Well, he sold it in 2017.

You may recall that Phillip is the genius behind one of the best and most popular galley kitchens ever. In fact, I bet he got a lot of work, just based on how fabulous this jewel box of a kitchen it is.


Philip Mitchell - fabulous galley-Kitchen
But to be clear. THIS kitchen is in THIS building.


914_Yonge_Street_Condos_Exterior Facade

914 Yonge Street in Toronto

Philip Mitchell Design - former apartment 914 Yonge St. new-traditional design style

This certainly doesn’t look like an apartment I would expect to find in such a modern-style building. But, is it wrong to do an apartment that is the diametric opposite in design style?

I don’t think so. I think it’s fantastic. That’s why I love showing Philip’s wonderful work; it’s like a mini interior design course.


design style-Philip Mitchell Design 914 Yonge St - modern building - traditional interior design


Another view of the living room.


See how deftly he handled the contemporary windows? And, of course, the exquisite use of mouldings is what takes this place to another architectural level. Also, this place is the penthouse, and yes, the ceilings are higher than in the other two apartments above, but I don’t think they are more than nine feet high.

What makes them look like they’re soaring is that incredible crown moulding which is creating the illusion of a few more inches because it extends onto the ceiling. Also, read about wainscoting and what you should never do.


design style - apartment Toronto

I found this image from a real estate listing. Obviously, they moved all of their furniture out and took down the window treatments. And then they moved in the furniture that was supposed to go into a dentist’s office. No further comment is necessary. Of course, the bones are still there. But…

You can see more of this kitchen and the rest of this stunning apartment furnished beautifully on Philip Mitchell’s portfolio.


Now, I imagine some of you are wondering WHY Philip and his partner bought a place that is so the antithesis of their classic, new-traditional style.


That’s a wonderful question, but you already know the answer.

The answer is the three most important words in real estate.






That’s why.

Isn’t this fun?

Let’s look at another example. And, actually, these were some of my favorite clients waaaay back. I did a sizeable amount of work for them in 1999-2000. And again in 2006-07.


contemporary house Bedford Corners, NY
Here’s the house via Google maps.

However, when I started working on the house, it was the color that nearly every house built in the 70s and early 80s was painted…



Sorry. Not sorry. It was the time of bad architecture and bad hair, too.


Oh, so young and sooooh dumb. lol

If you’d like and haven’t already, you can read the backstory here of how this disaster happened.


However, 80s music was great! Rember the New Wave?

Therefore, please enjoy today’s musical selections. Many of you have requested this. I can’t promise I’ll do it for every post, but I’m happy to share music I love. These are 3 of my favorites by the 80s British pop group, THE SMITHS! They still have a cult following, and for good reasons.


The Boy With The Thorn In His Side


YouTube video

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out


YouTube video

Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now


YouTube video

I hope you enjoyed the Smiths. Please let me know in the comments.


Okay, let’s continue with our topic of mixing design styles and let’s bring down that 70s-80s contemporary in northern Westchester County, NY.


contemporary house Bedford Corners, NY
Mrs. D hated the house. She hated it. (said with an English Cockney accent).

BUT– she LOVED the neighborhood.

Ahh, there’s that word, again. Location. It trumps all, time after time.


Anyway, Mrs. D, in our first appointment, bemoaned that what she really wanted for this, their forever home was a center hall colonial.


I took a look around, and I said something to the effect that it was never going to be that, but we could definitely make it feel much more like the house she really wanted. So I went over some of the very doable changes. Mrs. D was very excited and hired me on the spot. That’s always a good sign it’s going to be a terrific experience.


Okay, I looked and looked for pics of this house.


Even bad pics. I’m sorry, I don’t seem to have them in any of my old files that are stored in the cloud. I have some from other clients from this time period but not of this place. And, it looks like the D’s are still there, so there aren’t even any real estate photos.

However, I can describe briefly what we did to make this home feel more traditional.

As you can see, it began on the outside. But, first, they painted the exterior a beautiful pale gray, which made a world of difference.

Walking inside the large double door, you can see in the image; there lived a beige marble floor. That was juxtaposed next to the typical orangey-yellow oak floor.


At the time, I had a really terrific floor guy.


And we came up with a stain that was actually a thinned down Benjamin Moore paint in a pale off-white with a slight green tone. This counteracted the red in the wood. He finished the stain with three coats of clear acrylic poly.

It was beautiful, and now the oak floor blended in very nicely with the marble floor.

In addition, there were no mouldings anywhere. So, we got a simple 4″ wide casing. Finally, in the family room, we did a built-in bookcase instead of the makeshift furniture.


