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How to Bring Modern Traditional Style Home: Lighting

Gray Traditional Farmhouse Kitchen

And we’re back with another lesson on how to instill that perfectly imperfect Modern Traditional style into your home that we’re loving so much right now (and all the pieces that come together to create the look). Last week, we covered furniture, and this week, we’re talking lighting, which, in addition to well-worn wood furnishings, is a vital component to the Modern Traditional picture. (Speaking of pictures, we’re diving into art, decor and accessories next, in case you’re itching to round out this style and get to shopping/decorating). Oftentimes, this is where the “Modern” in Modern Traditional comes in, except it’s not modern in the sense you might be thinking. For instance, if your first thought was “modern lighting means lots of glam brass or funky, unexpected materials”, it’s not that at all, at least not for this aesthetic. The lighting here is simple and kind of period-less. If you’re looking at a lamp and you can’t quite peg what era it’s from or what exact style it is, you’ve got the right fixture – put that bad boy in your cart and buy it QUICK.

Modern Traditional lamps and fixtures are masters of disguise, and by disguise, we mean they can slide into any scene/room style and fit right in (without disappearing into the background). This quality makes this type of lighting ideal for the not-quite-minimal-not-quite-country-a-little-modern-monastery look (FYI, we haven’t been able to stop referring to this as “Modern Monastery” since one of you pegged it that in the comments last week…it’s such a perfect name). Nothing here should be too matchy-matchy. Your wall sconce shouldn’t look like it came from the same lighting suite as your table lamp – it’s a mix that seems as if it came together over time. It should look like a time-honored melange of pieces – maybe something you inherited from your grandmother combined with a more streamlined light you picked up recently. You won’t find any fringe à la Modern Victorian here – it’s all about bronze, enameled metal, matte black, ceramic, brass or turned wood (or a subtle cocktail of a few of these). Just simple, honest materials without too much flash. More, well…monastery (see, told you it was the perfect name), less burlesque show.

Something of note before getting into it (that applies across the board with this style) – many of our picks here might feel a tad pricey, but it’s important to remember that, because this look is SO simple – not much fluff or layering – the decor and furniture you choose should be a bit more special. That doesn’t necessarily have to mean $$$, but think about it…you’re spending less on accessories and cheaper filler pieces, so while that $500 sconce might make you sweat a little (both because you love/need it but also because you’re cursing its price tag), without quality products, you could end up with a room that looks more like a cold, sad empty dorm room than purposefully delicate and sparse yet warm. While we wish we could dig through every vintage shop and garage sale in the area to find awesome lighting to go with this style and sell it directly to you guys, we only have so many hands in the EHD office (and storage space). Of course, we love all the picks below, but flushing out the aesthetic with your own finds from flea markets and estate sales or auctions is HIGHLY ENCOURAGED.

Minimal Simple Farmhouse Bedroom with Fireplace

Okay, so we thought we’d start overhead with ceiling lights. You’ll want to skip anything that’s too heavy or screams MODERN FARMHOUSE (you know, bulky industrial lights in matte blacks or chromes) and instead, focus in on more delicate lines. The fixture in the photo above is a good example of a traditional candle chandelier that works for Modern Traditional. It’s classic, relatively timeless and doesn’t have too many swags or ornate metalwork. Simple is the name of the game.

Minimal Country Farmhouse Kitchen Breakfast Nook

Cord pendants are also another perfect pick for ceiling lights in the Modern Traditional style book. The key here is to ensure they are dainty or else you risk it going too Modern Farmhouse, where lighting is typically larger scale and more heavily industrial (read: less minimal and whispy).

Modern Rustic Hallway

In general, the lines of Modern Traditional ceiling lights are basic and straightforward. Silhouettes are clean, and oftentimes, the scale is diminutive. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t put a larger chandelier in your home if you’re trying to implement this aesthetic. You just need to make sure that it’s a well-balanced piece and no individual part of the light is too substantial. Take and for example. These are not pint-sized – they would take pride of place in a foyer or over a dining room table or island, but the parts that make up the whole are slight. If you’re asking yourself “is this thing too intense?” then consider skipping it, and look for something more in line with our picks below:

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Traditional Bedroom Wood Bed

Okay, so moving on to table lamps. These should feel like they’d be right at home in a dusty library (you know the type: sun streaking through gorgeously grimy windows that have been painted over so many times, the layers are starting to peel back from the frame; book spines haven’t been cracked in decades – unfortunately and sadly; and everything smells just musty enough that it’s intoxicating in a good way. Totally Instagrammable – ironic, of course, because if more people had their noses in physical books rather than pressed against their screens, maybe that library wouldn’t be so…forgotten and musty and dusty. But then from where would we get all our vintage lamps??)

Bedroom With White Task Desk Lamp

You could go the task lighting route like or for some more visual interest, or keep it really no-frills with a simple candlestick lamp (like , , , and ).

