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.



General Styles for Decorating


I. Tips
-Consider the general style and feel you want to create for the room, space, or home
-Consider the formality of the room—texture, line, balance, fabric, design all lend varying formalities
-Consider the shapes of the room and the furniture you have—straight lines, curves
-Consider the accessories you are attracted to or plan to use in the room

II. The Traditional Style uses time-honored furnishings and traditional furniture styles and lines.


Decorating Tools:
-Antique rugs
-Collectibles and accessories
-Crown molding
-Non-painted wood
-Draperies, swags, cornices
-Tassels, Cording, Fringe

III. The Casual Style is comfortable, both physical and psychologically. It uses simple, functional, un-demanding furniture.


Decorating Tools:
-Natural colors
-Natural materials
-Exposed beams
-Natural light

IV. The Contemporary Style follows the rule, “form follows function.” Born with the Bauhaus Movement, the goal of this style was to unify art and technology.


Decorating Tools:
-Tubular, metal furniture
-Color palette of black, white, neutrals, and primary colors
-“Hard” textures: marble, glass, lacquer, metal, acrylics
-Simple, artistic lines
-No clutter

V. The Romantic Style is feminine, light, and curvy. The furniture avoids dark furniture and fabrics and instead uses pale woods, wicker, and curvy carved chairs.


Decorating Tools:
-Colors: pastels and crisp white
-Fabrics: chintz, moiré, linen
-Walls: glazed, sponged
-Mixed patterns common, though all in same color
-Windows: Priscilla, Austrian shade, balloon curtains
-Soft lighting
-Pictures: reminiscent pictures

VI. The International Style celebrates exquisite design, regardless of period or national origin. If using an international bent, stick with a singular look and keep to one international style.


Decorating Tools:
-Simple design with bold pattern or focal point
-Simple yet beautiful furniture representing nationality
-Focus on form and style

VII. The Country Style is both casual and rustic.


Decorating Tools:
-Fabric displays (quilts, rugs, needlepoint, artwork)
-Natural or painted woods and wicker
-Motifs (animals, geometric, shapes, flowers)
-Linen, Cotton, Calico, chintz, ticking, plaids, geometric (not modern)
-Antiques and collectibles
-Handmade items

VIII. The Eclectic Style blends different furniture styles regardless of period or style. If using this style, be sure to have something that pull the room together (color, pattern, wood type, etc.).


Elements of Design

Elements of Design

DEFINITION:  concrete, quantifiable components of any design; they transform the abstract Principles of Design into reality

Space, Line, Shape, Form, Mass, Texture, Pattern, Light, Color

1. Space can be an open or closed area that can be positive (filled) of negative (open). There are a few ways to keep in mind on how to manipulate the eye when it comes to space. Here are a couple tips on how to use space. Small spaces make the occupant feel protected, comforted, secure, and territorial. However, it can also make him or her feel restricted, confined, or restless. When decorating a small space, use neutral or light colors with a light ceiling and the same-colored trim. Also, using mirrors, small patterns, smooth textures, small-scale furniture, wall-to-wall flooring, and glass table tops can all help make a small room appear larger. On the other hand, large spaces feel free, open, and facilitate social aspect, but can also make the occupant feel insecure, unsafe, exposed and unable to escape people. When decorating a large space, decorate with dark or bright color and patterns. Also, using larger scale furniture, area rugs, and multiple furniture groupings can help make a large room appear smaller.


When decorating a small space, use neutral or light colors with a light ceiling and the same-colored trim. Also, using mirrors, small patterns, smooth textures, small-scale furniture, wall-to-wall flooring, and glass table tops can all help make a small room appear larger.


When decorating a large space, decorate with dark or bright color and patterns. Also, using larger scale furniture, area rugs, and multiple furniture groupings can help make a large room appear smaller.

2. There are many, many kinds of line, but for our purposes, we will look at two: curved lines and straight lines. Curved lines are very soft and graceful with a nod towards the dramatic side. Straight lines, which are generally more prevalent in interior design, can be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. Vertical lines are dignified and formal and signify life, growth, masculinity, and height. Horizontal lines create a feeling of informality, repose and relaxation while making a room appear more wide and spacious. Diagonal lines should be used sparingly because it does draw the most attention due to its feelings of action and motion.


Vertical lines are dignified and formal and signify life, growth, masculinity, and height.

picture2 (1)

Horizontal lines create a feeling of informality, repose and relaxation while making a room appear more wide and spacious.


Diagonal lines should be used sparingly because it does draw the most attention due to its feelings of action and motion.

3. Let me draw a distinction here between form and shape. Shape is a two-dimensional outline, such as a rectangle or a triangle. Form is a three-dimensional shape such as a cube, a cone, or a sphere. Most often, you’ll see curved forms and rectangular forms in residential homes. Just a tip, it is best to choose one style of form to dominate in a room and use the other style of form as the accent form.

