contemporary bar with traditional furniture

My wife and I traveled to Amsterdam and Paris over the Christmas holiday. While the trip was mostly a vacation, it also gave me an opportunity to see how other parts of the world approach interior design. While most of the design world is fairly easily available (due to the internet and international design magazines), seeing design (whether interior or exterior) in person is a valuable experience. It also provides a perfect opportunity to gain inspiration for my own work. This is the first part in a series on lessons I learned while traveling abroad. Some of these ideas will be broad-sweeping, while others will cover specific design elements I found interesting and worth further investigation. For Part 1 of the Amsterdam series, we'll look at mixing eras and styles in the same space. Europeans, in general, are very adept at mixing contemporary and old-world styles. A few years ago, while visiting Berlin, I came across an old building near the Reichstag. This building still showed signs of damage from World War II, but they had covered the entire facade of the building in glass panels. It was as if they had pulled a glass curtain across the front of the building - simply the most amazing juxtaposition of styles I'd ever seen.

Amsterdam, like many cities in Europe, is an old city with clear direction for the future. Just walking through the canal district, you see numerous buildings in process of being renovated or updated. It is also a common site to see a building from the 1800s next to a contemporary building. While this idea can be jarring to some, I find the juxtaposition of eras and styles refreshing and interesting.

A perfect example of when old and new are mixed in the same setting. The Amsterdam Central Train Station, built in the 1880s serves hundreds of thousands of people a day. The fact that a modern light-rail system runs directly in front of the grand building shows the modern direction of this city constantly on the move.

interior designer in portland oregon talks about old architecture and modern technology mixed together


Most of the foot bridges allowing pedestrians to walk through the city are more traditional in nature. This artistic bridge is a great example of the movement to keep the traditions alive, but bring them into the 21st century.

interior designer from portland oregon visits Amsterdam


One of my favorite mash-ups of style is to take a traditional shape (like these chairs) and use modern fabrics and colors to turn everything on it's head. High-gloss black and royal purple turn these chairs into real statement pieces.

interior designer in portland oregon talks about mixing styles in an Amsterdam bar

There are two aspects of this scene I absolutely love. First is the use of bold red for the shutters on this traditional canal building. This makes a statement like no other color could (although, to be honest, I don't know if this is a traditional shutter color or not - it's still way cool!). Second is a little harder to notice. The building to the right is another example of a contemporary rendition of a canal house. The straight, clean lines are not typical of the gabled shapes found throughout the canal district.

portland, oregon interior designer visiting Amsterdam


Like any other modern city, the need for office space sometimes encroaches on the traditional parts of the city. Here, old-world style clashes with modern office buildings. Additionally, the two buildings on the right also take the traditional gabled shape of canal homes and revise it into a modern version. This allows these buildings to sit perfectly with the old part of the city, without causing too much of a stylistic clash.

portland oregon interior designer visits amsterdam and talks architecture


There is something refreshing about the boldness seen in mixing styles and eras in these old cities. It gives us license to do something similar in our own homes. For instance, in my own home, I have a combination of antique Chinese pieces, modern Italian, mid-century and contemporary. Mixing these eras and styles in one room correctly is about balance and proportion. How have you done this in your own home?