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What is Eclectic Design, Exactly? Tips for Mastering Your Unique Eclectic Vibe

By: Kayla Blanton

Is it just me, or does it feel like the word “eclectic” took over the design world overnight? By default, it became a catchall (and not the cute blown glass kind) for design choices that fall outside a single aesthetic—which leaves the actual definition of the word up for extreme interpretation.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this (and it actually seems to help plenty of folks, including myself, find their personal style), however, just because it’s a wide-reaching term doesn’t mean it should be treated flippantly. Eclectic has a very specific purpose in design like mid-century modern, grand millennial, and all of the other more digestible categories. So, for the sake of understanding it better, let’s try to break it down. 

“I think people struggle to define eclectic style because it doesn’t fit neatly into a box. And people really like to categorize things,” explains Jess Harrell, owner of The Styled Domicilea boutique interior design studio creating interiors with life, personality, and soul for busy style-focused women. Harrell herself uses the term eclectic to define her taste, which she also describes as, “a mish-mash of whatever speaks to you.” 

Eclectic decor is a blessing and a curse—it’s highly personal and unique, which makes it super adaptable and fun, but it can also feel difficult to rein in. When you do, though, there’s truly no better feeling. “I find eclectic spaces to be really special because no two are alike, and they’re filled with so much eye candy,” says Harrell. Yum—who doesn’t love a sweet treat?

Perhaps you’re like me, and you identify with eclectic design, but feel the need to define your style even further. Or maybe you’re just dipping your toes into the waters and need some help starting out. Either way, Harrell has some tips that can hopefully bring some clarity and get you on your way to a space that feels right.

Mix Styles and Time Periods

Unexpected combinations provide contrast essential to eclecticism. Otherwise, everything feels a bit too, well, expected. “Think of your grandmother’s antique china cabinet mixed with super modern dining chairs,” Harrell explains. “Mixing styles creates visual interest and vintage pieces really give a space soul.” Another example of this might be a contemporary-feeling iridescent serving tray paired with a vintage, kitschy catchall or vase.

Embrace the Imperfect and Weird 

The act of releasing perfectionism makes room for more playful decisions and yes, even design risks (and mistakes!). And a general rule of thumb for eclectic lovers is: the weirder, the better.

“Incorporate unique elements that you can’t get at big box stores like original art and cool vintage pieces,” suggests Harrell. “When you’re shopping for furniture and decor, keep your eye out for one-of-a-kind things that speak to you.” Thrift stores and DenXYZ’s repertoire of unique pieces, of course, are all great destinations for exploring. 

Consider Additional Style Descriptors

If eclectic feels too broad, narrow down your vibe with additional, more specific descriptors that you’re drawn to. For example, Harrell calls her style “modern eclectic,” as it leans into contemporary shapes and touches. Others might take their eclectic interiors an entirely different route with words like “abstract,” “vintage,” “jungle-inspired,” or “art-forward.” You can even embrace a color palette to help you reel things in, like jewel tones or pastels. None of these are hard and fast rules—they’re merely suggestions to help your taste feel more confident and settled.

Go for Curated, Not Cluttered

Eclectic decorators are often also collectors, and the idea of a cluttered space can scare away those who are eclectic-curious. But rest assured that an eclectic room does not have to feel claustrophobic. In fact, it shouldn’t. And to ensure it doesn’t, queen of eclectic style, designer and art dealer Gladys Tay recommends getting creative and using items you love in unconventional ways. Not everything you hang has to be framed art, and you’d be surprised what beautiful things can be turned into functional storage. (In Tay’s case, a vintage Mountain Dew cooler holds her paper towels.)  

“It’s your home and only you can determine when or how your things become a clutter or collection,” she said in an August 2021 Instagram Q&A. “Just keep editing until you love how it feels and you’re able to enjoy the space.” 

Ditch Neutrals and Play With Pattern

It’s not that neutrals don’t have a place in eclectic decor, however, that place is most certainly the back seat. “There’s nothing neutral about an eclectic space. Have fun with it!” says Harrell. “That doesn't mean you have to go and paint all of the walls in your home a bold color. You can incorporate color and pattern through textiles, accessories, and even plants.” A bright pillow will do wonders for a room, as will a funky throw.

Forget Trends and Go With Your Gut 

Harrell’s biggest piece of advice when it comes to going eclectic is to not take it too seriously. “Don’t overthink it. There isn’t really a right or wrong way to create an eclectic look,” she explains. The most important thing you can do is follow your instincts and do what you love, even if it’s not “on-trend.” In fact, defying trends is what makes eclectic interiors some of the most timeless.

After all, it can’t go out of style if it was never in to begin with. 

By Kayla Blanton: Jewel tones, brass, and amber glass make Kayla Blanton swoon. Those touches, plus lots of art, animal print, and road-trip gathered trinkets make up her 1920s Cape Cod in Cincinnati. You can read her work in Bustle, Prevention, Everyday Health, and more and follow her treasure hunting adventures @theweekendantiquer on Instagram.