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How to Create a Decorating Style Versus a Theme

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Are you accidentally creating a decorating theme instead of executing your true decorating style? There’s a lot of confusion between a decorating style vs a theme and I’m here to explain them both so you can choose the look that’s right for you!

Have you ever wanted to give your home a quick refresh and been inspired by the themed decor you see at the store?

Or maybe you just discovered that your favorite decorating style is Coastal Chic, so you run out and buy every nautical accessory you can find so you can embrace the look!

Believe it or not, there’s a huge difference between a decorating style and a theme. The bottom line is this. A decorating style is a feeling created in the home that represents your personality and things you love. It is an interpretation of a literal look. A decorating theme, on the other hand, is a literal look.

I know, that’s a little confusing. So let’s chat a little more.

Both use an inspiration source, but the execution is what defines and differentiates them.

There are two key differences that determine whether you create a decorating style or a theme in your home:

  1. Items versus Feel
  2. Quantity

1.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!

Nautical themed baby nursery in blue white and red with blue and white striped walls
{A nautical themed nursery via Stefanie Danby Interiors}

In contrast, a style 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 style 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 with white slipcovered furniture and light blue accepts and stone fireplace
{A beach style sunroom via Simplicity Interiors}

2.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 will.

A Parisian themed girls bedroom with pink Eiffel tower mural and black accents
{A Parisian themed bedroom via Williamsburg Homes}

Creating a decorating style 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. 

For example:

  • 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

Multiple items with a French feel to them will create a French style, not a theme.

A French style bedroom with twin beds and with bed crowns and purple bedskirts
{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.

In contrast, when you create a decorating style, you often try to carry it throughout the house for cohesion. Also, a decorating style tends to have more longevity to it, as people often tire of themed rooms more quickly, as they tend to be more overpowering.

Western themed bathroom with yolk mirror and harnesses on the wall
{A western themed powder room via Dan Nelson}
A Western style family room with leather sofas and rustic wood and antler light fixture
{A Western style – Few themed items but a lot of rustic wood and leather to create a style}
A French style living room with white slipcovered sofa and light green tufted ottoman and baskets stacked in corner
{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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31 Comments

  1. Best decorating tutorial I’ve read in quite awhile! Over time I seem to have switched to a “theme” in my home decorating endeavors. Thanks for inspiring my inner “style” again! Great article!

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Hi Lisa – Thank you so much for the nice compliment! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. :) Kim

  2. Clear explanations for theme vs style, thank you for putting words to what I’ve instinctively done all these years. We have 2 stories and have done the lower level, which includes the master ensuite, in an Island Colonial style because that is what we are drawn to and we literally live on a peninsula of Florida’s east coast. Polished dark cherry & mahogany , white walls, cream soft furnishing, high contrast, floor to ceiling oils of boats & ships, blue chinoiserie and of course palms because that’s what you see out every window. Because we having been making home for over 45 years we have a collected home so style works best with all our accumulations. But the 2nd level has 2 grandchild bedroom en suites & a den which are defiantly more themed. Girls room is Granny Chic antique quilts, lace, chenille, rag rugs, florals & gingham with many items from our grandmothers while Boys room is Camp Cowboy in a vintage 1950s-60s way with items from our camping days .The den is American Country. I always felt slightly fickle in my decorating but you’ve helped me understand and made me more comfortable in my home. Thanks.

  3. Teddee Grace says:

    I enjoy the more subtle approach of style. Interesting post. Thanks for pointing out the differences.

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Hi Teddee! So glad you enjoyed it! :) Kim

  4. jeani miner says:

    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!

  5. I love this article! Thank you. It really helped me understand. Definitely like the feel the best.

  6. 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

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      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. :)

  7. 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.

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

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

  8. 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!! :)

    XO,
    Jane

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Hi Jane – Makes perfect sense! Enjoy decorating your beachy-feeling lakehouse. :)

  9. 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.

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

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

  10. 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.

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Pamela – It all sounds very relaxing and refreshing!! I’m imaging the sea breeze now….. :)

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Thank you, Kathy!

  11. 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.

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      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!

  12. 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

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Sounds like your boys have a fun room!! I’m so glad that you found this post helpful!! :)

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