How to Think Like an Interior Designer Part 11: Balance

In interior design, balance is crucial for making a space look comfortable.  This principle uses the visual weight of a room’s objects to provide it with stability.  Visual weight does not always represent the actual weight of an item, but how it is perceived in a design.  Items that are larger in size, darker in color, higher in contrast and more complex in pattern and shape appear to be “heavier” than items that are lighter, less dense in design, lower in contrast and lighter in color.  The art of balancing these items is making sure that the heavier objects and lighter pieces work well in the same space.  One heavier item may be balanced out with three lighter objects.  Or two equally heavy objects can balance one another out. Understanding the different types of balance will help you choose which arrangement will work best in your home. 


There are three types of balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical and radial.  Symmetrical balance is achieved through the placement of the same objects on either side of a room using a central line as a guide.  An example of this is a bed with matching side tables.  On those tables are matching lamps.  The bed acts as the center “line” while the matching table and lamps are symmetrical on each side.  While these arrangements can be pleasing to the eye, the similarities can sometimes do the space a disservice by making it look too predictable.  Be sure to sprinkle in different items to prevent the room from looking too plain.  Asymmetrical balance uses a variety of objects with similar or different visual weights and places them opposite one another to provide equilibrium through interesting combinations. This arrangement can be a little more difficult to achieve if you are unsure of an item’s visual weight, so be careful with your choices.  An example of asymmetrical balance is placing a large sofa with side table and lamp across from two single chairs with a floor lamp in between them.  Finally, there is radial symmetry, which is an arrangement of pieces around a central point in an almost circular way.  Focus can be pulled inward or pushed outward, but the center remains the anchor of the design.  An example of this would be an upholstered chairs arranged in a circle around a coffee table or a half-circle sofa facing a chaise lounge and accompanying area rug.


Now that you know all about balance, choose the type of symmetry that will bring the most visual interest to your space.

How to Think Like an Interior Designer Part 10: Light

Proper use of light is essential to accentuating all the other aspects of interior design.  It influences how colors are seen, sets the mood in a room and brings attention to a focal point.  Natural and artificial light both have their parts to play in making a space look its best.  Making sure that natural light can come through while assuring that artificial sources can make up for any gaps in coverage is important when it comes to making a home as inviting as possible. 


While natural light obviously comes from the sun, there are three types of artificial light that can assist with enhancing any room: ambient, task and accent.  Ambient light is considered your general lighting.  These are the main light sources you use when you enter a room and need basic overall coverage to see.  Examples of ambient lighting are chandeliers, recessed can lights and wall-mount fixtures.  They are usually the first types of light you think of when furnishing your home.  Task lighting is next.  This lighting is used to assist you in performing daily functions in your home.  Good examples of task lighting are desk lamps for getting paperwork done, track lights for under the kitchen cabinet to illuminate your meal prepping and vanity lighting for the bathroom mirror to perform your morning and evening cleansing routine.  Finally, there is accent lighting.  This type of lighting is used to bring attention to the focal point in a room.  The bulbs used tend to be brighter to accomplish this goal.  Accent lighting can be used to showcase a large painting over the fireplace, bring focus to items displayed on open shelving and even bring light to shadowy recessed sections of a wall.  


One of the best things you can do for your living space is invest in dimmer lights.  Having control over how light or dark a room is coming in handy when you are having a dinner party and want to create a more relaxed mood.  It’s also perfect for bedrooms, since bright lights aren’t conducive to good sleep.  Even the bathroom can benefit from a dimmer as well.  You don’t want to be greeted each morning with an overwhelmingly bright light when you’ve just woken up. 


Now that you know the functions of each type of lighting, you are ready to choose the right combinations for your home.  Remember that while you may have enough natural light in some rooms during the day, you will still need to have enough artificial light sources for the evenings.

How to Think Like an Interior Designer Part 8: Time


While time is not an official element or principle of design, it is still an important factor to consider when deciding how to decorate a space. The time of day and the time of year can determine how certain areas of your home are utilized and what level of attention they need to be showcased at their best.


The time of day that you spend in each room helps to determine its look.  Bedrooms will have a more relaxing color scheme and softer lighting, while your kitchen and living room will have livelier elements since that is where more of your waking hours are spent.  This concept can also be thought of in terms of how much natural light certain rooms are exposed to throughout each day.  A room that faces the day’s first light may need a different window treatment than the one that catches the sunset.  For example, a bedroom that receives a lot of sunlight in the morning would benefit from light-blocking curtains to promote better sleep patterns and lighter furniture to keep it cool temperature-wise so your energy bill does not go up during warmer months.  In contrast, rooms that tend to run on the cooler side can benefit from thicker, more lush fabrics with vivid colors to warm it up. 