Spare Minimal Farmhouse Bedroom With Wood Bed

There’s also the option of doing something just a little more unexpected, like a retro spotlight, as long as it’s small and doesn’t steal away too much attention from the handmade elements of the room. Putting something like this (as in the photo above) in a pared-back room with classic pieces is just enough “modern” to shake up the traditional, without feeling tryhard. It’s like wearing a fabulous pair of sculptural earrings with a streamlined, easy-breezy white linen suit. You definitely don’t NEED to do that to look stylish, but it could turn a perfectly good getup into something REALLY GOOD that makes you do a double take and think “WHOA GIVE ME THAT OUTFIT NOW.”

Minimal Bedroom with White Walls

Lampshades can be metal, pleated, linen, fluted – as long as it’s not TOO formal or eclectic, there aren’t a ton of rules here. Avoid things like colored blown glass, chrome or anything too mid-century, Art Deco…basically, anything too clearly tied to an era or style. Here are a handful of our favorites:

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Minimal Belgian Living Room Axel Vervoordt

Most of the same rules from table lamps we outlined above apply to floor lamps – after all, floor lamps are basically just elongated table lamps (or maybe it’s the other way around?). Keep your silhouettes uncomplicated and you’re golden, like these 24 options:

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Modern Farmhouse Dining Area

Last but CERTAINLY not least are wall sconces. Where we said table lamps and floor lamps should be pretty unadorned, you can have a bit more fun with sconces. If you’re thirsting for just a teeny tiny morsel of personality, here’s your chance. Not to say that these should be flashy (or else you risk getting too eclectic), but feel free to bring in some more warm brass or wood and interesting shapes.

Traditional Minimal Bedroom With Wall Sconce
Rustic Dining Area With Swing Arm Sconce

Because the Modern Traditional look is rooted in “less is more” (meaning, nothing purely ornamental, everything with a purpose), swing-arm or accordion arm sconces are great picks for the style. They can easily be moved around to light any particular area you might need without adding an additional fixture. Below, you’ll find a few of these types of light, as well as more traditional options and a handful of unexpected silhouettes ( and …we see you).

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As always, let us know your thoughts on our picks and if you have any questions on the look in general. Everyone, including us, seems really excited about Modern Traditional, so as we move on to shape other posts in this series, we’d love to hear from you on what other categories you want us to hit. Chime in down in the comments.

Leave a Reply

  1. None of this series feels like what I would call “Modern Traditional.” To me, the images you’re showing are really very country looking, or even shabby chic (but in a more minimal way). Modern Traditional brings images to mind of your living room with the gorgeous antique rug (yes, I’m one of those that still mourns!), designers Mark Sikes, Erin Gates, Lauren Liess, Daryl Carter … I guess a little more upscale than what you’ve been channeling. Your images look like an old farmhouse in the midwest to me, not Modern Traditional. Is that my New England sensibility talking?

    That said, some of this lighting is making me swoon, and might be the most beautiful lighting round up you’ve done!

    1. I have the same reaction to the word “Traditional.” It makes me think formal, upholstered, paintings in gold frames. But my parents are from New York and Massachusetts so perhaps I have your same regional bias;).

    2. Emily mentioned in earlier posts in this series that the name has been tricky to pin down, and commenters on those posts have come up with some great (and more suitable) alternatives. I also think that Modern Traditional is a bit off, but for consistency’s sake she’s kept the name throughout the series. Whatever it’s called, it certainly has some beautiful elements!

  2. Am I the only one who thinks these spaces look uncomfortable to live in? I can see the visual appeal even though it’s not my style, but all the chairs seem to say “sit down if you must, but don’t make yourself comfortable”.

  3. I have been loving this Modern Traditional series, but I feel disappointed that more flushmount ceiling lighting wasn’t included in this roundup. Only one flushmount is up there. I live in a real house with 8 foot ceiling lights. I can’t have pendant lighting in every room!

    1. That’s a good point that I hadn’t noticed initially – I do think there are enough visual clues in what’s provided that I could browse for something appropriate myself, but direct links are always a .

    2. I second this. As the owner of a 100 yr old Bungalow I’d love to see more flushmount options!

  4. I’m another who doesn’t care for this look – but I in no way mean to throw shade, it’s personal taste. Here are my issues: a) Instagrammed to death by cool kids b) You have to keep your place SO clean and you need impeccable natural light.

    But I do see the appeal of the aesthetic even though I don’t want to live that way.

  5. I love looking at these pics , but I sure would hate to live in these homes. This is the exact opposite of warm, inviting, and fun. The word monastery is apt. A monastery is meant to be simple, unadorned and even uncomfortable so that nothing distracts from religious focus. After all, nuns take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

  6. Oh my gosh you’re killing me, Emily. I LOVE all these photos…. and I now have a $1000 lighting wish list (with more like $150 available to spend lol). So glad for this post as I’d been having trouble figuring out some of my lights. I have been calling the look Modern Monastery too , wish you would go back and change all the titles but I assume that ship has sailed esp with social media shares and so forth. This pared down style with a mix of simple modern and simple antiques, quiet and neutral… finally I have exactly the right inspiration photos, via this series, to work from as I figure out my house. I do have to add just a touch more color but it’s all quiet natural blues and greens and a smidge of burnt orange drawn from the mountain view outside the windows.

