If you’re creating a custom design for yourself or your client; you can incorporate the 7 seven principles of interior design. Combining design elements will help you accomplish an aesthetically pleasing look.
These principles are the foundation and base of each interior design. Hence, you should be aware of them as you go through the process.
These seven principles of interior design are:
- Proportion and Scale
- Harmony & Unity
As interior designers, we need to hone our skills in applying the design principles and elements together in commercial as well as residential projects in order to create environments that are both intriguing and memorable.
We strive to build settings that reflect your company's message, theme, or even brand. In a nutshell, we create spaces that reveal your core values and tell your story to clients, employees, and visitors.
In this post, we’ll discuss each principle in detail and make the best out of each.
Principles of Interior Design | Explained With Examples
Balance is the first principle to be covered, and it is one of the most important in interior design. Every designer, regardless of their area, recognizes the importance of this principle.
If you notice, balance is everywhere in nature. We learn from an early age, that when there is no balance present, things tend to go sideways or awry. Whether it is stacking a mile-high stack of wood blocks, riding our bike, or knowing when to relax, take a breather, or work hard.
One quick lesson people learn from the time they are very young is that things tend to go sideways or awry when there is no balance present. Whether it is stacking blocks of wood a mile high, riding your bike, knowing when to enjoy leisure time, when to take a break or when to work hard. This all has to do with balance. It is life-constant. But how can the concept be translated into interior design?
In the end, it all comes down to finding the right balance. It is an unavoidable part of life. But how does one apply this approach to interior design?
The dictionary defines balance as “an equally distributed weight that allows anything or someone to remain steady and upright.” This is an interior design term that refers to the technique of evenly spreading objects to achieve visual harmony.
It feels right when everything is in balance. Some designers believe that maintaining this principle is all there is to design and that if it isn't followed correctly, the rest of the procedures will fall apart.
Balance can take many different shapes, including radial, symmetrical, and asymmetrical.
Radial balance is the least well-known and defined. It is frequently associated with a stairwell, a round dining table, or a chandelier, all of which are used to create a harmonious atmosphere.
The first impression should be that everything else around the focus point appears to radiate in circular symmetry.
Radial balance is practically a circle, as its name suggests. Items are dispersed and arranged in a circle around a central point, reaching inwards or outwards. Just like the above photo shows circular wood trim and the focus of the chandelier that points inward.
TIP: If you want to draw attention to a specific central item, use this principle.
Because it appears more natural and comfortable to the human eye, asymmetry is the most popular style of balance employed in modern interior design. This approach is not about making things look even but more about arranging items in a way that is visually appealing.
By keeping the focal point on an imaginary central axis, any elements in odd numbers can be employed to establish asymmetrical balance.
Although this sort of balance is harder to attain than symmetrical, the result is more energetic, natural, and organic.
There is a strong relationship between an object’s visual weight and asymmetrical balance. Instead of repeating the same element, you can use different pieces that appear to be of equal weight when placed on either side of the focal point.
For example, a large painting can be hung on one side of the room with a small table lamp on the other side. The eye will perceive these elements as having equal importance or visual weight.
Complex objects such as vases, sculptures, or chandeliers leave people feeling heavy. That is why interior designers often use such pieces to achieve asymmetrical balance.
Interior space feels less rigid and more dynamic with such compositions because they work together with various other objects to create balance. However, it truly requires a good eye to achieve this.
Symmetrical balance is the most traditional approach to design and can be seen in both formal and informal settings. Because everything looks to be in order, like a mirror image, this principle is also known as formal balance.
This type of balance is quite easy to achieve and is common in square rooms. Both sides of the imaginary central axis look exactly the same, and the overall feel is safe and harmonious.
Formal settings such as a dining room or a living room often benefit from the symmetrical balance as it creates a sense of orderliness.
Note: If you want to achieve a more relaxed look, use asymmetrical balance as it is more visually interesting and inviting.
To achieve the symmetrical balance you need to:
- First, using an imaginary axis at the centre, split space into two equal halves.
- Next, compensate each half in the same way as the other. This will create a relaxing atmosphere in your space.
