What Exactly Does “Eclectic” Design Mean?

You’ve probably heard of mid-century modern style, farmhouse style, and minimalist style when it comes to decor schemes. But what happens if you want a design aesthetic that combines elements of all of them—and maybe more? Now you’re talking about eclectic style, a bit of a catch-all category to describe interiors that don’t fit neatly into just one style.

a living room filled with furniture and a fireplace: It's the best of everything.

© Paul Raeside
It’s the best of everything.

The word eclecticism is derived from the Greek word eklektikos, which loosely means “to choose the best.” While the term was often used in philosophy—i.e., picking only the best doctrines from a range of established schools of thoughts to create one’s own—the concept transitioned well into architecture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rather than sticking to a single architectural movement like Neoclassicism, Gothic Revival, or Byzantine, architects selected elements from a variety of styles to create a brand new look. Eventually, this design philosophy transferred inside to the world of decor.

It’s important to note that there are not many hard and fast rules when it comes to eclectic style, other than the overall look shouldn’t fit into any other single category. That said, there are some characteristics that pop up in eclectic decor regularly.

  • Mixed patterns and textures. Eclectic decor isn’t homogenous—take risks by mixing patterns, textures, or both!
  • Combination of old and new. In an eclectic room, a Louis XIV sofa could be paired with a lucite coffee table, and nobody would bat an eye—in fact, it’s this contrast that makes these interiors look so good.
  • Incorporation of global influences. Don’t be afraid to place antique lacquer armoire from China next to a Saarinen womb chair! (Interested in decorating from other cultures but want to be sure you’re not appropriating? Read this.)
  • Gallery walls. Eclectic style is essentially a collage of furnishings. Take that concept to the walls with a gallery-style display of artistic movements, from Pop Art to Impressionism.

Though it may seem like eclectic style should feel disjointed and a little chaotic, a successful decor scheme should actually feel unified, with every design decision being a very deliberate one. It doesn’t have to necessarily be full-on maximalism; eclectic decor can very much skew toward the subtle side, so long as it retains a mix of textures, patterns, and styles.

  • Pick a color palette. You can easily create a sense of unity by picking a color scheme and sticking with it. Pick one color to anchor the room, then punch it up with accents.
  • Balance bold furnishings with neutral walls—or vice versa. In order to keep your room from getting a little too chaotic, opt for neutral walls to balance any craziness with furniture. Alternatively, go with patterned wallpaper and keep your furnishings a little more neutral!
  • Don’t overcrowd the room. Remember, if you’re getting funky with patterns or textures, the eye will have quite a lot to work with. There’s no need to pile in extra furniture, art, or design objects just to achieve an eclectic look.

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