We've been building our new house over the last year. As construction continues on, so many people have asked me about the design, why I chose this style and how they can cultivate a similar look in both their design and décor.
Our new home can best be described as a "modern European” design, and this approach and philosophy weave into much of my design work and for my personal building project. When we focus on wellness in building design, the modern European design approach is a natural fit.
Here's why (and how) to evoke a similar feel in your own home design and décor. Whether you're doing a new build or updating your home, here's how to incorporate old-world-meets-modern.
Why Modern European Design?
Modern European design gives you the best of two worlds—you get the old-world look with the contemporary and present-day conveniences. Some people think of modern European as rustic, but that’s not quite it. There’s a timeless quality to the design approach, where it almost feels like the house could exist in the past, present, or future.
One reason that modern European design blends so seamlessly with wellness in home design is that it incorporates natural, organic materials. The color schemes are often very neutral, with colors you would find in nature. The building materials are also natural—stone, marble, soapstone, and wood. We use materials that survive the test of time, patina and become more beautiful over time, like brass and copper.
Image via Cotswold Interior | Photography: Peter Nadolski
Despite the neutral or muted colors, modern European design can still be colorful and eye-catching. Look at old-world areas like England's Cotswolds for inspiration. The exteriors are often stone or brick, with muted tones, although you still see color in the gardens, on the doors, and in all the greenery surrounding these darling storybook houses.
Modern European design often evokes a sense of moodiness and a bit of a Victorian feel too. There are elements of Art Deco (a movement that originated in France pre-WWI), including arched doorways, ceilings, and windows. In fact, arches are prevalent in modern European design, with cathedral ceilings, porte cochère courtyard doors, and similar touches.
At the heart of this design style are function and agelessness. Fireplaces are a good example. Many homes built in the modern European design style feature fireplaces—a functional hearth that also serves many purposes. A fireplace is a gathering spot, a focal point, a source of warmth, light, and even a place to cook. Now, most of us aren't cooking over fire in our modern homes, but the concept of a fireplace is timeless and constant.
Design and Image: Marie Flanigan Interiors
Modern European Exteriors
In my own house, since we're building it now, I've kept the exterior and interior thematically the same. It was important to me to include modern European elements outside as well as in. I love that old-world feel and really wanted our home to feel like something you'd stumble on while wandering through the hills of France, England, Belgium, or Ireland.
The roof is one of the most important components of modern European exterior design. It’s that high-pitched roof that really gives the home a cottage feel, no matter the square footage. In Europe, the pointed gable roofs are often made of long-lasting materials like cedar shake or slate. The Belgium-inspired farmhouse below is what ultimately inspired our own build and led us to our architects, Brooks & Falotico.
The pitch of the roof is key, and you'll see it everywhere across Europe. For example, Dutch gables often have little steps built-in and a pediment at the top. You'll see similar attractive roofs in Spain and Belgium—you might also picture Alys Beach, Florida. With our own home, the steep, angled gables and roof lines are entirely intentional to the home’s old-world architecture.
The rest of the exterior in modern European design is about clean lines, arches, and details. The exterior finishes are often stucco, brick, or stone. These long-lasting exterior finishes are often environmentally friendly, sustainable, and highly durable choices.
Large windows are always a must in healthy home design, and in modern European design, these gorgeous, spacious windows fit right in. Occasionally these steel windows will feature an arched transom and other architectural features that are eye-catching. The doors, again, may continue the arched theme and usually have a solid wood feel (with a great doorknob or beautiful vintage knocker).
As for the exterior yard and landscaping, the modern European home landscape is beautiful, somewhat formalized, and very green. European gardens are known worldwide, but here in the United States, you can capture the same feel with boxwoods, cypress trees, slopes, and terraces. The formal gardens often feature repetitive, deliberate plantings, bright flowers (perfect for cutting), and rolling grass.
Should you include a fountain or pool in your modern European home design, you'll want something that looks very natural—as though you stumbled across a beautiful pond in a field. Stones are often used in lieu of concrete, and the exteriors are lit with gas lanterns. A wrought iron trellis and carefully placed steppingstones lead visitors through green gardens, meditation pools, and perhaps stone statuary or beautiful planters.
The Modern European Interior
When it comes to interior design, the modern European aesthetic definitely carries over. Old-world Victorian-style homes often featured smaller, darker rooms and we all know dark, moody interiors are having quite a comeback lately. I am all about a good moody hue, but you'll want to offset the darkness with plenty of lighting.
The nice aspect of modern European design is that it incorporates the “modern” component too. You aren’t tied to sticking with the individual designated spaces seen in older European design. You could easily go a more contemporary route with an open floor plan and add Modern European design elements to ensure the home still feels consistent and authentic to your design philosophy. It’s about finding a look and style that feels inviting and comfortable to you, not obeying an arbitrary set of design rules.
Modern European design includes plenty of interior touches. You’ll see lots of details like beautiful moldings and woodwork, and paneling is often used (think timeless wooden walls, not 70’s basement rec room). We’ll often see cathedral ceilings with beautiful exposed beams and old-world details.
Flooring in modern European design is, again, natural, durable, and timeless. Terracotta tile, marble, stone, and hardwood are frequently used options. A beautiful vintage rug can help ground the space and keep it warm and inviting. Add built-in radiant heating, and you’ve instantly modernized these old-world classics.
Modern European kitchen design especially calls for tile or stone, with wooden cabinetry and millwork. I’ve seen both open shelving and cabinets beautifully used in modern European kitchen design. I tend to lean toward hiding the clutter, but now that I've seen such beautiful open shelving options out there, it definitely works for the right home. Marble ledges in the kitchen are one of my favorite ways for simultaneously opening things up and also providing a beautiful spot for displaying artwork or found objects.
In the bathrooms as well as the kitchen, expect to see exposed plumbing. Fixtures are often part of the design element, and the right fixture feels both modern and classic. Choose finishes like brass or nickel against a white marble or moody soapstone. A gilded or antique mirror and eye-catching light fixtures help bring the look together elegantly—think modern spa meets Turkish bath.
For the rest of the home, it's all about natural pieces that seem appropriate this century, last century, or beyond. One of the key elements of timeless design is to enter a room and not be able to pinpoint exactly when it was built. Textiles like leathers, velvets, cotton, and linen add textural appeal. You’ll often find a very neutral color palette in soft earth tones and shades of white within this aesthetic. Small-scale block prints and stripes add a sweet accent, though, and feel very at home in the design.
At the heart of modern European design is a cottage feel. Vintage pieces blend seamlessly with this design. Solid craftsmanship feels appropriate. Everything in this type of home design should feel like it could have been created 100 years ago or today. Because you're using so many repurposed elements and vintage pieces, it's often a very sustainable design method. Many of the components are handcrafted and made of natural materials. Woods, marble, clay, bamboo, cotton, and other natural materials all fit this design style.
Photography: Caroline Sharpnack
So I know I may sound a bit biased (since modern European tends to be my design style of choice), but I really feel this style works for almost anyone. It also works in small amounts (if you're slowly renovating and making over your space) or feels comfortable as a total transformation. While this isn’t a comprehensive review, use these points as guidance on creating an old-world-meets-modern feel.
If you’re looking for guidance, don’t miss our WxD Delivered design service. I’m here to help you create a home that feels nurturing, healthy, and comfortable. Reach out today to receive a copy of our Investment Guide to help you discover how WxD Delivered might be right for you.