Now that Spring is here and the warmer weather is upon us, it seems that everywhere I turn I  am surrounded by nautical inspired decor.  That got me thinking – what’s the difference between decorating a room that is inspired by the ocean versus one with an ocean theme?  Or the difference between a French-inspired home and one with a French theme?  Or any look and theme for that matter?  Both use an inspiration source, but the execution is what defines and differentiates them.

Decorating with items versus decorating for a feel

In general, a themed room uses a lot of items and decor that are representative of the inspiration.  If you walk into a themed room, the style is obvious and unquestionable and will probably be the first thing you notice about the room.  Think for a minute about a beach-themed room.  It might include some vintage oars on the wall, nautical pillows, seashell art, a surfboard accent lamp, and in a kids’ room, maybe even a bed frame shaped like a boat!

{via Stefanie Danby Interiors}
{A nautical themed nursery via Stefanie Danby Interiors}


In contrast, a room inspired by a particular look encompasses the look and feel of the inspiration, with or without objects that represent it.  In a room inspired by a feel, it might take a bit of time for you to realize the style and even then, it might come across more as a feeling than a look.  For example, a room with a beachy feel won’t necessarily have items that represent the ocean, but might encompass the colors of the water, the textures of the sand, natural woods, with maybe a few shells mixed in.

{A beach style sunroom via Simplicity Interiors}
{A beach style sunroom via Simplicity Interiors}


Quantity makes a difference

French decor continues to be quite popular and as many people begin to incorporate this style into their homes, they look for items that seem “French.”  Typical items include anything with a fleur-de-lis, items with French script on them, images of the Eiffel tower, fluffy white poodles, or things that specifically have the word “Paris” printed on them.  When several of these types of items are all combined in one room, the result is usually a room that feels more themed.  A few “stereotypical” items mixed into a space won’t create a theme, but multiples often will.

{A Parisian themed bedroom via Williamsburg Homes}
{A Parisian themed bedroom via Williamsburg Homes}


Creating a look can sometimes be a bit trickier.  It requires you to look at the colors, textures, materials, finishes, and shapes of your inspiration, as opposed to an item representative of it.  So instead of a gold tray for the coffee table that says “Paris” in the middle, look for one with an antique finished mirror in the center that gives it a brocante feel.  Instead of accent pillows with fleur-de-lis on them, look for linen or velvet in a muted color.

{A French style bedroom via Margaret L. Norcott}
{A French style bedroom via Margaret L. Norcott}


Which one to create?

The decision to create a look or a theme is entirely up to you based on your preferences and goals for the space.  In general, though, themes tend to be a bit more playful and whimsical.  Certainly shopping for themed items can be so much fun and fortunately, themed items are often grouped together in stores making the shopping that much easier!  Also, many people often limit a theme to just a single room, as opposed to the whole house, whereas when you create a look, you often try to carry it throughout the house for cohesion.

{via Dan Nelson}
{A western themed powder room via Dan Nelson}


{French style living room via French Country Cottage}
{French style living room via French Country Cottage}


Whether you incorporate a look or a theme into your home, both tell a lot about your interests and personality and make your home unique to you.


Do you have any themed rooms in your home?

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22 comments on “The Difference Between a Look and a Theme”

  1. My “themed” room is definitely my little boys nautical room, and every other room is just a look or feeling. I love how you put it into words and pictures. I’m often trying to explain it to my family and friends that I help decorate….now I have a better way of explaining it, so thank you! ~Kim

  2. I completely agree with your analogies! Themed vs. Feel in a room, I’d choose “feel” every time. It is a more collected look and feels more like a home.

    • Hi Robin! I usually try for a “look” as well, mostly because I change my mind so often and for me, it’s easier to change up a room if it’s not themed. :) I think that sometimes when people first start changing the decor of their home, though, they buy of lot of typical decor items and inadvertently create a theme when they are trying for a feel!

  3. I do. We are boaters who live at the ocean so our back porch is themed with the use of oars, nautical maps and mounted sailfish. Our guest room has the look and feel of ocean living by being painted blue with blue and sand colors in the drapes, bedding and throw pillows. the furniture is white with shuttered doors. I do have framed Audobon water fowl on one wall also.

  4. My sons former room is a travel theme. We have decorated with some items collected or given to us from travels. The colors tie it together. We have a Mexican sombrero from when I was 16, an African shield given to the boys when they were young from South Africa, a Tiki God from Hawaii and a flag flown over the base he was stationed at in Kuwait.

    • How wonderful to be able to look at all the different items and have memories and a story for each!

  5. I didn’t think I was going to “get” what you were saying but then I did!!! We have a lakehouse in the country. It has been important to me to give it a “beachy look or feel” because so many nautical accessories reflect the ocean. I refuse to use starfish or fishing nets or ship wheels or anything that’s not found in a lake (as opposed to the ocean). Sounds weird, huh?! I just want the feel, not the theme and certainly not one that reflects something other than what I actually have.

    Thanks!! :)


  6. This was very interesting and I agree. I also try for a FEEL. I have alot of Asain pieces that I inhereted, and also alot of pieces from Africa. So, I have all of the African pieces and artwork in our bonus room but the rest of the house has Asain things all over. I love the “collected over time” look.

    • That sounds beautiful! I love the collected look, too – it makes everything feel so comfortable and personal, doesn’t it?!

  7. These are great bits of information. I have gotten caught in the trap of ‘theme rooms’ in the past and I’m so glad that I have learned to go more for a feeling and style than theme. It just feels so much more comfortable to me :) Blessings, Cindy

    • That’s how I feel as well….I love the look of themed rooms and always appreciate the time and effort that goes into them, but in my own home, I am more comfortable with a feeling. :)

  8. Our master bath is done in cream, white and natural wood with just a hint of spa blue/green. For me it conveys the feeling of the beach without being too literal. I do however have an apothecary jar full of shells as well as an over-sized sand dollar as wall art. I think It’s more a feel than a theme.
    Most people say “ooh, this feels so calm”, never “oh, it’s so beachy”.
    Love your articles – you really have a way of describing things in terms we can get!

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