Soft Transitional Is the Biggest Decorating Style of the Year—Here’s Why

It has a foothold in traditional yet feels crisp and modern. Here’s why designers are so excited about soft transitional interiors.

Amanda Barnes soft transitional living room

Courtesy of Amanda Barnes

While you might have heard of transitional style, a new take on the classic aesthetic is growing popular with designers and homeowners alike. "Soft transitional" is a new design style perfect for those who want to create an inviting, comfortable space that’s both classic and modern. Ahead, all you need to know about this latest design trend. 

What Is Soft Transitional Style? 

Soft transitional is a style that pulls elements from both modern and traditional designs. It balances comfort and function while appearing welcoming and aesthetically pleasing,” says Rasheeda Gray, lead designer and CEO of Gray Space Interiors. Unlike midcentury modern or industrial style, soft transitional doesn’t check one box. The style allows you to honor the past and the future at the same time. “Homeowners can draw from their antique collection while adding in newer streamlined pieces,” says Miriam Dillon, interior designer at BarnesVanze Architects

Rebecca Rollins-Garcia kitchen design with soft transitional style

Courtesy of Rebecca Rollins-Garcia

Why Is Soft Transitional Style So Popular Right Now?

Soft transitional spaces are both sentimental and inspiring. “People love the idea of purchasing vintage pieces with character and history instead of buying all new,” says Amy Youngblood, founder and lead designer of Amy Youngblood Interiors. “Part of this style’s popularity is being able to make more sustainable choices.”

It's a style of decorating that allows us to take risks without worrying something will go out of style in less than five years.

Soft transitional also covers a range of aesthetics, from time-honored furniture to modern color palettes, making it versatile and adaptable to a broad range of tastes and preferences. “It's fashionable with designers because it's flexible and it's popular with clients because it feels safe,” says Jennifer Walter, principal designer at Folding Chair Design Co. “Not everyone's house is maximalist and overtly ‘designed’ so this new concept creates a bigger category for people to fall into ... It's a style of decorating that allows us to take risks without worrying something will go out of style in less than five years. If a few pieces go wayward, we're not having to revisit the whole room.” 

Finally, people are leaning into soft transitional design because it will never go out of style. “Soft transitional celebrates so many staple principles that make a home feel refreshed yet timeless,” says Heather Fujikawa, principal designer and owner of House Sprucing.

Laura Brophy living room open floor plan with soft transitional style

Courtesy of Laura Brophy

19 Ways to Decorate with Soft Transitional Style

Mix Cozy Textures and Fabrics

Mixing textures is a hallmark of transitional style. “The combination of different finishes, such as smooth stone, rough wood, and plush fabrics, adds depth and interest while creating a warm and inviting atmosphere,” notes Amy Leferink, owner of Interior Impressions. “In a bedroom, you may see a bed with a smooth, neutral-colored headboard paired with a rough-hewn wooden nightstand, a textured throw blanket, and a plush area rug to further enhance the textures in the space.”

Soft transitional embraces an assortment of textures, including velvets, boucle, linens, and cotton, to add depth and visual interest to a space. “With this style, clients are asking for homes that not only look cozy but feel cozy, and softer fabrics help to achieve this,” says Gray. 

Infuse a Room with Color

When it comes to soft transitional color palettes, opt for rich, cozy hues. “Think rusty cinnamons, deep blues, browns, and greens in all hues,” says Fujikawa. “We’re drenching walls in these tones and applying them to sofas and club chairs in fabrics like velvet to bring in a punch of color.”

Or go for retro shades with a bit of nostalgia. “I’ve been drawn to the use of mustard and pistachio shades as they’re both in line with soft transitional style," says Gianpiero Gaglione, founder of GG Interior Design. "They evoke a warm, cozy, and almost nostalgic feel.”  

Combine Clean Lines with Curves

Clean lines provide a sense of order and simplicity while balancing the curves and natural materials common in transitional style. “Straight lines give a soft contemporary edge to a space, making it feel modern and sophisticated,” says Leferink. “For example, in a dining room, you may see a table with clean, straight lines paired with chairs with gentle curves.”

soft transitional dining room with biophilic design

Courtesy of Kligerman Architecture & Design

Utilize Biophilic Design 

Connecting with nature is a big part of a soft transitional design. “With our ‘always indoors’ culture, it’s important to incorporate natural elements that create indoor/outdoor living spaces, like larger windows placed higher on the wall to bring natural light deeper into a room,” says Kristin Bartone, creative director and principal of Bartone Interiors.

"I recently paired traditional New England building materials like cedar shingles and simple wood trim with a modern glass curtain wall system,” says Margie Lavender, partner at Kligerman Architecture & Design. “The expansive glass gives a transparency to the house, merging the inside with the out, while maintaining the charm of its more traditional neighbors.”

Another way to nod to nature? Incorporate artwork or wall coverings with organic elements or floral motifs. "Floral and nature-inspired prints found in wallpapers, artwork, throw pillows, and rugs are common in soft transitional style,” says Youngblood.

Showcase Soft Window Treatments  

“Soft transitional design uses curtain fabrics that add warmth to a space without creating an impediment to the outdoors, so as to allow nature to be part of the interior,” says Dillon. “I often select soft fabrics for window treatments that are in the same tone or color family as the walls so they blend into the surroundings, adding texture and warmth while remaining a subtle addition to the room.”