4. Mass refers to the weight, density, or relative solidity of a form; this element can be tricky because mass can be actual or visual. Actual mass is a physical solid item that fills space. Now, visual mass refers to materials that are used to fill the space without there truly being any mass present. This might clear this definition up for you: think of a sofa. The sofa is actual mass. Now, think of the skirt that goes from the bottom of the sofa to the floor. There is no mass behind this, but the skirt creates the allusion that there is mass there. Make sense? Another way to add visual mass is with color or pattern.

5. I love texture. Texture refers to the smoothness or roughness of a surface. Think of your sense of touch and then consider texture. Texture correlates with how something feels. Rough and course textures have a rugged, sturdy quality. Smooth and fine textures are more likely to suggest formality and elegance. Keep in mind, the mind can trick you into thinking something will be rough, like a wood veneer, when it is actually smooth; this is referred to as a visual reading of texture. *Textures are a really great way to add variety to a monochromatic room.

121-grey picture3 (1)

Textures are a really great way to add variety to a monochromatic room.

6. Patterns are the arrangement of motifs in a repetitive or variegated order. You can indeed combine patterns, but you need to proceed judiciously and be sure to tie the patterns together with color. Also, keep in mind that if you’re designing a small space, too many patterns can be overwhelming to the eye. Okay, just because it’s coming back in we’re going to talk for just a second about wallpaper patterns. Let me explain to you the “Squint Test.” The “Squint Test” will help you determine appropriate wallpaper for the four walls in your room. By squinting your eyes so that all you can see are the contrasts of the wallpaper, “you will experience the effect of the pattern on the subconscious. A striped pattern may well vibrate, and a bold check may appear chaotic. A large print may appear overwhelming in scale. Make certain that the effects are consistent with the primary purpose of the space. If not, make another selection.” [This information was taken from “Feng Shi: A Practical Guide for Architects and Designers” by Vincent Smith and Barbara Lyons Stewart.] Generally, a light pattern or open space pattern is fine for all four walls and bold designs and colors may just be best for an accent wall.

7. The lighting in a room can actually affect the appearance of all the elements. We’re going to look at lighting in detail later, but for now, just know that there are two kinds of lighting; you can probably name them: natural light, open up those curtains, and artificial light, flip on that switch.

8. Last, but definitely not least, color. We looked at color in detail in a previous post, so head on back to “The Basics” and check out this last element of design!

…Continuing Color


VI. Color Psychology

Color can affect people’s moods in many ways. For example, lighter values and brighter colors tend to produce feelings of spontaneity and happiness, and lighter values and duller colors tend to produce feelings of calm and relaxation. On the other hand, darker and duller or neutralized colors are very serious and profound colors and darker and brighter colors tend to suggest richness and strength.

Do be careful about afterimages: intense values that are complimentary should not be placed juxtapositionally; the afterimage and eye vibrations can be disturbing. For an example of this, refer to this website on afterimages.

Okay, so color psychology may be one of my favorite topics. Yellow gives off a feeling of warmth, cheerfulness, and sunshine. Blue tends to be a very conservative, soothing, truthful color that represents honor, repose, coolness, peace; blue, in darker hues can be depressing. Ah, Red, the color of love. Red does arouses the senses, stimulate the appetite, attract attention, stimulates to action, and conveys emotion; it can represent danger, love, war, peace, passion and anger. Purple is a very royal color that is associated with drama, mystery, pride, wisdom, and in lighter tones with girlish childhood. Orange is related with the earth and with autumn; it is an organic, energetic color that is packed with personality. Green is a calm color that brings feelings of life, hope, rest and balance. Black’s strength is very sophisticated and linked with evil, age, silence, boldness, contrast and sometimes depression. Then lastly, we have white; white brings a sense of purity, innocence, faith, peace, surrender and starkness.

Introduction to Color

I. What is Color?

We see color only when there is light. Objects exhibit color because of the selective manner in which their surfaces reflect and absorb light. A surface absorbs all the light rays except one and that ray is reflected showing the color we see. White surfaces reflect all wave lengths equally; they absorb none. Black surfaces absorb all wave lengths equally; they reflect none. This is why black and white are referred to as neutrals. There must be both absorption and reflection to have color.

II. Terms Related to Color

Hue is the actual color while value refers to a color’s lightness or darkness. Tints are colors that have white added; this lightens the color. Shades are colors that have black added; this darkens the color. The lighter the color, the more the whole room recedes and the darker the color, the more a whole room advances.

A color’s intensity refers to its brightness or dullness. A color in its purest form has the greatest brilliance. To lessen a color’s intensity, add its complement. To intensify a color, place it beside its complement. A color with a very strong intensity is conspicuous. It is best to use this color judiciously and selectively.

The terms warmth and coolness refer to the color wheel. The warm colors, or advancing colors, are yellow, orange and red. These colors draw attention to themselves and make a room appear closer, thus perhaps smaller. The cool colors, or receding colors, are green, purple and blue. These colors can make a room appear more distant, thus perhaps larger. (The exception here would be that darker values of cool colors can make a room appear smaller.) Bright, warm and dark colors will make a large room feel more cozy and smaller, while dull, cool, light colors will make a room feel bigger and airier.