- Finally, to achieve symmetry, repeat objects or mirror them along a central axis.
This type of balance may be seen in nature, as well as in our own bodies. It conveys a sense of dignity, tranquility, and security.
Symmetrical balance, on the other hand, might be seen as unimaginative, monotonous, and static at times. You can accomplish it through the use of color, the arrangement of millwork, fixtures, furniture, and patterns.
If you’re looking for a detailed explanation of the principle of balance, do give my other post a read detailed post How Can Balance and Symmetry affect Interior Design.
Emphasis is all about giving importance to a certain area or element in your space. It is accomplished by making that specific item stand out from the rest of the environment.
Together with balance, emphasis forms a very crucial principle of design as it can help you achieve your desired focal point.
Texture, shape, color, and form can all be employed to create emphasis in an interior design. n most cases, the focal point is usually the center of attention in a space. It can be an architectural element such as a fireplace or a window.
In addition, it could also be an object such as a vase, a piece of furniture, or even a work of art. The most important thing is to make sure the focal point stands out and isn’t overshadowed by other items in the room.
You can emphasize two areas of design to create interest and drama in a space which also helps in creating a great first impression.
Successful businesses always give importance to the entryway as it is the first and last thing customers see. Make sure that your brand's message, theme, personality, or belief shines through it.
Emphasis Through Design Elements
There are several ways to create emphasis in a room:
- One of the most common ways is to use color. You can achieve this by painting one wall in a contrasting color or using a piece of furniture in a bold hue.
- Another way of creating emphasis is through the use of light. You can do this by placing a lamp in the room or using spotlights to highlight a certain area.
- In addition, you can also use texture to create emphasis. For example, you can use a rug with a high pile to make a space feel cozier.
By contrasting elements around your point of attention, you can make a visual impact. It will stand out against the background. This is ideal for establishing a focal point in restaurant interiors, a spa, offices, or retail shops.
Emphasis Through Placement
You can also create emphasis through the strategic placement of design elements in a room. This can be accomplished by arranging furniture in the room’s centre or against a blank wall.
In addition, you can also use art to create emphasis. For example, you can hang a large painting above a fireplace or place a sculpture on a pedestal in the middle of the room.
One of the most significant considerations is where you place your chosen centre of attention inside the interior area. Linear areas, such as the wall at the end of a hallway or a significant feature area, will have the strongest focus and impact.
If you generate rhythm in an interior space by repeating design pieces, you can create emphasis by disrupting the regularity right down the centre point to draw attention to the one item that stands out. This is an example of placement-based emphasis.
You can read one of my in-depth posts on emphasis in design here.
To achieve contrast and create a distinguishable object, use prints or pillows in two opposite hues, such as white or black.
When used correctly, contrast can help you create a focal point in a room and make the space more dynamic. It can also be used to give a room more depth and dimension.
You can also do it by merging several different forms. Combine a rectangular sofa with a circle mirror, for example, to disperse and balance attention between the two things.
Nothing is more crucial than how a room makes an initial impression. There are some settings that make you take a breath when you first see them because of their incredibly dramatic aesthetic impact. Each element fits perfectly together with the rest. On the contrary, poorly designed rooms tend to fall flat and have no impression.
In most circumstances, contrast is the key to making a terrific first impression. This fundamental design element, when applied appropriately, can offer a tonne of visual appeal to your home design while also tying it all together.
Contrast can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including:
Creating Contrast Using Shapes
Form and shape are excellent ways to add contrast to a room. It is easy to tell the difference between rounded, smooth edges and angled sharp corners.
House furniture is the most common example of this type of contrast. It can, however, be combined with a wide range of wall art as well as accessories such as mirrors.
When compared to others, some design styles will work significantly better together. You might experiment with different shapes, such as Scandinavian shapes, mid-century modern shapes, or geometric shapes.
Creating Contrast Through Mixing And Matching
Creating contrast by mixing and matching is a simple and quick process. Due to the elements of design, you merged to reach the final appearance, every design will inherently incorporate various materials.
