Principles of Interior
by: Kathy Iven
Whether you are working with existing furnishings and fabrics or
“starting from scratch” with an empty room, you should always use the
elements and principles of design as a guide in choosing everything. The
elements are your tools or raw materials, much like paints are the basics
to a painter. The elements of design include space, line, form, colour, and
texture. The principles of design relate to how you use these elements.
The principles of design are balance, emphasis, rhythm, proportion and
scale, and harmony and unity.
Principle #1: Balance
Visual equilibrium in a room is called balance. It gives a sense of
repose and a feeling of completion. A well-balanced room gives careful
consideration to the placement of objects according to their visual
weight. The elements of line, form, colour and texture all help determine
an object’s visual weight, which is the amount of space it appears to
occupy. Balance also refers to how and where you place the elements (line,
form, colour and texture) within a room. To maintain balance, try to
distribute the elements throughout the room.
• Formal balance, often referred to as symmetrical balance, creates a
mirror image effect.
• Informal balance uses different objects of the same visual weight to
create equilibrium in a room. It is more subtle and spontaneous and gives
a warmer, more casual feeling.
Principle #2: Emphasis
Emphasis is the focal point of the room. The focal point should be
obvious as you enter the room; it is the area to which your eye is
attracted. Whatever is featured, as the centre of interest –a fireplace,
artwork or a window treatment framing a beautiful view – must be
sufficiently emphasized so that everything else leads the eye toward the
featured area. You can add emphasis to a natural focal point or create one
in a room through effective use of line, form, colour and texture.
Principle #3: Rhythm
Rhythm supplies the discipline that controls the eye as is moves around
a room. Rhythm helps the eye to move easily from one object to another and
creates a harmony that tells the eye everything in the room belongs to a
unified whole. Rhythm is created through repetition of line, form, colour
or texture. It can also be created through progression. Progressive rhythm
is a gradual increasing or decreasing in size, direction or colour.
Principle #4: Proportion and Scale
Size relationships in a room are defined by proportion and scale.
Proportion refers to how the elements within an object relate to the
object as a whole. Scale relates to the size of an object when compared
with the size of the space in which it is located.
Principle #5: Harmony and Unity
A well-designed room is a unified whole that encompasses all the other
elements and principles of design. Unity assures a sense of order. There
is a consistency of sizes and shapes, a harmony of colour and pattern. The
ultimate goal of decorating is to create a room with unity and harmony and
a sense of rhythm. Repeating the elements, balancing them throughout the
room, and then adding a little variety so that the room has its own sense
of personality accomplishes this. Too much unity can be boring; too much
variety can cause a restless feeling. Juggling the elements and principles
to get just the right mix is a key to good design.