Another way to think of time is how it plays a role in seasonal decorating.  No matter what climate you live in, there are going to be times of the year where you want your interior and exterior decor to reflect the cultural celebrations you observe.  These can be events that occur in the immediate neighborhood around you, an event that you are hosting, or a special holiday observance.  No matter what the occasion is, any one of these festivities can bring about the addition, removal or replacement of certain items in your home, even if it is only temporary.  The adjustments can be as simple as changing your tablecloths, displaying figurines or even incorporating party supplies into a space.  Special holidays may call for a change in kitchen accessories or more luxurious blankets to hang over the couch.  Lighting may be adjusted and candles can be brought out and prominently displayed. 


So, when it’s time to make decisions about your decor, think about the idea of time and how it will influence your process overall. 

How to Think Like an Interior Designer Part 7: Pattern

Pattern is one of the more difficult elements of interior design to master.  Choosing incorrectly can easily overwhelm a space and become a design disaster.  It is important to understand this element and how to best utilize it to enhance your living space.  Pattern is best described as a repetitive graphic depiction on any material.  Patterns carry with them a sense of predictability which in turn provides unity to a room’s design. 


Some commonly used patterns in interior design are: stripes, geometric, floral/organic and motif. Vertical stripes add height while horizontal ones add width.  Geometric patterns provide different impressions depending on the shapes being used; circles provide movement while rectangles convey stability.  Floral/Organic designs are inspired by nature through plant and animal life.  Florals are classic while animal prints tend to go in and out of popularity.  Motif patterns are random repetitive designs that are good at creating a sense of continuity. 


The best thing to do before you get started is to consider the size of the room you are working with.  The larger the room, the larger the pattern you can safely use without overpowering it.  If there is a bolder pattern you are interested in, then a large room may be your best bet for incorporating it into your design.  In contrast, smaller prints work better with smaller spaces.  Use lighter patterns in these smaller areas to keep the eye engaged and the room looking fresh. 


Next, think about the function of the room.  If you are decorating a space that you enjoy entertaining guests in, then choosing a pattern with highly contrasting colors will inject energy into the room.  Patterns containing more complementary colors tend to feel calmer and are better suited to bedrooms and other quiet spaces. 


Finally, think about the style of your home and what patterns will suit it best.  Whether you have a modern, contemporary, or traditional style home, there are going to be patterns that are better suited to your current furnishings.  Choosing a mismatched look for one part of your home will ruin its overall natural flow, so make wise choices.  You may have to adjust your expectations to best serve your decoration project.

How to Think Like an Interior Designer Part 6: Texture

The next element we will be discussing in interior design is texture.  This element is unique because it is equally important to feel the surface of the objects being used as it is for them to be visually interesting.  Striking the right balance in textures will give the space you are working with a more complete feeling.  This element tends to be overlooked since there are so many other things to take into consideration when starting a design project but skipping this step would do a disservice to your decoration plans.


Choosing the proper textures to contrast with a room’s furnishings will add dimension to the space.  Not only is it important to be able to feel the materials you are using, but you also must consider how they appear when you aren’t touching them.  Depending on how you choose to decorate your space, you can make the room feel formal or cozy, warm or cool. 


For example, smooth surfaces can make a room feel light and sleek, but this also causes it to lack warmth.  Adding a rougher texture helps provide visual contrast while simultaneously incorporating the cozy feeling that’s missing. Be sure not to overdo it with different textures.  No more than 3 should be placed in the same area.  You want to display intention with your design and too many textures will confuse that intention. 


Texture is especially useful when dealing with a color palette that doesn’t contain much variety in the tints and shades being used.  Choosing contrastingly colored textures will not only add a pop of color but it will help provide a focal point to the room. 


Texture can be seen in every aspect of a space so don’t limit yourself to believing that this element is only obvious using accessories.  Think exposed wooden beams, tufted arm chairs, raised patterned wallpaper, marble fireplaces, tile flooring, wall tapestries, intricate chandeliers.  The possibilities are endless. 


No matter which items you choose to accomplish your goal, keep in mind that your choices should remain practical.  Some objects may be considered good talking pieces for when guests encounter them, but if they do not add to the overall function of the room, then consider incorporating a different texture.  Making the right choices for the space will give it a polished and welcoming look.

