Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word transition as:
tran*si*tion: Passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another; a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another.
In design, there is a “transitional” design concept or philosophy. We don’t have the kind of dictionary definition that Merriam-Webster has; in fact, transitional design means different things to different people. At its core, though, transitional design is the grey area between traditional and contemporary. It is defined by the person who is using the word.
When clients express their desire for a “transitional” space, they often use the term because they want a change from what they are currently living with, or because they are trying to compromise with another person’s style. The best way to determine what is “transitional” for each client is by determining what they see as “contemporary” or “traditional”; understanding the way they define these styles will help translate their vision into a new design. If a client sees a raised paneled door and oil rubbed bronze hardware as traditional, and a slab door with chrome hardware as contemporary, the transitional design solution could be a recessed panel door and brushed nickel hardware.
A basic framework for thinking about transitional design:
• If traditional is detailed, decorated, and distressed, and if
• Contemporary is minimalistic, sleek, and linear, then
• Transitional is simple and clean with subtle details.
There are endless ways to make a space transitional. One can use a combination of a contemporary door style with antique hardware, a traditional stain finish with contemporary countertop material, a contemporary textured, laminate cabinet door with a traditional travertine backsplash, or a traditional wood cabinet with stainless steel, professional appliances. Oftentimes clients who say they want a traditional space or contemporary space realize they really fit into the broad transitional category.
Maybe the better question is what isn’t transitional?