Purposefully mix and match products that feel fundamentally opposed to each other to generate contrast. This refers to the type of product or substance used in the material, as well as its appearance.
For instance, consider combining natural stone and wood in furniture and juxtaposing it with steel and chrome. Similarly, you can also utilize fabrics, such as a plain solid hue that you can mix and match with patterned items.
Creating Contrast With Texture
The significance of texture can’t be emphasized enough. The idea of texture in interior design is the sensation that design components have.
For example, consider how different it feels to run your hand over a rough, cool backsplash vs a polished tabletop. It’s how people perceive texture in interiors that counts.
When you combine two textures that contrast, it visually gives weight to the area. As a result, the design elements will be able to attract the eyes in faster. This works best when you utilize two textures that contrast, such as rough and smooth.
Creating Contrast With Color
Using color to generate contrast is probably the simplest and most obvious way to do it.
You can use a complementary color scheme in all of your rooms, with two contrasting hues on either end of the color wheel to create the most dramatic effect.
Red and green, for example, violet and orange, and so on. Of course, black and white will never go out of style because it is a timeless combination that genuinely stands out.
TIP: If you want to achieve a more vivid look, you may also use color combos like yellow and purple or orange and blue.
Remember that, according to interior design principles, one hue should dominate each space while the other accentuates it. Consider utilizing one color for all of the walls and the other color for the accessories such as the furniture, fabrics, etc.
Lastly, to tone everything down, you’ll have to add in the extra neutrals. This is because a neutral color will allow your eyes a visual spot to rest on while at the same time acting as a soothing backdrop for the contrast to start popping out.
Check out my detailed post on the principle of contrast here.
This is one of the most crucial principles of interior design. That is because when we’re looking for appropriate balance, general harmony, perfect contrast and scale; in one, rhythm is what comes to our minds.
All other elements are intertwined in rhythm, forming your future recipe for interior design success.
The principle of rhythm in interior design is all about creating a flow or movement within a space. This can be accomplished by strategically placing items like furniture, paintings, and other decorations.
A room that follows the principle of rhythm will feel more unified and cohesive. When done correctly, it will appear as if everything belongs together and was meant to be there.
Generally, when talking about rhythm, the first thing that comes into our mind is the music. Just like in the music, rhythm is the thread that connects all of a song’s choruses, bridges, and stanzas. Similarly, in interior design, rhythm is the principle that connects all of the elements in a room.
You may not have noticed it before, but there is a subtle pattern that connects all of your interior design concepts. The majority of individuals believe that rhythm is the secret “design sauce.” This is the principle that lends a touch of refinement to high-end interiors.
It is used to aid the movement of a viewer’s eyes around a space in a logical and orderly manner. Rhythm also has a big influence on how others perceive your interior, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality.
5 Ways to Achieve Rhythm
You can use the below five techniques to encourage rhythm and the flow of arrangements within your room:
This is done by placing design elements directly across from one another. As a result of it, the eyes will be drawn back and forth between the two design elements. Alternatively, you can use opposite sides of the color wheel to create it, or simply mix and match them. Metal and wood are good examples in this case.
Transition permits design elements such as forms to move the eyes in a continuous flow from one focal point in the room to another. Delineated walkways are excellent examples of rhythmic transition. You make a path so that people can follow it and navigate across space more easily.
This is a step-by-step movement that moves the eye from one end of the room to the opposite end. Stars in the sky are an excellent example of gradation. Their shapes allow your eyes to effortlessly glide from one end of the sky to the other. Moreover, gradation can also be achieved by moving from light and dark tones.
It can be accomplished when a range of design elements come together to form a balanced rotation around a central object. Radiation can be seen around the dining tables and sitting rooms with furniture organized around a central focal point.
The repetition of a pattern continuously through spaces to give a sense of stability is best for less. It is also my favourite approach to applying rhythm. You can achieve it by using the same textile patterns, architectural characteristics, repeated objects, lights, or shapes across your design.
Remember that there is a fine line between understanding each technique and how to implement it for successful results.
NOTE: Do not apply all of the techniques to the same project at the same time. Simply implement one or two strategies throughout numerous design elements to visually unify the space.
