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  • Writer's pictureDann Foley

New Year, New Perspective: Modernism & Tradition

Each year at this time many of us cannot help but relive, reminisce or maybe, regret the year that has just passed.  We look to the future, hope for better, plan for something more or different.  This year, that got me thinking about the seeming great divide between Modernists and Traditionalists.  I ask myself, why all the fuss?  As in many subjects that offer contrasting opinions, upon greater reflection, we find more commonality then division. 


The idea of Modernism is borne from a desire for something new, a break with the past.  To get to that place of radical change, one must first have an understanding as to what has come before to cause the shift.  These schools of thought (in design) are not mutually exclusive, their paths intersect and cross.  I would suggest, one does not exist without the other because it is in the contrast that inspiration and enlightenment is found.


Now before I go any further, I promise you that I am not here to wax poetic on the subject. I am here, as always, to relate this idea to how we choose to live and how our choices shape our world, the world that we each call home.  You see, ultimately it does not matter which design aesthetic you choose to live within, it only matters if you have surrounded yourself with the things that move you, influence you and cause you to remain present, as to how you live. 


Antiquity in design does not have to be the opposite of Modernism.  Antiquity or Traditionalism speaks to a richness of the past and places high value on tradition and continuity.  In an area of the country where great deference and respect is given to the Mid-Century Modern design style, I recognize in that distinct style choice, we/you are still honoring the past and giving credence to the tradition of the movement’s beginnings.


Motivation is a key component to great personal design.  We are motivated to live better, to have a home of beauty, comfort and pride.  I have written many times in these very pages about, “telling your story.”  The choices we make define us and how we live.  If those choices help to define who we are, then the things we live with are the physical realization of those choices.  Defining your personal style is never about having a new sofa, chair, or paint color.  What you choose to surround yourself with and how you present yourself to those you invite into your home is what vocalizes the narrative, in an unspoken way.


Enduring design can be of any style of your choosing and the intersection of design styles cannot only enhance the other but, also define a personal style that is unique.  Just because you choose to live in a design scape that is modern, does not mean you cannot include elements of obvious traditionalism, and vice versa.


So, let’s get down to it.  I am always fond of using bullet points to illustrate and inspire how you might apply this theory to your own home.  Once again, I will remind you that the actual design style does not matter. The overlap and variety of your choices produces the tailor-made lifestyle of your dreams.


·      Adding modern lighting fixtures to a traditional setting enlivens both, and the contemporary lighting sources and directional possibilities of the light can create an almost theatrical outcome.

·      Mixing modern or contemporary art (abstracts, photography, etc.) with traditional pieces (paintings, watercolors, etc.) can create a moment of design poignancy that defines a grouping as a highly personal collection.

·      Try using traditional and ornate frames on modern art.  The overlaying of one with the other is more than a story of contrasts, it creates drama.

·      One of my favorite floor coverings in a modern space is a traditional rug. The pattern and palette add warmth, beauty and richness to your room setting.

·      Fabric is one of the truly transcendent elements in decorating.  Try modern fabrics on traditional pieces and traditional fabrics on contemporary pieces.  The look is fabulous!

·      Color…it doesn’t matter what style of home you are creating, color is the easiest way define how you live.  Use color with abundance and use it fearlessly.


I often hear clients tell me that they choose a neutral offering over the one of color because they are afraid they will tire of the color too quickly.  I can state, with absolute certainty, that this is not the case.  When you live with what you love, there ceases to be a question of what is in or out.


As we enter a year of change and uncertainty, I wish you a 2024 filled with health, family, friends and comfort.  The greatest gift you can give yourself, is the gift of wholehearted honesty.  It will guide you through your day and help you create a home of beauty and sincerity, and those are the corner stones of meaningful and lasting design.


Live Well!


Designer Dann


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