When discussing interior design, words like creativity & flair immediately spring to mind – but many would be surprised to find a degree of science involved. Balancing the seven interior design elements (space, Line, forms, light, colour, texture & pattern) is the key to creating beautiful interiors. Understanding how to bring these elements to work harmoniously will increase functionality & enhance a room’s appearance.
Pro interior designers will usually follow a set of informal “rules”, based on specific principles & elements. They will begin by accessing the room according to these seven interior design elements & then use them to disguise or enhance the space’s various features & flaws. As a minimum, the following seven factors should be used in any interior design scheme.
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Interior Design Element One | Space.
There are two basic types of space to consider: 2-D space (which accounts for a room’s length & width), & 3-D space (which covers height). The foundation of an interior, space is a fundamental concept to understand. The available ‘space’ usually can’t be easily changed, so you need to work with what you have within the room’s physical boundaries.
For example, only 2-D space is essential when thinking of carpets or rugs — but you’ll need to think about 3-D space before adding new shelving or furniture. It’s also crucial to leave plenty of empty or “negative” space to break the room up visually & allow for fluid, easy navigation.
Space is split into two categories: positive & negative space. Striking a balance between a room’s negative & positive areas is essential to avoid overcrowding or sparseness on the other end of the spectrum. Negative space is the open or empty space (including any space between objects) & positive space is space containing items. This balance will be influenced by the client’s use for a specific area or room & fits the required functionality.
Negative space is required for traffic paths. It is also crucial to consider the scale & size of the furniture & objects placed in a room, which is used to make space appear larger or smaller, given the desired outcome. A tall item such as a bookcase can give the illusion of height. Different design styles will lend themselves to other space uses – for example, a minimalist design will have far more negative space than your average eclectic design.
Interior Design Element Two | Line.
Think of Line as the perimeter around a form or shape. For example, if you were to draw any object in the room, you would probably start with its outline. Lines can be “vertical” (up & down), “horizontal” (side-to-side), or “dynamic” (lines that express motion, like zigzags). Horizontal, vertical & dynamic lines help to shape a room & guide the eye. Creating lines using the room’s furnishings & structural design can form harmony, unity & contrast.
Horizontal lines, created by tables & other surfaces, give a sense of stability, formality & efficiency, while vertical lines are expressive & bold. Interior designers use horizontal lines to make a room appear broader & longer & draw the eye to a focal point. But be careful, overemphasis of horizontal stripes can make the space seem dull & uninspired.
On a functional level, accentuating vertical lines often gives the illusion of a room being taller. Vertical lines, created by features such as windows & doorways, evoke feelings of freedom & strength. Usually suited to use in dining rooms, entries & offices, incorporate vertical lines wisely not to leave inhabitants feeling uneasy.
Dynamic lines, which follow their own set of rules, can add a fun, exciting touch to any space when used strategically. Dynamic lines refer to diagonal, zigzag or curved lines & capture our attention for longer. Such sequences can be found in stairs, for example, & provide energy & movement.
Too many dynamic lines in one room can distract & overpower. Ideally, interior designers will strike a balance with the incorporation of different lines. This achieved by selecting one dominant feature line, following the client’s brief & the desired feeling they wish to convey in the space.
Interior Design Element Three | Form.
“Form” is simply another term for “shape,” expressing the contours of any artwork, furniture, or other 3-D objects you could imagine. Form is the shape of the room, as well as any objects within the room. Furniture, sculpture, & even rooms can take on structures: organic forms (which are natural & irregular, with curvy or abstract shapes), & geometric forms (which feature sharp, fabricated lines & edges, like squares or triangles).
Forms are often categorized into either geometric or natural. Geometric refers to hard lines & square edges, often looking manufactured, while natural relates to more organic forms that seem to be created by nature. Forms can also be open – objects that can be looked into or closed – self-contained.
Another thing to consider is the room’s proportions & scale compared to the objects being placed within it. Adding forms of similar shapes can create harmony & balance while adding too many different shapes can have a confusing result. Space is typically more pleasing if the dominant form is repeated in minor objects throughout the room.
Interior Design Element Four | Light.
Quality lighting is essential to any space, whether its sources are natural, artificial, or some combination of both. When choosing to light for your room, think about factors like the colour of the light (cool blue or warm yellow?), the light intensity (bright for cooking, or soft for reading?), & whether the light should be dimmable. Without it, all of the other elements would not be able to shine to their full potential.
