10 Rules Interior Designers Follow
Are you Redecorating your home? Follow these 10 rules that guide interior designers to create a functional, attractive and stylish space you’ll love (without needing to hire an interior designer)
Just like an outfit, the correct accessories tie everything together when you have started decorating spaces in your home. And you are unable to just pull things out of cupboards, trash them together haphazardly and then hope for the best. There are Ten important rules and design principles that most interior designers, decorators and stylists follow or live by, and we’re happy to share them with you (for free).
For example, on sideboards and dressers small vignettes of vases, antiques or objects can add height, colour and texture; art and photographs can fill large expanses of white space. Cushions and throws introduce comfort, texture or pattern, while smaller pieces of furniture (such a pouffes) can float from room to room when needed – provide extra seating and filling strange spaces.
Commit these 10 interior designer-approved rules to memory and combine ’em with your own decorating style to create a functional and stylish space you’ll love.
1. CHOOSE YOUR COLOUR PALETTE
“It’s no secret that I love colour; my go-to place to start is to introduce a colour scheme that you can build on,” says Lucy Fenton, Founder and Director of Fenton&Fenton. “I generally lead with a hero colour and add up to three accent colours to complement that hero hue. For example, if green dominates your living room, you could add touches of tan, navy and pink via decorative objects, soft furnishings, and artwork to create impact.”
For those not as brave with colour, you can still follow this rule but work with a more ‘tonal’ palette, advises Lucy, mixing different shades and hues of green. Think sage, khaki, emerald and a touch of chartreuse.
2. AIM FOR BALANCE
Work with the style of the room. If it has high ceilings, ensure you use some taller pieces so it doesn’t look off-balance. If you have low-lying furniture, bring some height to the space with artwork on the wall, an arched reading lamp or floating wall shelves.
In the living room, choose your sofa for your space; go for low-backed in an open-plan room; large and plush for big spaces; and tailored for small. Ensure your coffee table relates to the sofa: opt for a higher table with a high couch.
And the larger your statement pattern (if you have one), the more everything else should be kept quite simple. In the bedroom, for example, you could choose a patterned headboard but simple linens and accessories. If you have geometric-patterned wallpaper in the dining room, don’t choose an ornate table and brightly coloured chairs. Let the statement be the statement – everything else should complement rather than compete with it.
Start big. To make the space look cohesive, get the biggest, most expansive (and usually most expensive!) pieces right first. Think the floors (flooring or rugs), your couch or bed style, wallpaper or wall-to-wall curtains to cover your huge bifold doors. Think about what is going to make the greatest impact to a space, then work outwards from that.
3. CONTRAST YOUR MATERIALS, FINISHES OR COLOURS
Even all-white spaces need a hit of darkness to create impact. “Contrast helps you achieve a certain ambience,” says Vanessa Colyer Tay, Head of Styling at Temple & Webster. “Pairing colours of low and high intensities, like black and white, is an example of high contrast, which creates a visual energy that’s ideal in rooms of activity or social interaction.”
“Low contrast” is when your colour mix falls within the same light intensity, explains Vanessa. “So you could combine white with beige, or similar hues of pastel blues, for a more serene look.”
Contrasting finishes and materials will help create a sense of balance, as well. “To avoid an all-white room from appearing too cold or sterile, choose a furnishing with a bronze finish to add warmth, plus a mix of materials like linen, timber and wool to keep things cosy.”
4. REPEAT PATTERNS OR MATERIALS
“My rule is to always repeat materials throughout a design,” says Amanda Garcia-Panetta, Interior Designer and Director at Studio Panetta. “It may be touches of black steel or a certain type of natural stone. Whatever the material, repeating it creates a scheme that feels unified and creates visual continuity as you travel through the various spaces of the home.”
Similarly, the repetition of patterns or shapes creates harmony. Combining a curved sofa, round ottoman and round wall mirror just ‘feels right’ because the circular forms are echoing each other.
