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Principles of Design

DEFINITION: abstract concepts; bylaws that are the rules that should govern the uses of the Elements of Design

Scale, Proportion, Balance, Emphasis, Rhythm, and Harmony

1. Scale refers to the largeness or the smallness of a room, object, or pattern. Typically, in reference to scale; we categorized items as small, light, medium, large, heavy, or grand. It is important to choose furniture that is in scale with one another. This includes the mass or dimensions of an object, the patterns in a room, and the weight of items, whether actual or visual. One of the most important considerations in choosing appropriate scale is the consideration of humans.


2. The size relationship or ratio of parts to the whole is called Proportion. Pleasing proportions were stated by the ancient Egyptians and later the classical Greeks are “golden”. The Golden Mean is a line that visually divides an object, a wall, a tieback, or other furnishings into two unequal parts; it falls in between one-half and one-third. Therefore, in an 8-foot room, it is the eye level of a 5’6” person.


3. Balance has to do with the arrangement of objects physically or visually to reach a state of stability, poise, or equilibrium. Balance is needed in furniture arrangement, accessory arrangement, floral arrangement, color and pattern. Your goal in all these things is to distribute the “weight” throughout the room. Texture, color, size, decorative pattern, and placement of pieces all affect the weight of an item. There are three types of balance that we’ll talk about today:


Symmetrical Balance, which is typically more formal, can be either an exact mirror image (where the placement of items are exactly the same on both sides of a central point) or where the items don’t have to be the exact same, but they need to be of the same weight, height and importance. Symmetrical balance suggests restraint, refinement, orderliness, formality, and predictability.


Asymmetrical Balance, which is more formal, is where dissimilar objects are placed at varying distances from the center point. This can be very difficult to accomplish well.


Radial Balance is quite different than the previous two and is based on circular concept and requires a lot of space to incorporate

4. Emphasis is the creation of a focal point or center of interest; it is an area in the room that is visually important enough to draw and hold ones attention: a fireplace, a picture window, an entertainment center, etc. There can be more than one focal point in a room, but too many are distracting and confusing. The emphasis of the room should be based on the purpose or function of the room: an entertainment room in a family den, a buffet in a dining room. The following are things that can easily create a focal point in a room: an architectural feature, such as a fireplace; a furniture arrangement, a color or pattern, some sort of contrast, repetition in a room, size, or anything unusual.


5. Rhythm is the flow of elements and the ease with which the eye travels from one part of the design to the next. The eye should stop at the focal point or be connected to the focal points. There are a few methods of producing rhythm in a design: Put in continuous lines (baseboards, chair rails, moldings, cornices, borders, windows, furniture tops), repetition of lines, textures, colors, patterns, or shapes, progression/gradation (going from large to small, small to large), radiation (radiates out from central point), alternation (sequencing of two or more components that the eye can follow), or opposition or contrast (abrupt change that forms interesting repetition)



Egg and Dart Molding is an excellent example of rhythm- it makes the eye flow from one thing to the next.

6. Harmony is the compatibility of elements that create a pleasing whole. It can be created by unity or variety. Unity is the oneness and uniformity of a room that helps establish the master plan; it is achieved by using coordinating colors, consistent style, materials, fabrics, and accessories. Variety is the absence of monotony or sameness; it keeps things interesting, but if not kept under control (master plan) is can become chaotic.



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