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How to Bring Modern Traditional Style Home: Furniture

Modern Rustic and Traditional Dining Room

Last week, we took a deep dive into the style we’re calling ‘Modern Traditional‘. While there was some discussion amongst you all on the name (new reader suggestions included ‘Millennial Primitive’, ‘Modern Country’, ‘Contemporary Farmhouse’, and ‘Minimal Traditional’, some of which we can definitely get on board with), the look itself is far less cumbersome than pegging a name for it feels. For consistency’s sake, we’re sticking with ‘Modern Traditional’ throughout this series, but by all means, call it what you like (‘Updated Shaker’???).

As we did for our other style roundups – California Casual, Modern Victorian, Parisian Art Deco – we’re touching on furniture first, because a room without furniture is, well, just a box. This look is curated, but it’s not THAT simple.

If you missed the first post (study up on all the details and key components here), the TL;DR – too long, didn’t read for all of you who aren’t hip to social lingo – of it is as follows: think well-worn but simplified, early American settler gone modern, casual meets collected. It’s the type of home a cool grandma with impeccable style would live in (or Diane Keaton, because she’s the coolest). There are no dusty floral prints here or anything overly heavy in style or finish.

And because it’s hard to stop trying to describe ‘Modern Traditional’, here’s another way to look at it: not quite Scandi, not quite Shaker, not quite time-worn English farmhouse. It’s like a happy polyamorous marriage of all three with a peppering of rustic and a dash of cleaned up modern silhouettes and materials…and 100% timeless. It’s as comfortable as walking around your own home barefoot without feeling like a stranger is looking at your chipped toenail polish or bunions in judgment. Settle in because this aesthetic is a judgment-free zone.

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Furniture pieces are heirloom-like and handmade in a perfectly imperfect way, but all have a purpose and are functional – there isn’t ornamentation for ornamentation’s sake. Where you can, aim for vintage or antique pieces (though plenty of new pieces – like the ones in this roundup – have an air of age, and that’s okay, too!).

Modern Farmhouse Dining Room

First up on the list is dining tables, because frankly, a shabby-in-the-best-way-possible wood farmhouse table, especially in an eat-in kitchen, is one of the hallmarks of this style (and where ‘Modern Traditional’ borrows from the vibe of the super popular ‘Modern Farmhouse’ aesthetic). The table here should feel like it was put together by the carpenter from your great-great grandfather’s village in a workshop or, better yet, barn. It should conjure up desires to sit around with your mom or sister, sipping on warm honey-infused milk. Look for something with nubby and noticeable woodworking, notches and dings and maybe even turned legs (for that traditional lean).

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Minimal Farmhouse Wood Chair Vignette

Let’s move on to another ‘Modern Traditional’ calling card: the wood chair. So many images of this aesthetic involve a Windsor-esque chair, whether in the dining area, alone in a hallway, near a staircase or next to a bed. Black, stained, white, a combo…any neutral finish will work, and better yet if it looks like it’s been sitting in front of a window for about four decades. A bit of metal is a nice touch and injects a modern energy.

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Minimal Farmhouse Bedroom with Iron Four Poster Bed

Okay, time to talk side tables. Because we all need a place to sit a book/drink/cellphone, your beds and sofas need these little guys. To stay within the ‘Modern Traditional’ realm without going too Mission or American Arts and Crafts, look for pieces with turned legs or a very simple silhouette and avoid too many slats. Oak is a great choice as long as it doesn’t veer too red or yellow (though blonde is okay). You should be able to see or feel the grain. The hardware should be simple, though we won’t turn down something brass as long as it doesn’t steal the show. As for our picks, yes, the $1,500 blue vintage table at is a BIT of an investment, but, if you’ve got it, it’ll definitely be a showpiece wherever you put it! On the flip side of that, just about everyone at EHD who saw said, “That’s from IKEA?!?”…sure, it might not be groundbreaking, but the styling is just right and the leather pull is an unexpected, welcomed detail.

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Modern Rustic Living Room Axel Vervoordt

We’re not gonna lie – finding ‘Modern Traditional’ living room photos was not easy. So much of this look revolves around dining, the kitchen, even bedrooms and baths, but living rooms…slim pickings. Not sure why, BUT, it’s pretty easy to deduce what this space should look like based on the plethora of images of farmhouse tables and spindle beds out there. Minimal art, a slipcovered sofa, and a raw or rustic (yet streamlined!) coffee table. The image above, a space designed in the Wabi Sabi style by , isn’t quiet the ‘Modern Traditional’ vibe we were going for, but it’s still worth taking some style notes from. A clean, slipcovered sofa in a fresh cream awakens the heavy rustic architecture – this is exactly what you want to happen. You may not live in a cabin, but the point here is to mix simple shapes with heavier wood pieces (like that coffee table and long storage piece off to the right).

