Matching art with traditional and modern décor

When designing a room, office or home, it can be a bit scary to step outside your comfort zone. Choosing art, whether you are using traditional works in a traditional setting, modern pieces in a modern setting, or the complete opposite, can be a difficult task. But remember, you don’t need to stick to the old fashioned idea of matching themes. Abstract art, for example, can really freshen up a traditional room and give it a trendy makeover, while traditional art can add a classy touch to a modern room.

The experts at look at how to choose the right art for both traditional and modern décor, and how to turn a boring room into an interior design masterpiece.

Using traditional art in a traditional setting
Matching traditional art with traditional décor does not have to be boring! There are many ways to make it look elegant, classy and professional if you follow a few basic guidelines. Here are our top tips on using traditional art in traditional interior settings…

Consider colour theory
Colour is the most important part of interior design and is an integral part of choosing the right art for certain rooms, with hues, tones, intensity and values to consider. Read our guide on colour theory ‘Understanding Colour Theory’ for more information. The tangerine painting below is an example of a splash of colour that would work perfectly in a neutral coloured room, or a room that has cool tones running through it.

Tangerine by Tony Robinson
Tangerine by Tony Robinson

Add some life.
Traditional art can also be used to simply add some life and happiness into a room in a very obvious way; by depicting happiness – happy people or playful animals, like this oil painting.

fruit sellers havana by h mcgrane
Fruit Sellers of Havana by Henry McGrane

Create homeliness.
Art that depicts an emotion of nostalgia in us is very powerful and can make a room feel homely, warm and safe. Often, traditional and impressionist paintings of cottages in the countryside and farm animals can create that sense of homeliness and belonging, even for people who have only ever known city life.

Milking Time by Jane Hilliard
Milking Time by Jane Hilliard


Old house by Andrzej Gudanski
Old House by Andrzej Gudanski

Using modern art in a modern setting
Moving away from traditional interiors and traditional art – modern décor can have a really powerful appeal in a home or office space. The key when keeping everything contemporary and abstract is to be minimalist. Modern interiors can become a bit overpowering and over-the-top if you are not careful and can quickly lose their appeal. So here are our top tips on decorating modern interiors with modern art.

1. Don’t go overboard! If you have a room full of bright and colourful furniture and décor, maybe use your art to tone it down a bit. Try some neutral contemporary art to draw from the white, black or grey in the room.

Dress and shadow 1 by Judy O'Sullivan
Dress and shadow 1 by Judy O’Sullivan


Newgrange by Brian Keating

2. Use art to create colour. If the room is a crisp, minimalist white and black modern design, don’t be afraid to add a bold splash of colour with some abstract or contemporary art like these pieces. It will make the room warmer and far more interesting.

Sunset Reflections by K McCoy
Sunset Reflections by Kirstin McCoy

3. Create a flow of patterns. Art works brilliantly to complement lines, shapes and patterns in a room. Again, it’s important not to go overboard, but if you can match some cushions with certain patterns in your artwork, it can work very well on a subtle level.

Aurora Borealis by Emma Campbell

Using modern art in a traditional setting
Now for the fun part! Interior design always benefits from a little bit of creativity and bravery. Often seemingly mismatched ideas create the most striking results. Adding splashes of colour, bold patterns and dramatic imagery can make a traditional room look very stylish and professional, achieving a look that is timeless and layered. Try some of these tips.

1. Let it clash. We say this with a bit of precaution… Like all of our tips that involve bold colours and designs, it needs to be done in moderation. Think of some of the chic cafes or offices that you’ve been in that used a bit of mismatched décor to create a casual, trendy atmosphere. Use colourful cushions, different styles of furniture and top it off with some bold art that complements the surroundings.

This Magical Mountainous Land by Martina Furlong

2. Keep it subtle. This is a completely different option to the previous one and depends totally on personal preference. If you are not a fan of that chic, trendy mismatched look, you can use contemporary or abstract art in a more subtle, classy way to complement your traditional interiors. Choose pieces with neutral colours that blend with your furniture and décor. Don’t worry, they will still liven up your room and give it a more modern, professional feel without being too over-the-top.

Schubert by eileen healy
Schubert by Eileen Healy


Pier in Whistable by Nina Panagopoulou
Pier in Whistable by Nina Panagopoulou

3. Add some people. has some fantastic pop art portraits that will work perfectly to add a lively modern touch to any traditional room. Portraits always add another dimension to interior design, and bold, colourful paintings are a warm addition.

Japan by Alex Pascual
Japan by Alex Pascual

Using traditional art in a modern setting
Using traditional, plein air or impressionist artworks in modern rooms work in a very similar way. Again, opposites attract, and by layering designs, textures, pattern and colours, you can achieve a professional finish to your interior design projects. Follow these tips.

1. Strike with colour. Many modern interiors are shiny, black and white, and neat. If you are working with a minimalist modern room, it really is like a blank canvas. A great way to keep it simple, which often creates the most striking result, is to add a bold splash of colour to the interiors, such as a few cushions, a lamp or a rug in a particular colour, and use simple traditional artwork to complement the colour. For example, you could add some bright red cushions on the bed or chairs with this oil painting.

Heron On New England Lake by Kieran McElhinney

Or feature a bright blue rug with these…

Summer Colours by K McCoy
Summer Colours by Kirstin McCoy

2. Blend textures and finishes. Another great feature of interior design is layers of texture. For example, smooth, shiny furniture and material work well with matte, texturized paintings, such as acrylics. They work together by adding dimension to a room.

Muckish Mountain, Donegal by Maureen Martin
Muckish Mountain, Donegal by Maureen Martin

3. Tell a story. Art can add important details to interior design, and traditional art does it brilliantly in a modern setting. For example, if you’re designing the interior of a beach house, depictions of the ocean, sea animals, boats or shells work to create the right atmosphere, like these pieces available from

Yachts at Fenit, Kerry by Jane Hilliard
Yachts at Fenit, Kerry by Jane Hilliard


I Dreamt of White Horses by John O’Grady


Wet Paint by Tony Robinson
Wet Paint by Tony Robinson

Likewise, if it’s a forest lodge or retreat…

Kestrel by Kieran McElhinney
Kestrel by Kieran McElhinney


Gougane Barra by Barrie Maguire
Gougane Barra by Barrie Maguire

Or an even more niche setting like a music studio…

Old Man and Fiddle by Conor Mcguire
Old Man and Fiddle by Conor Mcguire


Westport-Bluegrass by Ellen Lefrak
Westport Bluegrass by Ellen Lefrak

Interior design is also about personal taste, so if you see a piece of art that you know you just have to have, we always say ‘go for it’! You will find the perfect space for it somewhere. And always remember, traditional and modern décor and art do not need to be kept separate. Layers of textures, colours, themes and ideas can come together to create the most timeless and professional results.

Check out ArtClick Ireland for more inspirational Irish art.

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