5 Elements of Timeless Design

My mother had excellent taste. She dressed in timeless clothes of simple lines and fabrics. Even when she was in her 90s and living in a nursing home, the nurses commented to me all the time about how her outfits were so well put together. She always dressed beautifully, even though she was in a wheelchair with not a lot to do each day.

Her timeless style permeated our living space. She was an interior designer and decorator, and the house I grew up in was elegant, comfortable and functional.

 The trouble with ‘trendy’

Trendy design comes and goes. That’s what trendy means – up to date with the latest ideas, which are soon outdated. Trendy, to me, means fleeting, experimental and artsy. That’s artsy, not artistic.

Trendy design is out of style before its usefulness has a chance to come to an end. It may consist of complicated lines and details as well as exotic materials. Because of this, it may get expensive. When trends change, the design will change, costing even more.

Richard Neutra’s Staller House, built in 1955, but could have been built yesterday

Timeless design is durable

Timeless design, on the other hand, is durable. It lasts through decades or hundreds of years, being brought up to date with changes in accessories or accents. My mother could take a brown wool skirt and a neutral color blouse and bring it into modern times with different jewelry, shoes and a purse. The ‘little black dress’ is today’s version of my mother’s fashion sense.

In our house, my mother would change the paint or wallpaper, window coverings and upholstery to modernize a basic design. The exterior of the last house she designed had an oriental flavor to it, but it was not predominant. The interior had simple lines, and the accents were oriental. This could be changed again and again, keeping the basics in place

What makes design timeless?

1. Classical proportions

The Golden Ratio was named by the ancient Greeks. It is also known as the Golden Mean and the golden Triangle. Without going into a lot of math, I’ll simply say it is a visually pleasing and physically comfortable proportion for floor plans and wall design.

2. Simplicity

Simple lines and open floor plans are pleasing and create a functional space. Less-is-more becomes elegant.

3. Durability

Good material choices last for decades or centuries.

4.  Adaptability

Timeless design can be updated without sacrificing the original intent. Homes can be renovated for Universal Design and additions easily created with the same proportions.

5. Less expense

Trendy design must be updated and changed out as soon as the trend fades. As I stated above, exotic materials and staying up to date with the latest trends costs money. Timeless design has a base that is updated with accents. This is less expensive.

Examples of timeless design in architecture and furniture-making

Richard Neutra’s mid-century modern design is an excellent example of timeless design, with its clean lines and good proportions. This is still popular and copied widely.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s work has passed the durability test, don’t you think? His sturdy materials coupled with simple lines make his designs pleasing and functional.

Source: architecture.about.com via nan on Pinterest


Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair is classic design from 1929. The simple lines, construction and materials allow this chair to show up in many interior design scenarios today.

Gustav Stickley’s Mission furniture is another example of simple lines and materials.

Source: furnitureplanners.com via nan on Pinterest

It is seen in modern homes, because it fits in with many interior design styles. Stickley is also responsible for the Craftsman Style Bungalow, another timeless design that is still popular today.

These things may have been ‘trendy’ at the time, but they have lasted through several design eras to become timeless.

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