Contemporary Accents in Traditional Southern Homes 

Southern homes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but many have common elements that make them easy to recognize. Above all, the traditional Southern home is cozy and welcoming. Even the most formal room will contain casual touches that provide a lived-in feel to complement that famous Southern hospitality. However, whether grand or modest, these beautiful houses are quickly adaptable for a more contemporary appeal.

Cozy Kitchens

The hallmark of a Southern kitchen is that it’s warm, cozy and always ready to welcome guests. Often containing windowpane cabinet doors, decorative mason jars or ceramic fruit bowls, it is reminiscent of childhood and summers at Grandma’s house. Renovating a Southern kitchen might include installing open shelves instead of cabinetry, which changes the look and feel of the room while adding more open space. Custom etched glass pantry doors can also provide a modern twist while adding your signature to the decor.

Oversized Porches

A Southern porch will nearly always hold a rocking chair, a swing or both. Initially, these deep covered porches provided shade and access to the occasional breath of air during the hot, humid summer months. Before central air conditioning, the inside of the house would become extremely uncomfortable. With that problem solved, a sprawling porch merely offers a lovely outdoor setting in which to visit with friends. Add a modern ceiling fan to help keep your guests cool and install porch lighting that gives a warm ambiance. Updated furniture, flower boxes and planters can bring your traditional porch design into the present.


The sunroom is a common element of homes in the South. Formerly referred to as a sleeping porch, the sunroom is open on three sides but closed in with glass, screen or both. In the past, people used the sleeping porch out of necessity because it was the only way to get a breath of air during the hot weather, but some still enjoy it today. With the screened-in version, you can take in the evening air without sharing the space with bugs. The glassed-in version provides temperature control that allows you to enjoy the outdoors in any weather all year long. Partially separated from the rest of the house, it lends itself well to contemporary and unique furnishings even if the inside of the house is more traditional.

Antiques and Overstuffed Chairs

A Southern home will often contain overstuffed upholstery that’s so welcoming you may need help getting out. The colorful and cozy couches, chairs and loveseats will likely be surrounded by antique tables and cabinets. The mantlepiece and shelves will hold family photos and heirlooms. Though bulky antique pieces are not as popular with the younger generations, it’s possible to use contemporary furnishings and still retain the casual formality typical of the South. Modernizing the upholstered pieces by recovering them in bold, modern prints, or replacing traditional floral prints with solids is another way to update the home’s interior look.

Wallpaper and Crown Molding

Wallpaper is a standard feature of a traditional Southern home, and it most often represents things found in nature. Flowers, trees and birds are a few of the common motifs. The colors may be subtle and muted or dark and lush, so the rest of the room often includes solids that don’t fight with the wallpaper pattern. Changing the walls from paper to paint not only makes the room look more contemporary, but it also expands your decorating options. 

Wide baseboards and crown molding are also elements of a traditional Southern design. Sometimes the crown molding is intricately carved, and other times it’s smooth and sleek, but either way, it adds a polished cozy touch to the room. Painting the crown molding the same color as the wall not only updates the room, it makes the ceiling look higher.

Though it is difficult to compile a definitive list, there are many common elements among Southern homes. Kitchens are warm and welcoming for both family and guests. Sunrooms and over-sized porches expand the living space to include the outdoors. While antiques and floral wallpaper have long been part of the southern tradition, some people may prefer to decorate with more contemporary pieces and eliminate the wallpaper, at least in some of the rooms. Traditional Southern homes offer a blend of comfort and elegance that reflect the owners’ desire to make you feel welcome and are easily adaptable to more contemporary tastes.