Can A Modern-Style Home Mix With Traditional Mouldings?

Dear Laurel,

I love your blog and the wealth of information you share. And, I always get excited when a new post is up as it’s my favorite design blog (and I follow a lot of them these days, since we’re building a new house).

I also own your Rolodex and Paint collections, which are a great resources.

May I also just say that I love that you show interiors with COLOR. So much that I see is endless, boring neutrals.

I’ve been reading your posts on mouldings (or is it moldings?), and I’d love a post on whether they are appropriate or not. And, if so, how to work them in to a more modern-style home.

Our under-construction house will lean Pacific Northwest Modern, with lots of glass, high ceilings, simple beaded baseboards/door trim, and simple window trim. This style was by far the best fit for the site. I’ll then nudge it a bit more towards new-traditional with more classic, simple-lined furnishings. Or at least that’s the plan.


I’m struggling with how/whether I can add some mouldings to select walls.


It certainly wouldn’t be everywhere, as we actually don’t have a ton of wall space that’s free from windows/doors, so can they be used in just one or two spaces? Or do they risk looking like orphans? I suspect the answer to both questions is yes, and it’s all in how it’s done, right? Is there a moulding style that meshes particularly well with modern?


And, a bonus questions, can a more modern house mix with more new traditional furnishings?

Thank you and happy Thanksgiving!



This is a real letter received recently. And, I think it’s a relevant topic to cover. And, that’s because I am frequently talking about getting the bones right. But what if a home is modern or contemporary (frequently used interchangeably) in style?


First I will address the last question.


Yes, absolutely! You can mix a modern-style home with traditional furnishings! In fact, there are so many examples of this on this blog, I wouldn’t know where to link. And it goes both ways.

The only thing is to be clear on what we mean by “traditional.”

But getting back to mouldings. A home doesn’t have to have any mouldings in order to be elegant and classical.

Kristin’s home, from her description, sounds wonderful with its high ceilings, large windows and simple window casings.

It also sounds like it’s a rather open floor plan since she says that there aren’t a lot of walls.

In addition, Kristin is not fond of all of the boring neutral interiors she frequently sees.


However, a lot of neutral interiors can be phenomenally rich and interesting, IF done right. OR, they can be equally boring if not done right. You can read more that here and here to learn how to make a neutral room look beautiful and the reasons why some neutral palettes fall flat. Still, if she wants color in her modern-style home, that is absolutely fine.


Another problem that I’m having in terms of addressing this topic is what basic style within the umbrella of modern and/or contemporary are we going for?


Here are a bunch of directions we could go in:



bohemian (boho)

mid-century modern

modern farmhouse

mix of modern classics and antiques

Scandinavian (Scandi)



Or maybe it has elements of all of these and others I’ve not mentioned.

However, some of my most favorite homes have a combination of traditional and contemporary elements. In fact, this post is chock-full of classic contemporary interiors.

And I know what may very well be your next question. Well, how do you put it all together, Laurel?

This post should help because it’s about educating ourselves and then creating a plan.


I think that the problem may very well be that people appear to think that there’s some sort of formula they can follow. And sometimes there is, but every situation is unique. So, it’s difficult to give direction when the terms are this broad.

One size doesn’t fit all and for everything I’m going to say, there will be some other way of doing it. But we have to start somewhere.

Let’s begin with the wall color for a more or less open layout for a modern-style home.


I very much recommend that you stick with white walls for the main open living spaces.

But, Laurel, white is so boring. I want COLOR.

Ummm… yes, I know that. :] However, please allow me to finish before you voice your objections. Thank you. I promise you that you can have white walls, AND a white floor and have plenty of color!

We need to begin with the envelope and I find that for a fresh modern-contemporary home that white walls look best. For rooms that are closed off, like a den, library or office, you can choose a color to paint the walls, or use grass cloth or another wallpaper. Same with a bathroom or powder room. And of course, you can paint the rooms upstairs if you have a second floor a color.

But, for the main open living spaces, white is beautiful and will create a fresh background for art in a modern-style home.

For the windows and doors, I would do a simple casing, or sometimes there is no window casing.

1st dibs iron casement window partition - no foyer entry

A beautiful look that’s very popular these days are windows with dark metal muntins and mullions.

Tim Barber Flickr light gray ceilingTim Barber


Another way to add visual interest in a modern-style home is the ceiling. I am seeing a lot of ship-lap or tongue and groove paneled ceilings, either stained or painted white.

frombritainwithlove - we-love-seaside-interiors-ceilings-vaulted ceiling with white beams

From Britain with Love

If there are beams, they can either be stained or painted white. I prefer the latter.


Please enjoy this home from a long-distance client.


