Decorating with Classic Details

Classic design details from Nagwa Seif

A California family room with classic design
Nagwa Seif is an interior designer in Southern California who loves to create spaces with classic details, but with a modern twist. Smitten by this living room space, we asked Nagwa to share a few of her favorite tips here on How to Decorate.

If I were to describe a room designed with drapery, tufting, gilding, crystal, and lace, most of my clients would likely respond with a horrified stare.

A California family room with classic design

Classic design has a bad rap amongst younger generations. Instead, they are asking for glam. While I have no qualms with glam as a style, it has a tendency to lean on short-lived trends. On the other hand, classic – done right – is timeless and can give your hard-earned interior design investment a couple more years.

I think people are afraid of their homes looking too old-fashioned. But what happens if modern design isn’t your cup of tea and you want something a little more ornate and layered? Dare I say, more fancy?

I’m here to show you that it is possible to have a young, classically stunning space, without the formality and fluff reminiscent of Chez Grandma.

California living space before

This client came to me last year with a formal living room that had some pre-existing upgrades from the original homeowner. The walls had been treated with Venetian plaster, the fireplace was covered in a rustic stone, and the neutral carpet was in excellent condition. As the first room guests see upon entering their home, they knew they wanted it to make an impact, but were unsure of what to do next.

A California family room with classic design
A California family room with classic design

At the start of any new project, I believe it’s essential to step back and carefully consider your existing conditions and the context of the space around it. While I don’t commonly use Venetian plaster in my work, part of playing this remodeling game is to work with what you’ve got. Someone obviously spent the time and money having the walls addressed in more than just a simple paint color, so if it’s done well and in a color that complements your design, I say work with it.

Next, take a cue from your surroundings. Great design always considers the space around it. This Southern California home, with its arched windows and travertine floors, would definitely be categorized as traditional. The clients, however, are young and fun, but also not afraid of a little sophistication. With that in mind, I started to recreate this space.

A California family room with classic design

I began by dressing the four main windows in full white sheers. This significantly lightened the room, and instantly gave it an ethereal quality. To keep the sheers from looking too simple, I added trim that accentuated the dramatic draping.

A California family room with classic design

A California family room with classic design

Then, I layered in detailed furniture pieces, with interesting shapes, like the sweep arm sofa and a pair of gorgeous canopy chairs (a.k.a. Porter’s Chairs). Did you notice the sofa’s diamond tufting, turned legs, and brass casters? Or how about the bronze nailheads and woodcarvings on the canopy chairs? Like that? Well, ladies and gentlemen, those are classic details. Chosen in soft neutral fabrics and wood tones, the pieces are elaborate, but not overwhelming.

A California family room with classic design

And don’t forget about those pillowsNever overlook a designer’s pillows. On our canopy chair, a reptilian fabric makes for a beautiful accent and gives the French classic an edge. On the sofa, oversized pom-poms frame a Suzani patterned pillow, which provides a slightly ethnic juxtaposition. These are not your typical traditional pillows. They contrast the pieces that they accent, creating a pull between the edgy and the sophisticated, which is what keeps this design unexpected and young.

A California family room with classic design

Afraid of pattern? Well, the rule here is to be cautious of scale, because when it comes to pattern, bigger is almost always better. This lacey wallpaper we added in the entry niche (which is directly across from the formal living room) is a perfect illustration of this. It’s intricate, but its pattern is large. This modernizes things and adds interest, without fuss. Contrasted with contemporary framed prints and an Asian inspired console table (one of my favorites: the Ananda Serving Table from Ballard Designs), I’d say the niche has just the right amount of elegance.

A California family room with classic design

Lastly, I introduced sparkle through mirrored furniture and gilded accents. There is nothing more classic than the color gold, so when I found the gold sunburst mirror and mirrored side table, I didn’t hesitate to incorporate them into the room.

I encourage you to embrace classic details, add a splash of the unexpected, and take a risk with pattern to find a harmonious mix that is your own.

Find more decorating inspiration by following our Pinterest Boards, or browse rooms from our catalog in our Living Rooms Photo Gallery.

Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.


  1. Reply

    Karen Mashmoor

    December 14, 2017

    Hello and good morning! I love your work! I was wondering if you could tell me what type of stone and mortar was used in the fireplace on the first photo? It’s absolutely beautiful.

    Thank you,

    • Reply

      Caroline McDonald

      August 14, 2018

      I’m so sorry, but I have no information about this fireplace! You could maybe ask a contractor or a stone mason if they could help you figure out the stone and mortar?
      Good luck!

  2. Reply


    March 11, 2014

    Stunning work! Bravo!

  3. Reply

    Shelley Gardea

    March 11, 2014

    Absolutely beautiful Nagwa! You’re so good at what you do.