The essential guide to neoclassical interior design - Coaste

March 5, 2024

The essential guide to neoclassical interior design

Learn the essentials of neoclassical interior design to incorporate it into your home and create a look that exudes timeless elegance.

Learn the essentials of neoclassical interior design to incorporate it into your home and create a look that exudes timeless elegance.

The most understated of the traditional design styles, neoclassical interior design could very well be the world’s first foray into minimalism. Sure, it may not be minimalist by today’s standards, but compared to everything that came before it, neoclassical style is subtle and refined.

Think less Marie Antoinette’s boudoir and more Jane Austen’s drawing room.

Even if you just discovered the term “neoclassical,” you’ve likely seen it before. French country style and American colonial style are both versions of neoclassical design.

Because of its subtlety, neoclassical decor pairs beautifully with other decor styles. It’s the foundation of transitional style — which mixes traditional and modern home decor — because the clean lines of neoclassical pieces blend seamlessly with the clean lines of modern furniture.

Learn the essentials of neoclassical interior design so you can incorporate it into your home and create a look that exudes timeless elegance.

The evolution of neoclassical interior design

Neoclassical interior design of a house

Like every interior decor style, neoclassical interior design responds to the design styles that came before it — specifically, to the baroque and rococo styles, which were the dominant styles in Europe for over 150 years.

Taste was changing

Baroque and rococo styles were full of S-curves, carved elements, and elaborate gilding. Everything was glittery and gold.

Even though they came first, these classical design styles were like new money — ostentatious, flashy, and frankly, tacky. Neoclassical decor, on the other hand, was like old money — understated but with an undeniable air of sophistication.

It moved away from the sweeping curves of baroque and rococo style toward clean, geometric lines, like rectangles and rounded archways. It embraced a more neutral color palette and relied on subtle architectural details like millwork and pilasters — or rectangular columns. In fact, columns of all kinds were common in neoclassical architecture and furniture design.

As this style turned away from recent European design trends, it looked to the past for inspiration, and decorative motifs from Ancient Greece and Rome came back into style. In addition to Greek columns, urns were popular decorative elements in neoclassical homes.

Times were changing

A return to Ancient Greek and Roman decor was fitting for the time. Much like how every interior design style is a response to the styles that came before it, it’s also a response to the cultural and political climate of the time. Neoclassical interior design emerged in the second half of the 18th century — around the time of the French Revolution.

The people of France had grown tired of the extravagance of royalty, which was on full display in baroque and rococo decor. (The Palace of Versailles is one of Europe’s best examples of baroque architecture.) As they looked to eliminate their monarchy, it’s fitting that they turned to two of Europe’s earliest democracies — Greece and Rome — for inspiration.

The style was embraced in the United States, where another democratic revolution was brewing, which is why Greek columns are prominent architectural elements of both the White House and the Capitol Building.

Neoclassical style remained popular until the mid-19th century, but its influence never truly faded. Its clean lines and neutral tones are essential elements of modern style. And now neoclassical decor is making a comeback of its own.

The elements of neoclassical interior design

Aside from being subtler than other classical architecture and interior design styles, there are several key elements of neoclassical style that set it apart. If you see these design elements — especially if you see them all in one space — you’ll know you’re looking at neoclassical design. By incorporating these design ideas into your home, you can create your own classical design.

Architectural details outrank wall art

Neoclassical interior design: Delilah Upholstered Living Room Set Black

Original neoclassical homes featured architectural details like high ceilings, archways, raised paneling, and millwork. The paneling typically has beveled edges in rectangular shapes that draw the eye upward and emphasize the high ceilings. You’ll also see this beveling in neoclassical furniture, like this 8-drawer dresser with beveled drawer panels.

While the paneling in neoclassical homes isn’t overly intricate, it does have some ornamentation because of the beveled edges. The effect is simple but beautiful, and the walls are typically left unadorned in other ways. There’s little artwork to distract from the wall paneling, but you may see a mirror mixed in among the panels to reflect more light into the room.

A simple arched wall mirror, like the Stabler Arch-Shaped Wall Mirror, will bring in another quintessential neoclassical silhouette. Mirrors are also an opportunity to add more ornamentation to your otherwise pared-down design. Look for gold or brass frames with a flourish of scrollwork at the top.