Fireplace mantels 


Now, it might be a moot point, because in a contemporary or modern home, you do not necessarily have to have a mantel. You can do the Candice Olsen hole-in-the-wall with a tile or stone surround. However, I prefer a simple mantel.


Below is one that I found that I think is perfect for a modern-style home.


via @amandajanoejones on instagram - photo - @stofferphotographyinteriors - white fireplace mantel - fireclaytile

via @amandajanoejones on instagram – photo – @stofferphotographyinteriors – white fireplace mantel – Fire Clay Tile – Both of these accounts have gorgeous examples of modern-style or contemporary interiors that are beautifully finished.

via @timbertrailshomes photographed by @stofferphotographyinteriors on instagram

Like, this beautiful white kitchen – via @timbertrailshomes photographed by @stofferphotographyinteriors on instagram

While I’m on classic contemporary kitchens with some color, here’s one I found recently that I love.

via - Barnes London - classic contemporary kitchen- orange lacanche range - marble counters

via – Barnes London – classic contemporary kitchen- orange lacanche range – marble counters

The next topic is wall mouldings or panel mouldings.  Can you do them in a modern-style home?

Sure. Why not? First of all, the mouldings are an embellishment. And while not essential, they can add a lot of architectural interest.

In addition, it is quite popular these days to take an old home and make it more modern. I like this too if done tastefully. Here’s an example of an apartment that went way too far.


And this is an example of homeowners who renovated an old apartment and gave it a fresh modern look while still retaining its historical integrity.


via sfgirlbybay - photo - Lili Glass - colorful bedroom - contemporary design - white walls

via sfgirlbybay – photo – Lili Glass


I chose the above photo because one could put a floral in a modern-style home, too.


Okay, now I have a special treat.


The other day, when we were discussing what to do to help this place along, I mentioned maybe painting the floor white. (here’s a gorgeous home with painted floors) and another post about painted wood floors

However, I realize that this is horrifying for some of you.

Therefore, if you are one of those that is traumatized, you might want to cover up your eyes for a sec.

Are they covered?

Okay, good. I’ll let you know when you can open them. For the rest of you, here is what I want to show you.

Susan Serra - painting hardwood floor white - modern-style home Long Island, NY


This is from the beautiful contemporary-style home of my friend and colleague, the wonderfully talented Susan Serra


Susan is a kitchen and bath designer and owner of Susan Serra Associates. By the way, she says that they didn’t do anything special except for put a primer down and the floor has held up beautifully.


Lucky me! Susan, recently shared some of her photos with me of her wonderful home on the north shore of Long Island and has kindly allowed me to post them.


This home is a study in classic contemporary with a bent towards Scandinavian-modern design and for good reason. Susan is of Danish decent and still has family living in Denmark. In fact, by coincidence, she was visiting Copenhagen at the same time I was there last September, and I sat next to her at dinner one night.

You might also recall that Susan was featured in this post about designers discussing their favorite most durable kitchen cabinet finishes.


This is main living area and floor in Susan’s gorgeous Long Island modern-style home, after it was painted– obviously.

Please notice the charming rugs. In addition to a thriving kitchen and bath design business, Susan also owns with her daughter, Kelly, a business that sells these wonderful Swedish rugs you will see scattered throughout her home. It’s called – Scandinavian Made. (link above)

Susan Serra - contemporary home - colorful livingroom

A beautiful art wall in Susan’s living room. See? There’s a lot of beautiful color!

I love all of Susan’s art pieces. also love how fresh the painted white walls and floor look.

Her home definitely has Danish-modern or Scandinavian styling, but what impresses me the most is how personal and warm it is. I think that people often think of modern-style homes as being cold, but not this one.

Susan Serra - contemporary white kitchen

Susan’s kitchen is quite extraordinary. It’s definitely an “unkitchen” of Scandinavian origins.

Susan designed this amazing cabinet that houses a Gaggenau range.

YES! I know! But that IS the range!

vignette with art Susan Serra kitchen designer

Beautiful styling above and below in Susan Serra’s kitchen.

modern-style home - lovely kitchen vignette by Susan Serra

This reminds me of a Dutch still-life.

modern-style home - eating area - scandi style

The eating area has a charming banquette and an amazing view of an inlet on Long Island sound.


Susan Serra daughter and granddaughter colorful modern-style home - Long Island Sound

Susan’s daughter and granddaughter playing during the holiday season.


And here we are again! I hope that you had a beautiful Thanksgiving holiday. I had a great time with my son in Western Mass, but I’m back in New York now.

Please visit the curated holiday shop full of Hanukkah and Christmas decor, trees, wreaths and gift guides galore? Please also check out the hot sales pages for the latest and favorite finds.


