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  • Writer's pictureStacey Martin

INTERIOR DESIGN FUNDAMENTALS // The basics you need to know to create a gorgeous home.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the process of decorating your home? You're not alone! With so many online resources, colors, sizes and materials, it's easy to get design-paralyzed Following a set of rules can help take some of the guesswork out of it, and get you that much closer to creating that Pinterest-worthy, gorgeous space.

Not to worry, all you rule breakers out there! These rules just help provide some foundation for your design, leaving plenty of room for you to go your own way. And what are these "rules" of which we speak? Well today we're going to be talking about:





Negative Space

& Harmony

These fancy words are principles that many of you probably already know, but let's break each one down a little further, shall we?


Balance is a feeling of equilibrium between all the elements of a space. A well-balanced room will never feel lopsided - too heavy on one side vs the other. This is achieved through thoughtful placement of furniture and accessories, as well as shape, color, pattern, and texture. Darker colors will feel visually heavier, and the same goes for bolder patterns, so it's good to keep all of this in mind as you create balance in your space.

Before we talk about how to create balance, let's talk about the 3 different types - Symmetrical (or formal), Asymmetrical (or informal), and radial. "Sure, but what the heck does this all mean?" you say! Let's talk through a few examples, shall we?

Symmetrical / Formal Balance

Imagine a line down the center of your room. If it is symmetrically balanced, it will have repeating items on either side.

Symmetry is created by mirroring shape, color, pattern, texture, and furniture on both sides of a central axis.

Take the image on the left, for example. Each side of the room has the exact same elements - the same bookcase, the same lamp, the same end tables, accent chairs, and drapes. Even the colors, patterns and textures are thoughtfully repeated on each side. Symmetry tends to lend itself to more traditional, more formal spaces. Also, its orderly layout can create a sense of calm.

Asymmetrical / Informal Balance

An asymmetrical room tends to feel more relaxed, interesting, and dynamic, since the items on each side of the central axis are not the same.

Asymmetry is created when shape, color, pattern, texture, and furniture on both sides of a central axis are not the same, but are still visually balanced.

Take the image on the left again - one side has a sofa, while the other side of the room has two accent chairs. Asymmetry can be trickier to pull off, however, because you need to rely more on the visual weight of items to create balance. Both sides of the room still need to feel equal, even though they are not the same. The two black accent chairs, for example, have the same visual weight as the oversized sofa, even though they are different items.

Radial Balance

Yep, you guessed it - radial balance refers to items all the way around a central axis. Think of a round table, for example. This type of balance feels more social, and is great for gathering spaces and conversation areas.


Let the rhythm move you. Or move your eyes, at least.

Rhythm is created through repetitions of line, form, color, and texture, and is what pulls your eye through a space. Look at the image on the left (I seem to love these lefty images, huh?). Can you see how the yellow is pulled through the space not only in color, but in metal tones as well? And in the image on the right, the pattern in the pendant lamp is repeated in the drapes, on the wallpaper, and on the pillows.

Pro tip: When you are repeating the elements of your room, remember to repeat them on all levels - low to high - so it encompasses the entire room and doesn't feel flat.


A star is born. Drama queens encouraged.

Emphasis is all about focal points and visual hierarchy. Everything in your space has visual weight. A black chair, for example, may feel visually larger than something that is bigger but lighter in color. Items with more visual weight will draw the eye and become the focus. I like to think of rooms like plays (or movies) - there can only really be one (maybe two, max) star of the show. Everything else in the room should be a supporting "actor". This will keep a space from feeling too busy. What is the main focus or emphasis of your room? Is it a beautiful fireplace? A hot pink accent wall? Make that the first thing you see and arrange your room accordingly.


Not all big and not all small is just right.

Scale and proportion can be tricky for many. Playing with both can make a room feel dynamic and high-end, but it can also be a major pitfall. Let's start by breaking down exactly how they're different and why they matter.

Proportion refers to the relationship between design elements, such as shape, color, and texture. It also refers to the ratio between the size of one object to another. Some proportions are more pleasing than others, such as 1/3rd and/or 2/3rds. Look at the image on the right, for example. The proportion of the lamp and side table is equal to the opposing plant.

Scale refers to how big or small something is in a space, as well as how it relates to the size of other objects in a space. The scale of the console in the image on the left is large enough to support the scale of the canvas above it. If the scale is off, items will feel too large or too small for the space.

Both proportion and scale must be considered to create balance.


Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.

-Coco Chanel

Not necessarily an interior design principle but a design principle in general, negative space is one of my favorite things to consider when designing a room. Don't be afraid of that empty space or those blank walls! Allowing architecture, furniture and design elements to have breathing room will help accentuate them.

Having a small plant on the table in the left-hand image vs a piece of art on that wall allows the pieces over the sofa to become more front and center. Same with the fireplace in the right hand image. A piece of art above it would detract from the oversized molding and compete with the styling of the bookshelf.


Unify the message.

When a room is in harmony, everything is working together to tell a single story - the colors, patterns / textures, the spacing of objects, and the repetition of elements.

Both of these rooms have a harmonious palette - the colors are not all the same, but are in similar families and are repeated in a variety of elements throughout the room.


And now for my favorite portion of the show - the dos and don'ts! Sometimes seeing examples of what not to do can be just as helpful as looking at perfect examples. And just as fun. :)

Let's get this party started with this RHYTHM DON'T - All straight lines, squares, and angles.

The sofa, the pillows, the table, the rug, the art, the mirrors, the tray - pretty much everything in this room is square. Give me some rounded edges, people! Let's add in some organic shapes! A circular coffee table, a floor plant in a round basket, and a throw draped over the arm would all work wonders to soften this space.

SCALE DON'T - Large items in small spaces.

Now don't get me wrong, sometimes large and oversized items in a small space can look very editorial, but unfortunately not in this instance. From the TV overlapping the windows to the sofa protruding outside of the sitting area, these pieces just don't fit in here.

HARMONY & EMPHASIS DON'T - No unifying thread & no focal point.

If I were to ever get invited to brunch at the Easter Bunny's house, I imagine it may look something like this. I also imagine that I would run out screaming. It's a little nuts in here, no? There is no unifying palette, but instead just an explosion of all the colors. And there is certainly no focal point. I'm sorry Easter Bunny, but your house needs some professional help.

BALANCE DON'T - Too one-sided

If you were to draw a line down the center of this room, would it feel visually balanced on both sides? If you guessed no, you're correct! Unfortunately the console is not enough. A dining table in the space to the right would instantly balance out this otherwise cool space.

NEGATIVE SPACE DON'T - Too much stuff and no breathing room makes Jack an anxious boy! Seriously though, the items in this room would really come to life if they were all given more space to shine.

Do you have some rooms in your home that just aren't working? Walk through the list above and ask yourself some questions.

• How’s the balance - what's happening on either side of my central axis?

• Got repetition (Rhythm)?

• Are things harmonious or are there too many colors?

• Is there a leading lady or all supporting actors?

• Are things too small or too big for an area?

• Is there room for your room to breathe?

Once you begin working through the design principles one by one, you'll be amazed at how a few tweaks will instantly elevate your space. Or, if you want to throw up your hands and call in reinforcements, we're here for that, too.

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