Rebecca Rollins-Garcia living room with soft transitional style

Courtesy of Rebecca Rollins-Garcia

Embrace Rich Wood Tones

“The days of light wood on light wood are ending,” declares Rebecca Rollins-Garcia, owner and principal designer at Rebecca Rollins Interiors. “With soft transitional style, you’ll see lighter woods on the floors with richer cabinet colors and warmer greiges on the walls.” 

Opt for Sustainable Selections and Organic Materials 

“Part of the reason soft transitional style is so popular is because people are more environmentally conscious and making more sustainable choices,” says Youngblood.

Soft transitional styles embrace wood, stone, natural fibers, and plants to create a warm and timeless atmosphere, says Caroline Brackett, principal designer at Caroline Brackett Studio of Design. “It also includes finishes like plaster walls and limestone flooring, materials that have been used in design and architecture for centuries.” A focus on classic shapes and forms also prevents quality pieces from ending up in a landfill.

Include Multicultural Influences

“In the past, traditional design has been limited to Eurocentric influences, but we’re now recognizing the ageless beauty of tribal and indigenous art and influence,” says Noel Gatts, HGTV host and founder of beam&bloom. “The power of ancient patterns and the popularity of mudcloth, ikat, and Ganado prints in transitional decor is a testament to that truth.”

Jennifer Walter gray dining room with soft transitional style

Courtesy of Jennifer Walter

Use a Neutral Color Palette

Neutral colors, such as white, beige, gray, and brown, provide a calm, soothing backdrop, allowing other elements to take center stage in a soft transitional space. “These colors tie together different elements and create a harmonious environment,” says Leferink.

One way to prevent neutrals from being boring is by adding depth and interest via layers of textures and a mix of neutral colors. “For example, in a soft transitional styled bathroom, you may see neutral-colored tiles or stone flooring along with a warm wood vanity and brushed gold plumbing fixtures," says Leferink. “A natural, woven basket for towels or a stone soap dish can add texture and interest to the space while staying within the neutral palette.”

And you're not limited to light colors. “I’ve been seeing some really bold, deeply saturated neutrals lately and have been using them in rooms without having to use color,” says Walter. “Farrow & Ball's Buff No. 20, for example, has so much oomph inside of it but still feels neutral, and Sherwin-Williams' Retreat is a perfect example of a natural, neutral green that has a lot of body without stealing the thunder from the room.” 

Embrace Black

“Whether it’s a charcoal rug, black trimmed windows or a black side table, I always use a mix of black when designing in soft transitional style to ground the space and bring in a touch of modern,” says Fujikawa. Complete the look by incorporating warm metallic finishes. “Layering in black accents with brass details evokes a more relaxed feel,” says Rollins-Garcia.

Layer Unique Lighting

Transitional style incorporates swooped and curved lighting. “If properly imagined, these shapes can add a lot of fun to a design,” says Becky Shea, creative director at BS/D. It also includes an evolution of lighting styles. “Think traditional lantern fixtures in high gloss colors,” says Walter.

Experiment with Trim

Applying unexpected contemporary colorways to ornate moldings and trims is one of the foundations of soft transition style. “A deep, saturated hue on these types of features against white or lightly colored walls is a striking way to flip the switch and update original architectural details,” says Gatts.

hallway with arch and soft transitional style

Courtesy of Caroline Brackett

Celebrate Original Art

Soft transitional design incorporates original art and giclee prints to add interest and color against neutral walls. “Oftentimes, this art is the inspiration behind a room’s overall color scheme, incorporating various shaped and sized oil paintings that are grouped together and presented in a variety of frames, including gilded and floating, or frameless canvases,” says Brackett.

Play with Arches

“Arches are a popular soft transitional element found on things like vent hoods, kitchen cabinetry and accessories,” says Fujikawa. “These curves have a traditional feel but when used with the right medium or edit, they add a modern and unique touch to a space.”

Consider Imperfect Tiles

Swap clean-lined ceramic tile for the handmade look of zellige tile that complements natural elements of soft transitional style. “This style encourages more textured and imperfect tile finishes, such as zellige and marble, over ceramic or concrete pieces,” says Amanda Barnes, founder and principal at Amanda Barnes Interiors.

Balance Feminine and Masculine 

“A soft transitional style creates a harmonious balance between masculine and feminine,” says Laura Brophy, principal at Laura Brophy Interiors. “As an example, you can mix masculine features such as woodwork, brickwork, concrete, or industrial pieces with feminine elements like light colors, floral motifs, and softer shades to give a space a grounding yin and yang effect.”

Caroline Brackett living room soft transitional style

Courtesy of Caroline Brackett

Make It Family-Friendly

While sophisticated, soft transitional also works well for families with children. “It’s ideal for growing families because it typically incorporates larger scale furnishings in plush, high-performance upholstery and timeless neutral tones,” says Brophy.

The diverse functionality of a soft transitional space is relaxed enough for TV watching with the family yet elegant enough to host a cocktail party. “Soft transitional presents a comfortable, livable environment for families while maintaining a sophisticated, polished aesthetic that isn’t too stuffy or stark,” says Brackett.

Mix Metal Accents 

“Whether the focus is on lighting, cabinet hardware, plumbing fixtures, or appliances, soft transitioning is about not perfectly matching metal elements. For example, I like to mix nickel and brass hardware when designing in this style,” says Dillon.

Combine Styles

Many people are drawn to modern design while still craving a traditional home feel. “Soft traditional is a wonderful solution when one partner prefers modern and the other traditional,” says Lavender. “But keep in mind this is not a comprise; it’s simply a refined design that appeals to both sensibilities.”

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles