What Makes Eclectic Style Work?

If – like us – you are thrifty, it is good to also be eclectic.  Our own homes are a mix of old and new, pulled together with things we’ve inherited, made, scored at thrift stores, or saved up to buy.  It is perhaps not by accident that images of rooms we’re most drawn to on the web also have a mix of old and new.  None of them could be designated wholly mid-century, antique, country, or really anything other than . . . eclectic.  There’s always a risk that a room intended to be eclectic will veer toward jumbled mess, so we thought we’d take a critical look to see what makes some of our favorite eclectic rooms work.

As we looked at images and talked it over, we realized that the eclectic spaces we love most are often actually quite unified, but with one disparate element.  Something that throws the whole look charmingly off-kilter, and that elevates a room from pretty to stylish.

In this room everything is sweet–the pale pink walls, the sloping ceiling, the rose bedding, the ornate vanity.  The addition of a space-age tulip chair gives this pretty princess chamber a much needed edge, and makes it a room we love.

Everything in this entryway calls out to us (including the scruffy dog), but what really makes this room sing is the contrast between the sleek modern lamps and the ornate wallpaper and mirror.

This antique filled room is decorated with beautiful furniture and details, but without the quirky touch of the dome-shaped lamp and the zebra cut-velvet upholstery on the couch, it might feel cloying.  The modern touches tip the balance from just another beautiful room to being in our all-time favorite top three best rooms list.

This kitchen is another favorite of ours, but here the balance is achieved by adding a single antique piece to an otherwise modern space. The cabinet makes a room that might skew stark into an interesting room with a story.

This kitchen is a bit more industrial, but like the kitchen above it benefits by the addition of the antique cabinet. The curved ornate lines balance out the linear shapes that dominate the rest of the room.



In this room the painted cabinet might be a little shabby chic for our taste, but paired with the upholstered Danish armchair, it drops the shabby and is completely chic.

This chair wears its history proudly, and next to the modern lipstick-colored table it’s reinvented as perfectly now.

What do you think makes an eclectic room work? Do you mix decades with wild abandon, or do you prefer to stick to a single era? We’d love to hear! Come back Wednesday for an update from Katie about the progress she’s made in her Chamber of Secrets.

11 responses on “What Makes Eclectic Style Work?

  1. Laura (PA Pict)

    My home is very eclectic simply because we have gathered our possessions over decades and some of those possessions were inherited from previous generations. As we emigrated with almost no furniture, our furniture tends to be contemporary but classic. Our art work and ornaments, however, are a mish mash of periods and styles. I like that every piece has a story to tell, perhaps about a person or a place. Our new home is very 1970s so in some ways it is the perfect capsule for our eclectic possessions as I am gradually freshening up the rooms while maintaining certain period features. I think you know an eclectic room works if your eyes can feel at rest in it. If an object or item keeps drawing your eye, is a distraction, then it is probably in the wrong place. Otherwise, if the jumble is harmonious then it is a success.

    1. k80bennett

      Good thoughts! I like the idea of eyes feeling at rest – with the rooms we chose to share it took us a while to pinpoint just what we loved about them. That it wasn’t glaringly obvious is, I think, testament to the fact that the rooms worked.

    1. k80bennett

      Thanks Joyce! It’s fun to try and break down why we have a positive reaction to a space – to be kind of clinical about something emotional, that’s coming from the gut. This approach is helping me a lot as I continue to work on my own home!

  2. Katy Gilmore

    Such an interesting post! I loved reading the Katie/Mera take on what makes a room eclectic, love your choices full of considered details – those antique cabinets in the modern kitchens – -( and in an aside, that row of hooks – some kind of curtain rod? – with utensils). Maybe eclectic also combines practical and whimsical – some of these rooms certainly do.

    1. k80bennett

      I think whimsy and practicality definitely go hand in hand in eclectic spaces. And I think that copper row of utensils goes a long way in bridging those two pieces.

  3. y2knina

    I’ve always been drawn to eclectic style, mostly because I can’t help it – I’m a Gemini. 🙂

    Enjoyed the post. Not crazy about some of the rooms, but appreciate your thoughtful comments as always.

  4. Susan

    I love eclectic as it mirrors our lives…a favorite shelf of books from 60+ years of reading…a history in print. Family chairs, seats needlepointed by my mother, Grandmother’s wedding glasses from 1901 next to hand thrown goblets from a Renaissance Fair in the ’70s, art from our travels, and on it goes…I love the kitchen with the amazing black cupboard buffet. Just one piece changes and enriches the whole. The little chair by the modern table too. I like your “lessons” : studying what speaks to us in these rooms.

  5. Lea

    I think that part of the appeal of the second (more industrial) kitchen lies in the fact that the more ornate cabinet doesn’t provide ALL of the curves. The radiator, the circular motif on the floor, and the details in what looks like a pressed tin backsplash all provide curves and act as old fashioned elements to help tie the cabinet in. I also think paint is really important to that room. The glossy black paint on the cabinet works provides a big block of solid color along like the solid green of the wall and the solid white of the backsplash. I don’t think that room would work as well if the black cabinet were stained and varnished to show its wood grain or if the walls hadn’t been trimmed out so uniformly green.

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