How To Use the Elements and Principles Of Design To Decorate Like An Interior Designer, Part 12

Part 12 Rhythm

Moving right along in our series, let’s discuss the idea of rhythm. It is defined as a measured or cyclic motion characterized by a regular recurrence of elements or features. This can include repetition to establish continuity and flow.  The purpose of rhythm is primarily to prevent a room from feeling stagnant or choppy. If there’s no rhythmic element your spaces might feel overly separate from one another. Or, in a single room, it can discourage a natural flow of movement which makes traversing the room feel awkward. So, how do we accomplish rhythm?  

Our first example, the area rug shown in the photo above, provides what is known as transitional rhythm. The pattern around the outside leads the eye to naturally follow it all the way around without interruption. This is particularly effective because it mimics the way humans would normally move around a table. Picture your guests debating where they’d like to sit. They will instinctively do so by mentally and/or literally circling the table on a rectangular path.  Notice how large the border of the rug is. It must be so in order to capture peoples’ attention as the cyclical element in the room.  Without the rug, people might awkwardly stop and try to determine how and where they fit into the scheme of the room. 

Another excellent and elegant way to provide a sense of rhythm is the use of molding. This is especially apparent in the photo above. The designer opted to use very large crown molding around the ceiling, and equally sizeable base board. Although we can’t see what is “behind us” in the photo we will assume that the molding continues. There is also a coordinating frame around the door.

This effectively creates balance between the room and the view of the outdoors. Yes, the beautiful bay windows capture our attention, but they could easily overwhelm the space and make it seem insignificant. The molding deters this problem by insisting that our eyes are just as interested in the inside of the room. We naturally follow the continuation of the molding around the room, and what was once just a room is now our “surroundings.” Thus, rhythm is very effective at adding significance to a room that might otherwise disappear into that which surrounds it!

Next read Part 13 – Emphasis

Don’t forget to go back and start by reading Part 1

How To Use the Elements and Principles Of Design To Decorate Like An Interior Designer, Part 11

Part 11 Balance

Balance is a principle of design that is most readily apparent when it’s missing. Have you ever walked into a room and wondered why it seems like a hodgepodge of furniture rather than a complete room? That’s because there’s no sense of balance. Balance is the distribution of visual weight within a composition. For our purposes the composition is a room in your home. We are going to focus on the concept of symmetry to achieve the desired effect.

Formal symmetry is accomplished by creating a mirror image on either side of central axis. It typically also features a general emphasis of weight near the bottom of the composition. In the example above you’ll note that on either side of the bed are identical mirrors, lamps, and night stands. Between them, functioning as the centralizing point is a large chandelier that hangs low enough to establish balance.

This room also includes the concept of radial symmetry. The chandelier is surrounded on all sides by a white ceiling medallion. In other words, it has a central point from which its design radiates, extends, or spreads like rays from a center. It is especially effective for establishing a sense of balance in a large room!

Another method to accomplish balance is informal symmetry. It is not a mirror image, but it is the equivalent in visual weight. Take a look at the photo above. Despite unique and distinctly different furnishings the room feels balanced. The central aspects are the couch and coffee table. They are evenly flanked by a love seat on the left, and two chairs on the right that. This is classified as informal because the chairs and love seat aren’t identical pieces but are just as effective at stabilizing the room.

The area-rug helps further unify the space because it is independently symmetrical. Last, notice the unusual arrangement of the framed artwork. Hanging them with a right side orientation ensures that the left side of the room seems part of the entire composition. If the framed artwork were hung symmetrically above the couch, the left side of the wall would seem like a separate area. This is the use of balance to make a room seem larger and maximize all available space.

Next read Part 12 – Rhythm

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How To Use the Elements and Principles Of Design To Decorate Like An Interior Designer, Part 10

Part 10 Light

Light is an incredibly complex aspect of home design. To create something special you must consider both function and effect, and it is typically necessary to use more than one light source in a room. As defined in design, light is considered radiant or visible wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum of energy. If you are a fan of science, this definition will tickle your fancy! For the rest of you, light is simply that which illuminates something our eyes are trying to see. This might be a specific object, or an entire room. 

Not understanding light beyond its utilitarian purposes is the number one obstacle to using it effectively in decorating. Let’s break it down. Types of lighting include: task, ambient, natural, and accent. Task lighting is a source of light well suited to a specific, focused activity, such as a lamp on your desk. Natural light is self explanatory – think windows. Ambient light is what you might call mood lighting. It adds a soft, aura-like glow and it is more relaxing than combustion lighting. An example of combustion lighting is a stark overhead light source in a room. Typically it’s not comfortable for more than a short period of time.    

