Can Cozy + Modern Mix? Top Designers Weigh In
Can you make a clean, modern design feel as fabulous as it looks? We asked the experts, and now we're sharing all the juicy details.
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Personality + Soul
"A modern aesthetic and warmth don't need to conflict," says interior designer Caitlin Murray. "In fact, we approach each design decision with the client's comfort and personality in mind because, after all, the spaces that we inhabit day in and day out should be functional and satisfying. We believe in creating glamorous, modern interiors that are warm and comfortable." Caitlin shares exactly how she pulls this off: "We achieve this by layering textures, introducing organic shapes and colors, and incorporating soulful accessories and artwork. We often turn to medium-gray paint colors, grasscloth wallpaper, jute and wool rugs, velvets and linens to bring a dynamic warmth to a space."
Welcome to the Dark Side
"A lot of times, clients think [for] a space to be clean and modern, it can only [have] white walls and sharp edges," says interior designer Joe Human. "That is totally not the case." Joe explains one way to achieve a modern design that doesn’t feel stark: "Keep a cohesive color palette, and play with textures and scale within a single color palette. Utilize colors that work well together, such as deep blues and rich woods." Joe also encourages the use of strategic lighting. In this bedroom, he chose brass lamps outfitted with warm-toned light bulbs to keep the room from feeling cold.
Interior designer Ginger Curtis of Urbanolgy Designs says the cozy-modern combo is one she designs frequently. In fact, she says it’s becoming so popular that it’s now considered a design style all its own: modern rustic. "Rustic is not what it used to be. Gone are the days when rustic meant four-poster beds made from logs, antler chandeliers and dimly-lit rooms. The new modern-rustic looks mix clean lines with natural materials, rich in texture and ruggedly handsome. Think white walls and exposed beams and rafters, with either a cowhide or vintage Turkish rug beneath a newly-upholstered sofa in the best performance fabric. It’s a warm and clean look loaded with character and charm. The minimalist at heart will take this look and pare it back, while the maximalist will layer and indulge on quirky, one-of-a-kind pieces."
A Piece of Cake
"In today's design world, we believe any mix of style, function and fabulous is possible!" says interior designer Jenn Feldman. "We're very protective of how the architectural elements of a space come together. The doors, windows, casings and walls should connect in a way that keeps the design of the space clean, linear and overall modern. I always say that the most timeless and clean elements of a space should be its bones. Then, by layering in textures, colors and patterns, we can evoke the more personal, intimate feeling we want to create for our clients and for the room we've designed."
Jenn says understanding the particular feeling her clients desire is crucial to her process. One client may define cozy a bit differently than the next. "We are always coming into the design process emotionally — how does our client want to feel? How do we create that feeling in the space for them? And how do we mix our vision and polish into the space at the same time? Many days I look at my job kind of as a baker in a big, gorgeous dessert shop, making these perfect JFD cakes! We mix in a lot of great, essential ingredients and come up with this flavored recipe. Then we layer in all these great icings and aesthetic details tailored to each "cake." It's exciting to have the creative opportunity to make a different mix all the time, all while keeping the JFD basic design principles of the space consistent and disciplined throughout the process."
"Tonal colors work really well to evoke a calm, connected feeling of a room — whether they are light or dark," Jenn says. "A monochromatic black room can look so clean and modern AND warm and cozy at the same time! It's all about that perfect mix of layers and textures working together and playing with the light in the space to make it work from day to night. Accent lighting with gorgeous lamps and soft white bulbs can take any space from good to great."
Scout It Out
"It is very important for us to design spaces that feel homey and comfortable to the owners," says interior designer Wendy Blackband of Blackband Design. She shares exactly how they accomplished that in this modern home. "The dark metals and rigid, modern accents in this home are brightened and relaxed by the sunlit, open space and soft fabrics. The white linen sofas lighten the room and radiate a casual and comfortable vibe. These oversized, slipcovered sofas are not completely tailored to soften the square style. Plush pillows of varying materials and textures, nestled on top of down-wrapped foam cushions, offer an extra-cozy seat to snuggle. Earth tones brought in through the pillows and accents add depth to the design."
Wendy also shares how you can accomplish the cozy-modern combo in your own home. "It is crucial to start with a space plan that optimizes the use of an area, followed by furniture selections with comfortable cushions and safe edges. Really understanding the durability of materials used and being aware of sharp corners in relation to common walkways is helpful in making furniture decisions along the way. The time and detail that goes into creating the perfect layout and finding suitable pieces to fill it can be challenging, but it is a necessity for successfully completed projects."