There are still a ton of sales as Cyber Monday is coming up.

***And at the end of that day, Laurel’s Rolodex is going up in price.***

So, if you are interested, you can still get it at the current price and also get the new vintage guide as part of the new 2019 update.

(note: if you already own the rolodex, you should’ve received your update. If not, please check your spam folder or trash and look for Sendowl.)



20 Responses

  1. Susan’s house is truly beautiful and warmly personal. I was amazed at how much better the white floors look against the dark blue fireplace-the old dark stain overpowered everything. Another bit of enlightenment! Thanks for sharing all the inspiration.

  2. Wow wow wow!!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a home like this. It is so warm yet clearly Scandinavian. In a fantasy world I would imitate this in my own house, but in reality it’s just too cool for me to pull it off (I run a little more simplified-classic for my California ranch house). Art is so personal, and this is a house where I LOVE all the artwork. Amazing job Susan! A lifetime of developing her taste has seriously paid off.

  3. I was thrilled when I settled in to read your blog and saw my question! Thank you so much for yet more good advice. We are indeed doing white (or possibly off-white) for the main spaces (and all the hard, hard-to-change surfaces), with color reserved for the smaller, enclosed rooms like the playroom and furnishings (hooray for blue couches and rust ottomans), so I’m happy we’re on the right track. Oh, and a stained wood-clad ceiling, and stone fireplace surround. I’m currently losing the mantel battle to my husband, but I think I talked him into moulding on the stair wall. 🙂 Thank you again for all the information you share.

      1. I thought of one more followup question – I showed my husband pictures from your post with walls and trim painted the same white, and we both loved it. And then I realized that our great room has a vaulted ceiling with huge, beautiful windows on two sides…and those sides face N and E. So lots of light, but cooler light. Still worth considering and sampling white on white, or do we need to think about a real (but pale) color?

        1. Hi Kristin,

          I wouldn’t be able to tell you the answer to that because I’m not there to see what the situation is. I hope that you’ll understand that the blog posts are meant as general advice. I would recommend that if you’re still struggling to seek out the help of a professional designer.

  4. A timely post for me Laurel – thank you! I am in the middle of building a new home in Polson Montana (think Flathead Lake and Indian Reservation). Open concept living/dining/kitchen (kitchen is turning into an “unkitchen”). I’ve been struggling with how to mesh my old lady traditional stuff (antique buffet, tables, etc.) with the whole scheme. Convinced (mostly by you) that just because I’m not wealthy doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful. I’m going to seriously consider your “go white” advice! (Even though I’m set on a SW Pewter Green island :-)). I’ve been thinking too about having some nice decorative trim around the two big windows at each end of the open area (one on the south side and the biggest one on the dreaded north side – I had no idea until I started reading you that the north one would cause problems – thanks Laurel :-)) Anyway I appreciated you talking about that too. Liz

    1. Hi Liz,

      Thanks so much! You know you can have an island that’s a different color from the main cabinets. Just something to think about. And also, always follow your heart, no matter what I or anyone else says!

  5. I completely agree with Kristin, many, many of the interiors you see lately are very neutral, basically void of all color. After the first five seconds of looking at, I get bored from the blandness of the rooms. I love white, its been my favorite color as long as I can remember, and Laurel is right, white can look absolutely phenomenal with the right finishing touches of color, art, or furniture. I think neutral is a great way to start, but most have trouble with the finishing touches that add interest, depth, and make the room altogether. Kirstin, best of luck on your new home, and Laurel, thanks for another great post!

    1. Hi Deborah,

      Happy Thanksgiving! And yes, it is really beautiful, plus I could see in at least one photo that her garden is also amazing and the views out her window are gorgeous. But what I love the most is how untrendy it looks. It feels personal, warm and inviting. I imagine, all the more so in person. And despite white walls AND floor – FULL of color! I love that!

  6. Another morning with your enlightening and entertaining blog…As usual, I went down the rabbit hole with the links to previous posts. And of course, I had to do a little Wikipedia research on the golden mean to refresh my memory from college art history classes from long, long ago. Thanks for making my morning, Laurel.

    1. Hi Mary,

      Well, at the very least, you deserve a slice of carrot cake to enjoy down the hole! At least, the temps are normal so hopefully the rabbits have vacated for a time.;]

  7. Amazing information, Laurel!!! If you could write about how to choose baseboards, are there any rules? Apologies for my bad English. Hey from Sweden!

    1. Hi Val,

      That’s a good question. My only rule is to not use that horrible 3″ “sanitary” base, they call it. It’s really a window casing and looks horribly cheap as a baseboard.

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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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