The 7 Principles of Interior Design

As an interior designer I love to look through home magazines to get inspiration from the spaces that come alive with beautiful furniture, interesting lighting and touchable fabrics.  However, one of the biggest frustrations I hear from homeowners, who also subscribe to these publications, is that they don’t know how to achieve those results in their own homes.  Well fear no more because I am going to give you an inside look at the world of interior design so you can have spectacular rooms of your very own.  The trick to giving any space a fabulous look that feels cohesive and pulled together is to follow the seven basic principles that interior designers live by.  If you pair that knowledge with practice and experimentation you will be on your way to creating a truly beautiful home.

 The first principle to consider is Unity.  When designing interiors it is necessary to think of the house as a series of spaces linked together by halls and stairways.  As such, there needs to be  a common style that runs throughout to unify the whole.   This is not to say that all design elements should be the same, but that they should work together to complement each other and strengthen the whole composition.  “Have I achieved unity?” is a question that a designer will ask him/herself after finishing a design. “Is there anything in this space that does not contribute to the overall design concept?”  The answers should confirm that a good design is not a whole but a sum of its parts.

Balance can be described as the equal distribution of visual weight in a room and is an important factor to incorporate into all interior spaces. Balance can be achieved in one of three ways: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial.

Symmetrical balance is usually found in traditional interiors and is accomplished when one side of a design mirrors the other side from a straight center point.  An example of this would be the same object found on either side of a fireplace mantle or matching side tables and lamps on either side of a bed.  Symmetrical balance is found in the human form so we are innately comfortable in a balanced setting.

Asymmetrical balance is achieved by using dissimilar objects that have equal visual weight or eye attraction.  It is more casual and less contrived in feeling, but more difficult to achieve.  Examples of asymmetrical balance would be mismatched tables and lamps on either side of a sofa.  Asymmetry suggests movement, and leads to more lively interiors.

Radial symmetry is when all the elements of a design are arrayed around a center point. A spiral staircase is an excellent example of radial balance. Though not often employed in interiors, it can provide an interesting counterpoint if used appropriately.

 Emphasis is about creating a feature in the room dominant enough to draw attention and interesting enough to encourage the viewer to look further.  We generally refer to this as the focal point of the room, and a fireplace or a window with a beautiful view would be two good examples.   If there isn’t a focal point in your room you can create one by highlighting an interesting piece of furniture or artwork, or by simply painting a contrasting color in one area. But creating a focal point is more than just picking a favorite object and making that the thing you want your guests to see first. You have to create a visual path or direction toward that point so that there is no mistaking what the focal point may be. Once the focal point has been established the furniture furniture plans should reflect it as the dominant feature in the room.  

A good way to define your focal point is to set it at a strong Contrast to the space surrounding it. Contrast is the fourth principle of interior design.  This can obviously be done with color, for instance a black chair in a white room, but also consider it with shape. If you have a very sleek square couch, add a round ottoman for contrast and interest. Consider positive and negative space, too. Sometimes a void (negative space) creates a bigger statement than a solid object (positive space) so it is important to create balance between solid and void.  Positive space is color, furniture, artwork, area rugs and bold flooring. Negative space is the emptiness that helps us to find the focal point. Too much positive space means visual clutter and too much negative space indicates coldness and an unfinished room.

As in music, Rhythm in design is all about creating patterns of repetition and contrast to create visual interest.  It is defined as continuity, recurrence or organized movement and is achieved by using the same element, or series of elements to move your eye around the room. For instance, you can establish a rhythm by using a color in the pillows, picking it up in a painting, and echoing it again in a rug, or by using the same fabric on a sofa and an accent pillow in a chair.

Repetition is the use of the same element more than once throughout a space. It is the art of creating a pattern either with the objects in a space or with the physical patterns of fabric and decorative items in a space.  Maybe it is a series of objects lining a mantle or a stack of books on a shelf.  Use your imagination, the possibilities are endless.

Finally we have Scale which relates to shape and size, and the ratio of one design element to another, or one element to the whole.  It is important to consider the principles of scale and in your projects. Scale refers to the size of your room versus the size of the contents, patterns, and even quantity of contents in a room. Improper use of scale can spell disaster.  The most obvious example of scale is making sure that the size of your furniture is proportion to the size of your room.

Well there you have it, the knowledge that a well designed room incorporates the seven principles of interior design so they all work together to create a dramatic, beautiful room that pleases the eye, yet is functional for those who live in it.