8 Tried and True Style Secrets for an Eclectic Look

What it is: Eclectic style is the great equalizer. It reshuffles the rule book, mixing and matching old and new, East and West, luxe and humble, showy and quiet. It invites you to fill a space with objects you love and unique finds that strike your fancy. Simply put, it’s you, curated.

What it is not, however, is a free-for-all. If you toss a little of this, a little of that and a dash of the other into a room at random, it’ll look like exactly what it is: a mess. The liberty and leeway that make eclectic style so appealing can also make it tricky — you’ll need to be careful not to trip over the thin line between contrast and chaos.

Why it works: When it’s done well, eclectic décor broadcasts your confidence in your own style yet still adheres to the fundamentals of good design. You don’t have to choose between profiles or periods; there’s room for a range of favorites. Plus, isn’t it fun to feel like you’re getting away with something?

You’ll love it if… You can put together a smashing outfit from a jumble of sale-rack finds. Your iTunes mix skips from Bach to Bob Marley to the Black Keys. Matching furniture sets make you itchy. Friends tease you that you can never make up your mind. Purebreds are pretty, but mutts capture your heart.


 Eclectic Style

Eclectic 1: laurengyll, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: Methodical Mismatching

Eclecticism wears its lack of pedigree proudly and draws its energy from contrast. The trick is to find enough common ground to make a space gel. The dining area shown here weaves together a narrow palette and subtle shine, from the table to the frames to the chandelier. No two chairs match, but all of them have strong silhouettes and roughly the same proportions.

Road-test it: The best way to master the medley: Dive in. Choose a few must-haves to anchor the space, then experiment with rugs, artwork, lighting, accents and other elements. Play light against dark, honed against glossy, rustic against elegant — but look for opportunities to create parallels. And be firm about editing; you can’t stuff every piece you love into a single room.

When you find the right balance, you’ll feel it instinctively. But if you have doubts, try this trick: Snap a photo of your space, wait awhile, then study it. What shouts at you? Winnow out any discordant elements and try again.

 Eclectic Style

Eclectic 2: Kailey J. Flynn Photography, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: Repetition

Visual echoes, from color to shape to finish, help an eclectic room find its rhythm. Look closely: This living area is essentially a series of rectangles, from the windows and the framed artwork to the coffee tables and vintage café sign. And the accent pieces reiterate the brilliant yellow of the room’s focal-point chest.

Road-test it: Choose a few fundamental pieces to anchor your space, and survey the architecture as well. Then consider which elements you can repeat. Do you have a big, round ottoman paired with Eileen Gray side tables? Pull the circle motif into the room: a round mirror, a vintage schoolhouse wall clock, a collection of straw orbs. Throw in a few contrasting shapes for balance and you’ll spark an engaging mix.


Eclectic Style

Eclectic 3: Nichole Loiacono Design, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: Scale, Proportion, Composition

These tenets are essential to any well-designed space, but they’re especially important in a room with so many disparate parts. Paying special attention to fundamental principles helps ensure that each element feels of a piece. In less skillful hands, this living area could have looked like a garage sale gone mad, but peek closer and you’ll see how well balanced it is. Dramatic draperies hold their own against the sultry sofa, and the coffee and breakfast tables add just enough presence without fighting for the spotlight. Despite the tumble of artwork and accessories, there’s nothing accidental about this space.

Road-test it: Before you bring a piece into an eclectic room, consider its relationship to the setting. Does it overwhelm everything else, get lost in a sea of openness or crowd the space? If so, maybe there’s a better spot in the house for it.


 Eclectic Style

Eclectic 4: Lisa Borgnes Giramonti, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: Layered Textures

Texture gives an eclectic space its depth. Nearly every surface in this living room brings something different to the party: the nubbly Oriental rug over coarse sisal; the rich wood of the floors and trim; the thick, lush upholstery fabrics and sleek desk. A rich collection of textural elements makes a space appeal to our senses and resonate on a visceral level.

Road-test it: This one’s easy — play by the rule of opposites. If you have shiny pieces, add matte ones. Offset metal with wood and plastic with porcelain. Marry smooth silk with coarse burlap. Use your hands as much as your eyes to gauge the level of textural interplay you’ve achieved.

Style Secret: A Clean Background

Working the eclectic look is like seating guests at a dinner party: Put the chatterboxes next to the shy types and everyone’s happy. This style begs for a blend of strong, singular pieces, so keep the backdrop — walls, floors, windows — simple in order to avoid competition.

Road-test it: Err on the side of neutral and build the background from there. You’ll rarely go wrong with pure white walls in an eclectic space, but if they look too bland for you, use an unassuming hue such as chamois, smoky gray or pale blue. Still not enough? Choose a color that’s already in the room and try it out on an accent wall or on the ceiling. Or you could just hang more artwork, mount colorful window treatments and throw down a vibrant rug — all quick fixes that are easy to reverse as the room evolves.

 Eclectic Style

Eclectic 5: Chronicle Books, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: Cohesive Color and Pattern

In an eclectic room, you almost have carte blanche with the color wheel — almost. Pair bright citrus hues with shy pastels, mix and match every shade of green, restrict the palette to basic black and white. Likewise, you can combine sassy stripes with a mod floral and overscale chevrons. Conventional wisdom wags its finger at you? Bah, we say.

Road-test it: However, and this is a big however, the scheme needs to make sense. If you try to bring in every single shade you love, or if you pile up patterns with no restraint, you’ll be left with a mess. For example, the bedroom here has a lot happening, from the bold print coverlet to the zigzag rug. Now imagine adding a patterned wallpaper or brilliant paint. Feel the headache coming on? Instead, a handful of strong colors and motifs enliven it without overwhelming it.

Style Secret: Unexpected Accents

The fun of eclectic style lies in the element of surprise. This is the time to get personal: Showcase mementos from your trip to India last year; bring out the faded concert posters of your favorite band; stack books inside your Radio Flyer wagon from childhood.

Road-test it: You can go overboard with quirkiness in a hurry. If you have a vintage bicycle next to an old dentist’s chair next to a surfboard next to a … well, you get the picture. Use really outlandish pieces as you would exclamation points: judiciously. Tempering them with a few simple, classic furnishings can elevate the look without diluting its eccentric charm.

Eclectic Style

Eclectic 6: Niche Interiors, original photo on Houzz

Style Secret: The Odd One Out

Eclectic decorating invites cross-pollination between wildly different design periods. So what do you do if you have a piece that you’re wild about, but it doesn’t seem to gel with its counterparts? Give it pride of place. Don’t try to blend it into the background. Think of it as the room’s black sheep: You love it for who it is rather than trying to make it something it isn’t.

Road-test it: This approach is best used sparingly. In this bedroom, the chartreuse tulip chair works because the rest of the space allows it to take center stage. A whole room full of strong statement pieces like this one would be overkill. In a pinch, you could always rotate: your prized Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair one season; the next, an antique bergère updated with a zebra print.