There are 7 time-tested elements that make up great interior design: space, light, texture & pattern, colour, line, form and furniture & objects. We’ve put together a rough guide to each of the elements so you can take home design into your own hands.
These elements should be used in tandem with the 7 principles of interior design, which explain how to use the 7 elements effectively to create your dream space (watch this space – 7 principles blog will be published in July).
Great Interior Design or Decoration?
Interior design relates to the design of a room or living area from the ground up – often this is confused with interior decorating, which uses a pre-built space that is then adorned with furniture, wallpaper and various other features. Interior decorating makes up some elements of interior design (furniture, colour and objects particularly) but thinking about the initial space will help to bring the decorative features you like to life.
Space, as you would expect, relates to the room itself – the shape, size, walls and windows – which provide the building blocks for your ideas. Knowing the space well, including floor size, height, any cubby holes or alcoves, will make decisions easier as you will have a better understanding of what will work well with the area.
Once the room is complete, there will be clear areas of ‘positive space’ (areas where there are objects or furniture) and ‘negative space’ (empty areas). Finding the balance between positive and negative space is important to make the room feel right – not too busy, not too boring.
Light can change a room dramatically by changing the impact of texture, lines and colour, so give some thought to the impact that different lighting types and styles will have. Remember that other elements of the room will look different dependent on the lighting so include lights in your planning to get your desired room.
There are 4 types of lighting – the most obvious is natural light which can be controlled by cleverly placing doors and windows around the space.
Artificial lighting makes up the other 3 types: task lighting (think desk lamps and bedside lighting which makes a specific task easier), mood lighting (a.k.a. ambient lighting – this is general lighting for the space) and accent lighting (think spotlights that will highlight particular features, like artwork).
Lines provide the basis for form and shape in a room, and can be put into 3 basic categories: horizontal, vertical and dynamic. Using lines correctly is vital to produce correct forms (see next element).
Horizontal lines add stability to a room (think tables, chairs). Vertical lines give a feeling of freedom and nature (think windows, doors). Dynamic lines add interesting movement and energy to a space (think stairs) and can be tied in with patterns and colour to bring a room design together, or to focus your eye on a particular point. Using soft dynamic lines can bring together other lines in harmony.
Form is the shape of the space and the things that you put into it, and is the shape of the lines put into the space. Take some time to think about the proportions of the room in comparison to the scale of what you are adding to make sure things don’t overwhelm the space, nor get lost.
Using similar forms in a room can bring harmony, but using too many different forms or shapes can result in an unbalanced effect. Use forms carefully in each room to give the desired effect: rectangles are hard shapes, but create a flow through the room. Circles soften a room, and triangles give stability to the feel of a room. This image shows a hard table softened by the use of curved chairs, balancing the room.
Forms can be categorised into natural and man made, and open or closed forms (whether you can see into the shape). Having a good understanding of space and lines will inherently bring positive form to the room.
Colour is an obvious category to add, but has some hidden concepts that you probably do without thinking. It is also more on the side of interior decoration and fit into your comfort zone more easily.
Colour changes the feel of a room dramatically, from a calm pale palette to an exciting and energising bright red. Remember that using darker colours will make a room look smaller, but using feature colours (in objects or ‘feature walls’) can be a great way to get a strong colour into a smaller space.
Use colour to provide connections between objects and furniture within the room, bringing the room together. It is always worth noting the emotive value of colour too: blue is a productive colour, green and lavender colours bring tranquillity and calm, red is energetic (which is linked with appetite in a dining room!) and brown can be used for a secure and safe space.
Pattern is closely linked with colour, and should be used to tie in various areas of the room and add interest points. Think painting technique, curtain and upholstery fabric pattern, and wallpapers. Patterns should be used in close conjunction with colour to highlight and contrast certain areas of the room.
Texture is used for depth and interest points, and is split into 2 broad groups; visual texture and actual texture. Texture is usually discussed in relation to upholstery and curtains – using a rough texture creates a cosy, homely feeling, and a more formal or grand appearance can be achieved using smooth or shiny materials. Use of rugs and blankets also adds texture.
A dominant or common texture should be balanced by a contrasting texture to prevent boring or overbearing room design. Combine textures and patterns to make a room design flow.
Furniture is a functional element of design, as well as an important one to use to bring together a room and the feeling of a house. Furniture forces particular paths to be taken throughout the space and are a great way to express creativity or personality.
Placing furniture around a focal point can be a good way to highlight a feature, such as a fireplace, and shuffling furniture at intervals can be a quick and easy way to change the feel of a room.
Objects are the most personal element of the overall design, and tell a story. The objects used in a room, whilst personal, should still be linked with the design, and flow with the room.