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Traditional Architecture and Modern Homes

Perusing real estate websites for inspiration to warm up your own modern home is guaranteed to confuse you--houses aren't just ranch, bungalow, or colonial anymore; they're mid-century, or transitional, or any strange architectural combination--modern Mediterranean, anyone?

Loosely defined, modern homes are more open in floor plan, and feature clean, simple lines--but a "modern" home could date to the sixties or seventies--like the Brady Bunch split level. Newer modern homes are likely to be green; which means the architecture and mechanicals for the house are melded to provide sustainable, energy-efficient living. But clean modern living doesn't mean a sacrifice in style; you can make your modern home a little more traditional by adding  some millwork and mouldings to your rooms.

Here are three ideas to inspire you make your open-concept, modern home a little warmer and cozier.

Living Spaces

One of the biggest drawbacks to modern, open floor plan houses is that you've basically got one big room. It may not be a perfect square or rectangle, but it's still hard to figure out where the dining space ends and the living space begins. Use different kinds of millwork to define the spaces. A simple chair rail or wainscoting in the dining area, combined with a large area rug, visually separates it from the rest of the house. If your house is a modified open plan with cased openings dividing areas, millwork defines the transitions between spaces. There are so many options for millwork here, you can choose a plain, Shaker-style profile or go all out with relief carvings and layers of trim that create depth add opulence.


After you've knocked out the avocado and harvest gold for a sleek, updated kitchen, be careful that your island doesn't resemble a lab table. Add brackets—shelves--under the countertop for a dash of panache that peek out. Brackets are as simple or as ornate as you can imagine, and don't be afraid of a fancy rococo bracket for a pop of surprise. Continue the theme with brackets on the wall as display shelves for a collection of the kid's art projects or your Imari china.

Dress up a plain range or cooktop with pilasters that support brackets—surrounding your vent hood. Finish the look with a deep crown moulding across the entire ceiling and a basic somewhat boring kitchen has a lot more flair and personality.


Everybody loves a fireplace, and with today's ventless gas logs, you can have one in every room. The bad news is that you wind up with plain little boxes in the walls, with a lonesome set of logs sitting in the middle. Spiffing up a fireplace surround with some millwork adds a custom look, and you can mix up the millwork you use for each one. Since the fireplace is there to literally warm up the room, go for traditional trim. Use fluted pilasters along the sides, and top it off with acanthus brackets, and a dentil crown moulding across the top with a mantel shelf.

If you're wondering what some of these design terms mean, here you go.

Chair Rail- is a simple, small piece of trim placed at chair height. It's purpose is to protect the walls from dining chairs leaning into the walls.

Wainscoting- vertical panels of trim installed to chair rail height, usually in dining or living spaces. Wainscoting is usually painted a neutral or stained.

Shaker- architectural design from the Pennsylvania Shakers—clean, simple lines, no ornamentation.

Relief- the polar opposite of Shaker, relief features three dimensional carvings into the wood, using any motif—floral, animals—the more opulent the better.

Bracket- a large decorative shelf that doesn't necessarily support any weight. You see them in corners, along ceilings, and on walls, where they do hold a little weight when used as a display shelf

Pilaster- a flat column installed vertically along an opening. Pilasters are one of the most common types of millwork, and range in style from very plain to ornate.

Crown Moulding- moulding that runs along the ceiling, and hides the join at the wall. Crown styles are also used as top-piece (entablature) trim on cased openings and mantels.

Acanthus- very popular leaf design in millwork, acanthus is found on ancient Greek architecture and remains the go-to botanical form.

Dentil- dentil style resembles a straight line checkerboard, or a set of wooden teeth. This classic Federal design adds a wonderful traditional touch to a modern room.