The photo above shows the use of ambient lighting in the form of recessed lighting. Recessed means it’s flush with the surface – in this case, the ceiling. Notice it surrounds the bed rather than being positioned directly over top of it. The room also features ample natural light by way of the large windows. It can be diffused using sheers on the windows.

There’s is also creative use of accent lighting. The blue neon lights don’t necessarily provide a lot of illumination by which to see, but they are a pleasing aesthetic element that coordinates nicely with the lavender walls. All of these light sources are effective but not glaring. This is especially important in a bedroom where harsh, direct light is not conducive to relaxation. Last, note how light is used in the room to make it seem larger. It is actually quite small, but the various light sources and their simplistic form make it appear more spacious and airy.

Next read Part 11 – Balance

Don’t forget to go back and start by reading Part 1

How To Use the Elements and Principals Of Design To Decorate Like An Interior Designer, Part 9

Part 9 Color

Color is arguably the most impactful tool you have when decorating a room. All of the elements of design we’ve discussed thus far are critical components of a room, but color offers immediacy unlike any other. The moment you enter a room color demands your attention and evokes a strong influence over mood and style. Indeed, it even influences your behavior in a room. So, what is color, actually? From a home design perspective it is a sensation produced by visible wavelengths of light. It is one, or any mixture, of the constituents into which light can be separated, as in a spectrum or rainbow. Sounds lovely, but let’s get a little more practical with it.

The easiest way to become an overnight master of color is to invest in a color wheel, and then study the rules it represents. There are endless variations but you can decide how far into color theory you wish to delve. Short on time? Learning just a few of the basic color schemes will be plenty of knowledge to get the job done! 

Complimentary – Colors opposite each other on the color wheel. For example: pink and green. Complimentary colors are typically well suited to creating bold effects or vibrant color harmonies.  

Analogous – Colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. Typically you’ll find three of them being used and they are great for creating a sense of harmony in a room. Be sure that there is enough contrast between them to ensure the effect is obvious. A good example is the use of red, orange, and yellow.

Tetrad – Four colors used in complimentary pairs. For instance red, orange, blue and green. Typically, it works well to let one of the colors dominate, and the other three to support the overall effect.

As mentioned, there are far more combinations than these three but they are a great way to start. Don’t feel like you have to use full saturation hues to accomplish the goal. The example shown above uses very bold and impactful colors. However, you can adjust the technique to include medium or pale shades as well!

Next read Part 10 – Balance

Don’t forget to go back and start by reading Part 1

How To Use the Elements and Principles Of Design To Decorate Like An Interior Designer, Part 8

Part 8 Time

This particular principal of design may come as big surprise. However, it’s a critical component of decorating a room, because its effect is inevitable. Think about it. At any given time of day or year a room can transform and be quite different. Let’s examine.

You inhabit certain rooms in the house according to what time of day it is. Thus, light becomes an element of time in design. How does this effect decorating decisions? Many ways, but one of the most influenced factors is color.

Let’s say your bedroom is painted lavender. In the early morning it will have a softer tonality, diffused by the pristine, crisp morning light. By midday the light is perhaps a bit too harsh because bedrooms don’t generally feature excessive direct daylight, and this makes the lavender less appealing. You can control that element of time by installing sheers and possibly leaving them drawn through the rest of the afternoon!

Another way that time relates to a room is with regard to season. When designing you home it’s fun and effective to consider what a room will look like in any given season where you live. Maybe when it’s cold outside you just want to stay in bed, and so choose soft, warm furnishing. Perhaps when it’s warm you can’t wait to leap out of bed a go outside. Time to change the linens and textiles to something that feels cool and fresh! 

You should also consider long periods of time in your home such as months and years. Look at the photo above. One of the most beautiful attributes of real wood is that it gains character over the years. If you wish to preserve the original color as much as possible you can install drapes to completely protect it from the sun. But you’d be sitting in a dark room most of the time so it needs to be the right space for that. On the other hand, wood responds beautifully to natural light by slowly changing in color over time. Another time focused feature of the room is the fireplace. It’s merely a fixture when no fire is lit, but when there’s a fire burning it becomes a fabulous focal point. If it’s using during cold weather its role in the room is once again changed by time, because the fire is there for more than just beauty. It’s there to keep you warm!

