Traditional Design Element Get a New Twist From These Local Designers

Photo by Tim Lee

These long-standing design elements have been given a new life and a modern twist, making them anything but your mother’s traditional! 

– 1 –
A New Traditional Space

“I recently finished a living room and a sunroom in a beautiful Tudor in Bronxville that fits the new-traditional style. All of the items in these rooms were custom-made, mixing more traditional furniture with a lot of modern art. The idea behind this space was creating a formal living room that connects to a modern version of a smoking room (with no smoking), complete with a dry bar for adults to hang out.” —Malka Helft, Think Chic Interiors

– 2 –
Traditional Trim

“Juxtapose traditional elements with modern elements and style. In this library/study we kept the same original wood panel and ceiling medallion, playing it up with a modern chandelier. Using layers of blue and grey on the classic chesterfield sofa but in a modern velvet, wing chair, adding in plaids, hair hides, leather button tufted ottoman.  

The pops of pink on the pillows using the client’s initials in a hair hide pillow brings an energized, fun feeling to the space. The added diaphanous window treatments add to a less stuffy feeling for drapery to lighten the space.”  —Tami Wassong, Tami Wassong Interiors   

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Photo by John Gruen

 – 3 –
Modern Lighting

“Traditional elements in new configurations create the wow in rooms. For instance, there is nothing more glamorous in traditional homes of the past than a gorgeous, over the top crystal chandelier, but that has little connection to the casual way we live and entertain today. In a modern interpretation that is just as glamorous I designed a deconstructed multi-tiered, chandelier with oversized shades and flexible cords instead of rigid metal arms. The fixture is a dynamic focal point in the room that looks stunning, and sways as air moves in the room. 

Traditional spaces used to be about heavy wood furniture. My updated approach is about mixing materials; infusing metal leaf accents and lacquer pieces into the space along with natural wood to keep it light and airy. Organic shapes and natural stone accessories add a touch of whimsy.”  —Debra Funt, Debra Funt Interiors

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Moore

– 4 –

“Warm and comforting colors are often associated with traditional color palettes. To modernize these hues, look to colors that are slightly cooler or more neutral, such as Wind’s Breath OC-24 or Balboa Mist OC-27. These understated neutrals bring a fresh look to traditional design. They are an ideal backdrop for all four walls or can be used to highlight millwork, architectural details, and focal points in a space.” —Arianna Cesas, Color Marketing & Development Specialist at Benjamin Moore 

“One might use a more modern application of paint on classic architectural details — paint walls and trim the exact same color and play with sheen levels. There is nothing more elegant than a classic dining room, for example, with a coffered ceiling and rich architectural detail, covered entirely in high-gloss white paint.” —Debra Kling,  Debra Kling Colour Consultant

Larren Grey Chair. Country Willow, Bedford Hills; Photo courtesy of Country Willow

– 5 –
Chair Refresh

I have found homes for existing chairs with new upholstery in many of my designs. Take a photo of a chair and then turn the photo to black-and-white. If the shape is interesting and still appeals, then consider reupholstering the piece in a new fabric. If the chair is older, you may want to consider having the seat cushion remade. You will be surprised how much you love the chair in its freshened state.—Kim Mitchell, KAM Design

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Tini Easton, Nightstand. Oomph, Photo courtesy of Oomph.

– 6 –
Trim Details

“Today, the traditional tassel has taken a modern turn in simplicity, focusing more on fiber and color than on the laborious handwork of the past. It has been embraced by decor and fashion as a symbol of global travel and creativity. Designers are incorporating tassels to express their clients’ global travel and artisanal side, using them as details to soften case goods, add a graphic punch to textiles, and even in tablescaping. I call it #Tasseliscious.” —Jana Platina Phipps, The Trim Queen

Kitchen designed by Bilotta. Photo by Phillip Ennis

– 7 –
Traditional in the Kitchen

“Mixing metals is the wave of the New Traditional. In this kitchen we have antique pewter faucets and fittings, stainless steel appliances, and brushed brass hardware. And a classic butler’s pantry in today’s world becomes a place to work, hidden, of course, when guests are over. I added a glittery twist on the “bar” with wine storage below and barware above tucked away behind glass front doors with metallic fabric sandwiched between glass — this material comes from an old school supplier: Bendheim Glass. The backsplash might appear as ordinary subway tile, but the new look is metal. Hardware has taken a turn to a soft brushed brass — remember that polished brass that was in every home?” — Randy O’Kane, CKD, Senior Designer at Bilotta Kitchens