Equisite Rugs Oushak style gold and red rug
On a shopping trip in Manhattan, I came across a rug very much like this one, above from Exquisite Rugs.


The D’s loved it, so I built their family room and dining room around this color scheme.


However, we stuck primarily to golds, tan, and white. And, we did white linen Roman shades with a Greek Key border.

Yes, back in 2000!

Six years later, they expanded and remodeled their kitchen. It was very much like a DeVOL kitchen with Shaker cabinets. It was perfect for the house. I wasn’t involved with that except for some window treatments and cushions.

So, you see, even though the house was definitely of the modern style, the inside had traditional elements that looked like they had always been there.


Oh, I could keep going with my ideas about juxtaposing decorating styles. However, much of this idea has already been expanded upon in the following posts.


I encourage you to have a look at them if this idea of mixing design styles interests you.

Can a Modern-Style Home Mix with Traditional Mouldings?

The Trick to Mixing Modern and Traditional Furniture

Ranch House Decor Mistakes You Might Be Making

Can a Raised Ranch Become a Traditional Home?

Boxy, Boring Ranch Home. Is There Any Hope?

Contemporary Interiors. Are They Trendy or Timeless?


Well, Laurel, how does one know how to do this so that it looks pulled together?


That’s a great question. But, actually, most of us do it naturally without giving it a lot of thought.

However, if you look at the images I posted, they pretty much follow the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule seems to apply to just about everything.

In the case of a design style, it means 80% of one style and 20% of another. Or, it could be 90/10.


What it shouldn’t be is 50/50.


That is when it’s probably going to feel like a mishmash. Then, of course, someone will point out a situation that IS 50/50 and looks spectacular. However, most of the time, I believe that keeping one style as the predominant one is the way to go.


 Above is a terrific example from this image via Anthropologie. It’s a great example of the 80/20 rule where we have a room with exquisite, probably 19th-century architecture. That is juxtaposed with a mid-century chair, contemporary rug, and artwork. The rest is trad.

By the way, I saw that some of you hate mid-century modern furniture. I was not talking about the type you see above. I was talking about designers like Billy Baldwin, who designed sleek, classic modern furniture.


Billy Baldwin - midcentury eclectic modern design style

Classic modern interior design by Billy Baldwin


billy baldwin studio sofaBilly Baldwin Studio Sofa


Well, does this mean that it’s wrong to stick to one style only for the inside and outside?


I can’t say that I think it’s wrong to do that. But, I feel pretty strongly that it’s more interesting to include some of a different style. However, I wouldn’t just stick any old thing in a different style to make it more interesting. Those different pieces need to speak to you and feel connected to the space.


via @william_mclure on instagram - classic contemporary interiors

One master of this is William McLure.


Okay, that’s a wrap for this one. I hope you enjoyed this post about the juxtaposition of your design style for visual interest.




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This resource is exceedingly helpful for space planning, proportions, window treatments, what sizes to get of all home furnishings, living rooms, bedrooms, art placement, lighitng and much more! You can read about 333 Decorating Rules & Tips here.


25 Responses

  1. This is so informative… and gives me hope. We recently purchased a mid-century home because of LOCATION! It’s close to the kids’ school (they can walk), relatively close to work, and in an area where the homes seem to reliably appreciate in value. We are about to undertake a renovation, and I want to know more about the floor stain mixture (if you know/can share)! We have hardwood throughout all of the (split) levels, but of course it’s that orange-y color that was once so popular.

  2. Paretos’ 80/20 principle works for so many things, right? Great insight to apply it to mixing styles, clever girl!

  3. Thank you for sharing a photo from Billy Baldwin! As a design student in the 70s, I wrote a paper on several designers and he was one of my favs. (I have his book packed away. It will resume its featured place in my design library whenever we get settled.) We sold our comfortable country club home near Petersburg, VA and have downsized and relocated to 10 acres in the mountains next to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We’re building a steel building that houses a smaller residence inside and also has a large garage for our motorhome—The Grey Goose. This home’s interior certainly will not follow the architecture. Like life itself, there are choices. We have concrete floors with radiant heat but my chandelier from Murano will have to blend in, too. I’m looking forward to having a cozy home with a blend of textures and the collection of things I love. I’ll send you some pics in a few months of how this grand adventure comes together. Love your posts and always look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

  4. Your take on architecture amuses me. What initially drew me to the site was you not only acknowledged that trim was found in a color other than white (, you acknowledged the existence of wainscots. You break from the typical houzz or other house/style site that basically asserts all houses should be without walls and some form of midmod. Which drives me nuts, because I grew up in a Victorian and live in an Arts&Crafts, and it’s hard to find two styles more opposed to midmod than those.