Next read Part 9 – Color

Don’t forget to go back and start by reading Part 1 

How To Use the Elements and Principles Of Design To Decorate Like An Interior Designer, Part 7

Part 7 Pattern

We know, we know! Pattern is one of the toughest elements to incorporate into decorating. There are so many choices that picking just one is a huge task. Forget mixing them! Who knows how to do that without creating a circus atmosphere? Well, actually, you! Simply follow these basic guidelines to get a grip on pattern.

As with our previous posts, let’s start once again with the definition of the word pattern. As it relates to interior decorating, pattern represents a change of shape or organized set of shapes wherein the parts of the series mimic the original in one or more attributes. Pattern is also predictable by nature, though it usually appears periodically in a room rather than throughout. When used properly it’s also proportionate to the other elements of design in the room.

So, what exactly does all of that mean? Let’s break it down. The fact that it mimics itself is obvious, but have you ever given thought to the fact that it evokes a sense of predictability? This is sometimes very effective for establishing a sense of continuity in a room. When complimentary elements of design like furnishings and textiles are combined, it creates a relationship between separate parts. When your surround it all with pattern, though, the room has a feeling of completeness because it’s as if it’s encased. The mind can settle into the oneness of the space by relying on the sense of predictability that causes us to feel as if all things important have been considered.

 For it to be executed expertly, however, pattern must be proportionate to everything else. One way to accomplish this is to use it periodically, for example, featuring a pattern on just three walls. Then, perpetuate the effect by incorporating additional patterns that coordinate. To do so you can use similar colors and/or smaller or larger versions related to the main pattern. This way they won’t compete with each other. Notice in the example photo that the three patterns are all a different scale. The floor is a large scale checker pattern, the wallpaper is a medium scale stripe pattern, and the pillows are a small scale geometrical patter. The harmony is completed by a consistent shade of green throughout!

Next read Part 8 – Time

Don’t forget to go back and start reading with Part 1

How To Use the Elements and Principals Of Design To Decorate Like An Interior Designer, Part 6

Part 6 — Texture

Once you’ve determined concepts such as form and shape, as mentioned in Parts 4 & 5, it’s time to add elements that appeal to our tactile senses. Texture in design is defined as the characteristic physical structure given to a material or object, also known as the visual quality of a surface.

In simpler terms, it’s the way we imagine something feels just by looking at it; as well as the experience of actually feeling it, such a fuzzy rug under your feet. Furthermore, it helps draw the room out of 2D into 3D because the human eye equates texture with depth. Texture is possibly the most sensory experience in a well decorated room, yet it is also one of the most overlooked elements of decor.

The room in this photo is a superb example of texture. Let’s explore all that’s going on here. It could be argued that the metal surfaces are the first to demand your attention. Yet, there is something also very appealing about the plush blanket. This is one of the most enjoyable aspects of textures. They play very well off of each other.

In this case the bronze gleams, conveying elegance and a resistance to touch because one doesn’t dare smudge it with finger prints. Conversely, the fleece blanket is inviting and provides the much needed element of comfort that is so important in a place of rest. The headboard appears to be vinyl, a unique material not often found in most homes. In this room it works well because it actually increases the formality of the room.

You might be curious about how it feels, but not quick to test it out if it’s not your room. Whereas, the pillows encourage one to lie down and stay awhile. Last, consider the effect of the flooring. Notice that the designer chose carpet which maintains an air of cozy comfort in the room, and again gives balance to the harder surfaces.

Isn’t amazing how much can be accomplished with texture? Don’t make the mistake of a lot of homeowners by overlooking it. It’s not only incredibly effective, it’s an element that truly transforms a room from “furnished” to “fabulous!”

Next read Part 7 – Pattern

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How To Use the Elements and Principles Of Design To Decorate Like An Interior Designer, Part 5

Part 5 — Shape

Now is a good time to move on to the concept of shape. While it is certainly a part of form, the topic of Part 3, it is still a specific and separate consideration. Shape, formally defined for design purposes, involves contour or outlines. It’s two dimensional. There five basic shapes: circle, cross, spiral, square, and triangle. These can be used in a literal two dimensional sense, wherein they are represented as outlines. Or, they are conveyed in combination with form.

More often than not, the shapes in a room will vary, but if you opt to use only one or two repeatedly they offer the opportunity to set the tone of a room. The example above highlights this effect. There are only two basic shapes – square and rectangle. (Setting aside for a moment the outline of the lamp.) Using just two basic shapes, especially angular ones, gives the room a feel of simplicity.

