State of Transition 

Transitional design is the blissful marriage of classic & contemporary style


Transitional design gives homeowners the best of both worlds, mixing modern elements with traditional ones. Making up for the shortcomings of either philosophy, transitional design offers a cohesive, clean look that’s easy on the eye and accessible for interior design newcomers.

“Because of this, it appeals to a broad range of people’s aesthetic. It’s not overdone and is a cleaner take on traditional design,” says Leslie Wilson, owner of Bellwether Interior Design in Neenah.

Transitional design pairs traditional elements like wainscoting, crown molding and marble mantles, with fresh, modern elements like clean lines, neutral colors and open floor plans.

“I think part of it is people are always searching for something new and something a little different,” says Mark Hartzheim, owner of Hartwood Homes in Kaukauna.

Katie Jane Ferrito, interior designer and sales representative for Midwest Design Homes in Kaukauna, believes the word “transitional” can sometimes be misused.

pexels-photo-271800“We call a lot of designs that have eclectic choices transitional, but the true definition is a home that has both contemporary and traditional elements,” she says.

Transitional design has been popular for the last 10 years, Wilson says, and shows staying power because it’s based on classic elements.

“This style works really well for clients I meet that have no clear style that they like. The traditional aspects give them a safety to not go too far outside their comfort zone, while the cleaner take allows me to bring in some modern elements and trends,” she says.

Ferrito says that the concept is especially popular in the Midwest because many of the clients she sees love traditional architectural elements. When they start building a new house, however, they find contemporary design suits their fancy as well.

“[Traditional design]  is what they are comfortable with and have grown up with, but I think they start building a new house and find that it is also impossible to ignore all the fun that contemporary design has to offer,” Ferrito says.

Brenda Spaeth, owner of Homes by Design of the Fox Valley in Greenville, believes the aesthetic appeals most to a younger crowd.

“The majority of them are 35 and younger, and then once you get to 35-50 it’s kind of a mix, and then older than that they want the true traditional,” Spaeth says.

Ferrito explains that the home designs that stand the test of time embrace good traditional architecture as a base – big windows, a stone fireplace and some warm woods mixed with metals.

“Then you [can] throw in your pieces that feel contemporary and maybe even a little risky,” she says. “There is no reason not to have some fun with the lighting or the cabinet hardware. Usually when you go for that one more unique piece in an otherwise modest setting — that’s when people start calling it transitional.”

Challenges occur when people are tempted to match elements too closely, Ferrito says.

“I remember getting the big JCPenney catalog as a child and flipping through all the super matchy-matchy bedroom sets. Coverlets, curtains, throw pillows, wall paper borders, shower curtains … but everything in the same pattern isn’t a very interesting way to decorate,” she says. “Traditional today is more simple. It’s clean and modest. This is why it blends with contemporary and creates a more timeless and restful look.”

There are a few tricks to mixing styles effortlessly.

“I’m of the firm belief that not overdoing anything; a little bit of anything is good. If everything is done in moderation, it blends seamlessly,” Spaeth says.


Wilson agrees that it’s all about balance. If hiring a professional designer isn’t an option, then it’s helpful to collect items. For example, start buying pieces, saving receipts and compiling items. Then once you have some options, move them around your space.

“It’s always best if you are not a visual person or highly creative to see it in your own space,” Wilson says,” and having more than one option when you do that always helps and saves time.”

Another tip is to try repeating design elements throughout a home which can help achieve a cohesive feel.

“The colors, texture and repeating the design, … so instead of just doing a spot area you repeat the textures and colors throughout; it flows and feels right,” Hartzheim says.

Anyone can achieve transitional design in their homes. The key is sticking to the styles you truly love.

“I think design is such a personal expression,” Ferrito says. “You have to select items you love all the way through the process or your house won’t feel like you when you are done.”

2018 Parade of Homes 


The Fox Cities Parade of Homes is one of the most recognized and respected open house events in the area. The event will take place February 10-11 and 15-18, weekends 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and weekdays 5-8 p.m.

Megan Schlimm, director of marketing and events for the Home Builders Association of the Fox Cities (HBA Fox Cities), says attendees will see many different kinds of homes, from 984-square-foot remodeling projects to 9,200-square-foot new builds.

“Consumers have a unique opportunity to meet with builders on-site at the homes to discuss their own ideas and projects, and ask questions about each featured home,” she says.

The HBA Fox Cities Parade of Homes will feature 34 entries; 31 new construction homes and three remodeling projects. Visitors who attend the Parade of Homes are looking to build, buy, remodel or simply decorate.

“The Parade of Homes gives attendees the opportunity to see, feel and touch the finishes, floor plan, products and features of many different homes to see what works best for their lifestyle,” Schlimm says. “And, it’s simply a fun event to attend.”

Tickets are available at


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