    I don’t necessarily agree that the style of a house dictates its design choices (unlike purist A&C, I actually believe in effective interior lighting), but I also find the concept of buying a house that hews to one style only to gut its soul forcing it to be something its not just wasteful. If you wanted a plain box, buy a plain box. You can’t replace that 100 year-old knot-free oak.

    A site you may appreciate, from an owner whose personal style is white and modern, but who lives in a craftsman bungalow.

  5. Thank you, Laurel! The Smiths, William McLure, Billy Baldwin and YOU… all the very best! Enduring weeks of rain and you provided a ray of sunshine with this enjoyable post. (Although you pretty much do so every time)

  6. From someone who owns a BIG BROWN PIECE OF CRAP, Thank You Laurel for helping us see the possibilities right where we live. I’ve learned so much from you – and it’s beginning to show!

  7. You wrote “…I wouldn’t just stick any old thing in a different style to make it more interesting. Those different pieces need to speak to you and feel connected to the space.”
    Yes, something must speak to me regardless of what the architecture of the house is, I want to be surrounded by the things that I love and think are beautiful. Reading your blog just these last few months, since I found you, has really allowed me to start to understand “the rules” (and when to break them a tad…) and how to put it all together. Goodness knows, I have learned tons! P.S. Dahling, I do so miss the 80’s! Girl, if I knew then what I know now…

  8. Brilliant post! So many great ideas to learn. Thank you for Philip Mitchell’s insta. I would’ve never thought that his beautiful architecture has such look from the outside! Wow. This is real art he did, I’m spechless.

  9. The Smiths! I knew you had great taste, Laurel! 🙂

    It’s funny that you made this post right now, because I am looking for a house, and I found a large house in a great neighborhood, but it’s contemporary–exactly like this house. I wondered out loud to my husband if it would be okay or jarring to come into a contemporary house and see more traditional furniture, staircases, etc. Thanks for this post!

  10. Thank you for a wonderful article which proved so helpful to me. I appreciate your generosity in sharing your experience, wisdom, reasoning behind your design decisions and much, much more.

  11. Love this! Somehow it feels like the inside of a house that’s not your style is easier to adapt than the outside? We are currently looking to buy in this insane market and of course many of the places in our price range in super desirable locations look like the brady bunch house on the outside. It seems like the only way to deal with that is to lean in and embrace a MCM approach but I am a Mark Sikes gal for life. If anyone believes that a house with bones like the brown 80s Laurel described above can be adapted successfully, let me know! Lol.

  12. Oh my…just love love LOVE William McClure!!!!! Thank you for introducing him to us in that post a couple years back….he is AMAZING! (He and Furlow are just IN.CREDIBLE!!!) I love how he casually drops small random everyday articles (like shoelaces or a dish towel) into his settings …. and they look stunning! He could throw a pair of old dirty socks on the floor – and somehow it would look effortlessly beautiful and have me running to my hamper dying in futility to get the same effect he got!! NEVER happen! Hahaha

  13. Loooooove The Smiths! It’s so fun to read your blog to music. An almost complete immersive experience! Now, if you can just add smell-o-vision…😆

  14. Good Morning Laurel and happy spring almost summer.
    Use to love antiquing and knew all the wonderful people who owned their shop. I purchased a lovely piece of furniture with a small frig in it. The lady said it use to belong to Joan Crawford, sure it did!
    I gave the bar to my son and daughter in law. She was thinking about painting it but before taking the step, she researched it. The piece could go in any style setting. She emailed to me and said it is a James Mont piece and found one identical to it on 1stdbs for $6500. I paid $250 for the piece and it is lovely combined with her modern and older pieces.
    If you aren’t familiar with James Mont, when you have time, please goggle him. Quite a character!!!
    Have a wondeful week and weekend.

  15. Laurel,
    You are a gift. You have a way with words that puts your readers at ease with the design world and all that entails. You bring your readers into your world (waslaws…I loved that one!) To the point we feel like we’re having coffee at your table.
    You have me thinking outside the box and we all need a smidge of that every now and then. Thank you so very much.