We sourced a handful of really cozy, welcoming slipcovered sofas in a light neutral linen or durable cotton. To shake things up a little, a wood frame like below would be great with a h cushion, and of course something leather like  could also work well as long as the hide looks and feels lived in. It’s about COMFORT and functionality, not just looks.

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As for a coffee table to pair with your sofa, look for something sturdy and wood with some age. You’ll want the table to be a little imperfect but with clean lines. Visible joints are always a – any wood piece where you can see the hand of the craftsman who made it is welcomed in the ‘Modern Traditional’ style.

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Modern Scandinavian Hallway with Rustic Stools

Like a wood chair, stools and footstools are fair game in just about any and all rooms of a ‘Modern Traditional’ abode. They pretty much round out the look of larger pieces. Use one next to your tub, on one side of a larger case piece, in the kitchen…anywhere you might need a little leg up or to rest everyday sundries to keep them in easy reach. Try a vintage, almost primitive looking stool (like or ), though a more streamlined Japanese/Scandinavian modern pick (, , ) is also welcomed.

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Modern Traditional Staircase With Windsor Bench

Where a pair of armchairs could feel a little formal in a room depending on their material and setup, benches are casual and basically beg you to take a load off. They aren’t SO comfortable that you can lounge on one all afternoon, but when you just need a little reprieve or a perch to help you get your (or your kids’) shoes on or off, a bench is oh so handy. Plus, they’re SUCH an easy piece to decorate with. The bench is the dress of the home…you don’t need much else. It’s one piece that pulls its style weight. For this look, again, spindle-back and Windsor in style is a go-to, for sure, but also consider backless options (especially in a smaller space).

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Simple Cottage Bedroom Spindle Bed

Next up: beds and headboards. Spindle frames – wood or metal – are the name of the game here, as are more delicate four posters. If you fall more in the ‘modern’ spectrum of ‘Modern Traditional’ you’ll want a spindle bed with a more contemporary lean. Something that feels a little more Japanese modern in a blonde wood (like ). Or you can go totally classic…or even upholstered (something with a slipcover look). The key is to keep things simple and beautiful but a little special.

And if you’re curious about bedding, again, straightforward and effortless is where your head should be when shopping. Washed linen or cotton sheets and duvet, a neutral blanket, and just a small stack of sleeping pillows.

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Youxi988 Modern English Cottage Tudor Living Room Reveal3

And finally, casegoods. These are heavier wood storage pieces, sometimes with glass fronts or even something fun like card catalog drawers (such as below). The dusty blue piece above, that’s one of my favorite things in my home. I’ve paired it with a modern side chair and also this antique version…it works with both perfectly. That’s the beauty of a weathered and well-loved cabinet like this. It fits just about any home or vignette like a glove.

Rustic Sideboard Modern Traditional Farmhouse

Whether you’re into the ‘Modern Traditional’ look or not (though we hope you LOVE IT, because we do), this type of furnishing is SO useful in a bathroom, a kitchen, any living space like a living room or even a bedroom. Go totally antiqued like the vintage stunner at , or keep things tidy with something like  or  (which Arlyn, our new Editorial Director, owns and LOVES for added bathroom storage).

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  1. I love this series so much!! Thank you for all the work you and your team put into this blog.
    This is one of my dream pieces to have in my future home and i think it could work very well with this style. To bad it is super expensive (at least for a twenty year old student in Sweden).

    ps. sorry if my grammar and spelling isn’t perfect english is not my first language. 🙂

    1. Oh my, it’s gorgeous! Now I want it.

    2. This piece is STUNNING. Agreed on the price point – but we always need something to dream for! 🙂

  2. Loved the styling tips, I recently came across furnitures online, do have a look at the study table:

  3. Love this roundup so much! I”ll be bookmarking this post for sure as we have a cross country (well across the border actually!) move coming up and we plan on starting fresh with most of our big ticket items. Also feeling justified about the hoarding of a single spindle bed I picked up at a vintage market in Montana years ago for a mere $17!

  4. It’s funny the way I was describing it in my head was ‘Modern Monastery’! ‘Traditional’ to me evokes a more formal ‘Southern’ look to me. Great roundup!

  5. I like this name! It has that worn, clean, peaceful, and spare look of a monastery for sure.

  6. Thank you, so much for this post! This is my style all day long. What I love about it is that it feels very functional, quick and easy to clean and beautiful at the same time. Not to mention just looking at the spaces creates a calm and relaxed feeling in me. (Marie Kondo changed my life.) And I second your statement that there doesn’t seem to be as many living room pictures out there of this style. Any I find close all seem to go too far into another style like farmhouse, country, or eclectic. Which is why I’m still stuck on our living room and trying to figure that out.