“When working on a kitchen, classic is key. The forces of fashion and trends have begun to push back the pendulum toward warmer earth tones. Yes, beiges are slowly popping up and appear in color forecasts and are seen in many fashion and furniture production runs for 2021. If you want a space that’s truly bespoke and unique to your family while having the wide appeal and resale value – it’s in those early faded and sun-washed colors that you should start your journey. Accents, bold and rich colors — whether wood or metal — are a great contrast to these calming and possibly frothy backdrops. Consider black hardware or wrought-iron details on your floating shelves. Perhaps base cabinetry in a rich walnut and a truly beautiful wispy cornsilk finish on your uppers will allow you to get that furniture feel rather than something that just looks like standard kitchen cabinetry.”  —Jonathan Desimini, Designer at Majestic Kitchens

Ro Footstool, Design Within Reach. Photo courtesy of Design Within Reach

– 8 –
Put Your Feet Up

  “Call me crazy, but I love old footstools. This tiny piece of furniture can make a big statement when paired with traditional and modern pieces. You can easily source these little gems online, and they are inexpensive to recover. They are also versatile in use: a handsome wood footstool covered in tiger velvet can sit at the end of Dad’s favorite library chair, an intricately carved footstool lacquered white and covered in gingham can help your little girl climb into bed at night. For me new-traditional design is about reaching back in time to incorporate those unexpected pieces that add history and personality to a space. The right mix of old and new makes a room interesting and timeless.” —Susan Carlson, Susan Carlson Interiors

Photo by Susan Fisher

– 9 –
Traditional Bones With a Modern Twist

“In this new construction home, the owners wanted their home to be rooted with traditional bones. We used heavy millwork with a traditional crown, shaker style doors, and framed windows.  Then, to update it to 2020, we painted everything in a high-gloss blue color and accented the backsplash — again, in a traditional subway style — but done in stainless to add the punch.” —Shannon Murray, Shannon Murray Interiors

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Photo by Neil Landino

– 10 –
Statement Pieces

“High-gloss lacquer is a game-changer! Take an old piece of brown-mahogany furniture and have it lacquered in a more contemporary high-gloss color — either a neutral gray or black, or amp up the color by lacquering the piece in red, navy, or cobalt blue. I also love adding large-scale contemporary paintings in a traditional setting or adding a contemporary light fixture into the mix. Modern sconces have a way of striking a modern note in a traditional setting, too.” —Cami Weinstein, Cami Weinstein Designs


– 11 –
Updating Bookcases

“In my work, I often feel that I put a modern twist on a traditional form or add modern elements in more traditional or older homes. One example is putting a modern wallpaper in the back of bookcases. This has been done in the past with a more traditional look, but when you change the type of paper, you have an entirely new design. You can change the door style and make the shelves thick, which are more modern elements.” —Nancy Davilman, ND Interiors

Photo by Michael Parteno

– 12 –
The New Mudroom

“The mudroom has grown in importance, size, and style. It has continued to evolve with modern additions, from a modest,
informal entry with closets into a modern, organizational area essential to daily family operations. It has also become the main entry for extended family and friends, as well, and thus needs to be attractive yet durable while serving as utility space.”

—Ralph Mackin, Mackin Architects, PLLC

Photo by Wes Tarca

– 13 –
Architectural Details

Well executed, built-in millwork with customary face frame and inset doors construction is a mainstay of a traditional custom home; however, a fresh attitude can be brought to these items in a number of ways:

The proportion of the stiles and rails in the doors can update the piece. A 3” stile and rail as opposed to the more common 2¼” makes a subtle but perceptible change to the feel.

Narrower face-frame construction can give a sleeker, more elegant modern look.

Integrating stain-grade and paint-grade in the same piece is an easy way to create a new-traditional look; stain-grade face frames with paint-grade door is a simple way to achieve this. Additionally, this two-tone style can be retroactively achieved by painting the doors of existing stain-grade cabinetry.

Changing raised panels to flat panels or even no panel will modernize cabinets.

Stained cabinetry can look dated depending upon the stain. Refinishing wood or painting it can dramatically change a room.” —Susan Alisberg, Alisberg Parker Architect

– Shop –

– China –

China is no longer a forgotten wedding-registry item. Done in a modern way, it is a staple of the most beautiful tablescapes.