Neutrals are families of white, off white, gray, black and off black. White tends to give the appearance of space. It is also used to make surrounding things seem crisp and clean; think of a white trim against a navy blue wall. Off-white is produced by adding other neutrals (gray, black, or brown) to white. When using off-white, make sure that their undertones are from the same hue. (Undertones are created when a color is added to a base hue.) Gray is simply various amounts of black and white which make a true achromatic (“no color.”) Black really sets off neutrals and sharpens and adds richness to rooms. It can be very dramatic and theatrical; however, it can also be very depressing sometimes. Off-black is a term not often used, but it is simply dark grays or tinted black. Lastly, browns (and beiges) are made by mixing several colors on the color wheel or by neutralizing orange.

III. Influencing Factors on Color

Texture, materials and lighting can affect color because of the different ways differing textures absorb or reflect light. The time of day can change the look of a color because eastern light is clear and bright, northern light is clear and cool, southern light is constant and warm and western light is hazy and hot. Do be sure to consider the orientation of your house; the north side may need warming up or the west side may need cooling down.

IV. Color Categories

From blue, red and yellow, the primary colors, we can make secondary colors, orange, green and violet. From primary and secondary colors we can make intermediate colors, red-violet, red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, and blue-violet. For reference, view this color wheel.

Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Blue = Green
Blue + Red = Violet

Red + Orange = Red-Orange
Red + Violet = Red-Violet
Yellow + Orange = Yellow-Orange
Yellow + Green = Yellow-Green
Blue + Violet = Blue-Violet
Blue+ Green= Blue-Green

NOTE: The primary color is always listed first in the naming of an intermediate color.

V. Color Schemes

There are multiple color schemes to consider when designing a color scheme for a room. Monochromatic color schemes are based on one color in various values and intensities. With this color scheme you can avoid monotony by utilizing shades, tints, intensity, of the one color. Do be sure you really like the color! An analogous color scheme is created by using 3-6 colors side-by-side (adjacent) on the color wheel. Generally, one hue is predominate. Direct complimentary color schemes are chosen because they are directly opposite of each other on the color wheel. (There are also split complementary and double complimentary, but for our purposes, we’ll stick with direct compliments.) Triadic color schemes are when three colors that are equidistant on the color wheel are chosen; and example of this would be the primary colors. Tetrad color schemes are created by choosing four colors that are equidistant on the color wheel. You can also choose an achromatic color scheme; this is a color scheme with all neutrals. “Oh say, can you see,” the red, white, and blue patriotic color scheme. Lastly, the dichromatic color scheme is when 2 colors are used that are not in ready-made color scheme. As mentioned before, rules were meant to be broken.

The Process

The Process

I. Decorating is…

Decorating is very expressive as it creatively reflects who you are and should make you feel comfortable at home. It can also be very functional and should meet the needs of those who are using the space. Practicality is key. Lastly, design is simply very beautiful. The beauty of design should reflect the beauty of Christ. The goal in design should never be to reflect a prideful attitude or boast in a status.

II. Art is subjective

Interior design is very subjective. What is “light and open” to some may be “hollow and cold” to others and what is “cozy and lived-in” to some might seem “cluttered and suffocating” to others. While there are general design guidelines, all rules can be broken in decorating. However, I truly believe it is important to learn to appreciate styles other than your own. My interior design teacher in college consistently reminded us to find at least one thing to compliment the hostess on in her home.

III. Things to consider in a room

There are several things to consider when you begin designing a room. One must ask him or herself about the function of the room. Next, who will be using that room? Does this room need to be formal or casual and what feel am I wanting to achieve in this room. Do I have an Inspiration Piece around which I will design my room and where or what do I want the focal point to be? Finally, needs and wants for the room must be prioritized.

One major consideration when designing is whether or not your home permanent or temporary? (*Don’t invest in things you can’t take with you—carpet, cabinets, counters… and consider difficulty of moving window treatments)

IV. Time and Money

Ah, money. This was bound to come up. Always remember, a room will never be fully complete. Wait for the “right thing” and don’t fill in with things that aren’t quite right. Hold out and purchase quality instead of instant gratification cheap. Have a little patience; it’ll pay off. Before you go out and buy new furniture or accessories, evaluate what you own and see if you can make anything work. It is a good idea to save time and money to have a master plan and make sure that everything you buy fits in that master plan. (A nice, inexpensive piece may not fit with your theme.) Also, be careful of trends and try not to invest a lot of money in them. I’d recommend this process: 1. Start with the bare minimum of what you need/have. 2. Fill in missing pieces. 3. Add decorative and finishing touches.

V. Keep a Biblical perspective

God is the one who has given us all things and it’s these things that should bring us back to Him in thankfulness (Hebrews 13:5). Many times we do not need as much as we have (1 Timothy 6:6-7). This is an industry where discontentment and covetousness can creep in. Do not allow discontentment in the door for non-eternal things (Philippians 4:11-12). And always remember, people are more important than things.