Whether you’re decorating your first home or you’re a makeover queen, these interior design principles still apply. They help your home decor look cohesive and pulled together and are helpful even if you don’t like to follow decorating rules.
Do you have a room in your house that just doesn’t feel right and you’re not sure why?
Most people have experienced this at some point or another. (I know I have!!)
Chances are your room is missing one (or more) of the basic interior design principles that decorators know and use.
…and it’s making everything feel out of sorts.
I don’t usually believe in following all the decorating “rules” but these principles are the fundamentals that make design work.
And they can make or break a room.
Read on to find out what the interior design principles are and how to use them.
1 | Create Balance
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The first design principle for creating a happy, inviting room is to create balance.
When a room is unbalanced, it feels uncomfortable to be in, like something just isn’t quite right.
This can happen if you have a lot of heavy furniture lined up against one wall and nothing on the opposite wall.
Or if you have used a lot of tall furniture in one half of the room and all short furniture on the other half.
Or if there is a really dark colored accent wall with nothing to balance it on the other side.
You get the idea, if one side of the room seems visually “heavier” than the other, your room is not balanced.
There are 3 different ways to create balance in a room:
- Asymmetry and,
- Radial Symmetry
Let’s look at each one individually.
Symmetry is created when one side of the room is the mirror image of the other.
In the room above, you’ll notice that everything is exactly the same on both sides of the room…right down to the flowers on the mantel!
Because everything is duplicated, symmetry is the easiest way to create balance and it is often associated with Traditional style rooms.
Asymmetry provides balance by using furniture and accessories that have equal visual weight but aren’t actually the same.
In this picture, the two chairs with the side table on the left side balance out the sofa on the right side.
And the tall bookshelves on the right wall echoes the height of the window on the left.
Asymmetry can be a little trickier to pull off since you need to figure out which pieces will balance each other out.
However, when done right, the result can be more interesting than the standard symmetrical approach.
Radial Symmetry provides balance around the center point of a room.
In this room, the chandelier and dining room table is the central point, and the four chairs revolve around it.
This is the most common use of radial symmetry.
But it can also be used in sitting rooms or to make a conversation area around a coffee table.
2 | Define The Focal Point
Every room needs a focal point that is visible as soon as you walk in the door.
Providing a focal point gives your eye a resting spot
It is the one thing in the room that captures your attention and draws you in…like a red umbrella in a sea of black…
It could be a built-in feature like a wall of windows or a large fireplace.
If you have one of these “already there” focal points in your room, it’s usually easiest to work with it since trying to create another focal point will just end up competing for your attention.
For rooms that don’t have a feature that stands out, you can make your own focal point. Create a feature wall or hang a large piece of artwork…pretty much anything that commands your attention.
Once you have decided what it is, make sure that it’s highlighted by adding accessories and lighting.
The picture above is using one of my favorite ways to subtly point your eyes in the right direction — using lines in the carpet to direct attention where you want it.
3 | Add Some Rhythm
Rhythm in design terms means repetition of a pattern, shape or color that helps to tie the room together.
It leads the eye into and around the room and directs the visual path that you want people to take.
In this home office the pink is repeated on the fireplace, the cushions, the window treatments and the wainscot.
This repetition of color draws you into the room and provides a visual direction that keeps your eye moving from the front of the room all the way to the back.
4 | Include Contrast
Contrast is the arrangement of opposite elements to add drama and excitement to a room.
Most people think of opposite colors as an example of contrast, but it is not limited to just color.
You can also use differences in texture, pattern or size…anything that grabs your attention.
In my living room, the coffee table has built-in contrast between the white leather sides and the black glass top.
But it also provides textural contrast with the shag rug and velvet sofas in the room.
5 | Use Scale and Proportion Appropriately
Scale simply refers to the size of the items in the room.
Proportion is how well the size of those objects mesh with each other and with the size of the room.
In a small room, use a few pieces of smaller-sized furniture.
The furnishings will look like they belong in the room, and you’ll have space to walk around them so it won’t feel as crowded.
Similarly, in a large room, using larger pieces of furniture (and more of them) will help to make the space feel more cozy.
6 | Vary the Heights
Using objects with different heights adds interest to a room (via Sergey Nivens / Adobe Stock Photos)
If your eye goes all the way around the room and doesn’t have a reason to look up or down, you will perceive the room as monotonous.
Varying the height of the furniture, art and accessories will make your eye move up and down and help to prevent that.
In this room, the large crown moldings and tall framed mirrors help to add some height in a room where all of the furniture is fairly low.
Adding light fixtures that hang down from the ceiling (if your ceiling is high enough) also adds a different height dimension.
7 | Light It Right
Speaking of light fixtures…lighting is the next one of our interior design principles. And it can make or break a room.
It’s very important to make sure that you have lighting that both functions well in the room and looks good doing it.
This often means having more than one type of lighting in a room.
You could have overhead lighting, lamps, task lighting and mood lighting all in one space, depending on how the room is used.
8 | Less Is More…Or Not
There is an ongoing debate in the design world about how much “stuff” should be put in a room.
You will often hear people say “Less is More” when it comes to design.
And if a clean-lined room (like this living room) is what makes you happy, then it’s true!
However, if you happen to like more embellishments in your rooms, then go with the “More is More” philosophy instead. (This is definitely my decorating style!)
If world-renowned interior designer Miles Redd can do it, then so can you.
It’s your house and good design is all about doing what makes you happy in your home.
9 | Add Your Personality
At the end of the day, your house will only feel like your home if it has elements of your personality in it.
Don’t follow trends just for the sake of being “in style”.
If you don’t love something, don’t use it…or at least give it a makeover 🙂 Otherwise, you won’t end up with a room that you are happy with.
So…if you like to travel, include trinkets from your trips.
If you like to garden, use floral prints.
If you love all things glam, bring on the gold and white fur.
In other words, go with what makes you happy.
Other Decorating Tips You Might Like
- How To Make A Small Room Look Bigger
- How To Make Your House Look More Expensive
- How To Find Your Decorating Style
Have comments or questions on the basic interior design principles? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on May 7, 2020 but was updated with new content on January 18, 2021.