Villeroy & Boch Metro Chic Dinnerware

Anna Weatherley Anna’s Palette Dusty Rose Dinner Plate

Vera Wang Wedgewood Vera Degradée Dinnerware Collection

Villeroy & Boch Manufacturer Rock Dinnerware Collection

Bloomingdale’s, White Plains


– Lighting –

“It doesn’t get more traditional than a chandelier. But this is a modern take, made from clay beads, using traditional craft techniques. Each clay bead is hand-rolled from raw clay, kiln-fired and then intricately hand strung onto the wrought-iron framework. Each chandelier takes between 7,000 and 15,000 beads to create. Reflecting today’s trend for personalization, each chandelier is created bespoke and can be customized to fit the space and color palette – matched exactly to requirements from a paint swatch or color code.” —Sarah Briginshaw, Sarza

Waterfall Round Chandelier

Lim Chandelier

“Many years ago, most chandeliers were either a Williamsburg-style or crystal. With the new technology of LED in the last decade, we have been seeing more contemporary slim lines and simple chandeliers.
The warmth of the traditional chandelier had faded. Fortunately, everything comes back. Many manufacturers have brought back the traditional antique or satin-brass finishes and have modernized the traditional chandelier with finer lines and simplicity but still leaning to the traditional feel, with swooping arms, simpler lampshades, and cut glass rather than faceted crystal.” —Candace Pereira, Chloe Winston Lighting Design


Visual Comfort Chapman & Meyers Reagan Medium Two-Tier Chandelier
Chloe Winston Lighting Design, Norwalk


Hudson Valley Lighting Mitzi Kayla Chandelier
Chloe Winston Lighting Design, Norwalk

– Traditional Meets Modern Rugs –

“The new traditional is distressed and worn out versions of what was once used in the traditional home. So, Persian rugs with reds and blues but more worn. Also, rugs from the 1980s, with bright colors and interesting design elements, are definitely making a comeback.” —Melissa Dilmaghani, Old New House

– Worldly Design –

“Many of our contemporary furniture and decor pieces are modern takes on historic designs from around the world. This table design features clean, modern lines but is actually inspired by 18th-century French carpenter’s workbenches, which had to be robust and
have removable legs to be transported from building site to building site.”—Sarah Briginshaw, Sarza


Wallpaper options from Sarza in Rye (above and below)

– Fabrics and Wallcoverings –

“Wallpaper is a tradition that’s been having a comeback for a while. The latest update on this traditional wall treatment is totally bespoke and design-led wallpaper.” —Sarah Briginshaw, Sarza

Thibault offers a variety of wallcoverings, coordinating print fabrics, embroideries, and woven upholstery fabrics. I love that their product is rooted in traditional patterns – from florals and stripes to plaids and herringbone — yet they have done a truly wonderful job of keeping their product fresh, infusing a happy sense of color and offering the most unique and stunning color combinations. 

Wallcoverings and fabrics from Thibaut,

Manuel Canovas is a French fabric house with a strong, traditionally European point of view. However, the motifs and forms the brand offers are made more contemporary; the coloration they offer is just dazzling and enough to inspire an entire room. 

O&G Studio sells the most incredible Windsor-inspired seating and does the most beautiful job. Its product defies time and tradition and builds upon American design traditions. They truly reinvent the classics for contemporary living.—Kathleen Walsh, Kathleen Walsh Interiors

Glenwood Eberhardt Bed. Country Willow, Bedford Hills.

– Sweet Dreams –

“Four-post beds can have a traditional feel. Replacing ornate posts with clean lines and replacing dark stain with contemporary colors gives you a modern feel to a classic design.” —Mike Leibowitz, Country Willow

Rhys Acrylic Dining Chair. Safavieh Couture Hartsdale.

– Lacquer and Lucite –

“Add lacquer and Lucite in between velvet traditional-style furniture. I love [this] because it allows me to blend classic and modern elements to create a space that’s personalized for each client. I think it works particularly well in a living room — most of my clients put all of their vintage furniture and antique pieces (if they have them) in the living room, so I edit and utilize the pieces that would work best by reupholstering in a contemporary fabric if it’s an upholstered  piece or changing the finish.” —Dorye Brown, Dorye Brown Interiors

AVF Acrylic Chess Set in Lagoon and Slate Grey. Current Home, Scarsdale;

– Traditional Fun –

– Artwork –

“New York artist Catherine Howe is widely recognized for her semi-abstract paintings, which reference both the baroque and 20th-century abstraction. Drawing from nature, Howe’s paintings are influenced by New York School abstraction, as well as rococo and 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings.” — Madelyn Jordon, Madelyn Jordon Fine Art

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