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Beyond “Cottage-y”: Top Design Styles and What They Really Mean

When it comes to design, effective communication is key. You’re much more likely to get the look and feel of a project right if you have the precise language to describe it. Unfortunately, the rise of interior design sites, blogs, and entire channels (Hello, HGTV) has muddied the issue. If you can’t differentiate your mid-century from your modern, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more about the key elements of top design aesthetics and find your favourite style.


Rustic is one of those overused words that can evoke a very specific kind of space. When people ask for a rustic design they’re generally thinking of a traditional cabin, all exposed dark wood and rough-hewn furniture. In reality, rustic just means that something is related to the country. This is why rustic spaces feature raw, natural materials and organic elements.

Coulson Lane rustic design style

If you’re planning a rustic design, think of ways to bring outdoor elements inside without making the entire space look like a logging camp. The traditional log cabin style of structure works well with this aesthetic but rather than leaving exposed beams you can invite warmth and coziness with paint. Avoid cool whites and greys, and opt instead for warm, saturated tones.

Choose your furniture and decor with comfort in mind. Pieces that showcase natural elements work well, as do handmade items. Select decor made from wood, pottery, or hand-hammered metal.

Modern Rustic

A modern rustic aesthetic takes the focus on natural elements and combines it with modern pieces. The overall effect is a comfortable space without clutter that feels entwined with the outdoors.

modern rustic kitchen

To achieve this look, you’ll want to work with an open floor plan. Choose modern furniture pieces and use simple, natural fabrics like linen or jute. Large, numerous windows bring in ample light and give the impression of the outdoors coming inside.


In a traditional space, there’s typically a symmetrical layout that highlights timeless elements like antiques, period architecture, patterns and historical features – think shaker cabinet doors. Rich wood tones feature prominently.

traditional kitchen

Anything but minimalist, this is a timeless go-to style that showcases easy elegance. The use of light colours, marble, and tile creates a brighter space.

traditional style bathroom


As the name suggests, an eclectic design includes multiple design styles and pulls from various inspiration points. Using different textures, patterns, and colours, these spaces tend to be playful and colourful. The best eclectic rooms showcase a cohesive mixture of elements.

eclectic living room

Coastal Lakeside

We’ve all seen seaside cottages rife with seashells, marine netting, and lighthouse art. This design is enduring because it immediately transports people into the setting and can underscore the sense of a getaway. That said, it can be a bit heavy-handed. We’re more interested in how to use the idea of a shoreline setting (in our case, lakeside) to elevate a space without overwhelming it.

lakeside design style bedroom

Colour is an effective and understated way to set the mood. Look to the blues seen in the water and sky and offset that with a light and airy white, echoed in the window treatments. Shiplap or white painted boards immediately bring the lake to mind as do natural touches sourced from the lakeside environment.

lakeside design detail


Scandinavian design is known for prioritizing simple functionality, minimalism, and bright, airy spaces—often with no window treatments. Wood features prominently, typically in lighter colours than you’d find in, say, a traditional room, and houseplants add to the open and natural flow. 

Scandinavian living room
Design by Kresswell Interiors; Photo by Tracey Jazmin

Scandinavian countries weather cold winters so it’s no surprise to find features for maximum coziness. Chunky throw blankets, stuffed poufs, and accent throw pillows add colour and texture. Clutter is unwelcome so art pieces are carefully selected and used sparingly.

Mid-century Modern

This is a term that’s both very popular and broadly misunderstood. Let’s start with the basics: we’re talking about the 20th century, roughly the years between the 40s and late 60s, which matters because for the first time designers and furniture-makers were able to experiment with a mix of natural and manufactured materials. This is why we see vinyl, glass, metal, Plexiglass, and Lucite showing up in the furniture and design pieces.

mid-century modern living room and kitchen
Image from Wit & Delight; Photo by Bethany Terry at Joy Studios

A mid-century modern space will feature browns, greys, maroons, and blues, but the colours aren’t over-saturated. Black and white also show up. Furniture is functional and sleek, mainly in organic shapes with sleek lines while sometimes a piece will be more experimental in how it’s rendered.

With these principles in mind, you’re all set to take your space to the next level—and to know exactly how to achieve your style.


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