    We moved 5 months ago from a cozy traditional cottage and a lot of our old stuff was simple enough to work in this new space, but I am finding the lighting to be off. Too heavy and castle-inspired! I’ve been checking my feed early every day this week waiting for this post 🙂 My husband is not going to understand why I would like to change out the dining chandelier especially… he loves that piece and doesn’t care as much about an overall cohesive style. Really hope I can convince him.

  7. I kept thinking that these spaces look like some remote Monastery where a James Bond character would hide & recuperate after some substantial battle. Which is where I got the ‘Modern Monastery’, Glad that it resonated with you too 🙂 Enjoying this series! I love how you break down different styles and discuss them – it is very fun and educational!

  8. Modern Monastery! So true, the lighting and ambiance in the above photos looks bleak and cold.

    I was thinking this style looks like a modern interpretation of the downstairs at Downton Abbey. Modern DA.

  9. As for seeming to be uncomfortable, I don’t see how it’s much different in that regard than Scandinavian style.

    Emily mentioned in the furniture post that there are very few living room inspo pics in this style – perhaps the lack of sofas in the blog posts gives the impression of less comfort. Otherwise there is a similar amount of wooden dining chairs and side chairs as in other simple styles. In our “modern monastery” home (a friend recently came over for a playdate and commented that there was nothing in my house, lol!) we have a clean lined, soft sectional sofa with textured throws as well as a deep upholstered and cushioned reading nook, so we have plenty of places to snuggle in and be comfy.

  10. Love this! Would love ideas for tiny bathrooms and entry ways! Send ideas for tile, sinks, toilets, mirrors, entry furniture, door hooks, PAINT COLORS!

    1. Second the request for hard finishes/fixtures ideas!

      1. thirdseys!

  11. Love these lighting picks, some great finds!! On a related note, could you please, please, pretty please, do a lighting post with some guidance on how to coordinate chandelier and pendant selections for dining tables, kitchen islands and living areas that are all part of one space? It’s a confusing dilemma for those of us with open concept homes!

    1. Agree!

  12. TOO MANY wonderful choices.

  13. Hey Emily, can’t stop thinking of the shoes you are wearing in your Instagram story at the salon. Any chance you would share who makes them (and r they comfortable) thank u!!

    1. I don’t remember what shoes she was wearing but there’s a 90% chance they were Rachel Comey mules 🙂

      1. Ha! Thanks Mandy. They weren’t the mules 🙁 They were a light tan sandal with two straps, a back strap and a low block heel… Perfect summer shoe. Any other guesses very welcome!

  14. I thought modern traditional was kind of like the style Emily has in her home. I didn’t realize it was this simplistic or lack of color. What would you call Emily’s living room?

  15. Your articles on design styles are terrific. They are so thorough and you give so many great pictures for examples. Thanks so much!

  16. Really enjoying this series and keep coming back to the photos. Love the description Modern Monastery.

    I also think – to nail this look – there should also be absolutely no shiny metals (think aged brass or brushed stainless steel in very limited amounts), no Carrera marble (too church-like / palatial) and absolutely no bling knickknacks.

    That said, I adore this look when just one big ornate item is thrown into the mix to break up the severity i.e. one antique chandelier or one ornately gilt framed oil painting or just one oversized antique gilt mirror. The juxtapose between the severe and ornate is wonderful.

    1. Agree!!

  17. What a great topic 🙂
    That looks

  18. It’s really great ideas for home. Thank you for sharing this!
    At this time I’m working as a freelancer, I write , and also my hobby is novel writing.
    Soon me and my husband will make a small reshuffle in the flat. Most of the time I spend at home and this is why it is very important for me to create a comfortable and cozy workplace. I was looking for a suitable lamp for myself so that in the evenings it would be possible to sit at the table and write another chapter for my future novel. Thank you very much for sharing this list, I chose a few for my home-office and living room. I’m sure that they will decorate my interior wonderfully and add a little coziness to the house.

  19. I have a question! I’m in love with this style and moving to a house that is from the early 1900’s, so should be perfect. But the decor in my current appartment is more to the industrial side, and since I’ll be living there for 2 year tops, I’m not willing to make big investments.

    Then the question is: can I make it work with the brass/metal stuff I have now? I don’t mind if it won’t be the pure style, I mind more if it’ll look ugly/weird.

    And: this style is more bare walls. Any ideas of what to do with all my current art? Should I pick one piece or another do hang, just have some lieing by the wall, or hide them all? 🙂

  20. Am I the only one who thinks these spaces look uncomfortable to live in? I can see the visual appeal even though it’s not my style, but all the chairs seem to say “sit down if you must, but don’t make yourself comfortable”.

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