Columns aren’t just for the architecture

Neoclassical interior design: Evelyn 5-drawer Chest Antique White

Greek columns and Roman pilasters are frequent features of neoclassical architecture, but that’s not the only place they appear. Neoclassical furniture design often incorporated column- and pilaster-inspired edging on dressers and cabinets or used these shapes as the legs of dining room tables.

For example, this 5-drawer bedroom chest has round columnar edges along the front, while this antique white bedroom chest features square pilaster-style edging that frames the drawers.

Geometric silhouettes pair with simple ornamentation

Twyla Upholstered Oval Back Dining Side Chairs Cream and Dark Cocoa

Neoclassical furniture features square, rectangular, or subtly arched silhouettes. If those clean-lined silhouettes sound familiar to you, it may be because they’re the same silhouettes used in modern furniture.

Modern interior design likely borrowed these silhouettes from neoclassical interior design, which is why neoclassical furniture plays so nicely with modern pieces.

But unlike modern furniture, which is starkly unadorned — almost obstinately plain — neoclassical furniture does have small flourishes and design details. You might see a small amount of damask scrollwork, turned table legs, or carved design details like a fleur-de-lis.

The Alderwood Bedroom Set is a good example of the carved finishes you’d find on traditional neoclassical pieces. It features rectangular silhouettes, pilaster-inspired edges, and a carved floral motif.

These Twyla Upholstered Dining Room Chairs show off the quintessential silhouettes of neoclassical design with their round backs, square seats, and tapered legs.

Symmetry evens out the design

Bleker Tufted Tuxedo Arm Sofa Blue

While modern design often uses asymmetry to create visual interest and draw the eye around the room, neoclassical design relies on symmetry to create visual harmony. There will never be just one armchair in a neoclassical living room. There will always be two.

You may also see two matching sofas or loveseats, like the Bleker Tufted Tuxedo Arm Loveseat, placed across from each other with a single coffee table in the middle, creating a perfect mirror image from one side of the room to the other. If you place a piece of furniture or a decorative object on one side of the fireplace, you’ll place a matching one on the opposite side.

While two matching pieces usually create symmetry in a neoclassical space, you can also create the effect of symmetry by having two pieces that are similar in size, scale, and color without being a perfect match.

Proportions keep everything in balance

Eastbrook Tufted Back Loveseat Grey

Oversized furniture is a key element of contemporary design, but neoclassical style favors smaller pieces. You won’t see overstuffed sofas or hulking entertainment centers, but you also won’t see the small footprint of mid-century modern furniture (except in small neoclassical spaces).

Instead, neoclassical design aims for perfect proportions to accompany its perfect symmetry. Everything should be sized with the space in mind. So if you’re choosing neoclassical home decor, you should measure and block out your space before buying. It also helps to shop in person to ensure the scale of the piece is right for the room.

Soft colors create a soothing environment

Much like Scandinavian interior design, neoclassical interior design leans into neutral tones and lighter, more soothing colors. Beige, cream, French grey, dusty blue, and sage green are perfect for a neoclassical color palette.

Furniture is often made with light upholstery paired with dark wood to provide contrast. This Avonlea Sloped Arm Accent Chair is the perfect example with its soft grey fabric and dark wood legs.

You’ll sometimes see printed fabrics as well. Common motifs include damask, striped, or floral patterns. The pattern is often subtle, in a color similar to the fabric’s other colors.

Create a new classic

Avonlea Sloped Arm Upholstered Chair Grey

If you want to add more timeless pieces to your home, neoclassical interior design is the perfect place to look for inspiration. Although it’s a classical design style, it looks beautiful in any time period.

Neoclassical design pairs beautifully with modern decor. And because it gives you the flexibility to mix and match, you don’t have to commit fully to a single style. You can add a few neoclassical pieces to your home and create a style that’s uniquely you.

Learn more about transitional decor to see how you can mix neoclassical furniture with contemporary pieces.

coaster-living-room-Eastbrook-Tufted-Back-Loveseat-Grey coaster-living-room-Eastbrook-Tufted-Back-Loveseat-Grey-hover

Eastbrook Tufted Back Loveseat Grey

coaster-living-room-Bleker-Tufted-Tuxedo-Arm-Sofa-Blue coaster-living-room-Bleker-Tufted-Tuxedo-Arm-Sofa-Blue-hover

Bleker Tufted Tuxedo Arm Sofa Blue

coaster-living-room-Delilah-Upholstered-Living-Room-Set-Black coaster-living-room-Delilah-Upholstered-Living-Room-Set-Black-hover

Delilah Upholstered Living Room Set Black

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