Almost everyone is aware of the two principal design styles of traditional and modern, but it is the lesser known third that now demands attention. What sits smugly between the far ends of the spectrum is called transitional, and what it does is forge the two.
With visual references drawn from classical Greek forms, indigenous Asian styles and African tribal art, transitional style is exactly what it says on the tin: evolving, changing and still growing.
Although there are numerous interpretations, what they share are aesthetic values that rely on both ancient and modern inspirations. Typically, a professionally rendered transitional room embraces neutral palettes and understated elegance but with avant-garde or whimsical touches, and the blunt minimalism of the uber modern will be complemented by older curves and cosiness.
There are those who decorate their home to make it look like it belongs to another century, and others who look at it as part of an intergalactic spacecraft. Transitional decor is for all those who can draw a line between the two, and straddle it with ease. It is also ideal for people who have no defined preferences.
“Design and decor options are so easily available and accessible here, everyone is spoilt for choice,” explains Sarah Merchant, Associate Professor, School of Design and Architecture at Manipal Academy’s Dubai Campus. “Traditional Italian décor, flat-packed Scandinavian furniture, Oriental trimmings or traditional weaves —our malls and markets are filled with contemporary choices placed right alongside traditional designs.
“Having the best of both worlds has seen a steady flux in transitional design.”
Transitional is for those who don’t like curlicued cornices on their ceiling but fancy a period chaise lounge, don’t like sharp lines or starkness on a table but appreciate cutting-edge functionality in a chair. This is a style that personifies comfort and functionality. Mayur Dhanwani, whose job as a real estate consultant often entails consulting clients on their interior decoration, explains another aspect: “Most people just slip into this style — unknowingly and unwittingly. When they move home, the old stuff symbolises sentimentality while the new represents the trendy. Since they will not give up on either, the result is often transitional.”
Today’s apartments are all built in contemporary style with modern layouts — this does not satisfy me and I ache for more. I will soon find myself firmly in middle ground even if I am not looking for it.
Born and raised in Dubai, Dhanwani cites another example as he prepares to do up his own new home. “Today’s apartments are all built in contemporary style with modern layouts — this does not satisfy me and I ache for more. I will soon find myself firmly in middle ground even if I am not looking for it.” His plan is to offset new-age colours such as teal or steel grey against classic furniture from the Indian subcontinent.
Transitional style is also to do with balance. The question is to answer things like whether a piece of furniture is sumptuous or stark, and whether the colours are too warm or too cold. “A clever juxtaposition of lines, palettes and pleasing aesthetics will energise a home, without too much of an effort,” adds Dhanwani. “The aim is to achieve a result that is eye-catching, easy-going and good-looking.”
Conflicting qualities such as glamour versus comfort, sophistication against ease, or elegance coupled with quirky elements — these are all transitional in nature, even if the label is not recognised or hailed.
Transitional is now a truly local thing, but it has not earned the fame it deserves.
Merchant, who is also Design Director at Creative Nutshell Designs, sees many residents grappling before grasping their design and redesign ethos. “Conflicting qualities such as glamour versus comfort, sophistication against ease, or elegance coupled with quirky elements — these are all transitional in nature, even if the label is not recognised or hailed. Styles change, and every home is a journey. People must take heart in the fact that there are no real rules in design any more.”
What makes transitional tick?
Merges and marries finishes, materials, fabrics and textures. For example, metal and glass can be combined with solid hardwoods, tapestry or jacquard can sheath modern shapes; curves and lines can be integrated.
Clean and serene with natural balance maintained by copious use of tan, taupe, vanilla, wheat, ecru and beige (commonly known as whites and creams).
An open experiment with natural fibres and textured fabrics, with room for even the most unlikely candidates such as chambray, chenille or corduroy.
Combines curves with angles, the masculine with the feminine and ornamentation with sophistication, but everything is reassuring enough to recall what is well-known.