Classic and Modern Can Work Together

Living and designing in Chicago, Jean Stoffer learned to respect gorgeous architecture and play off it to make her clients’ homes feel both classic and modern. She elegantly fuses these styles for her clients from Southwest Michigan to New York and beyond, and now you can get the look with Jean’s top tips for your space.

Design by Jean Stoffer Design | Like this look? Get inspired by her room.

I want to blend both classic and modern in my home, but I’m nervous! How can I be sure it won’t look like a jumbled mess?
A good way to approach an effective mix of classic and modern, or old and new is to go one of two routes: If you have a classic, old home, choose your substantial, large furnishings like sofas in a timeless style, and choose your smaller pieces, like end tables, in something bold and modern.

If your home is newer or doesn’t have many architectural elements to consider, choose light fixtures and accessories that are modern with unique materials or are interesting shapes. Whenever our clients invest in substantial furniture pieces, I encourage them to purchase the best quality they can afford and to go with classic styling so they can stand the test of time. I’m not talking about traditional styling because that could include a lot of carving and details that might go in and out of style. But restrained lines and classic shapes provide the base for mixing in fun, smaller items that aren’t as large of a financial commitment and can be changed over the years to keep things fresh and interesting.

I think a collected look with pieces from several different genres and time periods is what works the best. You can never put your finger on exactly what era the home was decorated in, and so it’s timeless.

“A collected look with pieces from several different genres and time periods is what works the best.”

How do I decide what old things are and aren’t cool?
My rule of thumb is that the cleaner the lines, and the more restrained the design, the better. I love finding old pieces with fabulous old wood showing a wood grain that seems impossible to find in new pieces. If it’s a simple farm table, or a huge armoire, I just love it. Sometimes there is a heavily carved, ornate piece that I can’t resist, but then that is the only piece of its type that I will use in the project. You’ve heard it before: less is more. But there is nothing like warming up a modern interior using a fantastic piece with all kinds of patina.

Can I try out an accent before committing?
Yes, I think you can. I think it’s a nice look to create neutral backgrounds and introduce color at the end in pillows and art. You could experiment with color accents in that way easily. You could also enjoy an accent for a time, and then switch it out for something else. Right now, I have pink linen pillows on my taupe velvet sofa. Those replaced a combination of blue and chartreuse pillows, and I have a whole new look!

Design by Jean Stoffer Design | Like this look? Get inspired by her room.

Accents can go terribly wrong. What should I avoid to achieve a classy statement look?
I think scale is the biggest design faux pas I see. Many times, a room can look so absolutely perfect and you can’t put your finger on any one thing that makes it so. Conversely, a room can look “off” or like something just isn’t right and there is the same reaction: “Hmmm, something just isn’t right here.” More often than not, the issue is scale. I have made my mistakes in this category, but I’ve learned a lot over the years. Light fixtures are a place where this plays out in a big way, so be very mindful of scale when you are selecting your fixtures. The other place this plays out is furnishings. Correctly scaled furnishings and fixtures in a space is the mark of a well-designed room.

What’s the most common question you get from clients when trying to mix in modern?
Will it look weird? And my only answer to that is: “No, it will look awesome, go for it!”

What inspires your color or pattern choice for a client’s space?
We try to find out as much about our clients as possible before we embark on their project. Some people are really into clothes. When we know we have a client who is into fashion, we take cues from their choice of clothes. Are they flowy, feminine, floral boho-type dressers? Are they tailored, relying on neutrals and solids? Some clients aren’t that into clothes, so we look at other things, and one very helpful place for us to look is their Pinterest boards. We study those. When we feel like we have a good grasp of who our client is, we structure the design around that – always using classic forms, colors and patterns as our foundation and building from there.

Tell me about your love of blue.
I think it evokes calm. I cannot think of a color that doesn’t look good with it, offering endless palette possibilities. And it’s both classic and modern, at the same time. What’s not to love?

Is there any color you wouldn’t use?
Nope, there isn’t. Color is one of the things that is so exciting, can make a space so unique, and so memorable. It can evoke emotions and remind us of great things.

Final thoughts?
The beauty of interior design at this moment in time is the accessibility of so many wonderful inspiration images and so many wonderful products. The options are endless, and it’s so exciting. When rooted in classic design, each home can be a unique expression of its owners while being timeless and welcoming.