5. INCLUDE A FOCAL POINT, OR ‘HERO PIECE’
Each room should have something great to draw the eye to. “Establishing a focal point can create a huge different in tying together all the elements of a room to create an inviting and unique interior,” says Lucy Sutherland, Head of Trade and Commercial at Temple & Webster.
“While existing architectural features like expansive windows or built-in fireplaces are dramatic centrepieces to build the rest of a room around, you can easily create a star attraction in your space through the introduction of a single furnishing or textile. Try placing a bold contemporary rug below neutral furnishings in the living room to draw the eye, or emphasise a piece of artwork by styling a wall sconce above it or on either side.”
Use an armchair both as a focal point and to add contrasting colour, fabric or pattern to the space. Choose a different style to your sofa to avoid your living area looking like a furniture catalogue.
6. MIX UP THE SCALE AND SIZES OF OBJECTS IN A ROOM
“A combination of scale and height, and unpredictable shapes or objects, is generally where the magic happens,” says Lucy Fenton. “The eye needs to be drawn around a room, and up and down for things to feel balanced and harmonious. If everything is the same shape, height, or scale, it just doesn’t work.”
For example, a large statement artwork or piece of furniture can make a room sing, as can a small and interesting piece, positioned in just the right spot (with space left for it to breathe). “It’s all in the way the pieces connect and move the eye around a space that keeps things interesting,” explains Lucy.
Ensure there is a good mix of styles for your furniture and accessories, as well. Mix up boxy, square shapes with softer, rounder elements.
“Main furniture pieces like sofas and beds can often have hard edges and straight lines, so mixing it up with softer, organic shapes like a round coffee table or bedside table, an arched mirror or even a sideboard with some curved detailing on the doors, can really help bring a room together,” suggest Cathy Leighton, Enhanced Content Manager at Temple & Webster..
Hang curtains no less than 10cm to 15cm above the top of a window frame and let them fall to the floor. The rods and curtains should not go further than 20cm on either side of the window.
7. LAYER YOUR TEXTURES
“Texture is the key to making a space not only look beautiful, but feel beautiful,” says Laura Pittaway, Interior Designer for The Build. “Materiality creates warmth and adds interest to an otherwise flat finish. Start by selecting a textural element like stone, tiles or timber, then build the rest of the scheme from there.
“To find balance that’s right for your space, create a flat lay or mood board, and play around with samples until the collection feels harmonious. Textures don’t have to consistently match, but similar tones within the material or a balance of finishes really helps the textures to not only shine individually as a feature, but work together to create a cohesive space.”
If you’re doing a little redecorating rather than redesigning, don’t think ‘texture’ is limited to fabric, carpet or bedlinen. For example, a timber dining table with metal chairs looks great, but adding billowly curtains, a marble vase as a centrepiece and a large fabric pendant will create those extra textural layers that will bring the space to life.
8. INSTALL MORE THAN ONE SOURCE OF LIGHTING
Don’t just whack up a new pendant light, or worse, cover your ceiling with down lights. A well-resolved room needs different types of light to enhance the vibe (or to bring it down when necessary).
“My rule for lighting a living space, for example, it to provide multiple levels of lighting,” says Amanda Garcia-Panetta. “It’s all about having options for task, general and mood lighting. I like to ensure that at the end of the day when the task lighting is no longer required, there are soft lighting options to create a warm, calming mood.”
9. DON’T FORGET THE LITTLE DETAILS
Items such as hardware and architraves might seem small but they can be mighty. Ensure they match your style and the house’s style or heritage. If they are the wrong colour or finish, they will make the room appear incomplete.
In a vignette, such as on a buffet or coffee table, an odd number of items always looks better than an even number. Vary the heights, widths, materials and colours.
10. BREAK THE RULES
Finally, the last rule interior designers live by is to, well, break some rules! If a space doesn’t feel right to you, or function as it should, trust your gut and move things around. Interior design is more of an art than a science, after all.