I have dedicated a separate post on the principle of rhythm. You can learn more about it here if you’re interested.
5. Scale And Proportion
Most designers are aware of the importance of scale and proportion in interior design. No wonder they are an essential component of interior design principles. Let’s have a look at what is the difference between these two:
What is Scale?
Scale refers to the size of one object in relation to another. It helps to emphasize the importance of an object placed in any space. For instance, if you want to make a small room appear bigger, you can do so by using large-scale furniture.
The scale principle cannot be applied until the object’s size is known, for example:
- The standard height of the wall
- Height and length of table and chair
- How big should a bathroom or shower be to avoid feeling cramped?
What is the Proportion?
Proportion is the general relationship between the sizes of two different objects. When designers talk about proportion, they’re trying to depict how things in a room relate to one another.
A coffee table, for example, should be two-thirds the length of the couch with which it will be used. Similarly, a side table should be about the same height as the arm of a chair or sofa.
Proportion is all about comfort and functionality. A room with the right proportions will feel comfortable and inviting, while a room that doesn't have proper proportions can feel cramped and small.
Additionally, it’s essential to keep in mind that scale and proportion can also be applied to the human body. For instance, a chair with a high back and large seat will appear more comfortable than one with a low back and small seat because it’s in proportion to the human body.
What Is the Golden Ratio in Interior Design?
For ages, painters, architects, and designers have used the Golden Ratio as a mathematical formula to create aesthetically attractive works of art.
The golden ratio is equal to 1.618 and is represented by the Greek letter “phi” This number can be applied to any design to make it more visually appealing.
For instance, if you’re designing a room, you can use the golden ratio to determine the ideal dimensions for the space. For example, if the room is 10 feet long, then the ideal width would be 6.18 feet (10 x 1.618).
You can apply this ratio successfully by dividing a room into two separate halves. One occupies one-third of the space, while the other occupies the remaining two-thirds.
The smaller portion can be used for storage or as an extra sitting portion. The larger area houses the room’s major furniture, making clear its primary function.
Fun Fact: The golden ratio can be seen in nature as well! For instance, the spiral of a nautilus shell or the shape of a sunflower. It may also be found in human body proportions like the distance between our navel and the floor, as well as the distance between the top of the head and our navel.
Why are Ratios and Proportions Important When Designing Environments and Characters?
When we discuss ratios and proportions, we are talking about the relationships between various elements in a composition.
In interior design, proportions are important because they can create a sense of harmony or disharmony within a space. For instance, if all the furniture in a room is too large for the space, it will feel cramped and uncomfortable.
On the other hand, if the furniture is too small for the space, it will look out of place and odd. Therefore, it’s essential to find a balance between the two when designing a room.
In addition to creating a sense of harmony, ratios and proportions can also be used to create a sense of unity within a space.
For instance, if all the furniture in a room is the same color, it will create a sense of unity. However, if the furniture is of different colors, it will create a sense of variety.
In terms of character design, proportions are just as important. The reason for this is that our brains are hardwired to recognize certain proportions as being human.
For example, if a character’s head is too small or too large in relation to their body, it will look strange and out of proportion.
The same can be said for the limbs. If a character’s arms or legs are too long or too short, it will again look strange and out of proportion. Therefore, it’s essential to find the right proportions for a character in order to make them look believable and realistic.
It is critical to pay close attention to the details when decorating or designing. Colors, fabrics, textures, styles, and goods used in room decor are all carefully chosen by interior designers.
Naturally, furniture and color play the most important roles, however, it is the tiniest details that distinguish a joyful, vibrant home from a dull one.
Small Details Matter
Small things bring a room together. The color or texture of the floor, for example, or the way the wallpaper pattern complements the furniture. If you’re remodelling and furnishing a home but something seems to be missing, it is time to add in the final touches.
Always remember that less is more. Try not to add too many hues to your upcoming design pallets for your room.
Details Enhance Interiors
Interior design is the science and art of enhancing a space via the use of all design elements, including the details. It’s all about creating a comfortable environment for people to use such spaces.