  16. Hi Laurel – love this topic. My brother in law, an architect who owns a classic midcentury house, often refers to “what the house wants” – I love that phrase and think there is some truth in it – for example I once went into a beautiful Victorian house that had a midcentury kitchen and it just felt wrong, even though it was done well. In his house, midcentury rules, and it does feel right. However in most situations, in my view, the mix is what makes a place feel like home. I have a beach house on Cape Cod, and while i was tempted to do the blue/white thing, I just painted the entire inside of the house a bright white, letting what was outside the windows be the star of the show. Other than that, I brought some mostly traditional furniture from NY including a leather sofa and Oriental rug (which i thought would feel wrong, but it is just the opposite) in the great room and let the house evolve over time, adding some modern art and smaller furniture pieces (e.g. coffee table)so it doesn’t feel too heavy. Now it feels fresh and comfortable and un-precious. So much of it for me is being in the space and letting it evolve.

    1. I agree with everything you said, Kim. I’ve often spoken of the classic Victorian in Bedford, NY with the Poggenpohl kitchen. It’s like if Queen Elizabeth died her hair green and put on a short, short mini skirt with black, clunky work boots. Really wrong. Some styles are so strong, like Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, that doing anything other than what it dictates would be a mistake.

      But, leather in a beach house. YES! Nearly 20 years ago, I did a brown leather chair and a leather ottoman on the other side of the room in a bright sunroom and it looked fantastic and gave it a much-needed deep note to counterbalance the more expected colors.

  17. I have an 80’s ranch home that is a plain box on the outside, vaulted ceilings with no moldings on the inside except a 6″ baseboard which I installed.

    Changed out the doors from plain boring brown with gold hardware to transitional white with silver hardware. No moldings around the windows, but I installed window sills.

    My furnishings are transitional with an emphasis on great lighting and artwork.

    Installed wood floors except for baths and kitchen.

    That’s it. Looks fab. I believe one should do what is pleasing to you; what you like to look at on a daily basis. To heck with the outside being a model for the inside.

  18. Preaching to the choir over here about the Smiths,the most talented band from the eighties. Morrisey still sounding good to this day, saw him at Forest Hills in Queens in 2019. There were plenty of the younger generations at that show, the Smiths and Morrisey will always be appreciated (I hope). That voice, of Morrisey,that sweet guitar work of Johnny Marr, those brutally honest yet amusing lyrics, there is no other band like them .

  19. First of all, I LOVE MORRISSEY AND THE SMITHS!!!!
    Truthfully I know every word to every song they put out, saw him in concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom when I was 15!!!
    <3 Moz
    Second, this post couldn’t be more timely. We’re in the process of purchasing a super contemporary-looking ski home which lends itself to very contemporary furnishings. However my vision is that of an RH ski chalet (not really patronizing RH just the idea of the rustic but modern style). There are definitely strange architectural elements of this house that seem as if they wouldn’t play well with a rustic/modern ski decor, but we shall see!! I’m using one of those online design companies to help me lay out the great room dimensions, style and visualize the end result.
    Laurel I agree with you, exterior/architecture doesn’t necessarily dictate interior. Also, I believe where the home is located could influence the interior design — maybe wouldn’t be so outlandish for a Tudor in the hamptons with full on beachy decor, bc it’s in the hamptons. Or a home on sag harbor with zero beachy decor, full on historic details like Steven Gambrel/52 Glover St. etc.
    Ive been reading all of your posts and haven’t commented but congratulations on him our beautiful new home!!

  20. Agree about not needing unity of style … up to a point. It depends on what the basic “box” is: appropriate is important. I don’t think a modest farmhouse can take the current fashion for marble bathrooms, kitchen counters, etc. Too grand for the house — and of course the same consideration works in reverse.
    What I notice about the sitting room pic from Philip Mitchell is the modern touches in a room which at first sight looks so traditional: the modern stripes on the sides of the blue armchairs, the stripe effect of the glass table, matching the stripe effect of the upper mouldings (I’m sure there’s a technical term I should be using here), and which reference the stripe effect of the exterior of the building. Repetition of motifs (and of colours) helps bring disparate things together — and that’s one reason why the wood armchairs in the real estate photo look wrong. But bland is what’s required for the sale, I suppose, and such photos in turn influence what people want, in a never-ending cycle.

    1. Yes, I think that Philip’s interiors are the epitome of the 80/20 rule. 80% trad and 20% modern. He should show what the apartment looked like before he renovated it. I’m sure it was a plain box like the rest of ’em.

  21. I have a 1957 midcentury ranch. I do not like MCM furniture and decor. I lean toward a pale Swedish and “light” French minimalist style and it works out quite well. I don’t care if I’m breaking the rules — it’s my house! Thank you for giving permission to add molding. I would love to add some crown, taller baseboards and even a French-style fireplace surround. I love your blog!

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Welcome To Laurel Home!


Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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