Soften the Starkness
"An effort to balance the clean lines of a modern space with things that are comfortable should be part of every good design," says interior designer Kirstin Moehlig of TerraCotta Design Build. "In this room, we mixed in warmer wood in the desk tones and tactile elements in the soft, chunky rug and furry pillow." Kirstin suggests identifying the harsh elements in a modern design and strategically offsetting them with softer selections.
Texture > Tone
Interior designer Marie Flanigan loves starting a design with a fresh, minimalist base. She then relies on her tried-and-true method of layering in warmth. "I prefer committing to the warmth of rich textures over tones, opting to bring in items with aged, lived-in finishes and luxe materials like plush velvets, soft wools and tumbled leathers," she says. "I find that there is something fresh and unexpected about experiencing the warmth of a traditional antique side table living within a cooler, more contemporary space; there’s a great deal of power in that juxtaposition. It’s also important to add in those distinctly human elements, like throws and a curation of meaningful accessories that tell your unique story, to create a space that feels lived in and lovingly collected over time."
Hip + Hyyge
"My time studying design in Denmark taught me definitively that going modern does not come at the exclusion of warmth and coziness," says interior designer Breeze Giannasio. "Their concept of hygge, taking the U.S. now by storm, is testament to that. If we can't be comfortable at home, where can we be comfortable? I think every room, no matter how modern, should have something that just begs you to sink into it and be at ease." One peek into her hip-yet-homey office design proves Breeze knows how to Hygge with the best of them.
The Power of Color
"Creating a space that is both clean and modern and warm and cozy is a big part of what defines our design aesthetic, and it is our approach for every project," says interior designer Regan Baker. Her go-to tool? Color. "We love using color, whether it’s creating tone-on-tone spaces or using pops of color. Adding a pop of color that also ties into other design elements in the space is one of the ways we’re able to make a modern room feel more cozy and casual. For example, in a living room with neutral gray and brown tones throughout, we’ll add a pop of color through something like an orange chair. This helps bring more interest and fun to the overall space."
Simple Tips + Tricks
Color isn’t the only tool Regan relies on. "There are lots of simple ways to make a space feel more comfortable and inviting," she says. "Adding in throw pillows or blankets is an easy way to bring in textures, patterns and colors that play a role in making a space cozy, warm and comfortable. We also love plants and flowers! Bringing in elements of nature, whether they are faux or real, can make a big difference in how cozy a space feels. We also like to mix price points to achieve this look, so we’ll mix a high-end piece like an Eames lounger with other pieces at a lower price point."
"One of our favorite ways of making a room feel modern and cozy is by introducing beautiful, layered textures throughout the space, often using a color palette of deep, moody purples, serene blues and cool grays," say designers Laura Umanksy and Blair Foster of Laura U Design. "Layering textures can be a true treat for the artful eye. Pairing fabrics — like the smooth sateen of a channel-tufted headboard, the clean quilting of a cool gray coverlet, the rich crushed velvet on a structured ottoman and the glazed linen of custom drapery — brings richness to a room." Laura and Blair advise starting with modern foundations first, though. "It’s important to keep your furniture lines simple and structured to build a foundation of a classic, modern style; then, layer in warmth in your fabric selections and accessories."
Sit Back + Relax
Interior designer Brooke Wagner says she’s seen an increase in the demand for modern design, with more clients desiring clean lines and steel windows or doors. Brooke strategically approaches this design style, aware of the challenges it brings. "When we are working on a modern home, we like to keep the bones in a neutral/warm palette, contrasting that with white walls, wood tones and mixed metals," she says. She nails the cozy factor in this living space with one of her favorite tools: upholstered, deep seating.
Jesse DeSanti, principal designer of Jette Creative, says achieving coziness within a modern design is all about embracing contrast and avoiding coldness. She suggests using a mix of old and new furniture and pairing clean architecture with standout elements — like this gorgeous stone fireplace. Jesse also offers advice for successful white walls: "I tend to use a white paint with a little pink in it, so I can achieve the clean look without the cold of a blue-white." Pink wins again, my friends.
"Modern design tends to be more minimal, so what you choose to put out has a heightened importance," says interior designer Elizabeth Krueger. "It is important to find out how each client defines comfort. Is it being surrounded by items from your travels, family heirlooms or your favorite art? Or is it having oversized pieces of furniture upholstered in plush textiles? However the final result is achieved, the method should be intentional and tailored to the person it’s for," she explains. Though her methods of achieving comfort vary greatly from client to client, she often employs texture to create depth within a modern space.