To achieve the design they have in mind, interior designers must organize, coordinate, research, and plan specifics. That is where details come in. They aid in the creation of functional spaces within buildings, depending on the intended usage of the interior.
A space can be adorned with decorative items such as:
- Front doors with wood carvings complement the wood carvings on the furniture.
- A carpet that has a fleur-de-lys print which matches the throw pillows.
- A set of bedside tables in the same color scheme as the headboard.
- At the great entrance of your home, a mahogany bannister and staircase lead to an immense crystal chandelier.
- A light grey carpet with a mink rug made of artificial fur complements the fur throw cushions.
These are but a few instances. Overall, they will give your room a polished, complete, and useful appearance. You can also read more about the details in my other blog post here.
Harmony And Unity
We’re getting close to the finish line now that we’ve completed 6 interior design principles. We made sure there was the proper amount of balance, contrast, rhythm, scale, and details around our focal point.
The room we designed appears to be nearly perfect, we just need to add one more crucial principle which is Harmony and Unity.
Although unity and harmony may sound identical, they each play a unique role in how you will experience the finished area.
When similar elements are mixed, the result is unity. It’s as though they were made for each other. In most circumstances, after developing unity, you’ll feel like something is missing.
It can be difficult to follow all seven interior design principles, however, it is not impossible to achieve. To master the last one, Harmony, we’ll need a keen sense of aesthetics and an eye for design.
This principle has something to do with similarity. When things appear to belong together, they are said to be in harmony. Form, shape, texture, and color repetition are the most effective ways to achieve harmony in compositions.
In such spaces, everything is in order and seems to fit together flawlessly. Hence, the finished result is pleasing, relaxing, and comfortable.
You achieve harmony by using a consonance or repeating a design element throughout the room. For example, you could use the same color in different shades or tints for the walls, window treatments, and furniture. Or you might decide to use the same pattern but in various colors on different fabrics.
Harmony is not something that everyone understands. I'd argue that 90% of design ability can be learned, but 10%, the most of which is harmony, is something you're born with.
Harmony and unity foster cohesion, which aids in pattern recognition. The human brain classifies details that repeat themselves and recognizes similar objects quickly. There will be no tranquilly or cohesiveness if design elements are absent.
Cohesion is crucial since it visually makes a place easier to take in. Do you ever enter into a room where there is no cohesion and it feels like it’s too much to handle? Do your eyes and brain feel as if they are hurting? Harmony and unity are the only ways to attain it.
What Is the Principle That Compares Two Sizes?
The principle of scale is the concept that compares two sizes. It is used to make an object look proportionate to another object or space.
Which Principle of Interior Design Depicts Movement in Housekeeping?
The principle of rhythm is the concept that depicts movement in housekeeping. It is used to keep the room flowing smoothly. It can also be used to draw attention to a certain spot in the room.
What Is Transition in Interior Design?
Transition is the use of different colors, textures, or patterns to connect two different areas. It is used in interior design to create a seamless transition between two different spaces. For example, you might use a different colored carpet in the living room and dining room to create a transition between the two spaces.
Which Principle of Design Duplicates the Characteristics of Similar Elements?
The principle of repetition as the name suggests is the concept that duplicates the characteristics of similar elements. It is used to give an area a sense of unity. For example, you might use the same color scheme throughout the whole house to create a sense of unity.
What Principle of Design Indicates a Center of Interest in a Room?
The principle of emphasis is the concept that indicates a center of interest in a room. This is used to draw attention to a specific spot in a room. For example, you might use a different color or texture on the walls to create a focal point in the room.
Which Basic Design Principle Is Primarily Made of Lines?
The two basic design principles that are made up of lines are the principle of contrast and repetition. In an interior, lines can be used to create a variety of distinct effects. You can use them to create a sense of movement, stability, or even rhythm. Wavy lines create a sense of movement, while straight lines create a sense of stability.
Which Design Principle Indicates That a Project Is Visually Satisfying?
The principle of harmony is the concept that indicates that a project is visually satisfying. It is used to give an area a sense of cohesion. Harmony is accomplished via the use of a number of different elements that work together to form a unified whole.