When you look at pictures of beautiful rooms, there is a quality about all of them that gives them that “pro” look. While a lot of factors go into decorating a space, there are certain principles of design that make all of them more pleasing to the eye regardless of taste or style.
Some people have an inherent ability to combine furniture, fabrics, and accessories to create fabulous rooms. They can mix thrift store finds with clearance bargains and make a room look like a million bucks. That’s because it’s not all about the items themselves, it’s how they are put together. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a stylish home. Even a room full of the most beautiful and expensive pieces in the world can look “off” if they aren’t arranged the right way. Applying these principles of design can help you decorate a room like a pro.
Maybe you already know what you like in different design elements such as style, color, texture, and pattern, but you’re just not sure how to bring it all together. To make the most of any space regardless of budget, you need to understand these basic principles of design:
- Scale and Proportion
- Harmony and Rhythm
Below is a breakdown of each principle so you know what to look for. At the end of this post, you can also download a free checklist that will help you keep track of them and apply them in your own home.
Let’s get started!
PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN
SCALE AND PROPORTION
Scale refers to how an item relates to the size of a room. An example would be a large overstuffed sofa crammed into a small living room. That sofa would be considered out of scale for the room. The room requires a smaller sofa to give it a less cramped look and open up the room.
Proportion refers to how one object relates to another object in terms of size. For example, a delicate coffee table would be out of proportion if placed in front of that large overstuffed sofa. Instead it should be paired with a sofa that has a smaller profile.
Note: Though they actually mean two different things, scale and proportion are often used interchangeably by many designers. Be sure to pay attention to the context in which they are used just in case.
Lines define a space. Walls, floors, ceilings, and cabinetry all create lines in a room. Here are some important points to remember about lines:
- Vertical lines can make rooms seem taller and wide spaces seem narrower; they lend an air of formality to a room and a sense of grandeur.
- Horizontal lines do the opposite; they widen narrow spaces, bring the eye level down creating a sense of intimacy and are very contemporary.
- Diagonal lines convey a sense of energy to a space.
- Curved lines soften the sharpness of rectangles and squares
Balance refers to the equilibrium of objects within a room. Balance can be created through shape, color, pattern and texture. A room that is well-balanced will feel comfortable and relaxing to the eye. There are 3 types of balance:
- Symmetrical balance occurs when you arrange items or objects the same way on both sides of a real or imaginary line. One side mirrors the other. For example, a tall cabinet with a chair and sconce placed on each side of it. The chairs and sconces must be identical or at least the same weight and size.
- Asymmetrical balance creates equilibrium by using objects that have the same visual weight, but are different is size, shape, color and texture. An example would be placing a group of tall slender candle holders on one side of a shelf and putting a short, wide vase on the other side. If you keep the proportions correct, the grouping will be balanced.
- Radial balance is achieved when you arrange objects around one central focal point. An example would be a round dining room table with chairs sitting around it.
HARMONY & RHYTHM
Harmony results when all the design elements relate to one another in some way, creating a visually pleasing space. One way it can be achieved is by using one color throughout a space, but in different textures, shapes or sizes. Or you can combine patterns and prints as long as they have the same scale, motif or color palette. They don’t have to match, just share something similar.
Rhythm is about creating patterns of repetition and contrast that move the eye around the room. It can be achieved by repeating the same color or shape at different areas in the room. For example, taking one color and picking it up in fabric or upholstery and again in accessories and artwork.
Sometimes it’s easy to see when an item is out of scale or proportion. Other times, it’s not always as obvious. You can help train your eye by studying photographs of professionally designed rooms. Really look at them to get a feel for why it works. Look at how the different elements relate to one another and what principles they are using from the list in this post. Once you have a good grasp on them, start applying these principles of design in your home. It may take some practice, but once you get the hang of it, your eye will naturally train itself to pick up on these things with less effort.
Download your Principles of Design Checklist to get started! Feel free to print one up for each room in your home.