Vail Design at Altitude column: Modern, traditional and transitional design styles defined |

Vail Design at Altitude column: Modern, traditional and transitional design styles defined

Design is a personal choice, but there are a few basic elements that define the styles of modern, traditional and transitional.
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Style is much more encompassing than picking a “style” and going with it. So many things go into creating and defining a style, and by no means is a certain look meant to be definitive and strict. In fact, it is more interesting when styles overlap and layers of thought and creativity start to emerge.

Designers started using the term “mountain modern” in the early 2000s — it was a way for clients to see a bit more clearly how a modern sense could be implemented in a mountain home. Truly modern design is not for everyone. The premise looks wonderful in magazine but is oftentimes much harder to put into practice in a home where family life takes place, complete with clutter and chaos.

Mountain modern is a feeling: We use furniture with clean lines, fabrics that are neutral and not fussy. We combine wood, metal and stone for a clean look. The typical mountain home is stripped back to reveal its natural beauty and works well with a more modern design structure.

Being modern in the mountains can mean lots of things, and we take it to varying degrees. Each project has its unique challenges and styles — the human attached to the home has already given us cues on just how modern they are willing to make their home. The important thing we have learned, and take to heart, is to do modern in the mountains, we respect our natural surroundings. Look outside, see what is inspiring, and it will then inspire personal space.

Shying Away from traditional

Throughout the past few years, clients have shied away from doing anything too traditional. What a shame that the style got overused and convoluted. Traditional homes can be some of the most beautiful design styles, when done properly. Again, the goal is not to overdo but to keep the proportions correct.

Many furniture companies started playing with traditional pieces of furniture but changing the proportions to be huge and oversized. While they may look cozy to sit it, this style has never appealed to me. Traditional in the true sense is timeless and classic and never goes out of style. It is like the friend who always looks stylish and up to date. This home has pieces that can get refreshed once in a while with new fabrics and still looks fabulous. Tradition is tailored, subdued, neutral, classic, warm and welcoming.

Comfortably contemporary

If neither traditional nor modern design really speaks to you — you may want some elements from your childhood home but also love clean lines and more contemporary furnishings — then transitional may be your design option. Incorporate your styles, instead of having the looks compete.

Transitional can be comfortable, classic and a bit contemporary. Woods can be mixed with metals for a warm, yet sleek, feel. Colors in variety of hues work well. Combine chunky with sleek or elegant pieces for a look that is all your own.

Real personal style comes from simplicity and directness in everything you implement. I often see clients go off in one direction and then back to another. They lost their way or simply explored something that did not work. Don’t be afraid to admit it did not work for you and get your home design back on track. A home needs love and care and attention. We spend some of our greatest moments in our homes, so why not put that type of care into our spaces?

Yvonne Jacobs is the president of Slifer Designs. She loves all design and loves to help clients find their style. Visit to see a full portfolio of work.

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