How to Think Like an Interior Designer: Shape

In previous posts, the idea of shape was mentioned.  Form is derived from shapes and should be expanded on to deepen your knowledge of the important part they play in interior design.  While form is three-dimensional, the shapes that create it are two-dimensional, simply lacking depth.


The post on form discussed how shapes are separated into geometric and organic; the former being man-made with distinct outlines such as a rectangle or triangle and the latter inspired by nature with less distinct borders such as the shape of a fruit or a plant.  A third type of shape used in design, which can be considered an offshoot of organic shapes, is known as abstract.  This is a simplified version of organic shapes that are easily recognized by the viewer.  For example, a stick figure is an abstract version of a person, but we can recognize what the design is meant to represent.


Shapes can further be described as positive and negative and well as static and dynamic.  A positive shape is solid while a negative shape has open space inside or around it.  Positive shapes appear more stable and carry more visual weight while negative shapes appear to be lighter and more fragile.  Describing a shape as static also conveys a sense of stability and repose while dynamic shapes convey movement.


The six basic shapes at the center of interior design are Circle, Square/Rectangle, Triangle, Cross, Spiral and Curve.  Circles, with their lack of beginning and end give the viewer a sense of infinite movement and possibility.  Squares and rectangles, with the latter being the most popularly used, represent stability and conventionality.  Their horizontal lines are parallel with the Earth, giving a sense of being grounded.  Triangles are a symbol of power when incorporated into a design right-side up with a strong base to support it, but if this shape is turned upside-down it can give the opposite effect of instability to the space.  Crosses, which can be used in a “t” or “x” pattern, provide balance and are not automatically seen as a religious symbol when it comes to interior design.  Vertical crosses convey strength while horizontal ones provide a sense of calm.  Spiral shapes provide natural movement and signify growth, change and creativity.  Finally, curved lines bring softness to harder, more distinct lines.  They have more movement than circle or spiral designs since their borders are more free-flowing and unexpected automatically drawing the viewer’s eye to a new region.

How to Think Like an Interior Designer: Form

The room above contains both open forms (recessed lights, chandelier, greenery) and closed forms (curtains, headboard, crown molding).

Throughout this series we’ve discussed the concept of space and line. These two principles are responsible for adding tone and character to a room’s interior. However, both elements lend to the concept of form. Line determines the space and form of an object.


Shapes Vs. Form

The concepts of shape and form are very similar. In fact, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. How are these concepts different from each other? In interior design, shapes are often two dimensional. They have both width and height. On the other hand, forms are three dimensional objects that take up space. For instance, a speaker box is an example of form. The speaker consists of several shapes specifically squares that are put together to create form. Yes, form is solid mass that can be viewed from various angles.


Form can be created by combining at least two shapes. This element can be heightened using texture, color and pattern.


Types of Form

There are two types of form: geometric and natural. Geometric form is typically manmade while natural form is organic. Form can also be categorized as either open or closed. Open forms are objects that have a light and airy form, leading the eye away from the center and into the room.  Closed forms are heavier and dense, leading the eye into the object, creating a feeling of permanence and stability.


Importance of Form in Design

The use of form is essential for creating a well-decorated space. When form is used correctly it can create a sense of balance and great visual interest.  What are some ways you can implement form into your home’s decor? Form can be seen in your furnishing choices, decorative accessories and other objects that can provide functionality. Try to classify your furnishings and décor into open and closed forms! 


Without form a room would be flat. Sculptural type form is a great way to add drama to a space. Good form can be successfully achieved by taking into consideration both scale and proportion, which will be touched upon in future posts.  Form should be evenly distributed throughout a room. However, using too many unrelated types of forms in a space can be overwhelming and cause confusion in the design.


When selecting furnishings and decorative elements keep in mind that form has the power to transform a space!

How to Think Like an Interior Designer: Lines

In interior design, lines are separated into four categories: vertical, horizontal, angular and curved.  Each type of line can give a room its ambience by simple placement alone.  Therefore, it is a critical element when deciding how to move forward with your decoration plans.  Too much or too little of a single type of line can steer you in the wrong direction, so let’s get to know what feelings each one evokes when expressed through design.


Vertical lines help bring height to a room and give it a more formal look.  Floor to ceiling drapery is a perfect example of using vertical lines to enhance a space by making the ceiling appear taller.  Wallpaper with a vertical stripe design is another method used as well.  Vertical lines can give an imposing look to a design through architecture such as columns outside or inside of a home.  These lines draw the eye upward and add elegance to the space, but too many vertical decor choices can make it appear aggressive. Mixing in other types of lines will help mute a look that can become oppressive if not reined in.