Light can is split into the categories of task lighting (defined purpose), accent lighting (emphasizing objects) & mood lighting (adding ambience). When considering lighting, it is essential to address the activities that will be undertaken in space. For example, an office will require bright lighting to see clearly & act alert. On the other hand, living room lighting can be applied with a softer touch.
Using a dimmer can make a space much more versatile. Natural lighting should always be considered & manipulated through the creative placement of doors, windows & even mirrors. Beyond its functional purpose, light can set a space’s mood & ambience while defining colour, Line, & texture. Plus, any good interior designer also knows that the lighting fixtures are a visual feature that can add the right touch to any design.
Interior Design Element Five | Colour.
Colour is a science all on its own, & is another essential element that interior designers master. When considering the room’s colour, designers should first think about the room’s purpose & the activities happening in the space. The psychology of colour shouldn’t be underestimated & used to full advantage by any skilled interior designer. Colour can create mood, define unity & alter how large or small an area is. It can evoke memories & stir emotions, stimulating a physical & psychological response in our bodies.
Colour is more than just an aesthetic choice — it can also influence the entire mood & feeling of a space. For example, most people think of red as a “passionate” or “intense” hue. At the same time, blues & greens are usually perceived as “tranquil” or “soothing” & yellow is often associated with words like “happy” & “optimistic.” Think about not only your visual preferences but also, the sort of energy or attitude you’re trying to cultivate when deciding on a colour scheme for your room.
Secondly, consider how both natural & artificial lighting will affect your selected colour across the day & night, given that light can alter our colour perception. Finally, consider the size of the space. Interior designers will often incorporate lighter or brighter colours in smaller areas to give the illusion of more space. Darker colours can provide a powerful dimension to a larger space.
Interior Design Element Six | Texture.
Texture refers to the tactile surface of an object or finish. It’s an element that is often overlooked but can bring a unique dimension to the room. Like mixing colour & pattern, an interior designer combines the textures within a space to give a subtle sense of depth. This can mean how the object feels to the touch or the sense it provides when observing the object.
For example, you might say that a surface looks “weathered” or “vintage” without actually touching it, thanks to the creative use of texture. From furniture to accessories to fabric, texture can add interest & detail, making it visually pleasing to the eye. In essence, it gives a room feel.
Texture comes in two forms – visual texture & actual texture. Visual texture refers to the surface that is perceived by the eye. This effect is usually found in the form of pattern. Actual or tactile surfaces can be seen or felt & has 3D characteristics. For example, a velvet headboard can be appreciated not only with the eye but also with touch.
Generally, if there is a sense of something missing in a room, a good interior designer will distinguish that it will be due to lack of texture. Texture plays a part in every object selected for a room, & therefore is best managed with careful consideration from the ground up. The placement of each item compared to the object’s texture beside it will also add emphasis & contrast to the finished design.
Interior Design Element Seven | Pattern.
A pattern is the intentional repetition of forms, lines, or other design elements. Paired with colour pattern offers a similar use to texture in that it can add appeal to a room. A pattern is created using a repetitive design & can be found in wallpaper, soft furnishings, rugs & fabrics. Patterns usually pop up on wallpaper or fabrics but can appear anywhere in the home, even in the use of light or other design elements.
Introducing pattern in a small room should be executed sparingly, to avoid overwhelming the space. However, as discussed in the element of Line, patterns that create vertical or horizontal lines can be used to give a heightened sense of freedom. Intricate designs made up of contrasting colours & lines can liven up a room; however, they are best used in a feature wall.
Patterns come in various types, such as stripes, geometric, pictorial, organic, motif & animal prints. When implementing the pattern, it’s best to consider the size & style of a room firstly. While patterns can add life & motion to space, too many clashing patterns can start to look chaotic, so use sparingly when choosing your favourite prints. Large scale patterns work fabulously in a large area & become a distinct focal point to the room.
Regarding style, it’s vital to know what category the pattern falls into to ensure that the room’s essence is maintained. For a modern feel, experiment with geometric & abstract prints. Traditionally styled rooms, incorporate organic, floral prints. Fun to use & with an element of functionality, patterns can bring a room to life. As a rule, it’s best to include a maximum of three patterns, all drawing from the same colour scheme.
Wrapping it All Up.
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