  7. The only thing I don’t like about this style is that I’m at a point in furnishing my house (this way) that I need to start hitting antique stores and thrift stores to fill in the pieces I’m missing… and dropping by shops for 10 minutes to see what’s new is soooo hard and unappealing with a 2 year old and 5 year old in tow! Definitely time to make the call for that new local babysitter I’ve been procrastinating about. Shopping for worn simple furniture would be a splendid way to spend the occasional mom’s morning out.

    1. Truth! We took a day trip with our young kids via a ferry to a small town with a great antique store I had found online…only to find they had closed their business. Boo! I was counting on having my husband with me so I could linger in the aisles and not worry about the kids touching everything. Womp womp.

    2. I think this is where Etsy and eBay can be really helpful (though ALWAYS check the dimensions – I’ve bought a couple things that were smaller than I thought they were going to be). Also – look for good flea/antique markets in your area. They tend to be early morning so you can run out by yourself, swing through fairly quickly with your list and head out – or find something totally funky and serendipitous and take it home without the hubs judging you. Fleas are different everytime but you’ll get to know your favorite vendors and locations pretty quickly. And you can always tell them what you are looking for – I’ve had people respond with “oh, I’ve got one at home – I’ll bring it next time.”

      Good luck to you!

  8. Interesting…I’ve always thought how to define my style or anyone else’s is a fun but tough question (I still don’t totally know what to call mine!). I have a question for you, though: what style would you say Chris Loves Julia’s home is? I have always thought of their style as being a modern version of traditional (so have called it modern traditional), but it does not resemble this stuff at all. I would have thought this style was called modern rustic or something that highlights the rustic/americana factor. I am just curious as to your opinion on how to define their style. Thanks!

    1. I think of their style as Transitional… I’m not sure if that’s right or not though.

    2. I agree—their style is what I would call Modern Traditional and this is definitely more sparse and rustic.

  9. Love!! This is definitely my style but I like a little glam mixed in. I had quite a few pieces already pinned before I even read the post today. 🙂

  10. when does a four-poster bed work?? can it work in a tiny room? does it need to be a GIANT master, like in a new house? i LOVE the look of them, but we have an itty-bitty 1930s cottage. our room is basically big enough for a queen bed and that’s IT. so, probably not for us, but when is it right??

    1. I think four poster beds look great in small bedrooms. Google “four poster bed small bedroom” to see some great looking small bedrooms with four poster beds.

  11. This reminds me of this house tour from Cup of Jo that I was COMPLETELY OBSESSED WITH but couldn’t quite firgure out why or pin down the style. Is this modern traditional / slightly scandi? Tell me if you agree:

  12. i think this post just saved me from life decisions i would soon regret! I have a bunch of vintage pieces with worn paint like some of the pieces you highlight here – they were all i could afford when i first got married 20 years ago, ‘shabby chic’ was big then, and I loved them so!

    but i have many of them in storage now as my tastes and budget have evolved over the years and was recently thinking i should just let them go (aka put them in my alley where someone else will pick them up)…but now that I see that table for $1500 I’m not letting a thing go!!!

  13. Yesssss! I’m so excited to see another post on this style, that I’m commenting before I even read it. This is my favorite style of all time, but one that I find hard to accomplish. Thank you so much for all the inspiration, round-ups, tips and suggestions, not only for this particular style but for every home. I have a teeeeny apartment that I’ve attempted to make into a cozy place with lots of help from your blog posts. Thank you!!

  14. Who knew there was an actual name for this more urbane farmhouse style (that’s my choice of what to call it I guess) I think I drifted into, but we got quite a bit of furniture when we moved to our new house last year and it all seems to fit this aesthetic. Thanks so much — will help enormously in continuing to decorate and grow our home’s furnishings more organically. Though speaking of organic, one thing I find myself longing for in all these photos is something green and living, i.e., plants! Otherwise it starts to feel too much like a long, dark, Scandinavian winter. Maybe as you get more into accessories? Real greenery would seem to fit the aesthetic and philosophy of this style.

  15. Emily, glad you addressed this increasingly-popular style. I wonder, however, if it’s more one for the North/Northeast and MIdwest corners. Here in the Southwest, our clients don’t
    really want this style as it reminds them of what they “left behind” back East. Any chance you can address how to do this well in a Southwest/West vernacular?

    Many thanks!

    1. Interesting! I am a SoCal native though I spent 10 of my formative years in Michigan (and would never go back!!) I looove this style and feel like I finally found what I was looking for. The California Casual style Emily highlighted recently seems like what you have in mind as I feel it’s pretty similar to this one but more hip.