Horizontal lines help soften the vertical elements in the room.  This can be done through the horizontal shape of a coffee table, couch, or countertop.  Since they are parallel to the ground, horizontal lines evoke more of an informal, calm feeling.  Incorporating these lines in a room will bring down the intensity of your vertical choices.  They draw the eye all the way around the room, providing flow not just in that space, but throughout the home. 


Angular lines can be broken down into two categories: diagonal and zigzag.  These lines are great for adding visual interest to a room and give the space some movement.  Chevron and herringbone designs are a good example of regular angular lines and zigzag designs with less obvious symmetry are considered irregular angular lines.  Choosing an irregular design will lend an unexpected look to the room simply through its lack of obvious symmetry.


Curved lines soften the appearance of other lines and provide an aesthetically pleasing look to any room.  Studies have found that curvilinear decor enhances the viewer’s mood and give them a sense of safety and comfort.  Good examples of curvilinear design are a half-moon table placed in an entryway or a spiral staircase.  Circular accent rugs or light fixtures are also easy ways to add curves to your living space.  Overly curvy interior choices can give the impression of being too ornamental, so striking a good balance between straight and curvy lines is key.

How to Think Like an Interior Designer: Space

Space is extremely important when it comes to interior design.  Planning ahead is essential.  The first step in planning should be to familiarize yourself with the space.  From the floors to the windows to the ceilings, anything that can be enhanced stylistically and utilized in the most functional way to benefit the room is all considered to be under the umbrella of “space”. 


Mapping out your design ensures that everything in the room fits together properly and that any problem areas can be addressed and worked to their best advantage.  Even the space that is left open needs to be considered.  Walkways between pieces of furniture need to be properly spaced as well as dining chairs or reclining sofa seats to provide for range of movement.


This may all seem overwhelming at first, but remember to take it one step at a time.  First, think about the function of the space. While style is important, if the room cannot function the way you want it to then being stylish won’t matter.  If the room is a high traffic area, think about what you can do to make sure it does not become too cluttered.  Make a list of all the items currently taking up space and decide if any of them can be relocated. 


Assess the room’s lighting next.  If it’s satisfactory then you can play around with the idea of updating the fixtures and bulbs for your artificial light sources.  If you have proper natural light as well, consider what window treatment will flatter the space best.  If either one of these light sources is not to your liking, then play around with different methods that can help brighten up the room.  You want the design you are planning so meticulously to be showcased in the best way possible.


Lastly, we come to style.  Now that you know the feel of the room and have a running inventory of the items that will be taking up residence in it, you can decide the best presentation for them.  This is where you play around with your plan and move items back and forth to see which configurations works best for you.  It is also a good time to decide whether you want to create a focal point in the room.  It’s always a good idea to add a feature that draws the viewer’s eye upon entry.

How to Think Like an Interior Designer

There are certain to be times in your life when you visit a new place and find yourself admiring its design elements.  You may not be an interior designer, but you can still feel how much work and intention have gone into setting the scene for the spot you are standing in.  You catch yourself trying to discover every little detail and seek out every nook and cranny until you’ve uncovered its secrets. 

Sometimes you may wish you could take some of that appreciation home with you and implement even a little bit of the looks you admire right into your own living space.  For the average person without a degree in interior design it can all seem a bit overwhelming to understand.  Your mind is not yet trained to go to the same places as someone who makes their living from beautifying different types of rooms and buildings—but it can be! 

Through our in-depth series, we hope to enlighten you on the elements and principles of design so you can recognize what attracts you to arrangements and how they each play their part in making a space functional and beautiful.  You won’t be earning a degree by the end of it, but don’t let that stop you from putting all your new knowledge to good use!


With each installment, we will try to give you as much information as you need to understand why every element and principle is so important when you are making design decisions.     Understanding how these concepts work together is the first step to thinking like an interior designer and successfully implementing what you have learned into your home.  Through easy to understand descriptions and use of recognizable examples, we hope to better equip you on your journey to bringing your design dreams to life. 


If you want to immerse yourself in the world of interior design, then grab your pen and paper and get ready to learn! When you’re done, you will be the one your friends turn to for decorating tips. Don’t worry, we won’t tell them how you became such an expert! Ready? Let’s go!