Due to the fact that squares and rectangles could be considered sensible and predictable, they convey the same idea. The result is a space that appears no-nonsense. This would work perfectly in a room that you inhabit when you need to decompress. This is why some people opt for minimalist bedrooms! 


Now let’s take a look at a room with multiple shapes, such as in the photo above. Included are rectangles (table, couch,) circles (lamps,) squares (window panes, pillows,) zig-zags (wallpaper,) and a hint at a cylinder (plate.) Two excellent effects are accomplished.

First, the room is very interesting visually, without being busy; a true feat in decorating because it’s rare that décor appears complex without the liberal use of detail. Second, the shapes play quite well to the features of the irregular forms in the room.

The contours of the chair, vases, and bottles are highlighted when juxtaposed with the simple shapes. There are myriad translations for using shape to enhance a room, but we recommend that it be strongly considered in spaces where the desired effect is whimsy, cute, or quirky!

How To Use the Elements and Principals Of Design To Decorate Like An Interior Designer, Part 4

Part 4 — Form

In parts 1-3 of this series we covered the idea of space, as well as how to use line to guide guest’s eyes and/or set the tone of a room. Moving along, let’s now discuss the idea of form.

Form transform space into a back drop and it gives line a purpose. With regard to decorating your home, form is anything that has solid mass and can theoretically be viewed from any angle. If the form is especially impressive or remarkable, it is also defined as having a sculptural quality. 

This baroque inspired table is a fantastic representation of form. From every angle it draws your attention, and if you like it, your admiration. As you can see, a design element with a sculptural quality is ideal for making a statement. It’s the sort of thing that makes you say “Wow, look at THAT!”

You can use this to your advantage in two different ways. If you want the room to feel well designed yet refined, opt to use only a few objects with exceptional form. If you want the room to feel decadent throughout, go wild with form and fill the room with it! A point of reference might be the home of a historically royal family. In that case, don’t forget to serve cake!  

Another way to employ form to influence the design of your room is to utilize it as means of controlling visual weight. We’ll cover the concept of balance in a later post in this series, but let’s also consider it here. As mentioned, form has mass, and the brain recognizes mass by automatically assigning it a visual weight.

Imagine instead ornate yet light chairs. They have a beautiful sculptural form that encourages the viewer to linger awhile and take in all of the nuances. But, they register in the mind as still light and airy. As opposed to the table example – it reads very heavy. Thus, form also influences the feel of a room and whether or not it’s formal or cozy.

Next time you’re shopping for furnishings, keep form in mind and choose those that meet your decorating goals. Delicate forms are typically for admiring, whereas solid forms convey stability and comfort.

Next read Part 5 – Shape

Don’t forget to go back and read Parts 1 – 4 

How To Use the Elements and Principals Of Design To Decorate Like An Interior Designer, Part 3

Part 3 – LINE

Now that you have a fresh perspective on space, let’s discuss line. In home design the concept of line is very important because it accomplishes a great deal. For instance, it can provide a sense of order if it’s linear and consistent. It can also create an enormous sense of activity if it zigs and zags without rhyme or reason. Basically, line always denotes movement. So it’s a really helpful idea to understand when you want to guide guest’s eyes around the room. Conversely, it also serves well when you want to create separation or a boundary. 

So what does all of that really mean? Imagine an image of four frames hanging in a row. They are an example of what is called an implied line. There isn’t actually a visible line, but the human eye naturally reads from one end of something the other. If you were looking at these pictures, you’d look first at the image on left , and then your eye would travel to the right and stop to look at each image before moving on to the next. In effect, you just visually followed a line.

Another instance in which line is very effective is with the use of primarily horizontal lines. These simple, straight lines are easy for the mind to absorb. They are often calm and relaxing as well. They are very appealing to the left side of the brain and encourage linear thinking. The result can be a room that feels organized and practical, making it a great place to clear your mind.

For example, it would serve well in a meditation room.  But, it’s also a perfect place to encourage your mind to focus and work. What better place for that than a home office? In the example above, even the light fixtures include a horizontal line – an implied one as previously mentioned. Straight simple lines are most popular in what is considered modern décor. If you’re a minimalist, these are your kind of lines.

Now that you have an idea of how line works in a room, explore the options. Vertical lines, curvilinear lines, and so forth!

Next read Part 4 – Form

Don’t forget go back and read Parts 1 & 2 as well!