      We ourselves have been moving more and more country/into the mountains so this feels awesome for us. Someone mentioned Modern Monastery as a name and I totally get the spare vibe of the missions living spaces- white plaster walls, some dark old wood, few and plain furnishings. Our house is an 80’s modern ranch up on a hill, with weird vaults and angles, lots of windows, light, and white paint, and a 70/30 mix of Scandi clean/Amish worn handmade seems to work really well.

      1. I mean 30/70.

  16. I LOVE this series and I’m laughing because I never knew what my style was technically called and now I do 100%. I literally have a piece that is either listed in your recommendations here or very similar to something in each of these categories. Thanks for doing these roundups 🙂

  17. Love all of this! Would be interested in lighting suggestions for this style.

    1. Stay tuned because that’s coming up soon (next week!). xx

      1. Yay! Thank you!

  18. I think this may be my style Cinderella slipper I’ve been looking for. We’ve been hunting for sofas and dining tables for months and all of these fall into the look I’ve been eyeing. Excited for the rest of these round ups in the coming weeks!

  19. Love the looks! Thank you for all of the choices to get this look. Any information on the hooks in the photo with the stool. I love the minimal look of these hooks.

  20. Yes! So wonderful and right up my alley!

    QUESTION THO: My bed frame is similar to (though less ornate than) the black 4-poster One King’s Lane one shown above and I have been STRUGGLING with what kind of night stands to buy. The bed is a king and our bedroom is quite large, so I haven’t been sure about whether I should go big with nightstands (like with short and wide, 3-drawer dressers) or something super simple and small. What’s the best move to still stay with this “Modern Traditional” style? I’ve had this bed for 3 1/2 years and have struggled with this choice the whole time!

    And don’t even get me started on trying to find a good dresser!

    1. ooh, i think nightstands (and end tables) are really hard! personally, if your bedroom is big, i would go for big nightstands! then you can style them out with cool stuff but also have room for your book and glass of water without bumping into all the other stuff!

      in my aunt’s house years ago, she had a large antique table on one side of her bed and a antique dresser like you describe on the other side, both in lovely patina’d matching wood tones. It was so charming and cozy and she had piles of coffee table books on the table and it’s still #nightstandgoals for me! good luck!

    2. People seem to get hung up on matchy-matchy side tables. Try a couple of pieces of furniture that are not the same, but ‘speak’ to each other (i.e. have the same wood tones/similar shape of leg, etc.).
      The important thing when choosing side tables that aren’t the same, is to make sure that they are the same height. They don’t even have to be the same width, just the same height. In fact, having slightly different side tables does this particular decorating style justice, because it’s all about the piece having a story before you got it.
      A good trick to use is to collect pictures of pieces you like and then cut them out, close to the edge of the piece. Then, hold it out in front of you and slowly draw it closer to your eyes until it’s the size it should be in place. It’s a similar trick to that used by artists to measure up things in the distance, based on marks on their pencil, so that it’s the right size in their drawing. Same process, just in reverse.
      Good luck and have fun with it.

  21. Thank you so much for this new series. Love it! How do you find a balance between modern and vintage pieces of furniture in a room for this style? Do you have a strategy or ratio or just how it makes you feel?

  22. Thanks so much for this feature! It’s been my style for 50 years and I was starting to feel foolish for having all these what-used-to-be-called Early American/Colonial wood furniture pieces….and I have sold or given away some things due to moving to the Southwest from the Midwest and before that, the Eastern US. The farther west I have moved, the more casual the “look” is. However, you have helped me know it is okay to love and keep these things even though they’re not “in” so to speak. But, my pieces never “shout” or demand much from me. They are quiet and graceful and to me, quite lovely. I won’t get rid of them now.

  23. I couldn’t find my style until I stumbled to the bespoke kitchens on the martin moore and deVOL websites. They call it ‘Modern Classic’. essentialism and timeless. I’m hooked and have been trying to create this feel, so I’m looking forward to all your blogs!

  24. Hi! I love the style but have a question. Do you actually try out the furniture or just pick out online? I’m always amazed at how good s photo can look and then how different she the item arrives. Thanks for the clarification!

  25. The furniture looks very simple but great design. Thanks for sharing.

    If anyone interest in Jewelry Candles for his or her home decoration than may visit here:

  26. Love this! I would be super interested in seeing some rugs and other textiles that you think fall into this style 🙂

  27. Love all of these tips. Not gonna lie though, those curtain sheers in the first pic are killing me! Haha

  28. Thanks for the nod out to antique shops, Emily, though if someone comes in looking for Modern Traditional, I will have a puzzled look on my face, as I am thinking, to quote Edina Monsoon, “What is was or what it will be?”

  29. I enojoyed reading this post, such great styling advice and sourcing of items.

  30. Would love to see a post on rug recommendations for modern traditional living rooms!

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